Cooking – Improv Cooking or Cooking Without A Net

A loose definition of the word improvisation is to invent, compose, or perform something extemporaneously. For example if you’ve ever seen a Woody Allen movie, laughed at a sketch on Saturday Night Live or heard Miles Davis play notes of music not bound by this earth, you’ve experienced improvisation in action. As it is in movies, sketch comedy or jazz the joy of improvisational cooking is in the results that spring forth from inspired creation.

How do you use a recipe? Do you follow each step and measure each ingredient with the precision of a chemist? Do you nervously meter out the baking time of your cookies by tapping your foot to the cadence of the timer? We perform this culinary art to please more than our stomachs, the reasons too numerous to mention. Whatever the reason we usually approach it with recipe in hand. Often times a recipe we don’t understand. The essence of Improv Cooking, with it’s somewhat Zen like approach, demands you’re imagination and instinct to help you solve the riddle of the recipe.

The Steps Towards Improv Cooking

Improvisational cooking is not so much reading and following a recipe as it is using skills and techniques to take a recipe to another level or create a recipe out nothing more than a larder full of ingredients. You have to possess a certain amount of skill and understanding before plunging in to any kind of cooking. Improv Cooking is no different. It forces you to trust your instincts as well. Follow these seven simple steps and you’ll soon be free to open the fridge and just start cooking.

#1 Taste As Many Different Styles of Cooking as Possible

This is probably the simplest of all the Improv techniques to learn and master. Just eat as many different cooking styles as you can. The axiom is straightforward. The more you’re exposed to, the more imaginative you’ll become. Fill your headphones with nothing but Britney and it certainly would be difficult to imagine Charlie Parker’s saxophone. Consequently, eat nothing but the same restaurant or home cooked food all the time and your cooking vocabulary will reflect it.

#2 Understand the Basic Fundamental Techniques of Cooking

You can’t pick up a trumpet and expect to sound like Miles Davis without knowing a few things first. I won’t go into all the things that could and will go wrong. I’m sure you get the picture. Well, Improv Cooking follows the same rules. You can’t expect to be able to whip out a perfect Coq Au Vin without knowing the techniques involved to do so. But, the rewards will be greater once you do. The following list is more than just the basic fundamentals though. I’ve listed all the techniques and methods that matter to the experienced cook.

The Oven Group

Roasting – Cooking with dry heat that surrounds the food with as much direct heat as possible.

Pan Roasting – The wary little secret of every professional kitchen. This is a combination of method of starting the food in a hot sauté pan then finishing in a hot oven.

Broiling – A cousin to grilling, this is direct heat cooking with the heat source above the food instead of under it.

Braising – Moist heat cooking usually achieved in a sealed container like a Dutch oven, tagine or stoneware crock.

Baking – A dry heat method of cooking usually referring to breads, pastries etc.

The Wet Group

Boiling – Cooking in a large quantity of liquid, usually water.

Steaming – Cooking in a sealed container with a small amount of liquid (usually water but not especially) with the food suspended over the liquid so that it only comes in contact with the steam vapors.

Poaching – Best known as a method to cook egg, fish and perhaps chicken. This is cooking in a hot still liquid where the liquid never reaches more than a bare simmer.

The Frying Group

Sautéing – Cooking in a hot pan with little or no fat (butter, oil etc.)

Pan Frying – Very similar to sautéing, except done with more fat. Sometimes enough to almost immerse the food.

Stir-Frying – The Asian method of cooking in an extremely hot pan, usually a wok, with very little fat while keeping the food almost in constant motion.

Deep-Frying – Cooking by totally immersing the food in hot fat. The fat does the job of cooking by encircling the food with heat, thereby allowing it to cook faster sealing in natural juices and flavors. If done properly it’s not the health demon most people assume it is.

The Outdoor Group

Grilling – Cooking over direct heat with the food usually supported by a grate of some sort. This method can be performed indoors as well with the right equipment.

