Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

"The Worst of Times"


Alex
 Share

Recommended Posts

In the Gourmet Cookbook, Ruth Reichl says it takes 20 minutes to make halibut with spicy Asian vinaigrette and wasabi cream, and I think, Great! I can watch The Office, skip Outsourced (I don't get the appeal), throw together my halibut and still have 10 minutes to get settled for The Apprentice. Except it actually took me 41 minutes, more than twice as long as promised, and no, I don't have a DVR.
But it was Chris Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated, who cut to the heart of it. "Utter bullshit," he said when I asked what he thought of cooking times...Kimball doesn't include start-to-finish times in his recipes; he rejects outright the notion that they can be measured with precision. "Thirty-minute recipes are never 30 minutes," he says. "It's marketing."

Full story here.

Much ado about nothing? A piffle-y bit of fluff? Or has Slate got something there?

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, I think they're on to something. It takes me about 30 seconds to peel a potato, and maybe that long to cube it. Hand that same potato to my husband...and *I* can go watch The Office, before he gets done. It's entirely subjective. I ignore times. I know my own windows for things.

20 minutes to make that halibut? Sure if your ingredients are easy to find, partially unwrapped, in little bowls diced up already, sitting there gleaming on your almost empty fridge top shelf, or lined up on your counter ready for action. For the rest of us? Well, it will take me at least ten minutes to find the damn wasabi powder.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are two things to measure here; active preparation time, and cooking time. Some magazines and cookbooks do break down the actions separately, and give times for both prep and time spent on the burner or in the oven. Prep time is going to vary enormously depending on who is doing the cooking. I've gotten faster and faster over the years, but a beginner is going to take ages, as Lilija has pointed out. I'd like to think the cooking time is easier to measure and estimate, even given things like oven variations, bean freshness, and the like.

I take issue with the "Guessing" in the title. Are cookbook writers "guessing" or are they trialing these recipes? I'd like to assume they are trial-running them, even if they are being optimistic and using expert chefs for the prep.

Furthermore, anyone who has cooked even casually will know a recipe is only a starting point, not a fool-proof guarantee of success. There has to be some scope for the cook's own abilities; I'm not sure cookbook authors have any control over that. They should be aware of the ability level of their audience, however, and use that information accordingly when writing recipes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are two things to measure here; active preparation time, and cooking time. Some magazines and cookbooks do break down the actions separately, and give times for both prep and time spent on the burner or in the oven. Prep time is going to vary enormously depending on who is doing the cooking. I've gotten faster and faster over the years, but a beginner is going to take ages, as Lilija has pointed out. I'd like to think the cooking time is easier to measure and estimate, even given things like oven variations, bean freshness, and the like.

The biggest exception I consistently find in my kitchen is reduction times: if a recipe says to reduce something by half, "about 7 minutes", I know I'm going to be in for at least half an hour of standing over the pot saying, "Is it done yet?"

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The biggest exception I consistently find in my kitchen is reduction times: if a recipe says to reduce something by half, "about 7 minutes", I know I'm going to be in for at least half an hour of standing over the pot saying, "Is it done yet?"

So it's not just me! That's a relief.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cooking and prep times have always been a crock, an artifact of an American "kitchen efficiency" ethos that rose throughout the middle of the 20th century. I wrote about this in a review of Sara Moulton's "Sara's Secrets" cookbook (click for full review):

[A]s she writes, “the clock is always ticking.” Like [Pierre] Franey, Moulton strives to keep the recipes under 60 minutes, and most have listed “hands-on time” of 15 minutes, the stated desire of the many people she met while promoting her first book.... I wondered throughout whether those times were accurate; though Moulton claims to have “dispensed with what the French call mise en place,” many seemed to cram an awful lot of prep into a brief quarter hour. To prepare her "Mexican Chicken Salad," for example, this cook (with decent knife skills but limited counter space) was hard pressed to clean and stem 1/2 cup of cilantro, squeeze 1/4 cup of lime juice, chop up half of a chipotle en adobo, clean and shred a head of romaine, cube two cups of cooked chicken and an avocado, rinse and drain a can of black beans, chop three plum tomatoes, and grate four ounces of cheese in such a short time.

