It's a french term pronounced meez on plas. It means putting into place and for the home chef it can make life a lot easier. In general the concept requires basic kitchen organization and preparation of equipment and ingredients.
Read the recipe thoroughly. If there are any concepts, ingredients or equipment you are unfamiliar with now is the time to research them. This is also the time to assess the level of difficulty and time that will be required in preparing the recipe. Think about who you will be serving this to. Are there any ingredients in the dish they might be allergic to? Can you substitute something else? Is there any equipment you need but don't have? Can you borrow it if it's a one time recipe, or will you need to purchase it?
Make a shopping list. Check your pantry and refrigerator first. Do you have enough of regularly stocked items required to make the recipe? Do you need any special spices, fruits, veggies or grains that might need to be procured at specialty markets? This is the time to make sure the recipe fits into your budget, or make substitutions for expensive or hard to find items.
After you have everything you need to make the recipe, including equipment - chop what needs chopped, measure what needs measured and pre-heat the oven if it's needed. All these steps before hand will ensure that your recipe (you did read it through all the way right?) will go smoothly and efficiently. It will make cooking so much less stressful and more enjoyable.
Now, while these above steps are great basics for the mise en place philosophy, it doesn't mean it can't be bent to suit your needs a little better or even taken a step further to make meal prep for the whole week a breeze.
This takes some planning - I know, I have done it - but it is worth it. You will feel organized and in charge of your kitchen, your life and your health. Here are a few more tips to take mise en place into your life as a deeper kitchen philosophy.
I always know what ingredients I have on hand. I usually know about how much too. This is not obsessive, but good planning. At the beginning of the week I look through my recipes and cook books for some easy dishes both my husband and I will like. This I have made easier by going through and marking the recipes with ingredients we can both agree on - and even some where I can successfully hide the ingredients he doesn't care for. Knowing what I have and having read the grocery store flyers for the sales helps me pull recipes to use for the week and then do my grocery shopping accordingly.
After the shopping is done, the first night I am cooking which is usually a Monday night, I don't just chop what I need for the recipe - but for the whole week. This makes cooking super easy the rest of the week when work begins to tire you out. Because now it's just following the recipe and cleaning up.
These principals work for me being on a budget. But if you have even less time to chop and prep - you can buy many veggies pre-chopped. Another trick I will employ is using chopped frozen veggies. They are inexpensive, especially when on sale - and easy to measure right out of the bag. You can also freeze your own chopped veggies in freezer safe containers or bags. This is perfect if you have your own vegetable garden (my dream. . . someday it will happen).
Beyond the kitchen mise en place just makes your life easier. It means you know where your things are when you need them. It means having a schedule and a plan to reach goals and dreams. Above all it means allowing your creativity to flourish.