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Can Rachael Ray’s ‘30 Minute Meals’ be made in 30 minutes?

courtesy of The Food Network

courtesy of The Food Network

It all started with a friend’s Facebook post:

“I’m pretty sure the 30 minute meal Rachael Ray is making would take me two hours (minimum).”

And the comments on the post:

“What’s she making?”

“Some meatball pesto creation with spaghetti noodles mixed in – and then some other dippers and dipping sauce…”

“Her pork-fried rice takes WAY longer than 30 minutes if you don’t have everything chopped & ready to go.”

“I hear ya!”

“You have to be on speed.”

“She doesn’t have 2 kids asking her questions every 2 minutes!!”

“I totally agree!”

“It’s only 30 minutes if you have a crew of assistants prepping everything for you.”

I then looked at the 30 Minute Meals website. Here’s what it says about the show:

From comfort food to sophisticated fare for entertaining, Rachael promises that her dazzling dishes will never take more than 30 minutes to make, from start to finish.

Wow. Rachael promises? Surely these recipes could be made in 30 minutes if you know your way around a kitchen.

Just for fun, I assembled a Facebook task force, some of whom were in on the original conversation above. Others, including a HUGE Rachael Ray fan sworn to defend her honor, stepped up for the challenge. We selected a recipe (Parimigiano-Reggiano-Crusted Chicken Piccata) from the 30 Minute Meals recipe archive and set a date and time to take the 30 minute challenge.

First, we set the ground rules. We would start with the ingredients on the counter (even though Rachael gathers them from fridge and pantry during the show) but we would do no prep work since that is part of making a meal. I would give the signal to start on Facebook and we would update our progress as time permitted. (I actually had my husband transcribe my updates to be sure that didn’t interfere with my time.)

Here are excerpts from our cooking log posted on Facebook:

J: GO! 5:58 p.m. [Guess I was a little early]

J: I hate pounding chicken! 6:02 p.m.

E: I do too – it creeps me out so I butterflied it. Chicken cooking and water is on… Waiting for it to boil. 6:10 p.m.

A: Step one done. 6:12 p.m.

J: Prep work done – now waiting for water to boil and chicken to cook. 6:25 p.m.

J: 30 minute mark – anyone done yet? 6:29 p.m.

E: Nope. Making sauce and pasta almost done. 6:30 p.m.

E: Just plated. 6:41 p.m.

J: E’s in at 43 minutes. 6:42 p.m.

J: Done and plated at 52 minutes. 6:50 p.m.

A: Okay, I’m done, but it isn’t pretty and my kitchen should be declared a disaster area! 6:57 p.m.

J: A is in at 59 minutes.

P: Made mine 60 minutes start to finish, including having to cook the chicken in 2 batches for lack of a giant pan & not wanting to use 2 pans at once – probably would have been 10-12 mins faster without that issue

So, we finished in 43, 52, 59 and 60 minutes. Why didn’t it work? Let’s consider some possibilities:Rachael's chicken

  • Cooking experience? Granted some people are not as quick in the kitchen, but several in our group are highly experienced cooks. Additionally, at least one person in our group took shortcuts such as using pre-shredded cheese and butterflying the chicken instead of pounding it.
  • Equipment? One of the cooks in our group has a professional range and was still unable to complete the meal in 30 minutes.
  • Sabotage? As I mentioned earlier, one of the cooks in our group vowed to avenge Rachael and raced to complete the meal. In fact, it was a challenge not to race while watching the clock.
  • Not following recipe? The person who finished first actually didn’t follow the recipe. She boiled her water in the first step instead of the second as the recipe instructed, which ended up saving her time. The rest of us delayed starting our water until the recipe instructed us to do so.

This was just one recipe, of course. But, the feedback we saw from the initial Facebook post suggests that our experience was not atypical.

