Shame on you, America’s Test Kitchen!

After all my dissing of Rachael Ray and her so-called 30 Minute Meals, and my holding up of America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks as a sort of star pupil in the school of Giving Realistic Time Estimates For Recipes … the other day, I made Beef Teriyaki from the America’s Test Kitchen The Quick Recipe cookbook. It was supposed to take 30 minutes, and it took an entire hour!

The ongoing problem with all these recipes, which I think I might have mentioned before, is that they seem to start the clock at the point where the ingredients have already been chopped and diced and minced. Unfortunately, I don’t have a staff of kitchen servants (or even one kitchen servant) to do my chopping for me. (A friend of mine from India said that her mother does, in fact, have the maid chop up the vegetables for dinner, and then the mother does the actual cooking.)

Not being a Rachael Ray recipe, the America’s Test Kitchen Beef Teriyaki provided only 3 servings, instead of the suggested 4 to 6. But that was partly because my boyfriend Donald had a second helping. (Though Donald often has second helpings of Rachael Ray recipes, and I still end up with 6 to 8 servings when they’re supposed to serve 4.)

I liked the beef teriyaki too, although I think I might have reduced the sauce a little too long. The recipe instructions said to cook the meat in the sauce at the end “until the sauce reduces to a syrupy glaze and the meat is well coated.” But I had some uncertainty about what, exactly, that meant. The sauce did taste good, but I think it might have been a little too syrupy and candy-like.

Last night, Donald cooked dinner for me, also from The Quick Recipe. He made Stir-Fried Pork, Celery, and Peanuts in Sichuan Chile Sauce (with rice from a rice cooker; my rice cooker; Donald doesn’t own any cooking utensils as specialized as a rice cooker). In the cookbook, the recipe calls for chicken, but pork was what he had, and besides he’s sort of allergic to chicken.

It was quite delicious, flavorful and spicy, and the sauce was just the right degree of thickness (it was better than the teriyaki). Donald doesn’t really cook, and this may be one of the few recipes he’s ever cooked completely from scratch (he can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). He even mixed the stir-fry sauce from raw ingredients like soy sauce, sherry, and Sichuan peppercorns (which he first toasted and then ground in a coffee grinder). Which I think is a good illustration of the fact that anyone, no matter how inexperienced they are, can cook perfectly well as long as they have a good cookbook, and are good at following instructions.

It’s also an illustration of the fact that these cookbooks that promise quick meals, whether Rachael Ray’s or America’s Test Kitchen, fail especially in that promise to inexperienced cooks. (Which is especially aggravating with the Rachael Ray cookbooks, because they’re specifically marketed as being suitable for people who don’t already do a lot of cooking.) The America’s Test Kitchen recipe was supposed to take 35 minutes; Donald said it was more like 2 hours. “Mincing takes a lot longer than you’d think,” he said. Perhaps he’d do better with Lisa’s tomato-feta-pesto pasta dish. (Though I can’t really see him trying it, since he believes that all dinners should include meat, and doesn’t really like pesto.)

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