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Dec 17, 2009 01:11 PM

What is Medium? How much do "4" weigh? Recipe Pet Peeve

Just venting a pet peeve of recipes.

The indeterminate measurement.

Grate 4 potatoes.

3 medium apples.

Why not just use weight?

2 lbs of potatoes.

It is very precise and then if I can only find small apples or random potatoes I can still get perfect results.

Vent off.

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  1. For the data provided, I'd look for apples and potatoes that weight between 5 and 6 ounces each. I fully understand your frustration with recipes like the one you're working with. They drive me nuts too.
    The next question would be, "what variety of potato?" They are not all the same.

    1. Apples
      Large 3-1/4" dia 223g 7.9oz
      Medium 3" dia 182g 6.4oz
      Small 2-3/4" dia 149g 5.3oz
      Extra Small 2-1/2" dia 101g 3.6oz
      Cup, Quarters
      From Medium Apple 125g 4.4oz
      Cup Slices
      From Medium Apple 109g 3.8oz

      Potato, White, Russet or Red
      Large (3" to 4-14" dia) 369g 13oz
      Medium (2-1/4" to 3-1/4" dia) 213g 7.5oz
      Small (1-3/4" to 2-1/4" dia) 170g 6oz
      Cup, Diced 150g 5.3oz

      Potato, Sweet
      Large (5-3/4"+ long, 2-1/2"+ dia) 180g 6.3oz
      Medium (5" long, 2" dia) 114g 4oz
      Small (4" long, 1-3/4" dia) 60g 2.1oz

      4 Replies
      1. re: hannaone

        I'm doubting that most cookbooks would follow those guidelines.
        I much appreciate weight measurements in recipes, unless its something small and unimportant, like one carrot.
        I just made a recipe last week that called for 4 large russets and had in brackets 1lb. If I had used my perception of 4 large russets I would've ended up with 3lbs.

        1. re: AndrewK512

          Maybe 1-lb each -- I'm seeing some monstrous-sized russets at the locals!

          1. re: Sarah

            I went with monstrous-sized spuds for my first vichysoise and I could have spackled a wall with it.

        2. re: hannaone


          But the Latkes recipe that compelled me to post today just said:

          4 Potatoes.

          4 what size?
          4 what kind?

          I've cooked enough to estimate medium pretty well... and I went with Russet because starchy potatoes make better latkes.

          But... weight and variety would have been quite helpful.

        3. Well, where I shop, there is no scale. Nor do I have a scale in my kitchen . . .Other than the scale for my weight. So, I COULD actually jump on the scale in between produce, etc., but I know that that would REALLY confuse me.

          Agreed that "medium, number" is very vague. I've dealt with it. If recipes had the weight AND the amount, that would be most helpful.

          9 Replies
          1. re: JerryMe

            In Europe all baking recipes are done by weight... which is a much better way to bake. 500g of flour is so much more precise than 1 cup. 1 cup can be fluffy or dense and make a big difference in the final product.

            I do have a small digital kitchen scale... only cost about $15. And I use it all the time.

            1. re: Jennalynn

              I used to think this was totally pretentious until I rented a furnished apartment with a kitchen scale. It is super convenient and my baking results have never been better! It's also great for playing with recipes...if I know the fruit/veg. puree in a recipe is 8 oz., I can pretty safely substitute 8 oz. of another similarly-textured ingredient with decent results.

              All of which is to say, I'm in the recipes by weight camp now.

              1. re: Jennalynn

                After taking a pie crust making class, I now own a small digital scale also. Love it.

                1. re: mcel215

                  I think you just nudged me over to a Eureka moment. I couldn't make a good pie crust to save my life, but I also have no interest in cooking with a scale (up until now.) It takes time to weigh things, much less measure them and I don't like to take the time to do it. I guess I need to slow down and learn something new now and then. Thanks!

