Cooking is simple. Cooking is easy. Cooking is quick. Yeah, only if you are adept at what you are doing!
So the other day I made some stir-fry pak choy and exclaimed to one of my friends, “See how quick and easy that was!” My friend rolled her eyes, shook her head and fought hard not to respond verbally. I persisted, “You didn’t think that that was quick and easy?” My friend responded, “for you, sure. I’ve noticed that in your quick and easy assessment you did not take into consideration the prep time. That is the thing with all of you people that can cook. You all dupe us into thinking that making these things is simple, easy and quick but they’re not!”
Oh boy, someone clearly had something to get off of their chest about the much touted phrases in cooking circles – it’s simple; it’s easy; it’s quick.
My friend is right; saying that cooking something is simple, easy and quick is all relative. There are a number of factors that determine the cooking factor of anything but the chief among them is your skill and experience in the kitchen.
Most, if not all cooking is defined by the actual cooking time of food – when it is in the pot/pan and on the heat. Rarely is cooking defined by the amount of time it takes to prepare the food ready for cooking.
With everyone being so busy these days, those who want to cook are looking for recipes and dishes that are easy, simple and quick to make. It is no wonder then that thousands of cookbooks out there can be found with catch phrases such as: simple, easy, quick. Many people will tell you that they have made decisions to purchase a book based on one or all three of those words. Unfortunately, many of them take home those books and use them only once or twice, because it turns out that the meals are not quick nor easy nor simple. While many agree that the actual cooking (on the heat) is quick, easy and simple, they resent the lengthy steps of preparation.
Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals is a very popular show on The Food Network simply because it is built on the premise that in 30 minutes you can make a meal and by a meal, I don’t just mean one dish but something to also serve as an appetizer or salad, along with dessert. The truth is, even if you gathered all the ingredients the day before, brought your television into the kitchen and cooked with Rachel on the show, your multi-course meal will still not be completed in 30 minutes, even if you do cook through the commercial breaks. The reason for this is simple, it is a television show, things are prepped before hand, and items are pre-arranged in the pantry and refrigerator; the pots are always on the stovetop ready to be fired up. There no washing up of tools and equipment as things go along and the so-called ‘clean-up’ as the show takes a commercial break, is several members of staff moving things out of the way and re-arranging things and swapping out the items you last saw Rachel, peeling etc.
The relativity of saying that cooking is easy, simple and quick leads me to wonder if we are misleading people, like my friend, when we tout the making of a dish, the selling a book or promotion of a television show as easy, quick and simple. What do you think?
What responsibilities do we have as recipe writers to ensure that what we say is more or less accurate? The truth is that the simplicity of cooking will always be relative.
There always has to be some work involved – things have to be prepared before they can be cooked. Unless of course you buy your ingredients already pre-washed, pre-cut and chopped, and then it is a matter of going straight from the package to the pot. However, usually the ingredients that are pre-washed, cut and chopped are much more expensive and these days we have to watch the pennies.
Personally, when I tell someone that a recipe is simple, easy or quick, it is said against the background of the cooking time being short and with the assumption that the person cooking is willing to spend at least 20 – 30 minutes (depending on what the dish is), assembling and preparing the ingredients to cook. The bottom line is the more often you cook, the easier it becomes.
Here are some tips that can help to make things quick, easy and simple in the kitchen.
● Knowing where things are in your kitchen cuts down on the time spent searching for them. Therefore organize your pantry or cupboard in such a way that you can see and easily reach items.
● Plan what you want to cook in advance and prep as much in advance as you can. In other words, if you’re planning on making dinner, pre-season your meat earlier in the day or before going to work so that when you get home you can start cooking immediately. Chop vegetables, cut up onions etc.
● Take tips from shows: such as taking out your pans, pots, bowls and serving dishes in advance and have them ready for cooking and serving.
● Practise doing certain things and you will become faster and more adept at it, such as dicing an onion, peeling potatoes etc.
I’m sure many of you reading this column have your own tips of how to make cooking quick, simple and easy. Share them by leaving a comment at the end of the article online or send them directly to email@example.com. I’ll assemble them and share in an upcoming column.