Kimball's refreshing BS call would be a lot easier to appreciate if Cook's Illustrated went all the way, using temperature to determine meat doneness, measuring using weight, not volume, and so on. ¡Viva la revolution!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anthony Bourdain is quite specific about this kind of thing and he uses one word (No not that one)

PREP.

have it all set out, chopped up, water boiling, herbs to hand and the correct pans, warm plates.

half cook the veg and shock-chill.

Do not , at the end wonder if you actually bought the parsley.... It should be there minced and ready to sprinkle.

Martial.2,500 Years ago:

If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course we should all be organized -- but the point here isn't whether one should or should not prep in an organized fashion. The point is that prepping and cooking in an organized fashion to reach a desired outcome cannot be quantified to the minute, particularly given the wide range of skills, available help, pre-processed ingredients, and so on. In addition, the estimates that publishers demand from cookbook authors are almost always lowered for the purposes of marketing.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I gave up on paying attention to projected total cooking times a long time ago. The time discrepancy doesn't seem to have anything to do with my organization, because I'm ruthless about not having useless crap in the kitchen, and everything is close together and easy to find, and I'm systematic about my approach laying out equipment and ingredients. But there isn't a recipe written that includes the time I need to locate and read some steps in a recipe three times over, because the first two, I evidently looked, but was thinking of something else, or that accounts for the time I spend waste, trying to decide which prep step to do first, and whether or not it even matters. Recipes never account for the time I spend washing up--or at least rinsing--as I go, so I don't have to face a mountain range of dirty dishes when I'm sick of being in the kitchen. The times certainly don't include the text messages or phone calls (always urgent, naturally) I end up replying to, and which always seem to come when I'm up to my elbows in a mixture of lard and flour.

By now I know from experience how long various types of things will take, depending on how I distribute the work (e.g. 'all afternoon' or 'all day, a few minutes now and then'), but I never mention these times when I share a recipe with someone else: its highly unlikley that even a vague estimate it would be accurate for someone else.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think cooking times -- either in the oven or on the stove -- are a different animal from prep times, or "start to finish" times. While cooking times will vary, depending on such things as the accuracy of your oven, your cookware, your stove top, your idea of "medium" heat, it's still important to give some time guidelines to the recipe readers, but also to let them know other cues to tell when something is done. So, "bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top and set in the middle" seems like a perfectly acceptable instruction -- I know that it will take around 30 minutes, so I'll start checking at 20 or 25. But I also know what I'm looking for, so if my oven is off, I can still tell when the item is done.

As far as prep goes, not only is there everything others have already mentioned that affects prep time, but there's familiarity with a recipe too. The first time you make something, everything takes longer. The second and third time, you get more familiar, and you learn places where you can double-task -- so, for instance, you know that you can start the pasta cooking and have the mushrooms chopped (or whatever) by the time the pasta is done.

When we write recipes for students, we never include total time or prep time, but we always include cooking times -- we just add visual and tactile clues so the students have a way to double check times.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anthony Bourdain is quite specific about this kind of thing and he uses one word (No not that one)

PREP.

have it all set out, chopped up, water boiling, herbs to hand and the correct pans, warm plates.

half cook the veg and shock-chill.

Do not , at the end wonder if you actually bought the parsley.... It should be there minced and ready to sprinkle.

And, uh...just who would I have to hire to get it all there for me, ready and waiting, for when I walk in the door after work? The point is...setting it out, chopping it up, getting the pot and filling it with water, setting it to boil, find the correct herbs/pans, all takes time. And then..warmed plates? Shock chilling? Really? Total. Fantasy.

Hell yeah I can whip a structured multi course meal for four on the table in less than a half hour, if someone did all this for me already.

Edited by Lilija (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can't remember the last time I took the start to finish time in a recipe seriously. Anymore, I can eyeball a recipe and tell how long it's going to take me to finish, but that time will probably be much longer than the recipe indicates.

Some recipes do get faster with time. I have an absolutely fantastic sausage and chard pasta recipe that took a long time when I first made it, because I did all the chopping and prep ahead of time - chopping up greens, toasting pine nuts, grating parmesan, etc. But now, it's pretty quick because I know the timing can handle rolling prep - getting stuff ready just as it's needed. There's a huge difference in time commitment between the 2 approaches.

