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liuzhou

Half an Onion and Other Absurdities

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Posted (edited)

I seldom cook from recipes although I read a lot of them. Today I was looking at one which went into meticulous detail to the nearest milliliter about how much vinegar to add then suggested I use half a red onion. The colour of the onion is irrelevant. What I want I know is "how much onion is half an onion?" Which onion?

Here are three red onions found today in a local store. Which one should I use half of?
 

20200717_191638.thumb.jpg.317fe2725d4a456243edeca931da7c55.jpg

 

Do recipe writers ever read their recipes? Or do their editors? This is far from an isolated example. I see such absurdities all the time.

27 milligrams of this and a pinch of salt? Whose pinch? What is a large pinch?

A thumb of ginger. Whose thumb?


I've even been advised to add a tickle of spice to a dish! My reply to that is not publishable on a family friendly site such as this.

Grrr!


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Yes quite common. For a dead novice cook probably frustrating. If you have cooking sense -  not such a big deal. On the "tickle" direction, I have seen "skosh" !

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Posted (edited)

That's why I like writing down recipes after initaly trying them. The first time I make something it will always require adjustments and thought, adapting to my tools, ingredients, taste and techniques. Iike you, I'd also rarely stick to a recipe (only for dishes and cuisines I'm not familiar with).

In my own notes, I know exactly what is medium onion, how heaped is a teaspoon, what's low heat, and what's a pinch. This makes cooking the recipe the second time much less intensive.


Edited by shain (log)
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~ Shai N.

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2 minutes ago, shain said:

In my own notes, I know exactly what is medium onion

 

 

That is the problem. The recipe writer knows what they mean by half an onion but fails to convey that information to the reader.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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If the amount of onion is critical, I always equate a medium onion to be around 8oz, so half of your average onion is going to be 4oz give or take. But if it is just say for a salad or something, I chop and add until I get to the amount I feel is correct, but in these kinds of situations a little more or less rarely matters to me.

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I was given a box full of recipes from one grandmother.  Many of them call for a "knob of butter".  I love butter, but I suspect a door knob size was not what she meant. 

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Posted (edited)
12 minutes ago, Yiannos said:

If the amount of onion is critical, I always equate a medium onion to be around 8oz, so half of your average onion is going to be 4oz give or take. But if it is just say for a salad or something, I chop and add until I get to the amount I feel is correct, but in these kinds of situations a little more or less rarely matters to me.

 

The thing is is the "average" medium onion varies enormously. The average here much larger than I was used to in England, say.

 

But my use of onion was just an example. Of course, I judge for myself how much onion to include in a dish. The fact remains that half an onion is an unknown quantity, which in a recipe which is microscopically precise about other ingredients becomes absurd.

But my entire post was partly in jest.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Yeah I feel you completely, it's the same here, onions as big as your head most of the time, especially red ones for some reason.

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

Today I was looking at one which went into meticulous detail to the nearest milliliter about how much vinegar to add then suggested I use half a red onion.

 

Ha, that is a bit inconsistent, isn't it? 

 

Similar thing in baking recipes when someone says '1 egg' after insisting on precise measurements in all other ingredients. My current batch of farm eggs range from 50 grams to 85 grams and I bet there is a larger range in some cartons. 

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My best instruction recently was “2 tablespoons of diced, fresh cilantro”. That requires more knife skills than I ever ever expect to acquire. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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2 hours ago, IowaDee said:

I love butter, but I suspect a door knob size was not what she meant. 


When it comes to butter, my experience is that door knob size works best ...

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5 hours ago, shain said:

cousins I'm not familiar with

 

Sorry, but this typo made me laugh.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Teo

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17 minutes ago, teonzo said:

 

Sorry, but this typo made me laugh.

 

 

LOL. I do hope I'm familiar with all my cousins.

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~ Shai N.

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Why are there not more baking recipes that use weight instead of volume measures? What about the ones that ask you to scoop and level the flour, or spoon lightly into the measuring cup? That would result in wildly different amounts of flour. I'm gradually trying to convert recipes to weight measurement, but it's not easy. A kitchen scale is invaluable, not only for baking, and doesn't cost the moon.

