It's Al's Turn column: Five cooking conniptions
There are some things about cooking that bug me – things that should cause all of the wanna-be, at-home chefs out there to rise up and wave our spatulas in discontent.
Like many of you, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen preparing meals lately.
Which is OK by me. I love to cook. I like experimenting around with different recipes, exotic foods and whipping up a date night meal to remember.
But there are some things about cooking that bug me – things that should cause all of the wanna-be, at-home chefs out there to rise up and wave our spatulas in discontent. Here’s five of mine:
Prep time. I’ve noticed that practically every recipe has an estimate of how long it should take you to prepare this dish before cooking and serving it. I’m not sure who comes up with these estimates – maybe it’s the same people who estimate a before-lunch meeting will take 10 minutes and it stretches into supper time.
One recipe expected me to dice two onions; seed and chop four tomatoes; peel, mince and saute four cloves of garlic; seed and finely chop two jalapenos; wash, dry, de-stem and chop a half-cup of cilantro leaves (which I call the “glitter of cooking” – it gets everywhere); peel and finely grate two tablespoons of fresh ginger; and measure out 12 different types of herbs and seasonings (all with different amounts, of course). The prep time on the recipe: 9 minutes. The reality: Roughly two hours.
Weird reviews. I like reading the reviews for online recipes. It can help avoid a disaster if 313 reviewers say the food was so spicy their tongue fell off or so salty they had to drink a gallon of water after the meal. But then there are the annoying home cooks who take the original recipe and Frankenstein-it into some sort of weird concoction out of a Chopped episode. They’ll give a recipe just two stars but add: “I didn’t have any fresh tomatoes so I added a cup of ketchup and I don’t like cilantro so I used mint instead. And my kids don’t like anything spicy so I used green beans instead of jalapenos.” What the heck?
Weird ingredients. You come across what appears to be an excellent recipe. It looks fantastic until you read that it requires Drupe Fruit (a real ingredient) that can only be found fresh two weeks out of the year (OK, I made that up) and the closest location is a tiny food market at the corner of Aldrich and Zenith Avenue in Minneapolis (again, made up, but you see my point). The recipe looked so promising but I’m not going to try to substitute something to take its place and become like the annoying reviewer above.
Imprecise measurements/directions. I hate it when a recipe calls for “the juice of two limes.” I’ve bought limes ranging from ping-pong size to as large as a tennis ball. I’m thinking the amount of juice they contain would be vastly different. Why not just say a quarter cup? Another direction I dislike is to saute something – garlic, shallots – “until fragrant.” For me, that often means “burned.”
Techniques. I think I’m a fairly good cook but there are some cooking basics that don’t make sense to me and rarely seem to work. One is to “reduce the sauce by half.” I can stir and stir for hours and that sauce never does anything. Another one is to “stir until thickened.” Yeah, that doesn’t happen either. How can it when I’m constantly stirring it over heat? Once I switch the heat off, it may get a tad thicker, but most times, not. And another one: Remove meat from the grill before it reaches the temperature you want it to reach, let it rest and it will continue to cook. I haven’t had much luck with that. If I take something off the grill when it’s rare, it’s going to stay rare no matter how long I let it rest. It does, however, lock in the juices and make the meat juicer.
And with that, I will let this column rest. Maybe it too will get better.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.