Mostly, I'm resigning myself to being slow and messy. With few exceptions - even 30 minute weeknight meals end up taking me an hour and dirtying an entire sink full of dishes. I used to be frustrated about it, but it just is what it is. We eat well. C'est la vie.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not surprised that cookbook writers can't estimate cooking times. I certainly can't.

The only way a cookbook writer could estimate times accurately would be to give the recipe and unprepped ingredients to a friend and set a stopwatch. And it's not like the publisher is going to pay (or wait) for this kind of testing. Heck, these days most publishers don't even copy-edit recipes.

Given my low expectations, there's only two timing things that really annoy me:

1. Reduction times, per above, which always seem to be an order of magnitude too short. What's up with that?

2. When a recipe author has the times only in the dense recipe text, and there's 8-12 different time segments, so you don't realize until you start making the recipe that it takes 95 minutes. This kind of recipe really calls for a total cooking time somewhere.

The Fuzzy Chef

www.fuzzychef.org

Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have always thought that the exclusion of clean-up time in "total prep/cooking" time calculations was the great unspoken lie behind "30-minute meals" and the like.

If, for example, you watch one of those shows, you'll see numerous prep/cooking vessels that have to be dealt with after the fact. Now, the TeeVee people have the legions of unseen minions to take care of that, but I don't. I'm frankly blown away by the concept of a "30-minute meal" needing 2 sautee pans, a pasta pot, a salad bowl and a baking sheet. Even with a dishwasher, rinsing/scraping with all that is an issue.

For me, 30 minutes to get the dinner on the table is nothing compared to the hour clean-up ! And for most home cooks, doing a strict mise-en-place makes it worse, because you've got all those "pinch/prep" bowls, all those plates with chopped veg, all those pots you used to blanch stuff, all those other bowls to shock and quick chill.

Not gunna happen.

But to the subject of "prep/active/total" cook times, like most seasoned cooks, I do use them as a guideline, and appreciate them when they're printed. Like others, I hate the surprise of a time sink in the middle of a recipe that I hadn't anticipated. The recipes I like most actually call that out in the header...."prep time, 15 min., active time, 30 min., unattended time 3 hours, cook time 30 min.". That gives me a realistic window of what's actually involved. Without that, too frequently I find myself (because apparently I'm ADD when I read a recipe the first time....) thinking dinner's going to be done in 45 minutes and hitting the "refrigerate for 90 minutes to meld flavors, then roast for 45 minutes."

I don't like those kind of surprises.

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know mise en place would ease my meal preparation, but I, too, fall into the bad habits of scrambling around the kitchen, through the cabinets and into the refrigerator as an evening meal progresses. I suppose a formal cooking education would teach me the advantages or at least the habit of setting out what I need before I begin. Yes, cookbooks lay out the ingredients, but not often do they suggest or discuss the advantages of being prepared. When I sort through all the bottles looking for the herb I need, I mentally promise that before the next time, I will at the very least alphabetize them on my counter! Old dogs and bad habits die hard...imagine how my meal time could be more efficient if I practiced what I know is the proper way!

"A cloud o' dust! Could be most anything. Even a whirling dervish.

That, gentlemen, is the whirlingest dervish of them all." - The Professionals by Richard Brooks

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given my low expectations, there's only two timing things that really annoy me:

1. Reduction times, per above, which always seem to be an order of magnitude too short. What's up with that?

Reduction times are very difficult to estimate because they depend not only on the amount of liquid but on the diameter of the pan one uses.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Janet,

Sure. They also depend on ambient humidity. However, given all of that variance I'd expect at least sometimes cookbook authors would recommend too long ("reduce by one-third, 45min") but it's always too short, and sometimes so much too short I wonder what kind of super-stove the author has that they could even consider that time reasonable. I've had recipes tell me to reduce 6 cups of liquid to 3 cups "around 3-5 minutes".

Where this is particularly annoying is fish recipes. Several authors have had me braise the fish in the liquid, remove the fish to an unheated platter, and then reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency while the fish cools "2-3 minutes". Thing is, that reduction requires boiling off a full cup of water, which ain't gonna happen in 3 minutes on any home stove I've ever cooked on. In the meantime, the fish is cold and dry (and ruined) while I wait 15 - 20 minutes for the sauce to reduce.

The only thing I can think is that the authors are used to commercial stoves and cookware with 75,000 BTUhr of heat.

