Why People Don’t Cook: A Rant On The Recipe Industry

Why People Don’t Cook: A Rant On The Recipe Industry

Looking to try a new recipe? This one looks nice. But is it?

At first glance, this looks like an easy, simple recipe. It’s only a quarter of a page for goodness sake. Upon trying to make it, it highlights many of my pet peeves about cooking articles and blogs out there today. I’ll list them out here for reference:

  • Unnecessary, time-wasting steps
  • Unnecessarily specific ingredients quantities
  • Vague ingredient quantities
  • Hidden sugar
  • Ingredients you’ve never heard of / will never use again
  • Making home cooking seem complicated

Let me take you through my thought process step-by-step as I worked through this recipe.

I received this recipe clippings from my mom. I am extremely grateful that she read it, thought of me, took the time to clip it, fold it into an envelope and send it halfway across the country (thanks Mom!). She couldn’t have possibly known that she was sending me 30 minutes of frustration wrapped up in such an innocent looking recipe. I mean look at the title – Carrots, Oranges, Ginger and Walnut Dip. With only two steps! How hard could it possibly be?? This seems like the perfect easy recipe for cooks of any skill level. I’m tricked into committing to the recipe so I get out the food processor and start to gather ingredients.

Ingredients

1 lb of Carrots, Peeled and Very Roughly Chopped

This is a great ingredient line. 1 lb is an easy-to-figure-out amount. And it’s hard to mess up “roughly chopped.” I rinse the carrots and choose not to peel them to save time and carrot. As far as I can tell, the peel of the carrot tastes the same as the inside. You’re just throwing out good food. We’re off to a great start. (I’ll be honest, when I committed to this recipe, I only read the title, the description of the first ingredient, the number of steps and the word “food processor.”)

15 Ounces of Walnut Pieces

I should have taken this line as a warning. A pound is 16 ounces. Why in the world be so specific? Would a 1:1 ratio of carrots to walnuts ruin this recipe? There’s no way someone tried this recipe and thought, “This recipe is pretty good, but you know what would make it great? 1 ounce less of walnuts.” It’s only over time that I’ve learned that most ingredient quantities are flexible. I feel bad for the home cook with only 8 or 12 ounces of walnuts who feels like they can’t make this recipe.

1 Small Bunch of Fresh Cilantro, Finely Chopped

Well, now we’ve just gone in the opposite direction. I need to have exactly 15 ounces of walnuts but a “small bunch” of cilantro will do? Will someone please define a “small bunch” for me. Starting to get some mixed messages.

1 Heaped Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon, 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

No issues here. The word “heaped” seems a little unnecessary but I can find cinnamon, cloves and have a teaspoon measure. On to the next one.

4-inch Fresh Ginger Root

I’d love to meet the person who decided that ginger should be measured by the inch and not by the ounce. Personally, I have no idea how much this is. What person learning to cook knows what 4 inches of ginger looks like? Is there a width or circumference requirement? Plus all the other spices are ground and measured by the teaspoon. Would it be too difficult to keep the recipe consistent?

3 fat garlic cloves, crushed

Just like for the cilantro, please define “fat” for me. Last time I checked, no two garlic cloves are the same. And what’s “fat” to you, may be “skinny” to me. Thankfully, garlic cloves can only get so “fat”, I managed. For the continuation of this rant, please refer to “unwaxed oranges” below.

2 Tablespoons Honey

This might be my biggest pet peeve of all. Let’s take a quick look at the spices: 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of cloves, 1+ TBSP of ginger and then 2 TBSP of honey. Honey is pure sugar. Yes, it’s better than processed cane sugar (don’t get me started on that) and if I’m going to use a sweetener I only use organic local honey and organic maple syrup, but at the end of the day it is still 100% sugar. Last time I checked everybody likes sugar. Instead of the creator posting a truly healthy recipe with vegetables, nuts, spices and sweetened with fruit, they had the audacity to sneak in 34g of pure sugar and hide it at the end of the ingredient list on the second row! There are 39g of sugar in a 12oz coke! So why will people like this recipe? Not because carrots, ginger and orange is a unique and interesting combination. Nope! They’ll like it because it tastes sweet. Instead of posting a truly healthy recipe, they relied on people’s sugar cravings to publish a recipe everyone would like while making people believe that they’re enjoying a healthy Carrot, Orange, Ginger, Walnut dip.