Smoking – This is actually two sub groups. Hot smoking is cooking at temperatures that will cook the food at the same time it infuses the food with smoke flavor. Cold smoking is done with the heat source separate from the cooking chamber so the food is enveloped in low temperature smoke that will infuse flavor without cooking.

Rotisserie – Like grilling, this method does not necessarily have to be done outdoors for the lucky few that have the capability in a well-equipped kitchen. Either way this is cooking with the food suspended over or next to direct heat and rotated via by some mechanical means.

The Sauce Group

Here’s where it gets a little dicey and can separate the cooks from the pretenders. Some of these techniques are best learned at the elbow of someone who’s been there before. But don’t let that stop you from digging in and trying on your own. You may come with some pretty awful stuff, but the attempt will teach you a lot.

Stock – A cornerstone of cooking, whether, meat, fish, poultry or vegetable. A low and slow cooking that’s meant to draw the true essence of flavor into a liquid form.
Brown Sauce – Usually made with beef or veal, but can be made with any brown stock made from roasted bones, flavored with aromatic herbs and vegetables.
Demi-Glace – Similar to brown sauce only made without a thickener and reduced to thicken and intensify flavors.

White Sauce – Also known as Béchamel, made with milk and or cream and thickened with a roux (flour and butter paste)

Veloute – Constructed very much like white sauce, except the milk is replaced usually by a light colored stock of either meat or poultry. It is often enhanced with egg yolks and butter at finishing.
The “Aise” Family – This includes Hollandaise and all its progeny like béarnaise, choron etc. and mayonnaise and all its descendants like aioli, remoulade etc. These are all emulsion sauces with egg bases and a body made mostly of oil or butter.

Other Emulsions – This can range from aiolis or butter sauces to vinaigrettes, to pan sauces that are thickened or finished last minute with butter and or cream.

Gravy – A sauce in loose terms only. Gravies are usually made with the juices collected from roasting meats or poultry. The non-thickened varieties are sometimes called “Jus” in modern menu vernacular.

The Soup Group

The Hearty Family – This includes all the varieties you want to serve in meal-sized bowls like beef stew, chicken and dumplings, chili, chowder and minestrone.

Bisque – Usually and intensely flavored soup that’s been thickened with rice, potatoes or a flour paste called panade.

Purees – Similar to bisque in nature but usually made with a single vegetable flavoring and thickened by pureeing the entire mass via some mechanical or manual means. Often times these soups are finished with cream.

Creams – Any soup, thick or thin, where a significant portion of the liquid is either milk or cream.
Broth – Often confused with stock, both are liquids that have been flavored with aromatics. But the basic building block of stock is bones whereas broth is composed from pieces of meat giving it more collagen. This is the lip sticking quality that gives broth its viscous body.

Consommé – A broth that’s been clarified with egg whites

The Miscellaneous Group

This is a hodgepodge of techniques that will give you a little more depth to your creativity.
Papillote, Packages and Pouches – This is where the food is wrapped and sealed in paper, foil or sometimes a natural wrapper like corn husk or banana leaf. The packages can be cooked by baking, steaming, boiling or grilling.

Dumplings – This is a very broad category of foods and methods that includes many varieties that I’m going to break put into two families. The filled dough variety and the nothing but dough variety. The filled dough relatives have names like ravioli, dim sum, kreplach or pierogi. After filling, these succulent siblings can be steamed, boiled, baked or fried. The nothing but dough relations generally just go by the name “dumpling” but sometimes have the main flavoring preceding their surname such as apple or onion. Also on this branch of the tree are hush puppies, zeppoli and matzoth balls.

Croquettes – Usually a fried delicacy, but sometimes baked. A soft filling of any manner of meat, cheese, vegetable or fruit encased in a crisp shell.

Brining – Very popular these days. Besides turkey at Thanksgiving, it’s an essential step in the process of smoking certain foods, like salmon or ham. But will often stand on its own in foods like gravlax or prosciutto.

Paté – A French term to describe a dish made with forcemeat (ground) of innards or any kind of meat. But the technique occurs in other cuisine and has recently been tagged to concoctions of vegetables or fruits as well. Cold meatloaf is technically a pate.