                2. re: Jennalynn

                  I agree that the lack of weight measurements is especially egregious in baking books. And I’m not just talking about flour,

                  I gave a somewhat negative review a couple of years back to a baking book with very good recipes because it called for such things as “¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter” and “1 cup of graham cracker crumbs.” There’s just no excuse for this. I buy butter for baking in one-pound blocks, not “sticks.” Please, please, please—just tell me that it’s 6 ounces. And why should I have to guess at how many graham crackers it takes to make a cup of crumbs? Makes me crazy nuts. And I end up thinking less well of the author, editor, and publisher of the book.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    My wife writes recipes for publication and a lot of places specifically forbid the inclusion of weights in recipes, so the author doesn't really have a choice. I think it's because most people don't have a scale and the magazines don't want to scare them off. Of course, if recipes included weights more often, more people would buy a scale! And our recipes would turn out better.

                    Not specifying the weight of butter isn't so bad, you can figure it out pretty easily if you know a typical stick of butter is 4 ounces and also 8 tablespoons, so 1 tablespoon = 0.5 ounces. Butter doesn't compress when you measure it, like flour does.

                    One thing I really love about Cooks Illustrated is that almost all of their baking recipes include weights, and a lot of their savory recipes do too.

                    1. re: JoanN

                      I couldn't figure out at first what your problem with 1 C of graham crumbs was. Until I read to the end, that is. I've never bothered to make my own crumbs, so that wouldn't bother me. I'm more likely (as are most of my baking friends) to have a box of graham crumbs in my pantry than the actual crackers.

                      And a 1/2 lb of butter is 1 C. Butter in cups or portions thereof is such a common measurement in recipes, that I don't think twice about it.

                      Recipes with 'sticks' of butter make me crazy though. Always have to look that up, because we don't generally get butter in that packaging here.

                      I've said this before, but I used to be a lot more concerned with measuring exactly, but then I worked in a professional pastry kitchen and saw a lot of 'close enough' measuring to realize that it's not as critical as all that.

                      1. re: Sooeygun

                        Just goes to show what an old fogey I am. I didn't even know you could buy graham cracker crumbs in a box. I do quite a bit of baking, but not much using graham cracker crumbs, so probably wouldn't buy it even now that I do know.

                        And I agree that most measurements, however they're written, are simple enough to figure out. But as a former cookbook editor and one who has worked with a couple of major magazines, I always thought my job was to make following a recipe as easy as possible. One shouldn't need to consult another source or a conversion chart to interpret an ingredients list.

                        As a cook, I'm with you, too, in not being overly concerned about my measurements being exact. As an editor, I expect measurements and instructions to be clear beyond a doubt.

                        1. re: JoanN

                          So many of my cookbooks have my handwritten notes beside the recipes with additional instructions that I have figured out through trial and error. There are lots of recipes out there that could use a little more information to make them clearer.

                3. I have the same complaint, especially when you get to the store and they don't have the size you have in mind. How to convert these little potatoes to medium size potatoes, or apples, etc.? I know at home you can google it but there? The latest for me was at Thanksgiving for a mile high apple pie and the granny smiths were small. I had a 3/4 mile high apple pie, though I bought more granny smiths than called for in the recipe.

                  1. Unless you're baking, relax.

                    You're not going to ruin a recipe by eyeballing something. You think a beef stew, for example, will be awful because the potatoes you used were a bit shy of "medium"? So now you have beef stew that's a bit light on potatoes. So be it. Next time you know. But, regardless, it's still going to be mighty tasty (as long as everything else was ok).

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Agree -- it's only really important in baking.

                      If you use a potato that's "medium" instead of "large" it will be okay! I prefer them to say "3 potatoes" or whatever, since I don't own a kitchen scale. When it just says "2 pounds" of whatever, I have to estimate. Of course the best thing would be for both to be used, but seriously, this is the type of thing that keeps cooking an individual, interesting process. No two potatoes are ever exactly the same, anyway.

                      1. re: visciole

                        Exacerbating the problem is that since most American cookbooks do not use weight measurements, the recipes that DO are usually in metric. The American public balked at the idea of metric conversion when it was proposed some years ago, as far as I can tell, that goal has been quietly dropped. So the idea of weighing ingredients is in many peoples' minds linked (albeit incorrectly) to the concept of forcing them to change their system of measurement. Add to that the need to buy a scale, however inexpensive, and you're in for a fight.