Zest and Juice of 2 Unwaxed Oranges

Quick, tell me how big an orange is? Or better yet, go to the grocery store, pick up two, and tell me if they are the same size? Oh, by the way, did you grab navel, tangelos or mandarin oranges? And were they unwaxed? Glad the recipe creator decided that specifying “unwaxed” was more important than a number of TBSPs of freshly squeezed orange juice or type of orange. Super. Helpful.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

How much?! This is supposed to be a recipe! How is someone supposed to follow it, if it doesn’t give an idea of how much to use! 1 teaspoon, 1/4 cup, the entire container? This is cheating. Olive oil is a healthy fat and should be used in moderation. But just like added sweetener (aka honey) if you use a lot of it, your body will like the recipe, not because of the combination of ingredients, but because your body craves fat for energy storage. The recipe creator is basically saying, “if you don’t like how the recipe tastes, just add more of this ingredient that your body craves until you’ve added enough that you like the recipe.” THIS IS CHEATING. You might as well mix olive oil and sugar together and eat that. Surprise, surprise, it tastes good.

Okay, I found it in Step 2 of the instructions. 4 TBSPs + more. That’s still a lot and probably more than you think. Whenever you see more than 4 TBSPs of an ingredient, it’s because someone’s trying to make it seem like there’s less than there actually is. Did you know 4 TBSP is a 1/4 cup? Yep, there are 4 TBSPs in a cup. You see this trick a lot with oils and sugars. Tablespoons just sound like a lot less than cups.

3 Tablespoons of Nigella Seeds

Nigella seeds?? Carrots, oranges, olive oil and nigella seeds, of course! I hate it when recipes do this. Next time you’re near a cookbook open it up to a random page and skim through the ingredients of the recipe. You’ll probably recognize almost all of the ingredients, but there’s always one ingredient that you’ll need to google to find out what in the world it is. In this case, it’s nigella seeds. Since I know you’re curious, nigella seeds are an ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine kind of similar to cumin but not. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

Instructions

Step 1

This step looks short but it could not be more time consuming and unnecessary. First, boiling water takes a pan and the time it takes to bring water to a boil. Minimum of 5 minutes provided you use a water heater. An ice bath requires another pan and ice. I don’t know about you, but every time I grab ice from the tray in the freezer I drop and shatter some on the ground. Every. Single. Time. I already make enough of a mess on the counter when I cook, I don’t need to top it off with a slippery floor. And the entire purpose of this step is just for softer carrots? If everything is going to be blended together in a food processor then why do the carrots need to be soft? Doesn’t a little crunch in your dip sound nice? Ignoring this step saves you at least 15 minutes of cooking and cleaning and the need for a “CAUTION: Wet Floor” sign at the entrance to your kitchen.

Step 2

No issues here. Eventually we had to drop everything in the food processor and hit the start button.

More of My Thoughts:

Other words I hate in recipes: “season”, “sprinkle”, “pinch.”

How is a beginner home chef supposed to know what is meant by a “pinch of salt?” In my experience, my “pinches of salt” have always been a lot less than the pinches the recipe creator intended. We are conditioned to be very wary of salt and rightfully so because so much of it is snuck into processed foods – think “frozen chicken tenders”… But when you do your own cooking and start with raw ingredients that contain no salt, adding salt will help release the flavor and result in you liking your own cooking more. And even though you might feel like you’re adding WAY too much, salt is a required ingredient that our bodies need to function properly. So when you start cooking more, instead of being concerned with consuming too much salt, you need to make sure that you are getting enough!

