When the Food Network first started I was addicted to it. Way back then it was a serious cooking channel with real chefs demonstrating real techniques. I even learned a few things - one of them being the importance of mise en place.
Mise en place (pronounced "meez on ploss" often simply called "meez" in American restaurants) is a French term meaning, "putting in place," and it refers to having all your ingredients lined up and waiting to be used.
This is essential in a commercial kitchen because when things get crazy you don't have time to chop an onion or peel shrimp. So chefs arrive early and prepare all the ingredients for the dishes they'll be cooking in advance. But even in a home kitchen it pays off to have you mise en place.
First, it's a more efficient way of cooking. By concentrating on getting the onions, carrots and celery peeled and chopped at once you can gather them all in one place and then stand there doing the prep. By measuring out the spices, herbs and liquids at one time you can clean up the measuring tools and get them out of the way at one time (and you're less likely to put that measuring cup in the dishwasher after measuring the oil and then have to retrieve it to measure wine. I also find I measure more efficiently. For instance, if I'm measuring everything at once I'm more likely to think to measure the tablespoon of flour before the tablespoon of honey. If I get that backwards I have wash and dry the measuring spoon between uses.
Second, prepping your mise enables you to discover in advance that have a problem with some ingredient and deal with it. As an example, maybe your brown sugar is hard as a brick-bat. You don't want to be trying to soften it enough to use at the point where you need to add it to the Bananas Foster. Or if you discover you're out of brown sugar you can head for the computer, look up a substitute and discover that all you need to do is add some molasses to granulated sugar.
Last, how many times has the phone, a kid, or the UPS guy interrupted you in the middle of a recipe. Then you return to the bread your were making and wonder, "Did I add the salt or not?" Tasting the flour is possible but the average loaf of bread has a teaspoon of salt mixed into 3 - 4 cups of flour. Good luck on that tasting. However, if you'd measured out the salt before beginning and had it waiting in a pinch bowl or slip of waxed paper then if the bowl is empty you added the salt and if it's not you didn't.
So what's a "pinch bowl?" (compare prices) It's a small container made to hold a pinch of something. I've got a dozen of them. Six are glass in two sizes - 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons and 3 to 4 tablespoons. The others are stainless steel and hold 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons. Pinch bowls are essential for small quantities of liquid ingredients, but as I indicated, scraps of waxed paper or aluminum foil work beautifully for dry ingredients.
For larger quantities, like the flour for a loaf of bread, I typically use those cheap plastic containers or a larger sheet of waxed paper. But that does bring to mind the one drawback to mise en place - more cleanup.
But it's not that bad. If you use wax paper or foil for dry ingredients you just throw them away. With the exception of flour, most containers, whether pinch bowls or larger bowls can simply be wiped clean with a paper towel. It's only the containers holding liquid ingredients that should be washed, and often the measuring cup itself can serve. I have a focaccia recipe that calls for 1 cup of water and 1/3 cup of olive oil - I measure the water and oil into the same cup at the same time.
These days I find it hard to imagine not having my mise en place and whenever I skip the step I'm sorry. Food Network may have fallen low from it's one-time culinary heights, but at least I learned about this essential kitchen technique when the chefs were still explaining things.