"Slow cooking" is Fast! "Fast cooking" is SO SLOW!
OK, let me explain. When I know I'm going to be busy during the week and not have much time/energy to cook, I always prepare a big batch of slow-cooked food that will get better with age. Things like curries, braises, and stews made beforehand are really the perfect "fast food". Yes, it's going to take hours to make it beforehand, but at least those hours are set aside for you to be able to take your time and get things right. All you need to heat it and eat it. Now that's good, fast home cooking done right!
Now if I'm really busy, I would NEVER look for a Rachel Ray for help. All this "Fast Cooking" that people advertise is not fast at all! You got to plan some grocery shopping, cut up the food, take out your pots and pans, and then do the dishes. You just spent 2 hours feeding yourself a meal that probably isn't even as satisfying as your local Taco Bell. And if you're living alone and doing it all yourself, than you can totally forget it! I'm eating out! Also, it takes Rachel 20 minutes to cook; it's going to take an unorganized guy with no sense of mise-en-place twice as long easily (from experience, hehe).
I would just really like to see more programs and chefs promote "good food", and I'm totally sick of "fast food quick and easy" cookbooks and programs. COOKING TAKES A LOT OF TIME! STOP FOOLING YOURSELF! TAKE YOUR TIME AND ENJOY IT! The only way you're going to make things fit into a busy schedule is planning, timing, and pre-preparation. The only useful "fast food" tips I've gotten from a book are stuff like "this can be frozen for later use" or "this can be made 2 days ahead". And really, all dishes out there can be made into an edible 20 minute version, so please don't talk to me like you're advertising something special. I'd much rather see a celebrity chef who isn't going to compromise making great food and then let the people decide what they can and can't make.
But I must also admit that I'm a cooking enthusiast, so I could be the odd man out. I have an obsession with making perfect food. Busy schedules don't mean that I have to make less then perfect food; it just means that I don't have time to fiddle around with dishes that require spot-on preparation.
*end of rant*
I completely agreee, phan1. The work week is a busy blur, leaving little time or inclination in the evening to prepare even a quickish meal. I envy people who have the flexibility to prepare special meals during the week, and when my schedule allows it, I grab those days and prepare something time consuming and special. However, for now, Sundays are my day to make something that can be reheated on Monday (today I will braise the Molly Stevens' Beef Short Ribs with Porter Ale, Maple Syrup and Rosemary....I've been brining the ribs since Friday). I'll also make and then fill the freezer with a sausage, pepper and chicken stew, a creamy lentil soup, and Ina Garten's turkey meatloaf. I get so much inspiration from the Homecooking board, and look forward all week to my Sunday of cooking. It leaves us with a week of fine eating ahead with little prep and clean-up.
I completely agree about the nonsense of “quick food preparation” marketing. It is silly really. For the most part I find that methods of cooking to include way too much pre-prepared food, frozen, canned and boxed items. These “food products” include many unnecessary preservatives, hormones and typically tons of sodium. For some reason we find ourselves in an American culture that finds it simpler and “quicker” to open a can of tomatoes rather than cut one up. That can of tomatoes typically is ridden with sodium and other unnecessary additives. Don’t even get me started on how far that can traveled to get to your house, and the environmental waste created from its processing and packaging.
There is a lot of discussion here in the North East about eating local and I am all for it. I just wonder how many people have considered eating sans-packaging. You mentioned Rachel Ray (not to criticize her only,- there is a LOT of other media out there that promote this style of cookery), she may open 3-10 packages of stuff to incorporate into one meal alone! Resulting in a typically unsatisfying meal and a trash bin full of packaging. As long as “easy and quick” “cooking” is alive the food production “machine” will continue to profit from their modified and enhanced foods while farmers struggle to make ends meet.
I equate this form of cooking to the old paint by numbers kits we had as children. It tells you what paint to put where, and typically the residue of the original lines and numbers (analogy for the sodium and additives- for those of you who are already like- is this person for real) are still seeping through the watery paint that you have methodically applied to the page. You feel some sense of fulfillment that it is completed; however it lacks creativity, imagination, and sense of real satisfaction. Can you really call yourself a painter? It does not reflect your unique personality or feelings and experiences. It is flat. Cooking is an art form, good cooking is a lifestyle. You are what you eat….
There is one thing that I don’t completely agree with, and that is “good cooking takes time”.. yes, certainly some of it does, however it is amazingly wonderful to savor a few perfectly cooked eggs and bacon for dinner, or a great salad with chicken breast or salmon tossed on top. It is all about being creative, and to some degree planning ahead a bit, as you mentioned. That chicken on the salad will be a whole lot more satisfying if you take two minutes when you bring it home from the store to toss it into some marinade and slide it into the fridge. 24 hours later, you will be satisfied by the lack of time spent to create a rich and balanced flavorful chicken dish.
