The 30 Minute Meal Test

Find my original article here

Photo by Sage Warner

Life is a rush. Between class, work and meetings, it’s pretty easy to submit to letting a restaurant do your cooking. Many food writers—myself included—want to urge you that this doesn’t have to be the case. But with all the promises of recipes that take “just 30 minutes,” who can we trust? I took two recipes, one by Rachael Ray and one by America’s Test Kitchen. Then, I whipped out a timer to find out for real. Here are my results:

Recipe #1: Rachael Ray’s

Pork Chops With Golden Applesauce


As you may know, Rachael Ray has an entire show’s worth of recipes she claims to take just 30 minutes to prepare (30 Minute Meals). Whether you love or hate her bubbly personality, you have to admit she has taken many viewers from their couches to their kitchens.

Time Promised: The online recipe claims “15 minutes cooking time”

Actual Time To Prepare: 42 minutes

Verdict: One aspect of Ray’s recipes that can be problematic is that she doesn’t include preparation time in her calculation. Luckily, for this dish there wasn’t much, just simply chopping up some apples and putting them in a pot with the spices for the applesauce.

The time it took to cook the chops through was a little longer than she stated, which I think is what resulted in the extra time, as well as making the pan sauce. Overall, when choosing Ray’s recipes it’s best to pick one with a short ingredient list and minimal preparation steps if you are in a hurry.

The dish was pretty flavorful, especially the sweet and tart applesauce (which I used in my oatmeal for breakfast the next day), but the pork chops came out a little dry.

Recipe #2: Middle Eastern Lamb

Patties with Yogurt Sauce

(From The Best 30-Minute Recipe)

The chefs from America’s Test Kitchen—also the masterminds behind the deliciously nerdy Cooks Illustrated—take cooking very, very seriously. They have it down to a science, and try every single way of cooking any given dish for the very best quality. So naturally, their 30-minute recipe can certainly be trusted.

Time Promised: 30 minutes

Actual Time To Prepare: 32 minutes

Verdict: So they didn’t hit the mark exactly on 30 minutes; that’s okay. As promised in the introduction of their book, the recipe included preparation time in the overall cooking time. That was 32 minutes to make a homemade lamb meatball concoction, cook them evenly, and prepare a dipping sauce. My only complaint of this recipe is that since the meatballs and the sauce use similar ingredients (cilantro, yogurt), the sauce wasn’t as flavorful as it could be. But adding cumin and a little more lemon juice didn’t take me any extra time, so I still declare this recipe the winner. Not just because the dish was fast, but also because the lamb was perfectly crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, and I didn’t feel like I made any sacrifices for time.

Quick cooking tips

from the author:

While I enjoy using quick recipes, I think you’re better off being more prepared in your own cooking. Here are some suggestions I have for making the best food, fast.

Early preparation: On the weekends when I’m doing homework, I like to simultaneously roast a big batch of vegetables. That way, throughout the week, I have a side dish. This plan doesn’t have to be vegetables, either. You could do this with pasta, meat or whatever you like to eat during the week (or what’s on your menu).

Make a menu: It sounds extremely housewife-y, but it certainly saves me a lot of time. On the weekends, I make a list of what I want to make during the week (factoring in leftovers as well), and then I put them on my calendar. That way, when I get home from class late at night with a growling stomach, I can look into my fridge and say: oh, right I bought mushrooms, for that pasta. Lots of time saved there.

Start early, if you can: If you have a class at 6:30 p.m., don’t start prepping your ingredients at 6:10 p.m. Most recipes (like Ray’s) don’t include preparation time, since you’re supposedly starting with pre-chopped garlic (yet chopping garlic is cooking, yes?). Anyway, just give yourself some time to let something go wrong, because let’s be honest, something usually does.

Lastly, and very importantly, never cook on an empty stomach. Eat a piece of fruit and then cook. You will be much happier and less stressed on time.