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Formerly "Nancy in CO"

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5 minutes ago, Nancy in Pátzcuaro said:

Why are there not more baking recipes that use weight instead of volume measures? What about the ones that ask you to scoop and level the flour, or spoon lightly into the measuring cup? That would result in wildly different amounts of flour. I'm gradually trying to convert recipes to weight measurement, but it's not easy. A kitchen scale is invaluable, not only for baking, and doesn't cost the moon.

 

I think it is a habit thing here in the US in general. As a teen I did the conversion the opposite way Euro to American. We had the scale but Americans did not - baking recipes.

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I used to do a demo in my cooking classes, where I'd set two one-cup measures of flour on the counter.

"Same amount of flour, right?"
...everybody nods.

...put them on the scale...up to 40 percent variance.*

 

"If you've ever gotten a recipe from a friend, and theirs is light and fluffy and yours is a brick? This is why.

...and this is why professionals use a scale."

*one spooned and swiped, the other scooped directly from the bin with a vigorous stroke of the cup

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“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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1 hour ago, Nancy in Pátzcuaro said:

Why are there not more baking recipes that use weight instead of volume measures? What about the ones that ask you to scoop and level the flour, or spoon lightly into the measuring cup? That would result in wildly different amounts of flour. I'm gradually trying to convert recipes to weight measurement, but it's not easy. A kitchen scale is invaluable, not only for baking, and doesn't cost the moon.

 

See the The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Reminds me of my aunt's church Annual Stew Night.     20 parish ladies volunteered to make a beef stew, each agreeing to stringently follow the recipe and instructions they were provided.    Of course, the amusement of the evening was the variety of the 20 idiosyncratic stews that were brought to the tables.   

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eGullet member #80.

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Another thing that gets my goat is recipes telling me to use ingredients at room temperature or asking me to cool things to the same fictional degree of heat! What room? Which room? Whose room? I am willing to bet the temperature in my room and that in yours vary enormously. Like many of us, I have more than one room. Lucky us. They have different temperatures. 5°C, for a random example, is a temperature - room temperature is an ever-changing chimera - a folly on which recipes and gustatory experiences have floundered.

I also see this absurdity in reference to ideal wine serving temperatures - reds, we are told, must be served at room temperature. From experience, I can tell you that the average temperature in a Bordeaux chateau's room is nowhere near my, or probably your, room temperature! But I'll confess I may not have been entirely sober when I made that observation. I'd better go back and check.
 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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14 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Thank you--that was very helpful. Especially here, where the humidity changes from dry winter to rainy summer, flour changes seasonally. In that case even weight measurements can be suspect, but at least they're within hailing distance of being correct.

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Formerly "Nancy in CO"

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I am reminded of the fun in translating medieval recipes.  

 

"Take creme of cows milk or of Almond, do thereto Eyren and Sugar, Saffron, and Salt, meddle it fair, do it in a coffin of two inches deep, bake it well and serve it forth." 

 

Yes, that's a custard tart recipe. (I've made it with the almond milk version. It's very good. Reminiscent of sugar cream pie but better IMO.) But they never give you quantities or times. You're just supposed to KNOW. 

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, AlexandraLynch said:

I am reminded of the fun in translating medieval recipes.  

 

Current written Chinese menus are still very often the same. Here is a random example from a book entitled "Stir Frying".

 

1995154476_20200723_1251531.thumb.jpg.1d00a14dd353007f76c0c4fa8059c3e6.jpg

 

The ingredients are listed as 200 grams of shrimp, then scallion, ginger, cooking wine, soy sauce, sugar, salt, MSG, vegetable oil in "appropriate amounts".

 

The cooking instructions are equally vague. Wash shrimp then heat the oil, add all the ingredients and cook. No time is given.

 

Normal.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Re: recipes and directions.  My mother made awesome potato doughnuts. The list of ingredients is clear enough. The instructions, in their entirety,  say: "Fry in 2 lbs. Crisco. Glaze with 1 box conf. sugar."

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Don't ask. Eat it.

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On 7/18/2020 at 8:17 AM, liuzhou said:

Another thing that gets my goat is recipes telling me to use ingredients at room temperature

This just bit me yesterday -- I was making bread at work (where room temperature is a solid 10°F cooler than at my house) and the dough just wasn't rising or moving the way I was used to. I am embarrassed to say that it took me every bit of four hours for it to occur to me that the temperature was the culprit. I moved the dough to our outdoor balcony (where it was 95°F) and lo and behold, the yeast was alive after all!

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