Is home cooking easy? It can be, for sure. You can whip up delicious bites in no time using abbreviated ingredients lists and quicker techniques.
But it’s not always easy, or quick to cook at home. Really, it’s all what you make of it.
In “The Myth of ‘Easy’ Cooking,” by Elizabeth G. Dunn in The Atlantic, a food writer explores how food publications have created this ideal that gourmet-level cooking is possible for the average home cook quickly and easily. An entire industry has grown around this notion, building cookbooks that promise dinner on the table in just 30-minutes or 20 or 10.
But what those cookbooks often assume is that you have that span of time to devote entirely to prepping and cooking foods at a breakneck speed. They also assume that you can chop, mince and cut pretty quickly. Have you ever cooked a recipe from Rachael Ray’s popular 30-minute cooking series? It’s like a marathon to the end of each recipe — which, at the end of a busy day, isn’t always what you have time or energy for.
The article made me think. After an initial bristling at the title in which I thought I would disagree with the author, I found myself nodding in agreement. If there’s a niche I have carved my food career out of, it’s that wholesome dinners can be made quickly and easily. I truly believe it, and moreover, I do it myself all the time.
But the article pointed out something important: even my brand of quick and easy cooking isn’t quick and easy for the extreme novice. For those who don’t — or don’t want to — know how to mince garlic and dice onions quickly, recipes immediately become more involved endeavors that take more time.
I can honestly make dinner in as little as 15 minutes, including chopping and prep work. But part of the reason I can do that is that I had proper knife training a few years ago. It now takes me minutes to slice or dice anything. Others, like my parents, take longer to dice foods like onions. When little things like that take longer, so does the whole cooking process.
Likewise, I have spent so much time in the kitchen, I almost subconsciously plan the order for cooking things so that everything is done in the most efficient manner.
Not everyone thinks the way I do in the kitchen. It’s not second nature to everyone. It’s something I have chosen to learn about to better my skill set and allow me to build a career around food.
There are exceptions of course — like the night before school started when I decided that making five individual pizzas one at a time was a good idea. It was an hour and a half before we all sat down to eat on a night when speed mattered. Whoops.
But most evenings, I know what we’ll be eating before I even leave for work in the morning, can pull it together quickly when I get home and we dig in — right on schedule.
So the bottom line is this: to cook recipes that are quick and easy, you have a few options. You can learn the skills necessary to make prep work a breeze; you can spend money on already chopped and ready to cook foods to take the work out of prep work; or you can invest in an array of gadgets to hopefully make it all faster — though you’ll ultimately spend more time cleaning them.
Or you can, as the author suggests, do a mix of these things whilst also enlisting the help of your family.
Frankly, your family should be helping anyway.
Having a basic kitchen knowledge isn’t something that everyone learns anymore. Heck, I didn’t. In school I skipped home ec class, instead opting for a drafting class. As a result, I still cannot sew or even thread a bobbin on a sewing machine. But I chose to learn to cook. And I am so glad I did.
And thanks to that, I can not only make dinner but also whip up fun desserts like these tasty Mini Turtle Cheesecakes. Because they are a mini version, they cook faster and don’t risk the agony of cracking that larger cheesecakes suffer from.
Making these is simple. You start with a cookie — a vanilla wafer — set in a cupcake liner. Then you make a quick batter of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract and salt. The key is to soften the cream cheese first. Let it sit at room temperature until it’s squishy. Then you add all the ingredients to a stand mixer and mix it all up until it’s light and fluffy.
Then you simply add the batter to the cupcake liners and bake them.
The fun part? It comes in the turtle-esk topping: pecans, caramel and chocolate. These babies are decadent, but truly easy — with only a few ingredients and just a really basic preparation method, even novices can make these.
- 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 16 vanilla wafers
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- 2 tbsp caramel sauce, warmed
- ½ cup milk chocolate chips, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin liners.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and mix for 3-4 minutes, until light, fluffy and smooth.
- Place 1 vanilla wafer in each of the muffin cups. Fill each cup almost to the top with batter.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, until set. Let cool for at least 20 minutes. Remove the mini cheesecakes to a cutting board to cool. Repeat with remaining vanilla wafers and batter to make the remaining 4 mini cheesecakes.
- Once the cheesecake have cooled for at least 30 minutes, divide the pecans evenly among them. Top each with caramel and then milk chocolate, dividing evenly among them.
- Serve warm, or chill until ready to serve.