This Is How to Tell Whether a Recipe Really Is ‘Easy’

This Is How to Tell Whether a Recipe Really Is ‘Easy’

I’ve been fooled by the headline “Easiest (meal name) Ever.” It’s wasn’t pretty. The ingredients were purchased. The prep work was done. Sadly, the joke was on me–the recipe was, in fact, not easy at all. It’s an attractive word and hard to resist, and although the recipe may have been rote for the creator, “easy” means something different to everyone. Prevent yourself from becoming ensnared in the easy-recipe-trap and hit these checkpoints before you start.

How long does it take?

Many recipes will have a section at the top of the recipe that calculates roughly how long it took the author to do it. There may even be a few times: active time, inactive time, prep time, and cook, or bake, time. Prep time refers to setting up the components, like chopping ingredients or boiling water. Inactive time refers to wait time or when the ingredients are doing something without your help but not cooking yet, like fermenting dough. The cook time refers to how much time the dish is actively cooking. Add these together to see minimally how much time you’ll be devoting to this dish. Remember, that’s how long it took the author to do the recipe, and they already knew what they were getting into. A long preparation and cook time doesn’t necessarily mean the recipe will be difficult for you, but it alludes to commitment, attention, and possibly a long period of active participation.

Check the yield.

While you’re at the top of the recipe, check to see how much food it makes, or the yield. This will help you determine if the recipe fits your needs, ability, and available equipment. The “easy” sour cream cake recipe you found might produce enough batter for four layers, and you only have one cake pan. The dumpling recipe your friend recommended might make 48 two-inch dumplings, but you’re cooking for one person. Usually you can find the yield, or servings, right at the top of the page. It’s not always considered a standard part of recipe writing, so occasionally it’s hidden in the steps at the end, or nowhere at all. Sometimes large yield recipes can be cut in half, but you certainly want to be aware of that so you’re prepared to do the math.

When the yield is not listed, you can do some rough calculations to help you figure it out on your own. If the final product takes up volume, like soup, stew, a type of filling, or batter, add up the large ingredient measurements. A chili recipe that has eight cans of crushed tomatoes along with four cans of beans might be a bit much for a single person, but perfect for a family of four. Recipes that are baked in a measurable dish can also help you calculate the yield. Usually the pan, or baking dishes, are listed in the first step. A recipe that lists a 13 by 9-inch casserole dish is a big help. Take out the baking dish and you can estimate the slice size, or literally measure out slices, and get an accurate yield.

Read the ingredient list.

The ingredient list is one of the first places I look to see what a recipe demands. Here you can see how many ingredients you’ll have to procure, how many you might already have, and if you’re familiar with them all. Is everything a primary ingredient or are some prepared, like ground meat and spices versus a bag of frozen meatballs? Checking the ingredient list might reveal that all of the ingredients are easy to come by, or that you have to wait until the weekend to visit a specialty store.

What equipment will you need?

A list of necessary or specialized equipment isn’t always explicitly itemized, but if it is, you can find it at the top of the recipe near the cook time and the yield, or sometimes down the side margin. A recipe will likely come across as easier for you if you already possess the tools, and are familiar with how to operate them. A “pasta attachment” might not make any sense if you don’t have anything to attach it to, and a recipe that requires a deep fryer might have simple instructions for that machine but you have to fuss with a pot of oil and no thermometer. A recipe that requires an immersion circulator that you don’t have can change from “easy” to “easy if” in the blink of an eye.

Check the verbs, terms, and phrases.

The time commitment is manageable, you’ve scoped out the yield, the ingredient list checks-out, and you have all the equipment necessary to pull-off the recipe. It would be a damn shame to get stuck on step 3 because you didn’t know what “blanch” meant. Scan the recipe for the action verbs in each step. Most recipes lead with a short sentence that starts with the main verb–blanch the asparagus, julienne the carrots, reverse-sear the loin, or cut-in butter. Looking for cooking terms and phrases that may be unfamiliar, like “deglaze the pan” or “whip to stiff peaks” can help you decide if the recipe is actually easy for you, or if you have some research to do. Just because a recipe isn’t easy for you today doesn’t mean it can’t be a quick Tuesday dinner in the future. Like many activities, cooking and baking skills grow with practice. With these key checkpoints you can decide what’s easy for you.

Source Link