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Recipe Cooking Times - A Rant

My sister got an enchilada recipe from a friend she wanted me to try. It said at the top "total time 45 min / 15 min active time". Fortunately, I read the recipe. The ingredient list assumed that your chicken was already poached and shredded - another 20 minutes - and that your tomatillo sauce was already made - another 20 minutes. Then the chicken had to be marinated - another 30 minutes. Only then do you get into the 45 minutes of assembly and cooking time stated in the recipe.

Why do recipe-writers do this? A time estimate isn't a vital part of a recipe, more of an added convenience for cooks. But it becomes extremely INconvenient when you time your meal according to the estimate and only then discover an extra hour of non-disclosed prep time.

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  1. I hate that as well. The worst is when you are trying to do a recipe and the times for the same dish range anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours. Clearly the 30-minute recipe is not including all of the major steps. Some don't give a time at all, but I think it's nice to have it to plan ahead of time if you are having people over for dinner and/or don't want to wait to eat until 11pm because you miscalculated.

    1. Sometimes they don't count the part that says "refrigerate overnight."

      Related to that is the recipes that don't list ALL the ingredients in the list that says "Ingredients." So you find ingredients in the "Instructions."

      1 Reply
      1. re: yayadave

        Ooh, I hate that, especially if it's not something you'd readily have on hand.

      2. I too "hate that when it happens".

        I look at the recipe very closely so that it allows me to read between the lines to contemplate the author's intentions. You be surprised what is omitted from recipes, like some valuable/gifted technique.

        I have an Amish made noodle recipe that calls for 7 cups of broth (beef or chicken) for 8oz of their noodles. (it is on their bag) To make the whole bag (16oz) with 14 cups = 112oz of broth water. (or 7 pints or 3 quarts+1cup)

        I find there is no way I can make their noodles with less than roughly 1.5 gallons of broth. To be safe 2 gallons of broth water is used.

        All I can conclude is that the Amish must use a cup that is by far larger than 8ozs. (pint perhaps?---14 pints = 7 quarts = 1gal+3qts.

        Amish math or measurements anyone?

        6 Replies
        1. re: RShea78

          I read some article a few days ago (can't remember where, sorry) where a woman tried to make noodles using smaller amounts of water. She found that 2 quarts was enough most of the time, but you had to be very vigilant about watching the noodles. I typically use very little water to make noodles myself, but I can't just leave them there.

          1. re: queencru

            That "women" was Harold Magee, the #1 best known food science guru, famous for all his experiments with food prep. I believe I saw it in the NYT, probably last Wednesday, food section day.

            1. re: johnb

              Ha! That's funny - I was sure this article was written by a woman too - until I saw johnb's post and went back and looked at the byline. That's weird.

              1. re: flourgirl

                Glad I'm not the only guilty party, at least. I am not sure why I thought it was written by a woman.

                1. re: queencru

                  Well, he did have Lidia Bastianich included in the article, and she conducted some pasta water experiments of her own. Maybe that's why!

                  1. re: operagirl

                    I don't know, it just sounded like a woman's voice to me...

        2. Maybe it's us but many stew recipes seem to say that 1 hour or less will suffice... my tough cuts of lamb/beef seem to need at least an hour and a half. My husband always follows recipes to the letter rather than trusting his judgement and is then disappointed by tough chewy stew meat.

          13 Replies
          1. re: julesrules

            One hour for stew meat? I don't think so! Minimum 1.5 hours; preferable 2+ hours. :-)

            1. re: LindaWhit

              Although if you use a pressure cooker...........

              Sorry, had to gloat. Made beef stew this weekend in the PC. Talk about FAST!

              1. re: PattiCakes

                :-P , Patty. ;-)

                And while it would be great from the time factor, I just don't have the room for yet another appliance. So I'll have to stick with my antiquated crockpot (which reminds me, I should pull it out for some beef stew).

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  send me an email. I have a GREAT crock pot web site for you.

                  1. re: PattiCakes

                    Can't share it here? My usual go-to's for crockpot recipes are either Rick Rodgers "Ready and Waiting" or Mabel Hoffman's "Crockery Cookery". Or my Mastercook software. Online is usually About.com's Southern Food Crockpot section: http://southernfood.about.com/library...

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Here it is. It's a blog, so it can get chatty, but take a look at the tips and at the recipes.
                      http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/
                      It's not "gourmet ", however the recipes I''ve tried so far have been very good Chicken Mahkani [Indian Butter Chicken] and BBQ Pulled Pork. Only change I made was to saute the onions first -- they just don't seem good to me in a slow cooker unless I do that first.

                      1. re: PattiCakes

                        I remember you talking about the Indian Butter Chicken once before...will definitely have to try it.

                        But here's my problem - I can't do chicken in the crockpot unless I'm home and can deal with a shorter cooking time. During the work week, it seems to dry out terribly with the long cooking time (I leave at 8am, don't usually get home until 6pm).

