Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Quick Cooking a Myth

Yesterday, as I was making my soup at 5:00 am (carrot and mushroom because that's what I had on hand, and it turned out delicious), I was meditating on the time that cooking takes.

There's a post that Sharon Astyk wrote at some point that has always stuck with me about how cooking takes time, and how those recipes that claim you can cook something in fifteen minutes are pretty much a myth.

It's a great post, and if anyone knows where it is on her myriads of different blogs, please let me know so I can link to it.

Sharon basically argues that meals made in fifteen minutes are called salads. I'd argue that you can also scramble an egg or make a very simple omelette in about fifteen minutes, but other than that, things take time.

Of course, Sharon makes food from scratch, from scratch. I don't do that. I don't can pasta sauce, or make my own butter or yogurt, or my own bread, or anything of that sort. I'm perfectly happy to buy ready-made hummus and sauces and jams and breads.

Still, I find that cooking (as opposed to say assembling a sandwich or what have you) inevitably takes me at least twenty minutes if not more.

On Wednesday night I made spaghetti. This is probably the simplest thing that I can claim that I "cook." I buy whole wheat pasta and canned tomato sauce. All I have to do is cook the pasta and chop some vegetables to add to the sauce, cook the vegetables, and heat the sauce.

I've made this meal a bajillion times over the years. It requires no spices, no looking up recipes on the internet, just chopping and cooking.

It took me 20 minutes.

Perhaps I am slower than most people. I would argue that that's very probable: if you cook every day you probably are a faster chopper than I am. But it's hard to be faster about things like getting your water to a roiling boil or cooking pasta until it's the right level of tenderness. While some people can probably make spaghetti in fewer than 20 minutes, I'd venture that it's hard to make it in much fewer minutes.

Of course, as Sharon points out, some things require forethought and not much more. The soup I made yesterday took me about half an hour all told, reading the recipe, chopping the vegetables, adding spices, blending the soup when it finished cooking. But it also simmered in my slow cooker for twelve hours. I didn't have to think about it while it was cooking, but I did have to have the presence of mind to start cooking early enough that the soup would be ready to eat for dinner.

Ultimately, I think the idea of "quick cooking" while super-appealing is pretty much a myth. Which isn't to say that you can't feed yourself quickly: make a sandwich, make a salad, make a scrambled egg. But if you're actually cooking food? I find I have to block off at least a half hour.

What's your experience cooking? Can you prepare a meal in under half an hour?


Rosa said...

I can prepare a meal in under half an hour - our current standard is burritos, which are about 3 minutes each - but only if I or someone else has done all the prep work previously.

So that three minutes doesn't count making the tortillas (we buy them) or the refried beans (I make them in a pressure cooker, in 2-quart batches, it takes about 20 minutes plus soaking time) or the cheese (purchased) or the rice (took an hour to cook but that was yesterday...) or the fried veggies (Saturday) or the salsa (canned in August).

If I had a sous chef, or bought all my ingredients pre-cut and pre-washed, I could cook in 15 or 20 minutes a day. Also I'd have less dishes to do.

Anonymous said...

Yes. It took me 20 minutes last night to saute some chicken and heat up rice to go with - definitely not rocket science, that meal. And I find that the amount of time a meal takes directly influences a) how often I cook it, and b) how much of it I make. Being able to thaw out a cup of soup instead of making food for every meal helps me to keep making food instead of going out to the Thai restaurant across the street every day.

Unknown said...

Then you would probably LOVE Sandra Lee's SEMI-HOMEMADE cooking shortcuts on the Food Network.
I can fry an egg or make an omlette (with EGG BEATERS and cheese) in 5 minutes.

EcoGeoFemme said...

There's not very much that I can make in 15 min, but there's a whole lot I can make in 25-35. That's really not all that long. I keep reminding EGM and myself that it takes at least that long for delivery to arrive, so we should just cook instead of ordering in. The big trick for me is having a plan. If I already know what to make when I walk in the door, I'll do it and 30 min isn't too long. But if I have to figure somethign out, we end up with pizza.

Color Me Green said...

good point. i don't time myself when i cook, but i am coming to understand my limits. when i have a party it always takes me longer to cook the things i plan than i think it will, mostly due to chopping time. it sometimes makes me think i should take a cooking/chopping fundamentals class. i am learning that i shouldn't expect to undertake an extravagant cooking endeavor and something else in the same night. i have the time to cook from scratch right now so it works out when i want it to. and i am hopeful that when i have child(ren) i would work from home enough to be able to do prep work in large chunks of time ahead of time, like making beans, bread, canning, etc. which makes the actual cooking time shorter.

Color Me Green said...

oh it also helps if you have help cleaning/doing dishes afterward...which i don't always have access to...

knutty knitter said...

Mostly around the 30 minute mark here unless it consists of reheated left overs (that is becoming rarer due to the boys rapidly turning into teenagers :).

I tend to re-run the same recipes lots with occasional changes (mostly seasonal). That way I don't have to think much. The boys don't appreciate fancy stuff anyhow (that includes hubby). They much prefer old tried and true! If I do try something a little fancy they are inclined to poke it and enquire "What is it," as if I found it in a sewer or something. Just occasionally they decide it is acceptable and it will enter the menu.

viv in nz

Kimberly said...

Pfft. I can prep in under half an hour, but that's about it. My coworker and I were just talking yesterday about recipes, and how the "prep time" and "cook time" estimates are just oh so wrong. I'd say it usually takes me about 45 minutes to an hour or so to make dinner. Brekkie and lunch, significantly less time. But you are not alone!