Monday, February 23, 2015

Burning Down the Kitchen

According to my mum, I watch a lot of cooking shows.  From competition programs like "Masterchef Junior" to travel shows like "You Gotta Eat Here".  

The funny thing is that I am a complete disaster in the kitchen.  So what is a tragedy like myself to do?  Learn by trial and error and have an arsenal of resources.   


How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
by Mark Bittman

If you want a book that will help you not mess up a meatless dish, this book if for you.  This book is not strictly for vegetarians.

The recipes are simple and though this book does not have large photos of the end result, it has some how-to illustrations for certain techniques.  So don't panic! Bittman will also give variations for each recipe. Some of which will be great for vegans. 

Bittman's writing style isn't intimidating either.  His voice isn't dry or lifeless.  The last thing you need when learning to cook is someone giving you complicated instructions.  Bittman is great at keeping his instructions easy, relaxed and pretty informal. 

The Ultimate Student Cookbook
by Tiffany Goodall

I know it says "student" on it but some people have learned to cook by striking out on their own at college and university.  I included this book because it seemed like a great beginner book.  It also has some elements that are quite important in terms of thinking about what you eat throughout the day.

Firstly, it has step by step photos to show you some techniques in creating each dish.  It also has short, simple and to the point instructions.  She doesn't spend a lot of time waxing poetic.  She also usually has suggestions at the end of each recipe with ideas for extra things to add to the dish, stuff you could serve with it and its leftover value.

Secondly, she gets you thinking about breakfast and lunch.  Students are on the go a lot just like adults.  I have noticed with my friends that they tend to rely on fast food places for both those meals.  Her sections on breakfast foods and lunch items you can take with you really help beginner cooks think beyond just getting dinner on the table.  

Thirdly, she really makes an effort to add healthy ingredients to many of the recipes in her book even though she already has a section for healthy dishes.  It's a theme you can see in all of her recipes and even in her suggestions for additions to each plate. 

The Can't Cook Book
by Jessica Seinfeld

The CAN'T is what caught my attention but the book itself has a lot of value for beginners in the kitchen.

It has pictures of each dish and depending on the recipe, it will have several pictures to clarify some steps.  The instructions are also really simple and easy to follow.  Each recipe will also carry some encouraging words and remind you not to panic.

Her recipes cover breakfast foods, fish, meat, chicken, vegetables, desserts, quick foods, salads, grains and beans.  But if you're looking for foods from other cultures, you won't really find that in this book.  

Contains a bit of useful extra info. like temperature charts, storage times for food, tools, measurement conversions and visual how-to steps on how to cut up certain items like onions, lemons, garlic, avocados, nuts and herbs.

The extra information isn't dense either.  She gets through it quite quickly and simply and moves onto her recipes.   This book puts you at ease and can change your attitude about your own skills in the kitchen.

Youtube Channels

Hilah Cooking! : Her channel is full of high quality videos that feature simple dishes like mashed potatoes.  She also has recipes that seem a little more daunting like vegetable curry. I really like the variety of the recipes in her video list too.  I don't think I've seen any other channels with a recipe for Egg Rolls. She also has a few vegan dishes! 

What makes Hilah's show great is her delivery of information.  She does it simply and in a way that everyone can understand.  She's also great at putting her viewers at ease.  She makes jokes, laughs and is pretty calm in a lot of her episodes.   She even has a website where you can find written pages of her recipes to go along with the videos.

AND she has a book for beginner cooks called Learn to Cook.  It contains a lot of the recipes found on her youtube channel plus a lot more that viewers haven't seen.  The recipes don't have many accompanying photos but Hilah is detailed in her recipes.  She also has some fun things in there like a spice chart, which explains what flavors can go together.

Food Wishes :  One of the drawbacks from this channel is that the food looks really fancy. Too fancy for someone just starting out.  BUT the despite the names of the dishes, the recipes are easy to follow.  Watch a video and you'll find that Chef John keeps things simple. He doesn't insert himself in the videos.  Rather, he keeps the focus on the food.  You'll see his hands and hear his voice but that's about it.

What is also nice is that he always reminds viewers to not stress out about little things that might go wrong and even if they do go wrong, it's not that big of a deal.  And it's not all about recipes either.  Chef John has some good videos on tips and techniques.  So check out his channel, which contains more than 1,000 videos.

You can find all the information you need (i.e. measurements & ingredients) at his website.

SORTED Food :  What I love about this channel is the variety.  They have vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, Chinese recipes, baking recipes, Brazilian recipes, Moroccan recipes and list goes on.   They tackle these dishes that sound so hard and break them down for their viewers.  It really makes the task of cooking a lot less intimidating.

I also really enjoy their video series called "3 Things to do With..."  because it's creative and it makes connections between familiar ingredients and other sometimes unfamiliar dishes. And, the guys hosting the show are pretty hilarious and have a fun energy.  I think they really keep you engaged.

Again, if you're worried about written recipes, they have a website where you can find them. It might be a little hard to find them but just click on an arrow at the top of the screen in the left hand corner and it will present a drop down menu with links to the recipes.

Helpful Links

10 Helpful Tips for Beginner Cooks 

- Follow the Link

  • Why this link?  Because it's a personal post and it highlights a lot of the things beginner cooks forget about and don't even think about.  Each tip is followed by the writer's actual experience, which makes it more genuine.   It's also a recipe blog so keep the link and explore it beyond the little tips.

15 Websites to find Recipes by Ingredients You Have 
- Follow the Link
  • Why this link? Because sometimes you have ingredients and no idea what to do with them.  This link takes you to a list of sites that will give you written recipes using ingredients that you have on hand.  If you do this early enough, it will let you know what other ingredients you might need to go out and get.  I kept the list instead of just picking one site because everyone has different likes and dislikes with search engines. The link I gave you breaks down each website and even lists a few pros and cons.
Stone Soup: Healthy Meals made Easy
- Follow the Link
  • Why this Link?  Because it's a health focused recipe blog that doesn't use a lot of complicated things.  It keeps the instructions, tools and ingredients simple.  This list so far has carried a lot of generic recipes with a lot of meat and North American dishes and I wanted to give readers other options.   She is also big on giving suggestions for replacement items in case of dietary restrictions.
How To / The Kitchn
- Follow the Link
  • Why this link? Because this site has a section that has how-to tutorials on how to make certain dishes of food including sauces and steamed vegetables.  It also teaches you various ways to take care of your kitchen like cleaning your sink using flour.  I know...I am just as stunned as you are right now.  There isn't much in this section and it gets repetitive but look through it and you might find things you need.

Simply Recipes
- Follow the Link

  • Why this link? Because it offers readers a good variety of foods including Creole, Japanese, Hungarian, Polish and Ethiopian cuisine.  This website also takes into account things a lot of people are currently concerned with like carbs, gluten, time and budget. The instructions are also pretty simple.  However, some dishes will require quite a few ingredients so expect dishes to range in difficulty levels.
Honorable Mention

Rachel Khoo is an honorable mention because I think her recipes may be a little too hard for cooks that are still getting the hang of things. It's something to work up to so borrow it from the library. 

But if you are ambitious, some of the recipes in The Little Paris Kitchen look pretty small and simple.  So feel free to tackle them.

One of the things I really like about Rachel Khoo is how she talks about the food she makes.  She makes her recipes pretty accessible on her programs through her process, tips and overall enthusiasm for what she does.  

There are a good many videos of her recipes on youtube. I've included two of her videos below.

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