You are what you eat…
For the most part I cook from scratch every night. Amazingly enough I rarely spend more than an hour cooking on a weeknight. I eat food that I find to be delicious and satisfying. I cook for two and always consider what can be created from leftovers for tomorrow nights dinner. I get great satisfaction in cooking from my imagination using products that I know are supporting sustainable agricultural and delivery methods. When I eat my delicious quickly prepared food of local ingredients it brings a smile to my soul knowing that a farmer will put food on his table too tonight because my money went to him, and not to a bunch of industry giants already overstuffed wallets. You are what you eat. You eat what you value.
So you're sitting here in the Northeast, refusing to use that unsustainably produced can of whole tomatoes, because you think that your fresh tomatoes came from where, exactly, on March 1? My can of Muir Glen Organic, both regular and fire-roasted are perfect for many recipes - not for the convenience, but for the taste, especially in the middle of Winter. As far as sodium goes, I, like most cooks, adjust the salt after the product is assembled - if a can of tomatoes brought some in, I simply have to add less.
But the real issue is who can afford Muir Glen? At over twice the price of the cheap brands, only the rich can afford to be so selective with food buying. Michael Polan's lectures about sustainability and supporting your local farmer ring hollow when you're stretching a food budget that's competing with your medical bills, rent, and auto insurance. It's nice that some rich people can bring a smile to their soul from eating local produce in the middle of Winter. The real world is different for most people.
To the OP's point, planning is the real key to success for fast, economical, and good home cooking. Tonight's meal was a snap - I had 1/2 of a large roast in the fridge, along with the pan juices in a jar, preserved from earlier in the week, and hidden from view to disallow grazing. A loaf of French Bread, split and thrown in the oven, thin slicing the beef, pan-fry some haricot vert in OO, a little butter and garlic, a quick mixed salad - this was a delicious 15 minute meal - French dip roast beef sandwiches.
Applehome... I like your point, in most of america people are not as fortunate to have the food culture that we do in the north east. However the topic of phan1's coment is centered around the hype concerning "quick food" or "fast preparation of foods" in cook books and on tv. Most of these philosophies incorporate cans bags and boxes into the mix, that is what I was referring to. I feel , (like phan1) that there should be much more media out there for people who want it about quick preparations using whole foods.
I agree not all Americans can afford to spend the time, effort or money to eat locally produced foods. I am also aware of the fact that eating "localvore" is not at all encouraged by our government. This is why across most of this country you do have to be fairly well to do to afford such luxuries as organic produce and grass fed beef. Unfortunately a great deal of America and beyond is taken up by cash crop farms. Millions of acres of the same products over and over-- cotton, corn, wheat etc... People living in these areas are at a huge disadvantage to finding such local product in their stores, as there just aren’t any grown there! It is unfortunate. But alas life in America continues. What I eat is important to me, and where I choose to live will always reflect that.
I don’t have to afford expensive tomatoes in winter as I grow tons in my 6X15 foot city plot garden in the summer. I jar them myself in the fall. I don’t buy tomatoes in the winter. I don’t eat vegetables that are not locally produced in winter. There is no sense in me purchasing an artichoke that traveled 1000 miles to get here, being that it isn’t even in season, it probably won’t taste good anyway.
It is nice of you to insinuate that I am rich, but I am not and due to my location, I do not have to be. I am careful about what I put into my body and my families bodies. I spend the same amount on food as my friends who shop at major grocery stores. We waste less, eat less as the food is more satisfying and spend less at the dr.s office as we are healthier for it.
Well said, applehome.
I'd just add that fast, economical, and good home cooking requires not only planning, but a certain level of skill and comfort in the kitchen. It's easy for those of us who cook almost every night of the week to look at a collection of ingredients and know exactly how to make a meal out of them. Or to make the next 3 nights' meals out of them. Likewise, for me, it's quick work to chop up a bunch of vegetables. But for someone with no knife skills, it can take ages and seem very daunting. I suspect that Rachel Ray (though I haven't seen her) and indeed, the massive ready-meal industry in the UK, appeal mostly to people who haven't discovered that real cooking need not be so labor- and time-intensive.
Which brings me to the OP's post: Good cooking does not have to take a lot of time. It's not a zero-sum game. I can make a lovely spaghetti with tomato sauce, or aglio olio peperoncino, in just slightly more time than it takes to heat up a jar or store-bought sauce. And local winter vegetables (which tend to be cheaper when in season around here) and dried beans (also cheap) can become delicious soups in very little time.
And I'm not going to crucify myself for using canned tomatoes, particularly because I make a serious effort to reduce my own ecological impact in other areas. And things might be different here in England, but the canned tomatoes I buy contain only tomatoes and tomato juice. No added salt or other "unnecessary preservatives." Same with canned beans. Also, I justify the expense of better canned tomatoes by calculating that a meal of pasta with tomato sauce and a nice salad for four people is still one of the cheapest meals you can make. But I do take your point, applehome, about the expense. I'm lucky to be able to afford those good tomatoes!
i think op's points are (and i could be wrong here) 1) cooking from scratch in large batches on one day makes it easier to eat from scratch most of the week, 2) tv shows that promote the speed and ease of cooking from scratch are inaccurate at best, 3) cooking from scratch takes time, and 4) being a cooking enthusiast makes cooking from scratch easier to fit into the schedule.
