Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Best Tip for Beginning Chefs

I wasn't raised to cook. Sure, I grew up on my share of homemade meals, but kids certainly weren't invited to the kitchen to help. If it didn't come from a box, it was more or less a magic show: a mess of raw ingredients one moment, a complete meal an hour later. The first thing I ever learned to "cook" was Kraft macaroni, followed by some glazed chicken from a Martha Stewart recipe, the occasional pancakes or waffles, and then... well, I don't think I cooked again until I was almost seventeen. My interest in cooking didn't really pick up until I got a copy of 1000 Vegetarian, but even then, it was a slow going process because I was glued to the book, meticulously following each recipe, fumbling with my knife, and... well, generally proving myself a veritable kitchen disaster. I'd have to say, much of my cooking knowledge comes from obsessively watching the Food Network. (That, and working in food service for a few years.)

A vegan obsessed with the Food Network doesn't make a lot of sense. There's nothing particularly appetizing about a thousand shows all devoted to different ways of preparing dead animal bodies, much less preparing them with a bunch of eggs and dairy, but I've always been after the techniques they boasted. That's why I was so excited, then, to discover some amazing kitchen how-tos on Rachel Ray's website.

It's ironic, isn't it? That the only Food Network host I enjoy poo-pooing* is also the only Food Network host I've endorsed on xveganx party. I have to give Rachel Ray some credit, though, because she's not a pedigreed cook; so her entire empire is constructed with this "every(wo)man" attitude towards cooking. Her cooking videos skip all the dead animal parts and go straight to what's important: how to cut an onion. Making a pie lattice. The basic format for a gravy. (Roux + Stock + Seasonings) They're all generic cooking skills that anyone can adapt for their culinary preferences or dietary needs, which makes these videos positively PERFECT for the budding vegan chef - and it saves you that cable subscription.

Another thing I've found helpful over the years is youtube videos. One, I can view all sorts of old episodes of Good Eats on there. (Understanding the science behind baking really helps you figure out those hard-to-pin vegan treats.) Two, if there's a specific technique that I want to try and there's no one to show me, I can youtube it. Ever felt like, no matter how many times you've read a recipe, it just doesn't quite make sense? YOUTUBE! For me, youtube's been extremely helpful with cake decorating, but for you, it might unravel the hidden mysteries of kneading bread - or better yet, braiding it! When I made strudel for the Daring Bakers, I watched a video about stretching the dough because the written instructions were a real head scratcher. There's a lot of criticisms I can make about our techno-obsessed culture, but one of the real triumphs, I think, is the democratization of information which has fortified DIY living. So really, my best cooking tip isn't about cooking at all: it's about where to find the information to really hone your cooking skills. And that's varying sites with cooking videos. Ha!

Tomorrow we'll be putting those kitchen skills to the test with a real recipe (OoooOOOOOoo...). Don't forget about the reader feedback give away!

* Actually, Rachel Ray is not the only host I enjoy poo pooing. In fact, I don't think she's even my favorite. The real award goes to Sandra Lee. Because mixing two packaged foods together does not even broach "semi"-homemade, no matter how many cocktails you make during the show.

1 comment:

  1. I am so with you on the Rachael Ray thing; as annoying as I find her, I think her approach to cooking is helpful. I'm more annoyed by her voice -- something she arguably can't help or change -- so I shouldn't be so harsh. And hey, she's one of the few chefs on the Food Network who throws in some vegetarian meals and makes note of not making veg guests feel excluded, so it's a small step.

    Sandra Lee, however, should go away forever.