The take-aways of this story are:
- You will need an extra 20mins to prepare any recipe on a weekday… easily (especially if you have been busy all week, and therefore the sink is full…)
- Not only might you want to look for a recipe with minimum prep time during the weekday, but you should also consider the number of ingredients. This recipe has 17 ingredients! It will take you some time to bring all of them together and/or find alternative ingredients… unless your fridge is doing grocery shopping for you and it always has what you need when you need it (in that case, be kind and add in the comments what fridge is that)
- If you don’t have a lot of time, the cooking phase should not have more than 5 steps when it needs to get done on a weekday. If you simplify a complicated recipe, there is a good chance it will still taste good. Go for it.
- There is a question that remains without answer: what size cooking pot do you need when you try a new recipe? Is bigger always better?…?
It’s one of those days: you come back from work a little bit tired, it’s 6:20pm, and you figure you’ll “cook something nice and quick”. You pick a recipe on the internet. Selection criteria: prep time in less than 30min. Bingo. It’s called venison stew, but really any red meat will do (LINK HERE). Believing I might spend only 30min to prep the food is encouraging… until I glance at the sink: it’s full.
10ish minute later – I’ve got wet silverware, plates, mugs, and an available clean sink. GOOD. Now let’s bring all ingredients by the stove. This recipe has 17 ingredients! I didn’t quite pay attention to this detail until I realized I’ve spent a lot of time to prepare the ingredients. So it goes. Comments on the ingredient list:
- Beacon grease… well, it will be replaced by 2 tab spoons of duck grease I found in the fridge
- Onion… already some chopped in the fridge, perfect, I might get back those wasted minutes used to clear the sink
- Garlic… I start liking it, so double the quantity
- Tomato paste… there is some left over in the fridge, GOOD. There is even some chopped tomatoes from a previous preparation, PERFECT! Can you see my fridge getting clean from the left overs? That’s what make this recipe perfect tonight
- Anchovy…. Not a fan, let’s skip that ingredient
- Wine… hmmm, one bottle is open but there is not enough left. No more wine in the house (that’s strange!)… let’s replace it by the Worcestershire sauce. Can you pronounce that? Michael had tried to teach me, but it seems I’ve still got “room for improvement”. What quantity? Well, it smells kinda strongly, doesn’t it? So let’s go for ¼ cup
- Beef and chicken broth… check. I make Michael buy the Maggi brand, it reminds me of France (that’s the brand we found over there)
- Thyme… Do you want to know a trick? Wrap all branches together with some sewing string, so that you can remove it easily after letting it sit in your stew!
- Potatoes… the recipe calls for more than ½ lb, but all I have is 1/2 lb, so that will do too
- Frozen peas… I’ll go for 1 cup, don’t you want more greens than potatoes in that stew for once?
It’s now 6:50pm… Recipes don’t include timing for cleaning the kitchen space, and scratching your head to find alternative ingredients for the recipe. Note for my future self, and for all of you reading this: add 20min for each prep, especially during the middle of the week and you had no time to keep your house/kitchen in “good” order. Here we find 17 ingredients. 17! Don’t you think that it will take you 2min to bring all them together at once. I read somewhere that any recipe with more than 10 ingredients is making it more complicated than it should be. Probably true.
Ok, 6:50pm, let’s cook!
This recipe will remain an important keystone in my culinary vocabulary. How to never pick up the wrong spoon when it comes to table spoon and tea spoon… (sigh)… We’ll elaborate more on this topic in another post because there is too much that needs to be said.
If you spend time in your kitchen, you’ll develop quite a few habits. Here is one for you: put the ingredients back in the cabinet when you are done using them. You’ll see some negative space back, and that growing negative space means you are getting closer and closer to eating something good.
Here is another one of my habits. This one drives Michael crazy when we cook together. I clean the knife as soon as I’m done using it. I believe it’s practical. He believes that’s wasting time when you might re-use it. I let you decide for yourself…
7:05pm – The flour mixture is finally done. Michael has taken care of cutting the meat, carrots, potatoes. It helps having two pairs of hands in the kitchen! But without the two of us, how long would this preparation have taken?
Quick, look at the recipe… the onion is used again! Don’t you get upset when that happens? This kind of recipe rarely states what quantity you should use the first time when the same ingredient is used multiple times. Oh well, I already used it all: moving on! Disclaimer: that didn’t ruin the taste of the stew. So go for it and simplify a long and complex recipe. Or just go for a simple recipe from the start. Cooking phase should not have more than 5 steps when it needs to get done on a weekday.
7:12pm – meat meets the grease. Couple of minute later, the smoke detector says hello. Why on earth do you need an object so poorly designed to detect smoke? When the battery is new, no problem. But after a while, it seems the smoke detector will just detect anything. Stove top is now set on 4.
7:15pm – Michael comments “it smells really good!”. And indeed, grease is magic. He actually finds some beacon grease hidden somewhere in the fridge. We add 1 Tbs of beacon fat.
7:17pm – Meat is removed from the greasy pan. Actually, not all of it seems cooked.
7:21pm – All the liquid ingredients replace the meat in the pan, we add the all-onion/flour mixture. Stove top is now set on 2. Quick, look at the recipe… it seems the flour should be added separately… oh well, that’s another simplification. The liquid might be absorbed more quickly, but that still works. It seems that living with a photographer is a full-time commitment to art. We get distracted by looking at recent pictures he did for the Oberlin College, published that night on the Oberlin Flickr website.
7:30pm – Attention is back to the stove. Still no boiling… Stove top is now set on 3 and 1/2. We figure we’ll finish that opened bottle of wine.
7:32pm – Boil! Stove top is now set on 2.
7:36pm – mushroom, potatoes and carrots enter into the pot… and it fits! How to pick the right size cookware when you try a new recipe? While searching a bit on the Internet, there is no obvious solution. Use a bigger saucepan if you want to reduce the amount of time to get your liquid boiling. Ok. Consider the total volume of liquid ingredient of the recipe. Sure. In the world of cooking, is bigger always better?
7:40pm – The stove top work ends. We put the pot in the oven at 250F, and let it sit for 1 hour. Cooking at a lower temperature (and for then a longer time) will tenderize your meat. And you want that!
Our dog has been part of this story as well. Can you imagine smelling all this good meat and grease in the air? “Can I get any of that?” his eyes seem to be saying. We had the meat on a bone, so we decide to give him a treat. After 20 minutes standing outside, we decide to go for a walk with him.
9:16pm – We are back from the walk. What a wonderful embrace that is the smell of a home-made meal!
Dinner is ready!… and was really tasty!… and the sink is full again, but that’s quite acceptable now.