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Yes Weigh

February 26, 2014

Cooking isn’t hard, but cooking shows tend to make it look easier than it actually is. One could argue that by creating the appearance of a quickly prepared meal, television producers are encouraging more people to cook who might otherwise stay out of the kitchen. Or you could see it as planting the seeds of discontentment when the home cook is unable to execute a thirty-minute meal in less than an hour and a half (including clean up).

If you had someone at home prepping, portioning and cleaning as you went, the task of cooking would be a breeze.

Even doing something simple like building a spice blend can take a surprisingly long time. You have to hunt for each jar of spices in your cabinet, find all the right measuring spoons, confirm the measurements against the recipe, level each scoop, put the jars away, and clean up everything that spilled. On TV, all those spices are pre-measured in cute glass bowls that can then be stacked and pushed off-screen.

Measuring spoons and cups are important. But they can also be imprecise, make a mess, and slow you down in the kitchen. This may sound crazy, but even if you are simply making a parfait of yogurt, cereal and fruit, a decent digital scale can improve your life.

One of the best things you can do as an eater in our modern age is to monitor portion sizes. In some way they have gotten out of control as certain items have grown bigger and bigger over time. Bagels are monstrously huge, as are croissants. It’s a problem. Other items have shrunk as the corporation that control our food supply try to squeeze more profit from their products. Individual yogurt containers get smaller and smaller, ice cream cartons have been shrinking, and there is quite a long list of other categories that have been hit by the Grocery Shrink Ray.

Do you know how large a serving of yogurt is supposed to be? One cup. Now if you buy yogurt by the quart, you’ve got some choices for doling out a portion. It would be foolish to fumble through the kitchen drawer for the cup measure, scoop out your yogurt, level the cup, dump it into a bowl, and put the dirty measuring cup in the sink. Instead, you can put your bowl on the scale, press the re-zero button, and pour the yogurt into the bowl until the scale reads 227 grams.

A full serving of blueberries is 78 grams. Or if you prefer raspberries and want to get a full serving of fruit you’ll need to re-zero the scale and add 93 grams.

Want to make sure you are getting plenty of fruits and vegetables? Well the health professionals recommend numbers of servings. But how many carrot sticks constitute a serving? Easy. 64 grams. You’ll need 85 grams for a serving of beets and a whopping 100 grams for a serving of sweet potatoes. These things aren’t always intuitive either. Take for example apples. A serving is only 55 grams, but it’s not uncommon for a medium sized apple to be three times that size.

Granted, this may be a wee bit obsessive, but it works.

It also works wonders for cooking. When I’m making a mung bean dal, I generally triple the recipe. A serving of the masala powder is 8 grams. So instead of having to take multiple spoonfuls, I can quickly dump 24 grams into one of those cute stackable glass bowls used on the cooking shows.

The truth is that once you get to a certain level of cooking proficiency, you don’t have to measure out ingredients so precisely. Unless, that is, if you are baking. If you are baking, a digital scale is an absolute necessity.

What always kills me are recipes that throw precision out the window. “Three garlic cloves” can result in wildly different levels of garlic flavor in a dish. Small cloves could get you as little as 3 grams and big ones could crank that up to 20 grams. The difference is huge.

Most cookbooks and recipes are written with volume measurements and not by weight. So do yourself a favor. Measure your ingredients first, weigh them out, and then write down the weight that corresponds with the volume. Before too long you’ll have a personal bible of weights and measures, and you will almost never have to measure again. More importantly, your prep times will decrease, and without as many dirty measuring tools your cleanup will be easier too.

Soon, you may even be able to come close to banging out a thirty minute meal in thirty minutes. But you’ll still probably have to work on your knife skills.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2014 10:49 am

    I caught a segment on 5-minute soup meals on Rachel Ray yesterday – the guest tossed 3-4 ingredients in a slow cooker turned on high, and did this around 8 times for 8 different “meals”. The outcome: watery, soupy slop. And the guest even forgot to put cream in the “creamy tomato” soup. Maybe it’s the Southerner in me, but I’m cool with taking my time in the kitchen a couple times a week. Now, add in the 6 month old as my co-chef… that’s another story. Some 30 minute meals now take 3 hours ;)

  2. February 26, 2014 1:13 pm

    Cooking does matter. It is one of those life skills that parents think about but don’t often pass on. I was a wreck when I left home. Processed foods galore. Would I say I am an excellent cook now . . .no way. But I get by. And it is usually does not cost much more than the processed meal from a box or can. And so much better.

    Try this MOOC next time it comes up . . . SPU27x Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.

  3. Chantelle permalink
    February 26, 2014 8:00 pm

    This post is great! After looking at a food blog with a delicious recipe, I was literally just complaining about how I want to cook more but it takes too long. I agree that weighing is a good method to become familiar with and regularly use. A few weeks ago I started weighing a few foods here and there just because I was curious to see how close I was to a serving size. I would pour a bowl of cereal and think “yeah that’s 3/4 of a cup” but the scale has taught me that I was off by about double. Now I am weighing everything and it has been eye opening. Try it, you might like it.

  4. February 27, 2014 10:23 am

    Most scales don’t have a “re-zero” button. The word you’re more likely to find is “tare”.

    One additional reason to have a scale is so you can replicate recipes time after time. My main application is for baking, where I agree a scale is a necessity. A cup of flour can vary by as much as 20 grams depending on the humidity and how you load it into the cup and level it off.

    Micromanaging your portions of veggies, on the other hand… that’s crazy talk. What are you going to do next time the FDA changes the Food Pyramid?

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