                        I do see that she uses frozen chicken pieces; that might work for me.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Read her tips. I had that problem as well -- sometimes I'm out of the house for 12 hours. She says to pick a shorter cooking time. So if your pot has an 8 hour & a 10 hour choice, pick 8. It will then bump down to warm for the balance of the time, and won't over cook. Even at that, I don't think I'd do thawed chix for that length of time -- frozen, yes, thawed no. I did the BBQ pork using the frozen (solid) half of a whole boneless pork loin. Turned out great. Good thing my pot is oval. I would like to move on to another pork dish, but my husband liked the BBQ so much I had to make it twice. In 2 weeks. Emeril has a great recipe for a chipotle coleslaw that is dynomite with the pork. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/em...

                          1. re: PattiCakes

                            My bigger crockpot is one of the older ones (it's probably 25 years old). So it already cooks at a lower temp than the newer ones. I pray that it never dies on me (I hate the higher-temp ones that are sold now!)

                            But I have the following settings: Off. Low. High. :-D

                            I *do* like the idea of doing BBQ pork in the crockpot and then storing it in ziplocks for later use. Still haven't done that. But it's one of the round ones, so I'd have difficulty fitting a pork shoulder in there, I think, unless I could find something smaller.

                2. re: PattiCakes

                  >>Sorry, had to gloat. Made beef stew this weekend in the PC. Talk about FAST!<<

                  I came to the conclusion, years ago, that great food cannot be done fast. Edible or just okay perhaps in a PC, but nothing beats the flavor of something that has been slowly simmered to perfection.

                  1. re: RShea78

                    I had one when I was in my house. Apt living, current my PC is living in my POD for storage. They are great for quick cooking.

                    1. re: RShea78

                      I'll have to agree to disagree. For some reason the pressure cooker "pushes" the flavor into the meat, unlike the way a slow cooker works. While not great for everything, it is outstanding for things like pot roasts, stews and beans. If you do a search for "pressure cookier" on this web site, you'll find many threads where the experts do a whole lot more. Many European homes have a PC as a standard piece of equipment in their kitchen, as do most in India. They use it not only because it makes great flavorful food, but also because it makes the most of a limited heat source.

                      Mine is an electric model, which many PC purists will say is not the best, but it works for me. I cook a lot of different types of beans, and you cannot beat the way the PC cooks them. If I soak the beans for an hour, I can then have them cooked in about 30-35 minutes (that includes the time it takes the pot to come up to pressure, plus the actual cooking time).

                      What you DON'T get from the PC is that long-simmering experience. The flavor is there, but you don't have the sensual pleasure of drifing into the kitchen every so often & stirring the pot. On a snowy or rainy day, when I have all day to cook, I will definately opt to go the non PC route just because it makes me feel cozier and more comforted, not because the end result will be better. Many times I'll combine techniques -- do my chili with beans in my big ol' pot, but cook the beans from scratch in my PC.

                      LindaWhit: I hear what you are saying about another appliance & space. I don't use it all the time -- yep, I have to haul it out of the closet where I store it downstairs -- but I would not be without it. This weekend, I used my slow cooker, the PC AND my rice cooker. Now they are all back in that closet, catching up on their sleep.

                      1. re: PattiCakes

                        I gave my rice cooker away a long time ago; just wasn't worth it to me. Both crockpots are stored in a space under the stairs going down into the basement (along with the bread machine I haven't pulled out in years).

              2. I don't pay any attention to a recipes stated time. But if you read the recipe (which I don't see how you could possibly not before getting started), it should be quite easy to estimate how long it will take. And I'm talking about from the time the gun sounds and you start gathering ingredients.

                1. I rarely pay that much attention to actual cooking times and just use my own judgment. As for total PREP time, I have sometimes made the mistake of not reading a recipe through thoroughly before starting something and then realizing that the recipe is going to take a LOT longer than I was anticipating. I rarely make this mistake any more.

                  1. I do always time for total time include marinating time and I list it or I give the option of leftover chicken or fresh. I try to make sure because it is aggravating. Totally agree

                    1. So part of the recipe was for poaching and shredding the chicken? And part of the recipe was for making the tomatillo sauce? And those times weren't added into the total? Or did it say "x cups of shredded chicken" and "x cups of tomatillo sauce" assuming you had those already? If the former, that's odd and I don't think I've ever seen a recipe constructed that way.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: c oliver

                        It said "2 poached and shredded chicken breasts" and "10oz tomatillo sauce". It's possible that you can buy jarred green enchilada sauce - I've never looked, so I don't know - but it assumes you have it already. I had to pull out the ever-useful Joy of Cooking to find out how to poach chicken, since I'd never done it before.

                      2. One of the reasons that I love the newest Gourmet cookbook is that they list active cooking times and start to finish cooking times listing how much time for marinating, chilling or "resting."

                        My pet peeve with recipes and time is when they estimate how much time it will take for a liquid to reduce on the stovetop. I typically have to multiply that by a factor of four, since I don't have a professional quality range.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: thinks too much

                          Is that the big book with the yellow cover, edited by Ruth Reichl? Someone gave me a copy for my birthday last year and everything I've made from it has been absolutely delicious! It's my new go-to book.

                          1. re: BobB

                            It is. The only thing that didn't fly for me was the persian chicken dish with pomegranite and walnuts. Everything else has been very succesful.