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

Jennalynn Dec 17, 2009 01:11 PM

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. todao Dec 17, 2009 01:19 PM

    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. hannaone Dec 17, 2009 02:00 PM

      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
        AndrewK512 Dec 17, 2009 02:15 PM

        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
          Sarah Dec 17, 2009 02:34 PM

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

          1. re: Sarah
            huckfinn Dec 17, 2009 02:57 PM

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

        2. re: hannaone
          Jennalynn Dec 17, 2009 03:08 PM

          Maybe.

          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. JerryMe Dec 17, 2009 03:50 PM

          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
            Jennalynn Dec 17, 2009 03:53 PM

            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
              ChristinaMason Dec 18, 2009 12:26 AM

              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
                mcel215 Dec 18, 2009 01:45 AM

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

                1. re: mcel215
                  l
                  Laralee Dec 26, 2009 08:05 PM

                  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
                  JoanN Dec 18, 2009 05:29 AM

                  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
                    b
                    Buckethead Dec 18, 2009 09:11 AM

                    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
                      Sooeygun Dec 18, 2009 10:10 AM

                      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
                        JoanN Dec 18, 2009 11:04 AM

                        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
                          Sooeygun Dec 18, 2009 11:55 AM

                          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. chowser Dec 18, 2009 04:42 AM

                  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. ipsedixit Dec 18, 2009 11:22 AM

                    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
                      visciole Dec 18, 2009 11:34 AM

                      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
                        greygarious Dec 25, 2009 09:46 PM

                        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
                          Jennalynn Dec 26, 2009 01:25 PM

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

                      2. re: ipsedixit
                        AmyH Dec 18, 2009 12:05 PM

                        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
                          visciole Dec 18, 2009 12:10 PM

                          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
                            ipsedixit Dec 18, 2009 12:19 PM

                            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.

                            Cheers.

                            1. re: ipsedixit
                              Jennalynn Dec 18, 2009 01:34 PM

                              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
                                b
                                Buckethead Dec 18, 2009 01:52 PM

                                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
                                  alanbarnes Dec 18, 2009 04:08 PM

                                  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
                                    AmyH Dec 21, 2009 08:51 AM

                                    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
                                  chowser Dec 18, 2009 12:23 PM

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

                                3. alanbarnes Dec 18, 2009 11:55 AM

                                  +1

                                  1. h
                                    Harters Dec 18, 2009 02:15 PM

                                    "Grate 4 potatoes"

                                    Not a problem at all. Recipes almost always indicate how many people they are for. So, if I'm grating 4 potatoes to make, say, rosti, then what I actually need to do is grate enough potatoes for 4 people to eat. Doesnt matter if that actually involves 2 or 8. Simples.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Harters
                                      chowser Dec 18, 2009 03:13 PM

                                      What type of appetite? If I made potatoes for me, I'd eat about 1/4-1/2. If I made potatoes for my husband, he'd get a full one.

                                      1. re: Harters
                                        Jennalynn Dec 18, 2009 03:47 PM

                                        The problem is:

                                        The myriad of answers here shows that there can be a dozen ways to determine what "4 potatoes" means to a dozen people.

                                        2 lbs of potatoes means only one thing to everyone.

                                      2. flueln Dec 25, 2009 04:38 AM

                                        Sometimes you have to wonder. I have a recipe for Kharcho with Hen from a Georgian website which calls for 1 glass of walnuts. When I wrote to the poster and asked him what size glass he sent me a picture (with, of course no background or size referents at all).

                                        So it's guesswork time.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: flueln
                                          goodhealthgourmet Dec 25, 2009 09:23 PM

                                          "When I wrote to the poster and asked him what size glass he sent me a picture"
                                          ~~~~~~~
                                          ok, i honestly don't mean to laugh at your frustration, but *that* is pretty hilarious.

                                          1. re: flueln
                                            m
                                            MazDee Dec 25, 2009 09:50 PM

                                            You know, he put in the amount of walnuts they liked. Why not put in the amount that your family will like, and not worry about it. I'm pretty sure there is no universal recipe for this dish. Every family will do it their own way.

                                          2. t
                                            tastesgoodwhatisit Dec 26, 2009 12:33 AM

                                            I find that for things like carrots and potatoes people general cook by number, not by weight.

                                            Usually recipes that say 3 medium apples mean that the exact amount of apples isn't that critical - 3 big apples won't make that much of a difference.

                                            Adding variety of apple or potato, in my view, shouldn't be included unless it's an important difference, because it will actually make things worse for an inexperienced cook. If it says Russet potatoes, and the store only has Yukon Gold, then you have to figure out if substituting Yukon Gold is okay or if it makes a difference....

                                            IN other words, a recipe that is needlessly specific can be even more frustrating than one that is less specific, when the specification doesn't matter.

                                            1. Boccone Dolce Dec 27, 2009 04:40 PM

                                              This is not a deal breaker- I just go for the medium and adjust the rest if I guessed wrong. It usually works out. I can't seem to follow recipes EVER- I always stray and throw in more or less what we have and what we like. It seems to work for me... Do I fail? Sure- this morning is a perfect example, cottage cheese pancakes that went all weird on me because I measured NOTHING and tried to use a older non-stick pan, so of course it was a lovely mess that the dogs enjoyed a sample of before I tossed the rest (burnt, crumbles of pancake shame)

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