Charcuterie – Pardon my French, but they did have a huge influence on the world of cooking. This term covers all manners of sausage making and preserving of meats.

The Baker’s Group

This group of techniques is where the art of cooking meets the science of food. Precision in measurement, combination of ingredients and technique is of utmost importance. Discipline and a strict adherence to formula must replace the looser attitude you can give to other areas of cooking. But, as in life, there are no absolutes. Once mastered, these techniques will reveal many ways to tweak and stretch a recipe to your will.

Yeast Breads – These can be savory or sweet, loaves, rolls or doughnuts. They can be baked, fried or steamed.

Quick Breads – The “Quick” generally refers to the active leavening that’s achieved with eggs, baking soda, baking powder, and any combination thereof. These can be baked in loaves or cups (then they’re called muffins). Or steamed in molds which will change their name to pudding.
Pies, Tarts and Cobblers – Be they one crust or two, hand held or deep dish, cream filled, fruit filled, custard or meat. The basic construction varies very little.

Cakes and Tortes – The basic building blocks of flour (usually wheat but can be any variation), sweetener (sugar, honey whatever) and leavening (very similar to quick bread) rarely change. The differences all come in the flavoring and final construction.

Icings and Frostings etc. – Really a sub group of cakes and tortes, but for this purpose it stands alone. I’m including in this arena fondant, buttercream, ganache, boiled icing and all the wondrous creations done with pulled sugar.

Soufflés and Mousse- A seemingly daunting hurdle to the novice, but once the simple construction of flavoring base lightened with egg whites in the case of soufflé or whipped cream for mousse is mastered the sky is the limit.

Custards – Learning how to manage both breeds, baked and stir-cooked over heat, opens opportunities for both sweet and savory variations.

Puddings – A difficult process to pin down because of the wide range of foods that can be called puddings.

#3 Learn the Relationships of Aroma, Flavor, Texture and Color

The relationships of aroma, flavor, texture and color are possibly the most important aspect of improv cooking. In order for any dish to be cooked well, the dish must be whole. It must appeal to all the senses completely and with harmony. Webster’s Dictionary describes these elements in the following way;

Aroma – A pleasant characteristic odor

Flavor – the taste experience when a savory condiment is taken into the mouth

Texture – The distinctive physical composition or structure of something, especially with respect to the size, shape, and arrangement of its parts.

Color – That aspect of things that is caused by differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted by them.
To make all of this work in harmony is no small task. Whether from recipes or you’re imaginations it’s the crux of all cooking. To neglect or diminish anyone of these elements would result in a dish that’s not complete. And by contrast, to enhance or over emphasize anyone of these elements as well would result in a dish that is off balance and probably not very appealing. So how do you know when you get it right? Is there a formula or system of measuring these elements that can insure all the pieces of the puzzle are in place? No, you just know when it works. Even though the balance of these elements is crucial, the right answer is up to you. Let your self go and become the dish or as was first said in Caddyshack “Be the ball!” Let your senses tell you what’s happening in that pot or pan. Smell, taste, look and even listen to the food as it cooks. It has a great story to tell if you let it.

#4 Learn the Art of Accompaniment

Very few things we cook stand-alone. Even the most well-crafted stew or soup becomes even more complete and interesting by what it is served with. The gamut of choices can range from side dishes to condiments to beverages and even to the choice of lighting or music. In fact there are too many choices to discuss in detail. The best way to approach this dilemma is to first understand the goal. Because there are huge differences in these as well, a simple lunch for two suggests a different set of choices from a large family gathering or an elegant supper. Throw this into the mix along with your own level of ability or comfort with certain techniques and dishes and well I think you get my point. Perhaps the best way to approach this step towards Improv Cooking is to begin with what you know, because just as the right accompaniments can make a meal, the wrong ones can just as easily destroy it.

#5 Cook With Others

“One can acquire everything in solitude except character.”
Stendhal, On Love, 1822

Unlike jazz, comedy or any of the other improvisational arts, where the act of improv is rarely done alone, you rarely think of cooking as something that can and should be done with others. Yet there are the accidental improvisational sessions that happen all the time.