I offered Rachael a chance to comment and here is her response:

The point of cooking at home is to enjoy the process and bring family together to celebrate good food. When I am cooking at home for John I don’t set an egg timer to make sure I finish in time. Thirty minutes is a guideline and there are so many factors that go into the prep and cooking time that can make the process take a little longer. If you’ve never picked up a knife in your life, it’ll probably take you an hour. If I open the wine before I start cooking, it takes me a good 47 minutes. But they all can be done in 30 minutes and to prove it when I launched my last cook book, Look + Cook, I taped several online videos without commercials to show folks just how fast and easy it can be.  Take a look at those videos here.

Have you tried any of her 30 minute recipes? Were you able to accomplish the task?

Jenny Turknett, Southern and Neighborhood Fare

Jenny Turknett, Southern and Neighborhood Fare

–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.

69 comments Add your comment

Quick on the Draw...

July 26th, 2011
5:31 pm

I’m a single person who can multi-task like nobody’s business at home. I could cook a meal in 30 minutes, depending upon what the meal is and how many ingredients required, and how many times I’ve made it before.

After work one day, I once cooked a full meal (meat, 2 veggies, biscuits from scratch, a pound cake from scratch, fresh sweet tea), did a load of laundry, AND trimmed my front hedges all while talking on the phone in 2 hours flat!

How ’bout dem apples, Rachel Ray?

Erin

July 26th, 2011
5:42 pm

I have never timed myself making her recipes but they never take me an hour – and the person who boiled the water first was smart, to get any cooking done in 30 min you have to get those things going first and know a few shortcuts (like putting a lid on a pot of water so it boils faster). But most importantly, always read the entire recipe before you get started! This one step saves so much time in the kitchen!!!!! Having the right tools – like sharp knives – helps too!

Baltisraul

July 26th, 2011
5:43 pm

If I do a meal in 30 min or less it usually has “Crock Pot” somewhere in the recipe name!

My Two Cents

July 26th, 2011
6:49 pm

It’s a tv program! It is part of the marketability. Sure you can make old fashioned tuna casserole in less than 30 minutes or put a hot dog, brat, chicken breast, or pork chop on the George Foreman and microwave or steam a can or frozen package of vegetables. When I watch her show it is for new ideas but never would think they were 30 minute meals anyway. No big deal.

John

July 26th, 2011
7:54 pm

People- Who wants to buy a book on how to make a meal in 45 or 60 minutes. Pure marketing ploy. Ala 4 hour workweek, where Tim Ferriss spend 60 hours a week promoting the 4 hour work week.

They think we are all sheep and too their success it looks as though they are correct.

Monterray

July 26th, 2011
9:07 pm

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Does spending 40 rather than 30 minutes to cook a good meal really matter? Experienced cooks who already knows their way around a kitchen can whip up a meal faster than those who are less so–especially when racing against the clock. Quality cookware, cutlery and cutting boards, a stove with power burners, sufficient counterspace, and no interruptions make cooking much quicker and easier. Despite what the recipe my state, gathering ingredients beforehand, starting the water to boil (with a lid covering the pot) and using boneless, skinless chicken breasts will cut the time, ands experienced cooks usually can tell which recipe steps can be bypassed and which should be specifically followed. Yes, the whole idea was to challenge the “30-minute meal.” Some of us can produce in 30 , and some cannot, but unless there are grumpy, hungry people glaring at us in our kitchens, we probably can spend a few minutes extra. And if it matters, I never watch food shows, including Racheal Ray, but I do check out their recipes online.

James

July 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

@Monterray – so are you suggesting Rachael change the name to “30 minute meals for experienced chefs who’ve made these dishes multiple times and have a stove with power burners, sufficient counterspace, high end cookware and cutlery, professional knife skills, and a priori knowledge of the steps that may be skipped or need to be re-ordered for maximal efficiency”?

Cause that’s not really the way the concept is presented now ;)

Baltisraul

July 27th, 2011
5:55 pm

RR is making a ton of money off her shows, cookware and all else. I am happy for her. Hope she is a gazillionaire soon. I love capitalism, it works!!!

Kim @ MoneyandRisk

July 29th, 2011
6:42 pm

I haven’t tried Rachel Ray’s recipes but just from watching the show, few of her recipes seem to be doable within 30 minutes for a normal person without staff.

That’s usually my beef with cooking shows (which I love). The claims are usually not valid regarding costs or time.

