Saturday, September 13, 2008

Measurements ... Why So Hard?

OK, this is a bit of a rant here. So, be warned!

I read a lot of recipes on the web every day. I love reading about what everyone is doing out there. There are some highly creative people with amazing photographic skills.

Thad said, some folks just need to learn to communicate their recipes better (this includes some cookbook writers, too). Maybe it's just me. Having moved here to the Philippines, I'm much more aware of the words that I use and try to pick words that don't have multiple meanings or, in some cases, no meaning to a non-American listener.

I know that the ideal is to measure nearly everything in grams and to post that. It's a nice ideal and it's something that I hope to do someday. Still, we all use the happy medium of measuring in cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc. It's convenient.

Let's take butter as an example of my ire. This is such a great example. Lots of people will just write "put in one stick of butter". Folks, a "stick" is not a measurement. It is a packaging convenience that happens to work in North America.

Here in the Philippines, butter comes in 225g blocks (for those of you in the only country still not on metric ... that being my own ... that's eight ounces or half a pound). Yes, that would be "two sticks" if you're in North America. I saw on another blog a commenter asking how large a "stick" of butter was. The commenter was from Brazil and I would bet that they don't package food the same way there, either.

Or, how about temperature measurements? My local butcher had some beef ribs for once and I decided to make something yummy. Of course, I hit the blogs to find something and managed to do so. The recipe I found is terrific. I snagged a piece that wasn't quite ready and it was delicious. Meat pulling away from the bones very nicely.

But ... and here's the kicker ... the recipe called for cooking the ribs in your slow cooker on "low". What in the Name of All That Is Holy and Good is LOW?!? Folks, use numbers. They do that funny thing call communicating.

I have two crock pots. One that is horrid and I hate. It had a setting for "low". The other is nice, large, and I love it (plus, it'd hold the 3.7kg of beef ribs I had).

What did I do? I put a pint (2 cups, 32 liquid ounces, 473 milliliters) of water in the lousy crock pot. Set it on low. Then, took the temperature of the water an hour later (with my nifty new laser-guided thermometer ... but that's another post). For the curious out there, the temperature was 200F (93C).


Moral: while cooking isn't an exact science, communication helps. Please remember that when posting.

Rant off ...


Natasha said...

I couldn't agree with you more. The other night I saw a recipe for onion rings. The batter called for "1 bottle of beer". Um, how on earth am I supposed to know how big a beer bottle in Canada is? Here there are actually 2 standard beer bottles - 0.33 l and 0.5 l. And then there are other measurements in other countries - like liquid oz, the regular pint, the US pint... And I'm sure that, while some things can be improvised, the amount of liquid in a batter isn't one of them.
Butter sticks were another mystery for a while - we have 250 g butter packages.
The biggest problem I had was the infamous US cup. I ended up measuring how much it was and then making a mark with a waterproof marker on one of my cups.
I'm sure my blog isn't perfect either, but as much as I can I try to provide both the metric and US measurements for everything.

James said...

250g packages? Haha, we have 225g packages (yes, 1/2 pound).

How does the US cup differ from the European cup? I'm going to have to go do some reading.

In the US, bottles of beer commonly come in 12, 16, and 40 fluid ounce sizes (355ml, 475ml, 1.2L, respectively).

You do well on your blog, Natasha. I think I'm going to have to do better. If there's a difference in cups ... oh, geez ...

Natasha said...

I think the official European cup is 250 ml, so just a bit bigger than the US one. However, where I'm from, we use 200 ml cups. When it comes to baking, such small differences are very important, as you know.
The butter is 250 g because it's a quarter of a kilogram.

James said...

Got sidetracked today ... I'm still going to do some reading. I sense a mini-rant coming on.