                        I'm not convinced that measurements/weights in baking are as written in stone as we've all been lead to believe. Once I overcame my fear of yeast and began baking bread, I realized that I could play fast and loose with ingredients and measurements and still produce successful loaves. SOME baking recipes are finicky and won't tolerate deviation, but a great many - probably most - will work well even when substantial liberties are taken.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          My inexpensive digital kitchen scale lets you choose either ounces or grams.

                      2. re: ipsedixit

                        It may taste ok, but sometimes you run into problems with things overflowing the pan because you have too many vegetables in it, because your potatoes were much larger than the recipe author's. Or your chicken breasts were 4 times the size of theirs, so the cooking time is way off. Or your butternut squash soup is more like pudding because your squash was much larger. All of these things have happened to me. I really prefer recipes that tell me either the weight of the item or how many cups of it you should have after you've cut it up. I have a small, cheap kitchen scale and I use it all the time. It's also very helpful when you have a 10 lb bag of potatoes and the recipe calls for 2 lbs. Maybe it's the scientist in me, but I think recipes that call for 3 potatoes (no weight, no cups, no type) are sloppy.

                        1. re: AmyH

                          Sloppy... that word got me thinking.

                          Honestly I rarely use recipes except for baking.... I do look at recipes to get ideas for seasoning and flavor combos, but I guess I'm used to cooking in a sloppier fashion than you! So if my dish is too small, I just slop the food into a bigger one, or if the soup is too thick, I just slop in more liquid, etc. It's probably a personality thing at a certain point, and I admit, my "cooking personality" is pretty free-form. So I can see why others might prefer recipes to list the weight. And you're perfectly correct, it is the most accurate.

                          1. re: AmyH


                            Please don't take this wrong way (it's not meant to be a slight in any fashion), but in my opinion if a person is following a recipe down to last minute detail, then the person isn't really cooking -- they are merely following directions.

                            Cooking involves something more than just slavishly following a recipe, it's about adding your own personality to a dish. For me, I read and look at recipes only as a guide, nothing more.

                            Is that sloppy? Maybe. But then, that might be ok ... and, in fact, might actually be better in some instances.


                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Beg to differ.

                              I do consider myself a very good cook. But when I try a new recipe I always follow the directions. I want to know what the author had in mind.

                              The second and subsequent times I'll tweak and play and add or subtract what i think it needs. But you need to play the music as written the first time out.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                If you are following a recipe, you are cooking. If you are using a recipe as a guide, you are also cooking. To say that someone who is following a recipe exactly is not 'really' cooking is ridiculous. Obviously following a recipe is following directions, that's kind of the whole point of recipes. The better you get at cooking, the more you can riff on the original recipe.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Cooking definitely involves creativity and improvisation. But especially when venturing into new culinary territory, it's sometimes useful to have a benchmark. And if you want to duplicate the benchmark before branching out to make it your own, precise measurements are very helpful.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    No offense taken. But until you've eaten at my table, please don't accuse me of not really cooking. I do tend to stick pretty close to the recipe the first time I'm making something, like Jennalynn who also replied. Especially if it is an ethnic recipe that I've not eaten and don't know how it's supposed to taste, I have to assume the author knows better. But if I know something isn't going to work out right, based on my 25+ years of cooking experience, or if I need to adjust the amount of spice to suit my family (sometimes up and sometimes down), or adjust some of the ingredients so that a recipe for 4 can feed 6, then I'll make those adjustments the first time, and make notes on the recipe so I can recreate it if it comes out well. Of course I cook from plenty of recipes that are sloppily written and don't specify amounts, since most of them out there are like that. But I really prefer to cook from ones that are specific. It's just less aggrevating to me. Like I said, it's probably the scientist in me. It's also the mother of 4 in me who needs to get dinner onto the table in a timely manner.

                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                  For gnocchi it matters, especially until you get the right feel for the dough.