Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Free Cooking Lessons. No, Seriously.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned I had once taken a Knife Skills class. It was a good deal. The three-hour lesson was an easy, cheap way to learn a basic technique – one that could be applied to most recipes. It set me back $90, but I consider it a valuable investment, on par with my toothbrush and grad school.

Had I $575 on me, I could have signed up for the culinary institute’s Fine Cooking curriculum - five weekly sessions clocking in at five hours each, covering oodles of eminently useful kitchen methodology. Unfortunately, I had to pay rent that month, and couldn’t cough up the dough.

Learning how to cook saves cash in the long run, but where I live, comprehensive classes are hard to come by if your last name isn’t Trump, Helmsley, or Steinbrenner. Fortunately, this “internet” contraption is pretty helpful on that front. Scattered across its digital wasteland of fish porn, LOLPresidents, and Office fanfic are several dozen sites where cooking demonstrations can be viewed for free. Listed below is a semi-comprehensive list of my favorite videos.

Oh, before you look, remember: though cooking can only truly be learned by doing, watching others helps.

COOKING 101

AllRecipes
64 videos focusing on specific techniques (Cooking en Papillote, How to Blanch Vegetables, etc.) as opposed to the very basics. Host Cory is endearing and seemingly trustworthy.

Better Homes and Gardens
Well-made foundational videos made almost intolerable by colossally grating background music. Kitchen Tips, Food & Recipes, and especially Fresh Grocer are solid resources.

Cooking.com
About 30 shorts. Like AllRecipes, based more on specialized skills (Make Pie Dough by Hand) than cooking in general. Lighting’s a bit dark, but the host is likeable and the warts-and-all food close-ups are worth it.

Epicurious
The motherlode. 95 fantastic demos from Knife Skills to Brining a Turkey to How to Fold a Napkin Into a Lotus. Once you’re on the main site, click on “Videos” in the upper right hand corner. Also available on podcast.

Food Network
Dozens of solid, expertly produced how-tos centering on nine areas: Baking, Cooking Techniques, Dairy, Entertaining, Fruits and Vegetables, Kids, Knife Skills, Meat and Poultry, and Seafood. Ads before each video, but they’re quick. Fantastic place to start.
(As an added bonus, there are a few Alton Brown vids located elsewhere on the site.)

RECIPES & CUISINE

About.com
294 (yes, 294) short films on a gigantic range of cooking topics. A bit difficult to navigate, and audio quality varies, but definitely worth looking into.

Crash Test Kitchen
Brits Waz and Lenny, two decidedly amateur chefs, film their efforts to cook a variety of their favorite dishes. Nice collection of recipes, techniques, and demos from folks who aren’t afraid to mess up. Sample quote: “Shit! Shitshitshitshit! Shit!”

Feed Me Bubbe
By the end of this Jewish grandmother’s Hebrew-heavy cooking series, you’ll want a bubbe of your very own.

Freshtopia (also featured on TasteTV):
Semi-hippie Tanja Andrews cooks with simple, fresh ingredients. Clearly and attractively presented mostly-vegetarian demos with a winning host. I’d trust her with my keys.

ImCooked
A burgeoning Youtube for cooking demos, it currently features CHRISTOPHER WALKEN ROASTING A CHICKEN. Life is good.

Julia Child’s Lessons with Master Chefs
Holy moly. The Great One cooks with more than 40 chefs, from Lidia Bastianich to Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The WHOLE SERIES is online. A must-see.

KUTV
Salt Lake City News series on healthy dishes, plus quite a few podcasts.

Martha Stewart
Awwww, yeah. The Queen Mum calmly demonstrates how to cook everything. It’s mostly segments from her show, which means delicious, simple, well-prepared meals, crazy-high quality production values, and the occasional celebrity guest. Be sure to tune into Cornish Game Hens 2, if only to hear her say, “Dispatch the cock.”

TasteTV.com
A plethora of how-to guides and demos that skew younger than the other sites. Recipes and quality of videos vary, but it’s a solid resource with a tremendous library. The “Your Cooking Shows” tab is especially noteworthy.

FOR FUN

Cooking Terms
Stunningly antiquated, yet strangely relevant educational video from the 1950s. Also: huh huh … soft balls … huh huh.

Post-Punk Kitchen
With punk rock air guitar breaks! My god, I hope there’s a recipe for Jello Biafra somewhere in these.

Top Chef
Ideas from Top Chef hosts and alumni. Scattered, but somewhat educational nonetheless. Plus, Ted Allen is my imaginary gay boyfriend.

SITES THAT COULD HAVE BETTER VIDEO CONTENT

Cooking Light
While their photo series are worth a gander, the videos are nearly non-existent.

Everyday Food
The PBS show presents a few technique and purchasing tips. And that’s it.

Eating Well
A small collection of how-tos, mostly about healthing-up your food. Engaging hosts, but more content would go a long way.

Food & Wine
Scant chef profiles mixed with sporadic recipes. Kind of obviously made on the fly, too.

Chowhound.com
Kind of a bloody mess, but a few helpful vids.

SITES THAT LOOK LIKE THEY COULD BE VERY GOOD, BUT I HAVE NO ACCESS TO THEM

BBC
Though accessible to UK residents only, this looks incredibly promising.

Cooks Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen
Has a 14-day free trial, but you’re paying after that.

Kathy Maiser’s Start Cooking (also for iPod)
A simple, pretty site where one very soothing woman takes you through several dozen very soothing ways of preparing food. For some reason, my computer doesn’t get along with it too well.

AND, FOR THE HELL OF IT: PODCASTS

CHIC
Part of the Culinary Podcast Network (CPN). Assumes you know how to cook already, but provides some great tips in the meantime.

The Savvy Chef
Again, you should probably know how to cook before trying this one, but it has a nice range of recipes and techniques, and Chef Tom seems like the kind of guy you want to have beer with.

Good Food
Varies pretty widely in topic, but there are quite a few food/technique podcasts in there. Extensive back library, and expertly produced.

That's it for now, but if anyone has suggestions, I'd love to hear them. It'd be great to create a comprehensive running list of these things.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting together this blog entry for the festival of frugality. I am really impressed with all the websites you listed. As a temporary resident of the UK, I can tell you that the BBC content site rocks! Over 100 master class videos available.
Anyway, thanks again. -G

Anonymous said...

Looks great...I'm hungry.

Anonymous said...

You can watch BBC on youtube!
http://www.youtube.com/user/BBCFood

Anonymous said...

Checkout ITunes University at the ITunes Store. The Art Institute has 16 mini classes mostly in asian cusine. Harvard (also known as Haahvaard) has an amazing class called Science and Cooking. 20+ classes from the most notables in Molecular Gastronomy.