Fast meals are missing just one thing

Rachael Ray's secrets for speedy cooking would have been very welcome years ago.

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Here's how it's done: Popular TV cooking-show host and cookbook author Rachael Ray is known for preparing meals that are ready in half an hour or less.

Have you ever watched TV's amazing Rachael Ray create her fabulous meals in 30 minutes? Smiling nonstop and chatting cheerfully, she glides around her kitchen between the stove, the refrigerator, and the sink for half an hour and suddenly – voilà! A delicious meal is there on her kitchen counter, ready to enjoy.

I just wish Rachael Ray had been teaching her 30-minute meals years ago when I was cooking for our family. There I was, spending all those hours in the kitchen getting supper for seven of us (which included our five growing sons with their gargantuan appetites}, and if I'd only known how, I could have done it all in 30 minutes.

Of course, I have to admit that Rachael Ray is better organized than I was. She manages to avoid all the little problems that used to eat up my time. For example, she never has to come to an abrupt halt in the middle of a TV show to run next door to borrow some ingredient she forgot to buy when she went to the store.

I was always missing something really important. She has everything on hand down to a teaspoon of red wine vinegar and a pinch of dried basil.

Another amazing thing about Rachael Ray is her tidy kitchen. She wields that bottle of EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) without a drip or a drop or a splash. That requires talent. And her spaghetti sauce never boils over and runs down the sides of the pan onto the stove creating a big mess. When I was cooking for the family, the kitchen was always a disaster. I really admire her ability to keep everything so neat while she cooks.

Another extraordinary thing about Rachael Ray is that everything she creates is ready at the same time. I find that amazing. For years, no matter how hard I tried, I could never get everything timed to come out even.

My asparagus would be cooked to perfection, but the chicken was still almost raw. Or the pork chops were fork-tender, but I still had to mash the potatoes. It was especially irritating when I fixed Thanksgiving dinner and all the guests were gathered but that silly little red pop-up thermometer on the turkey wouldn't pop out.

I'm sure that would never happen to Rachael Ray.

I don't want to make excuses but back when I was doing all that cooking, many of today's handy shortcuts weren't available. These days Rachael Ray can buy chicken stock in a box! And veggies are pre-prepped at the grocery store. The carrots and broccoli and cauliflower are all washed and chopped and good to go.

It used to take me 30 minutes just to make carrot sticks for seven of us.

But I'm absolutely sure one thing is missing when you cook all your meals in 30 minutes: Remember how wonderful the house smelled when the ham and bean soup had been simmering on the back of the stove for hours? Or when the pot roast had been cooking all afternoon? Or when an apple pie, bubbling in its cinnamon and sugar juices, came out of the oven?

There's no way you can get that whole-house aroma in just 30 minutes.

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