While developing the skills of Improv cooking, you should plan several intentional cooking sessions centered on a specific dish or meal that two or more people can prepare together. Cooking with someone else can magically open a door to your imagination.

#6 Taste Analytically

I started cooking because I wanted to understand the magic behind the food I was eating. Tasting smelling and analyzing ingredients to understand the effects each can have within a dish is an essential improvisational skill. The more you do it the easier it becomes to unlock the magic of a dish. This skill coupled with a solid understanding of technique will enable you to accomplish great things in the kitchen.

#7 Break the Rules.

Without a sense of exploration, which is the ultimate rule breaker, we would have never walked on the moon or experienced Nouvelle Cuisine. The space program produced hundreds of modern conveniences we enjoy today. Yet many food writers and Chefs look upon Nouvelle Cuisine with the same disdain as the embarrassingly wide collars and polyester clothing of the day. Nouvelle Cuisine left us with a legacy of pushing the envelope. Unlike any other period in cooking, Chefs were taking the expected and giving us a whole new way to see it. The foods, techniques and presentations that seemed far out and strange then have today become not only the norm for many Chefs, but a jumping off point to even wilder ways to cook. Breaking the rules is the mantra in many kitchens today. Savory foams, laser printed edible paper, carnival midway snacks served in the palaces of high cuisine are just a few of the ways rules are being broken. If something feels like a rule the next time you’re in the kitchen, then break it. You may create something inedible, but you will learn a valuable lesson. I can’t emphasize enough that once you combine your increased knowledge of techniques, flavors and construction your imagination will be free to see new avenues to explore. Soon the rules will start disappearing.


Chicken Breast, boneless and skinless

Unsalted Butter

Kosher Salt

Fresh Ground Pepper

Veloute Sauce

Good Grainy French Mustard

Egg Yolks

Lemon Juice

Chives for garnish

Butterfly the chicken breasts or pound them to 1/2″ thick. Season each liberally with salt and pepper then set aside. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat until it foams and begins to brown. Add the just enough chicken to the pan so its not too crowded. Brown the breasts on one side then turn and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and lift the chicken breasts to a warm platter. Repeat the process again if you need to cook more chicken. If not, return the pan to the heat and add the veloute sauce. Stir in the mustard and reduce the heat to low. Scrape the pan to lift all the little bits of browned chicken stuck to the pan. Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl. Add a little of the warm sauce to the yolks to warm them then stir the mix into the warm sauce. Return the pan to the heat, but do not let the sauce boil. Finally, stir in the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the sauce and warm briefly. Serve the chicken topped with a little sauce and garnished with some snipped chives.
Improv Hint: The veloute sauce in this case should be a little on the thin side. The simmering in the pan, the mustard and the egg yolks will have an affect on making it a little thicker. Plan on about one-third cup of sauce per chicken breast.

How Many Different Ways Can You Cook a Chicken?

The often asked question to cooks all over is “how to cook”. It challenges me to ask myself how many methods of cooking are there out there that can be applied to a main ingredient. Let’s try this with the ever so famous chicken. And mind you, every part of the chicken can be turned into a dish. Have you heard of chicken feet as a specialty?

I will go in alphabetical order so that we can add-on if we find more.

1.Bake – there are many recipes to bake a chicken; either whole (a.k.a. roasting) or chicken pieces/breasts. We can also bake lovely chicken pies.

2. blanche – you can put the chicken into boiling water first, and then into ice cold water, before grilling the meat. That way you get to lock the juices in. Also the water used for boiling can be used as chicken stock.

3. boil – boiling chicken either gets you a nice chicken soup or chicken can be boiled before shredding and served as garnishing for noodles soup dishes. Also boiling the chicken before grilling shortens the cooking time.

You can also double boil a chicken; this is slow cooking over a few hours, requiring you to cook the chicken in a pot placed into another pot of boiling water. It is cooked using indirect heat for a more even cooking. Delicious but you have to be patient for the end result.