I’ve been tempted to film my dinner preps and put it on my blog because I’ve worked out full sit down meals in 15 mins including prep time. The only exception is quiche or something that needs baking. If so, I refuse to spend more than 10 mins prep time.

I made it into a mind game for me. Creating a 3 course meal every night from scratch in 15 mins or less and as low cost as possible. My best effort was $1.25/per person.

After a long day at work, slaving over the stove for a meal is not my idea of fun.

Matt

July 30th, 2011
5:09 am

Click on the link and watch her video for veal chops and “smashed” potatoes (”Lick My Chops”). I have never watched anyone so frustrated with peeling a potato. She looks like she is having a nervous breakdown (”I really suck at peeling potatoes.”) It’s actually refreshing contrasted with her over-bubbly personality on the show (that I can’t watch anymore). The promotion of her own product line has gotten out of control as she shows her own peeler/vegetable brush doesn’t work. I would love to have a cast-iron skillet with a bright orange enamel glaze on the outside (BARF BARF BARF).

Matt

July 30th, 2011
5:26 am

I retract some of my hatin’. I love when she says the water would have boiled within the 30 minutes if she had have turned on the burner. Solid technique and food, very different from her show. Doesn’t change the fact that her line of cookware is obnoxious.

mark

July 30th, 2011
9:54 am

If you cook any pasta type dishes, waer boiling is a 10 – 12 minute wait. She is a maching of food prep, I can’t cut that quick and get it done, I have to step over the dog etc. But it can be done with a little forethought. I mean, last night I watched Giada cook BBQ chicken on a grill in the kitchen that was 9 mins per side…18 mins? Is it cooked ???????

Autiger83

July 30th, 2011
10:48 am

I pray one day the world will be a rachel ray free zone. The woman is almost as annoying as Paula Dean.

bigstack

July 30th, 2011
1:17 pm

I don’t care how long it takes. If I am taking the time to cook something I want it to be not just good but downright awesome. I take my time and get it right. If you want a 30 minute meal go out and eat.

Maemae

July 30th, 2011
2:55 pm

I did not cook this recipe but I have prepared many of her dishes. I have enjoyed using a lot of her techniques and have found that I can now make a pretty fast dinner. She washes her produce when she brings it home from the store on Sunday, she uses chicken tenderloins for quick cooking, she always starts her water first and with a lid on to bring it to a boil quickly and she cooks at high temps. I like the point of her show and that is to cook a meal instead of carryout and to enjoy every minute of it. Yummo!

Tom

July 31st, 2011
3:45 pm

I am thankful I learned to cook in the Caribbean, a melting pot of cooking styles, flavors, and ethnicity. It avoids me having to watch these so called “culinary stars”, who just turn out bland tasting rubbish, and try to pass it off as something wonderful! I have watched her cook some of her recipes, and they are not great! Remember folks, TV is fantasy…..she has an army of helpers getting her ready to toss things in a pan….it’s not like she does it all herself!

Atl Resident

July 31st, 2011
3:53 pm

Well…….Everyone knows that you cannot prepare no good meal in 30 mins or less, not without everything prep, so is this really an issue?

fer

July 31st, 2011
8:57 pm

I have been cooking for 50 years (wow, I just figured that and it’s kind of amazing) and I guess that qualifies me as ‘experienced’. All recipes, Rachel’s or anyone else’s, ALWAYS take longer than they say, and this has always been the case for me.

dan

August 1st, 2011
12:42 pm

Love all these nitwits, talking about her army of helpers, clearly they haven’t watched the show. You see her prep 90% of it, and as a couple of posters mention, she also claims to wash and prep some produce when she comes home from the market, thats about the only place the preppers help, and that can largely be taken care of by buying pre wahsed and cut produce at the store or by doing that when you get home. If you logically follow the steps, putting the water on first cutting and prepping in the proper order etc you can get close to 30 min, most people are not quite as adept with the knife as she is (tho her knife work is not at all complex) The show gives great ideas for a relatively quick meal and hints a shortcuts to save time without sacrificing much quality, even if it takes you 45 min.