Olive Press Competition: A 4 Course St. Patty’s Meal

I sure do love me a food holiday. That’s why when I was invited to participate in a food blogger competition for Olive Press olive oil company in Sonoma (my hometown county! Represent!), I instantly thought of our upcoming holiday. Sure, I may be Italian/Lithuanian, but my boyfriend and favorite beer are both Irish, so of course I know what I’m talking about. Please enjoy my greened-out meal; each course highlighted with one of the following Olive Press olive oils:

Arbequina (light)
Mission (medium)
Italian (robust)
Blood Orange (sweet)

They’ve got all kinds of great oils you can check out at:

I’m not even the slightest bit competitive, so I just want to say thank you to Olive Press for sending me your samples and taking a chance on a newbie food blogger. Thanks so much!

Starter: Kale chips with Avocado Crema
These kale chips are nutrient-packed and transform completely in the oven into crunchy, salty delights. The Italian olive oil helped these chips achieve a smoky taste, which paired well with my avocado crema dip. Who doesn’t like avocado? (It’s got that good fat).

1 small avocado, very soft and ripe
1 tablespoon of nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tsp sea salt
1 bunch of kale
Italian Olive Oil (Olive Press)

1) Take prettiest, fullest leaves from the bunch and rinse thoroughly.
2) Lay out kale leaves on baking sheet. Drizzle two tablespoons Italian olive oil, top with sea salt and a grind or two of pepper.
3) Bake kale in the oven for 10 minutes.
4) Meanwhile, mix salt, avocado, and Greek yogurt in a small bowl, tasting for preference.
5) Serve avocado crema with kale chips, instructing guests to dip the stems of the chips in the crema.

Side: Spinach Dill Mashed Potatoes
Here’s a comfort classic with ribbons of farmer’s market spinach and earthy dill to add some flare to an old favorite. I use the medium Mission olive oil because it isn’t an aggressive flavor and it adds the silkiness butter usually offers to mashed potatoes. And most importantly, it’s St.Paddy’s Day so you have to have SOME potatoes!

1 large handful of spinach (preferably from the farmer’s market, oh so green!)
1 lb of Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
½ cup half and half
Mission olive oil (Olive Press)
1 tablespoon fresh or dried dill
sea salt and pepper
1 minced garlic clove

1) Boil potatoes for 20-30 minutes or until you cut push through a potato with a fork easily.
2) When there is around 10 minutes left, set a medium skillet to high and add one tablespoon of Mission olive oil and the garlic. Next, add the spinach and sauté with a spatula.
3) Drain boiled potatoes and return to sauté pan. Add half and half and spinach and stir.

Main Dish:Calamari Shells With Goat Cheese and Capers
The shells I use for this recipe adhere really well to the creaminess of the goat cheese, and the tangy lemon zest compliment the zing of the capers. The Arbequina olive oil is by far my favorite of the four: it’s delicate and really highlights the flavor of seafood…I like it so much I add it to the sauce as well!

½ lb calamari tubes, sliced
1 cup of shell pasta
¼ cup of goat cheese crumbles
2 tablespoons capers
1 small zucchini, sliced
Delicate Arbequina Olive Oil (Olive Press)
the zest from one lemon
2 tablespoons parsley

1) Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil
2) When boiling, drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the Arbequina olive oil in a medium to large skillet. Place on medium high heat.
3) Add zucchini slices to mixture, cook for 4-5 minutes until becoming soft. Then add calamari to the mix, cooking a few minutes more.
4) Meanwhile, mix 2 more tablespoons of Arbequina with the zest and parsley in a small bowl.
5) When pasta is al dente, drain and then pour into skillet with calamari, zucchini and capers.
6) Top with lemon zest/parsley sauce and enjoy.

Dessert: Fruit Medley with Blood Orange Sherry Sauce
After any meal, it’s nice to leave the palate with something sweet. The Blood Orange olive oil from Olive press is really fantastic with a splash of sherry vinegar to add some kick to its sweetness. This fruit salad highlights some of our seasonal winter fruits that have been showing up everywhere, as well as some berries to prepare us for spring. Lastly, I added hazelnuts because they’re an Oregon favorite, and I have to give some love to my current residence!

1 Anjou pear, sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
½ cup blueberries
1 large handful of toasted hazelnuts
3 tablespoons Blood Orange olive oil (Olive Press)
1 and ½ tablespoon of sherry vinegar

1) Mix all fruit in a bowl with the nuts.
2) Mix oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork.
3) Top fruit with sauce, and serve to someone you love!