i totally agree with all those points. there's no doubt in my mind that cooking from scratch takes time and effort, and it's worth it if you're a decent cook. it does take some time to learn to be a decent cook, but once you can do it, i don't think anything pre-made in a supermarket or most takeout tastes as good (on the other hand, if you like many different kinds of ethnic, sometimes takeout is the only way to go when things are busy). and certainly if you grew up in a household where cooking from scratch was the norm, the memories of the sights, smells, and tastes as well as the social part of it make it easier to carry on the tradition.
as far as cooking shows, when i first watched a couple of episodes of '30 minute meals', i was amazed how rachael ray could go to the fridge and cupboards and magically get all her ingredients packaged in just the right portions, and how all her produce and protein looked so perfect. i agree with op that shows emphasizing speed and convenience by presenting only a part of the process are a disservice to viewers (but apparently a lot of viewers disagree, because they've made her a celebrity). i'd also much rather watch shows with skilled chefs demonstrating how to do things well instead of quickly.
finally, i don't think most people who aren't enthusiasts are gonna take up a weekend day with advance food prep when there are other things to do. our household prefers to eat meals made from scratch, but deciding what to eat, shopping, and cleanup can add a lot of time to the process. we have more time than many households, so we can make dinner plans on the fly and still make from scratch for that night. but before our kids grew up and moved out, we were a lot busier, and dinner was a mixed bag. the only constant was a vegetable at dinner and no canned vegetables (except beets or sauerkraut).
phan1, your experience does not mirror mine at all. For years I came home shortly before 6 pm, and began making dinner. I got good enough to have it done and plating by about 6:30 most evenings.
I did suffer frustration because cookbooks did not have enough fast reicipes for me. Recipes often called for multple steps which I didn't have time for.
I did not shop in a terribly organized way; I simply went through the store and bought what I thought looked good or was a good value, and kept a good stock of basics. If, for you, an evening of enjoyment is a long cooking evening, then by all means you should do that; but for us, the rest of the evening beckoned and besides I was usually tired.
I agree with sueatmo -- I will add that the vast majority of meals I've had in restuarants are also basically cooked/assembled in less than 30 minutes. Of course many of them have ingredients that I would not routinely have on hand and/or based on sauces that take much longer to prepare.
One thing that I like about entertaining (especially on the weekend) I can plan to deliberately have some things "left over" that I can use later in the week. Sometimes that will include roast or slow cooked meats and/or soups/sauces that take quite a bit of time, but I also will prepare more fresh vegetables when entertaining -- to me it more efficient to clean and prepare a large quantity of almost anything that small portions.
I have to admit that I've been cooking long enough to have a head full of "recipes" and rarely consult a book for week night meals...
I don't think that there's a better or worse here - many great meals can be done quickly, while many great meals take longer than 30 minutes. But the point is that if you limit yourself to 30 minutes all the time, you're knocking out a considerable amount of repertoire. Planning and staging well allows you the chance to have roasts and short ribs during the week. I would prep a roast and put it in the fridge and have my kids put it in the oven when they came home from school - I would have cleaned bakers next to the oven, and have them put them in an hour before I came home. Of course, it would be as easy to make some egg noodles or something else that could be done in 15 minutes - but once in a while, I want baked potatoes during the week, and that can't be done in 30 minutes.
It would indeed be frustrating, to me, to limit myself to 30 minute meals, even if I did make many or even most of them that quickly.
I would love to see a cooking show on this--meals that are made in advance. I don't even have 30 minutes to get a meal on the table and rely on my crockpot (for stews, curries, braised dinners) and rice cooker for weekday dinners. It takes time to get it together but I do it when I have time and it's done when we need it. And, it tastes better than things thrown together in 30 minutes. But, while it works well for winter and colder months, summer and crockpots don't go together. But, that's where the beauty of fresh local produce comes in--minimal cooking and prep.
Better weather brings into play the outside grill for us - and that is almost always a quick dinner solution. Varying marinades and finishes, with different meats/fishes/poultry, plus grilled veggies, of course (especially corn, as the season goes along) - creates a huge variety of dishes that can be done very quickly. It's as if we have two different kitchens - the winter kitchen based around the oven and range, with dutch ovens and stock pots, and the summer kitchen, actually our deck, with gas and charcoal grills. We roast in and out, (rotisserie on the outside), so that's common between the two, but braising is definitely a winter thing inside, and quick grilling over high or medium heat is a mainly outdoor event. Hmmm... why is it that this time of year, I'm itching for that first webber kettle firing of hardwood charcoal - with virtually anything - hamburgers, even. But come next fall, I'll have the same yearnings for beans with cornbread or a braised pork butt.
There's not a show, but I bet there soon will be! Has anyone else noticed the explosion of make ahead meal franchises like Entrees Made Easy, Dream Dinners, & Super Suppers? I tried it once with a friend and was not impressed, but have started to do the same thing on my own, cooking up a storm on Sunday and freezing blanched veggies, assembled lasagnas, etc. I found some interesting links/recipes by googling "make ahead meals."