You read it here first: Thirty is the magic number in the kitchen.
Thirty, as in 30 minutes -- that's one half of one hour.
Say it once or twice and it casts a spell; it seems to have all sorts of wizardlike qualities. Thirty sells books, for one thing.
The number of cookbooks that purport to tell you how to dish out food while the clock moves on grows daily. (Once upon a time, famed chef Pierre Franey's book "The Sixty Minute Gourmet" made a sensation, but that's really laughable now.)
I've written a few 30-minute columns myself and even Gourmet magazine has fallen for the gimmick. The magazine features a column that describes a half-hour meal -- amusing, when you realize that it takes twice that long to tear out all those upscale ads they feature. There's even a rumor that the editors are considering a new column describing a fast meal prepared while watching a flat screen TV in the back seat of your new Mercedes. (Just kidding.)
Some people credit the 30-minute gimmick to Rachael Ray, the twinkly young woman who never met a clock she didn't like.
Her "Thirty Minute Meals" on the Food Network is a big hit. Her new book "2,4,6,8: Great Meals for Couples Or Crowds" is also into speedy cooking. Numbers, numbers, numbers...
Ray also has a show that tells how to eat well in various cities for under $40, but we digress.
Ray isn't the only one who can tell time. For years there was a column in the Atlanta Constitution called "The 5:30 Challenge," which describes the same thing, only this time using five ingredients. (Five may become the new 30 -- stay tuned.)
There's a Thirty Minute Kosher cook on Epicurious.com; and there's "The Thirty Minute Cook" by a Brit called Nigel Slater. And many, many more.
Obviously, speedy cooking is meant to appeal to all of us who come home tired from the office only to face dinner preparation. Day after day, that can prove tiresome and overwhelming. "I can never do it unless I buy takeout," says one great cook I know.
So sometimes you do have to cheat a little, like The Cooks' Illustrated tome called "The Best 30-Minute Recipe." It tells you on its cover you can serve "your grandmother's chicken and roasted potatoes" in 30 minutes. But further research shows you have to use chicken breasts to meet that deadline. Not the same thing as my grandmother's. I don't know about yours.
Watch the shows and read the books if you want to, sure. They're fun. But actually, there have always been ways to get a decent meal on the table quickly:
* Stir-fry meals take less than 30 minutes. (If you learn to chop fast or buy the stuff from the supermarket already chopped for you.)
* Just about anything broiled takes less than 30 minutes. (Those can be expensive, though.)
* Pasta is fasta. (Just throw in a few tomatoes and onions to make sauce.)
And remember, the clock is running.