The Fuzzy Chef

www.fuzzychef.org

Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The biggest exception I consistently find in my kitchen is reduction times: if a recipe says to reduce something by half, "about 7 minutes", I know I'm going to be in for at least half an hour of standing over the pot saying, "Is it done yet?"

So it's not just me! That's a relief.

Yes! This is me, too (three)! I almost dread having to reduce things. At least I am experienced enough now to feel fairly comfortable eyeballing it. When I was a new cook, I'd pour it out into a measuring cup every couple of minutes. This is fine if you have a cup of something, but a big, giant PITA when you have a GALLON!! :raz:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kim, if you stick the handle of a wooden spoon into your pot and make a line with a sharpie at the liquid level, then it's very easy to figure out when you've boiled off about half -- just use the spoon handle to measure.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thing is, that reduction requires boiling off a full cup of water, which ain't gonna happen in 3 minutes on any home stove I've ever cooked on. In the meantime, the fish is cold and dry (and ruined) while I wait 15 - 20 minutes for the sauce to reduce.

The only thing I can think is that the authors are used to commercial stoves and cookware with 75,000 BTUhr of heat.

Do you reduce on high heat? I can reduce 2 cups of (water-based) liquid by half in my usual sautepan (about 9 inches in diameter) on high heat on my coil electric stove in 4-5 minutes -- so it's longer, but not by much.

Not to say that recipe times aren't inaccurate, but I can't imagine it taking 15 minutes to reduce a couple of cups of sauce by half, unless one is trying to do it in a deep, narrow pot, or doing it at a bare simmer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kim, if you stick the handle of a wooden spoon into your pot and make a line with a sharpie at the liquid level, then it's very easy to figure out when you've boiled off about half -- just use the spoon handle to measure.

Janet, that's brilliant. I might even forget about the Sharpie and just lay the spoon aside and use the color and stickiness as a guide. Or use a cheapo chopstick or long cheapo wooden skewer.

Again, brilliant.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maggie -- I'm slapping my forehead with a big "Duh!" I always have skewers of various lengths around. I can't believe I never thought of using them. My spoons have so many marks I'm having a hard time telling which ones I'm supposed to be paying attention to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Janet,

Hmmm, then there's factors I didn't realize could make as much difference as they do. I have a 1960's-era apartment gas stove, which is 7000 BTU/h max (and probably less). And I live in San Francisco, which averages 70% humidity. I guess the lack of heat power and the dampness makes a difference of 2X to 3X in reducing time rather than just 20-30%.

For the fish example I gave, the recipe specifically said to reduce the liquid at a simmer. Not sure whose cookbook it was, I got rid of it after that.

The Fuzzy Chef

www.fuzzychef.org

Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Similar Content

    • By ojisan
      Does anyone have any thoughts about Alice Waters' new "40 Years of Chez Panisse"? Not a recipe cookbook - more of a memoir/history/picture book.
    • By Rushina
      What would you like to be included in a cookbook you classify as a "good cookbook"?
      Rushina
    • By Multiwagon
      Other than the three written by Michael Ruhlman, which I have read and loved, what other books are out there that are about cooking, but not cookbooks?
    • By OliverB
      I just received a copy of "The Cook's Book - Concise Edition" edited by Jill Norman, and now I'm curious, what's the difference to the full edition? Supposedly it has 648 pages compared to 496 in this edition, and it appears to be much larger in size if the info on us.dk.com is correct. Other than that I can't find any info what the difference might be. It's a neat book with lots of photos about techniques etc, and lots of recipes. As with any DK book production values are high.
      If the contents are the same, I'm happy with the smaller version, but I'd really like to know what I might be missing on those 150 or so pages. If it's just filler, I don't care. If it's some fantastic recipes, I do care....
      Anybody here know both editions? Google was so far of no help. Lots of the full edition are to be had used as well, I'd be happy giving this one as a gift and ordering the full edition, if it's worth it.
      Thanks!
      Oliver
    • By devlin
      Say you were rounded up with a group of folks and either had a skill to offer in exchange for a comfy room and some other niceties or were sent off to a slag heap to toil away in the hot sun every day for 16 hours, what 3 books would you want to take with you to enable you to cook and bake such fabulous foodstuffs that your kidnappers would keep you over some poor schlub who could cook only beans and rice and the occasional dry biscuit?
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...