Rants and Raves: 30-Minute Meals

There is a lot that goes on in the world of food porn outside of recipes—such as celebrity chefs, equipment “innovations,” cooking techniques, etc., etc.—that I would like to talk about, especially those that make me mad or blow my mind, but that don’t seem to belong in a regular blog post. Hence, I decided to label these posts “Rants and Raves.”

Today’s rant: 30-Minute Meals.

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Every time you turn around, there is a new celebrity chef or cooking website or blog advertising, “30-Minute Meals,” “Meals in Minutes,” “Fast-to-Fix Gourmet” or some such bloody batshit. It sells—and sells big—because women (and men) are super busy today and want to be able to put food on the table for their families quickly without resorting to their friendly neighborhood drive-thru five nights out of seven.

The rant?

Have YOU ever been able to make any of these meals in 30 minutes? Because I sure as hell haven’t—and I am an experienced food porn creator.

These recipes promise fast results, but what the vast majority of them don’t take into consideration is the extra time needed to process the instructions and to prep the food, especially for someone who is making the recipe for the very first time. For example:

One small onion, chopped

Okay, fine. Sounds easy enough. But how many of you have a pre-chopped onion in your refrigerator? So now you have to go to your vegetable bin and get an onion, spend a good minute contemplating all of them to assess which one qualifies as “small,” hunt for your chef’s knife, spend another minute figuring out if “chopped” means small, medium or large dice, chop the onion, spend another minute cleaning up all those onion skin pieces you dropped all over your kitchen floor and then finding a Kleenex to deal with the flood of stinging tears pouring down your face.

That was about five minutes. Just to chop an onion. And unless you plan on serving your family sautéed onions over toast for dinner, you better get your ass moving on the rest of it before the 30-minute buzzer sounds.

And that’s with a familiar ingredient. I don’t think I need to go into the total cluster that results when the “fun, fast” recipe calls for an ingredient you have never touched before in your life. It is one of the biggest reasons many families have Pizza Hut on their speed dial.

Unfamiliarity with the instructions is also a key part. I just love seeing a smiling, perky celebrity chef on TV, merrily chatting and cooking away, without a copy of the recipe to be seen anywhere. 30 minutes later? A complete meal you wouldn’t be ashamed to serve if the mayor came over for dinner. But of course Chef Superior can make that meal in 30 minutes. The recipe is in her head and she doesn’t have to pause fifty gazillion times to peer at the instructions because she’s never made this recipe before and hasn’t a clue what she’s doing.

Let’s say you get home from work about 5:45 or so, drop your briefcase at the back door, wash your hands (you do wash your hands before you touch food, right?) and get right down to business making dinner. Great, dinner will be on the table at about 6:15; plenty of time to eat, finish homework, get the kids in the bathtub and tucked into bed at 8:30.

By 6:05, you are sweating bullets. The recipe is still calling for 20 minutes of cooking time and you haven’t even finished putting it all together. The kids are hungry and asking when dinner will be ready. You realize you haven’t turned on the oven in your panic. So you figure you will crank the temperature up to make up for lost time. By 6:25, the kids are yowling, the damned food is still not done and the kitchen is starting to fill up with smoke.

At 6:40, you finally throw in the towel, make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the kids and bust open that bottle of wine you were saving for this weekend.

Now, I am not saying not to make anything that is billed as a “fast” recipe. There are some really, really good ones out there and I encourage you to try the ones that appeal to you. I am just saying to take the promise of “30 minutes or less” with a grain of salt and plan your time accordingly.

If you make one, discover it is a recipe you really like and you make it enough times, you absolutely may, in fact, get it down in 30 minutes or less. I have a nice handful of recipes that have become my go-to meals during the week because I can execute them quickly and with minimum peeks at the recipe. But it took some practice and familiarity to get there.

I’ll drink to that.
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2 thoughts on “Rants and Raves: 30-Minute Meals

  1. I don't think I have ever timed myself when cooking a 30 min meal. That might be fun. Getting out the timer and iPad to record the fun and see if it can be done. What are the rules? You would have to be allowed to read it at least once first to make sure you had all the ingredients. Prep for everything would need to be included for a true idea to see if it could be done. Would buying pre prepped (chopped onions, minced garlic, etc.) ingredients be allowed? Oh this sounds like fun.

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  2. Okay. First, even second read allowed. No prior prep allowed, you have to do everything from the starting gate. Processed food should be at a minimum–I won't balk at a can of chicken broth, but no canned green beans mixed with cream of mushroom soup and topped with canned fried onions (Jesus, you don't eat that crap anyway, do you?). And how about a guest post on the experiment?

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