Monday, April 21, 2008


Today I got a large package in the mail from the Cooking Club of America.

I was so excited; maybe it was the free gifts I was offered for joining, or a new and innovative product to test. Unfortunately it was neither.

It was a book, apparently part of the new "Cooking Arts Collection" called Cooking Essentials.
The letter enclosed claimed that I was also receiving a special knife to test as well, and indeed I received the product review form, but no knife! I wasn't too heartbroken, from the picture and description on the flyer it didn't look all that useful to me and anyway, there was a new book; I love new books!

Upon first glance this is a gorgeous book, red leather bound, with gold inlay and a full colour inset of gorgeous food photos. This had to be good right? Then I opened the book. And I was sorely disappointed.

I am a professionally trained chef. I joined the cooking club, because I like to keep up with new advances and love playing with new toys and recipes and ideas. When I signed up to be a product tester I checked the little box that said I was a professional cook. Apparently they didn't look at that box when they were choosing people to receive the knife or the book. (Or did they just send it every member? Now that I think of it, that's probably more like it.)

The first thing I read in the new book was the introduction, and suddenly my head started to hurt. The writing was horrible and awkward. Admittedly I am a trained chef, not an accomplished author, but even I can recognize shoddy writing. My husband (who is a published writer) observed that is seemed like whoever did the writing was not a native English speaker, and/or whoever did the editing was asleep on the job. But hey, I thought to myself, they are only charging $10 for this thing, and it looks like they spent most of that on the binding and the photography (I do have to admit, the book is filled with some absolutely gorgeous photography and styling). As long and the information is good, I guess I can live with a little awkward writing.

And I probably could have, if the information was good.

The introduction says:
So this book is for you if you've been cooking for a long time, for it will bring you new cooking knowledge and ideas. And this book is for you if you're just starting out cooking, or are ready to take the next step into really knowing this most delightful of endeavors.

Horrible and awkward writing aside, they seem to be claiming that this book would be good for experienced cooks and novices alike. I disagree.

Consistently throughout the book the author talks down to the audience and treats the reader like grade schoolers in their first home economics class. The information given is very basic, and often incredibly vague or misleading. Had I not been trained, I probably wouldn't understand or realize that there was something wrong. For example, take flours and grains, in the pantry section. Cake flour and unbleached white flour are completely left out; meanwhile cornstarch (which is rarely considered flour for practical purposes) is included. There is no mention of the plethora of other flours available including rye, spelt etc. In the grains section, it says "try alternating rice with more unusual grains." Then white, long grain, instant and brown rice are all discussed, but there is no mention of jasmine, basmati, sweet or sushi rices, not even a whiff of the hundreds of varieties of wild rice available on the market. Oh, and the "more unusual grains?" Bulgur, couscous and cornmeal. What about quinoa, amaranth, oats or barley?

Flipping through the vegetable section, I noticed a piece on hot peppers (like jalapeƱos). They suggest using rubber gloves to protect from the capsaicin. I was impressed until I notice the photographs showing hands clad in bright yellow dishwashing gloves!!! No, no, no! Almost anybody can tell you that there is not nearly enough dexterity when using those stiff, over large rubber gloves! Proper gloves should have been shown, even in the small town where I live, proper latex (or non latex for those allergic) gloves are available for food preparation.

I could go on and on, but I think my point is well made. While this book is pretty, it is not worth the money, weather you are inexperienced or not.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Product review: Yves "Heart's desire" meatless chicken strips.

Rating: (4 out of 5 v's) (4 out of 5 v's)

This product is so new it's not even on the Yves web site yet. When Bill and I saw it at the supermarket we decided to try it out. We have been long standing fans of the Yves meatless deli slices, and were curious to see how these stacked up.

net weight 6 oz
2 servings per container.
110 calories, 1 gram fat, no trans fats, no cholesterol, 440mg sodium, 450mg potassium, 3grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, and 22 grams protein.
Main ingredient is soy, from non GMO sources.

Straight out of the package the strips looked like, well, chicken and even smelled like the real deal. We ended up cooking the strips in a Thai coconut curry recipe. I was originally afraid that the curry flavor would overshadow the strips, but flavor-wise, they fared relatively well, in the pieces I could find. The curry required some minutes of boiling within the sauce and the strips quickly fell apart, and lost coherency. The pieces I could find while eating tasted wonderful, but were on the mushy side, and very small.

The box says: "great on a salad, a stir-fry, sandwich, or great on their own" and I will need to agree. These strips and tasty and convenient, but don't fare well to excessive cooking or handling. So do what the box advises and make a stir fry. If you want chicken-like flavor and texture in something that will be cooked longer, go with the cheaper and more reliable standby of large chunk TVP and this recipe:

"Chicken" TVP

1 C large chunk TVP
2 C water
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 Tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast

Boil for 10 minutes or until tender.
Use pieces in your favorite "chicken" recipe.