Anyways, this is not a recipe. It’s a list of ingredient and a pretty picture setting you up for failure! If you expect a recipe to be easy and it’s not, you’re being conditioned that cooking is hard. That you can’t even do the “easy” (looking) recipes so why try to cook anything else. It’s obvious that you just aren’t good at cooking. Instead of blaming the recipe, we blame ourselves. We assumed we’re the problem, not the recipe and decide that cooking is better left to the experts.

More On Hidden Sugar

We need more transparency regarding why we like the food we like. The hidden sugar ingredient is not isolated to this recipe. Restaurants do not have to tell you all the ingredients in what you order, just what they want to tell you. You don’t know how much hidden sugar, the type and quantity of oil, or amount of salt in your favorite dish.

So it’s no surprise that your dishes never seem to turn out as good as those from a restaurant. Odds are they are taking shortcuts that you wouldn’t consider in your own kitchen. That delicious Focaccia bread you had last night at your favorite restaurant probably had hidden added sugar. But they don’t have to tell you. Just like this carrot dip doesn’t have honey in the title. Sugar isn’t always advertised, but it’s usually there.

Take for example, an experience I had recently had at an Acai Bowl restaurant. Here’s an example ingredient list for a bowl: Acai, coconut flakes, pineapple, granola, honey. Sounds like a healthy choice, right? Let’s dig a little deeper. Upon asking, I was told that they use frozen acai berries that are packaged with – you guessed it – pure cane sugar! It’s also likely that those coconut flakes are sweetened – unless they’re specified as “unsweetened.” Always make sure to check the packaging when you buy coconut flakes for hidden sugar. Next, granola. What do you think is most often used to make granola stick together and cluster? Would you guess that it’s the same ingredient that makes you like it so much? Nope, it’s not the oats or nuts. It’s brown sugar. The just as processed partner to pure cane sugar! So now let’s revisit the ingredient list, it’s actually: acai berries + sugar, coconut + sugar, pineapple, oat + nuts + sugar, and honey. Wow, that’s a lot of hidden sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should never purchase an acai bowl. I’ve had my fair share and can attest that they are delicious. I’m saying, make an informed decision about what you choose to eat. And when something tastes too good to be true based on the ingredients you’ve been shown, it usually is.

We need to adjust our expectations about how food should taste. Fruit tastes plenty sweet without added sugar (check out my $0.50 and 70 Minute Whole Wheat Apple Banana Bread recipe if you don’t believe me). Plus when fruit is used as a sweetener, there is the digestive benefit of the fiber that comes with the natural sugar.

apple banana bread recipe
Cafe4111 Apple Banana Bread. No added sugar needed.

My Recipes / Philosophy

So why do people create recipes like this? Why add these hard to find and harder to pronounce ingredients? To make cooking seems hard. To make people think that recipes need to be complex and specific to be good. To make the would-be home cook dependent on recipes and cookbooks to feed themselves. This is why people don’t cook.

I am passionate about exposing this incorrect belief. Cooking is not hard. Cooking is healthy. Cooking is fun. Cooking is affordable. Cooking is empowering. Cooking is definitely not hard.

This is why my recipes contain:

  • An amount for every ingredient in a unit of measure that you’ve heard of before. You won’t find the words “small bunch” anywhere. I promise.
  • Wiggle room: You will never need exactly 15 ounces of walnuts. Just get in the neighborhood. Add more of what you like, less of what you don’t.
  • Ingredients you can find at your local grocery store
  • Minimal sugar
  • Minimal ingredients
  • Minimal steps

Investing in good ingredients will lead to good food. It’s that simple. I hope my recipe templates inspire you to buy more healthy ingredients and have the confidence that you are capable of turning them into meals that you love and want to share with friends and family. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Great food shared with great company. It doesn’t get any better than that.

As always, make informed food decisions. Know your ingredients, know your costs.



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