Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why “Refrigerator To Table In 30 Minutes Or Less” Is A Lie

I hate cooking, but I like everyone to eat a healthy dinner around the table. So my save-time radar perks up when I see a recipe that claims I can fix it in 30 minutes or less. Included is the alleged time saving recipe, scanned from my recipe book (I can’t keep torn magazine pages intact so I put them on a card and pop them into my recipe book).

Here’s the first time sucker: 1 pound of chicken cut into strips. Do you know how long it takes to cut 4 boneless chicken breasts into strips if you remembered to defrost them ahead of time? 5 minutes! If you didn’t remember to defrost them, add another 12 minutes for microwave defrosting. I don’t know about you, but I rinse my chicken off before I prepare it. Then I put it on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Do you think the person who took the last paper towel replaced the roll? No. Stop everything while I go find another roll of paper towel. This little side trip took 3 minutes.

Second step: Toss chicken strips in cheese. Where’s the parmesan cheese? Great, we’re low on it. Is there any more? No. Hope there’s 4 tablespoons. Luckily, there were 4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese left. Now do I toss the chicken like I toss a salad? Dredge it? I decided to toss it. Raw chicken doesn’t toss as easily as lettuce, so before I started throwing food everywhere a la the Swedish Chef, I developed a little toss-roll thing. Parmesan search and technique development chewed up 7 more minutes. Now we’re up to 15 minutes, and I haven’t even started cooking!

I don’t like to start the oil heating in the skillet until I’m almost ready to cook in case there are unexpected preparation difficulties. Nothing worse than a forgotten skillet with hot oil in it. Can you say kitchen fire? While the chicken and cheese were “getting to know each other” (one of my granny’s cooking terms), I got the olive oil. I started putting it on the highest shelf when the kids were little but I can’t remember why. I’m sure it involved making a mess or accidental ingestion. Who knows why it’s still on the highest shelf since my son is taller than me now. At any rate, I have to s-t-r-e-t-c-h up there to get it, and just as I’m about to snag the bottle, the phone rings. It’s for my daughter, but while I’m distracted looking at the caller ID, I knocked down some seldom used baking cups and a birthday candle lighter. I can see why I put the lighter up there, but baking cups? I’ve gotta reorganize this cabinet some day. Obtaining my 1 tablespoon of olive oil ate up another 3 minutes.

While the oil was heating, I started the side dishes in the microwave. Times flies so much faster when you’re preoccupied by other activities, and before you know it, your skillet is smoking. That didn’t happen this time though. In go the chicken strips, and the cheese promptly absorbed all the olive oil. Now they’re browning too fast, soon on their way to being blackened. I put in some more oil, hoping I wouldn’t make the whole thing a big grease ball. The recipe should be amended to 4-6 tablespoons. Now we’re up to 23 minutes.

The last side dish was going to take 6 minutes to nuke. I wonder if the chicken is 6 minutes from being finished? I don’t know, myself answered, why don’t you ask it? Enough of that, get back on track. Saute 3-4 minutes until browned and cooked through doesn’t apply to any chicken I buy. More like 8-10 minutes. Of course by now my side dishes are cold because I forgot to factor in special sauce production time. It’s taken 32 minutes so far, and I still have one more thing to make. I hollered for the kids to set the table and pour the drinks, and got to work.

I don’t add tomatoes, because the other 3 people who live with me don’t like hot tomatoes. Well, that saved me a minute. Where’s the pesto? I know we have some; I just bought it. Found the pesto, and am now cooking 1-2 minutes until sauce thickens slightly. No thickening is occurring. Does it need more flour? Just leave it alone, I told myself, and threw the veggies back in the microwave for a quick re-heat. I decided to take up the sauce because I feared it would just dry up and permanently adhere to the skillet. It wasn’t thick like white gravy (don’t know if it was supposed to be), but it smelled good. Hollered for everyone to come to the table. On the plus side, Pesto Presto Chicken ended up looking like the picture (always a success in my book), and tasted good too. But it did take 37 minutes from refrigerator to table. Seven whole minutes longer?! The horror! I wish the folks at the Magazine Recipe Testing Kitchen would take into account such time zappers as no paper towel, slicing, defrosting, chopping (take that back, there was no chopping!), cabinet items falling out, ringing phones, etc. before they proclaim a recipe as a “time saver”.  At least nothing caught fire this time.

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