4. braise – this is like stewing; you add liquid just enough to cover the meats (dark soy sauce or just water) and let the chicken cook slowly. This is usually done for tough chicken pieces, like the “ayam kampong” (the tough free range chicken).

5. broil – this is like grilling chicken; we moisten the chicken pieces with some gravy, put them on a baking pan and cook them for a few minutes. These are lovely for sandwiches or salads.

6. ferment – yes you can ferment chicken and bake it thereafter. Sounds like a specialty.

7. freeze – freezing is arguably a method of cooking; cooking without heat. Works for ice creams, sherbets and yogurts, but don’t think you should try it on chicken though.

8. fry – this is common in Asian recipes. There are many delicious recipes for deep frying chicken. We use a “kuali” or wok for this for best results. The other is stir frying. Again, best results are produced using the wok. This is quick and shallow frying on high heat. Juices are locked in and the chicken is cooked in small pieces for quick cooking. Best served hot. You can cook simple one-dish meals, like fried koay teow, using this method. Yummy!

9. grill – one of the more common methods of cooking chicken is to grill or barbecue.

10. microwave – is that a cooking method? You can add some spices and seasoning and microwave the chicken. What cooking method is it then if not microwaving?

11. pickle – yes there are pickled chicken recipes. However, this is best eaten with something mild tasting like fresh salad and plain rice given the strong pickled flavor.

12. poach – gently cook the chicken in some water over low heat.

13. roast – this is another famous method of cooking chicken, and there are just so many lovely roasted chicken recipes that we can try.

14. sauté – sautéed chicken is a very simple recipe. It takes just a few minutes to sauté chicken with a little oil and herbs/a light sauce. Delicious!

15. scald – this is the first process to clean the chicken; scalding with boiling water to remove the feathers.

16. scramble – cooking scrambled chicken is like cooking scrambled eggs; cook shredded chicken or small chicken pieces in a light seasoning. In fact, we can cook scrambled eggs with chicken. How about that. Then eat it with rice or as a sandwich.

17. sear – searing chicken gives it a nice brown crispy exterior while leaving it soft on the inside, just like browning. It is accomplished through applying high temperature quickly to the chicken pieces.

18. simmer – gently boil the chicken; the gravy thereafter can be used as a sauce.

19. smoke – smoked chicken is not the easiest way to cook a chicken, but if done right, the result can be a deliciously aromatic, tender and juicy smoked chicken. Yum!

20. steam – steaming is a very simple and healthy alternative of cooking chicken. Simply add ginger and or mushroom.

21. stew – chicken stew needs no introduction. This is a slow cooking process that is worth the wait; we put some water, vegetables etc and leave to boil to a heavy gravy.

22. sweat – this is a term that I have just heard as a cooking method; you can cook chicken in low heat over a little oil.

23. tandoor – you’ll need to have this large clay oven for this method of cooking, but worth the while if you have one. This is chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, and grilled in this special clay oven over a charcoal fire. Hmm.. heavenly!

24. toast – Toasting is another form of grilling. Perhaps we can mix cooked chicken meat with sauces and spread this on some bread to toast.

So there you are… all the various methods of cooking chicken. Never knew we have so many ways of cooking them. Happy cooking. Bon appetite!

Some of the Best Cooking Books That Need to Be in Your Kitchen

Having just graduated from university, cooking books have a firm place on my kitchen shelf. From disastrous attempts at making barely edible dishes, my time as a student has exposed me to many cooking books. Here are the top ten of the best cooking books that are invaluable to any wannabe Masterchefs out there.

Ready… Steady… Cook!

10. Delia’s Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith

This mammoth cookery book whips in at number 10. Delia Smith is very much the David Beckham of the cooking world – an institution. Her Complete Cookery Course does exactly what it says on the tin. It provides wannabe chefs with a full, comprehensive guide to creating the best dishes. With fundamental must know recipes like apple pie and yorkshire puddings, Delia shows she is one of the masters. With mouth-watering pictures acting as a rough guide this book is a god send for beginner chefs. No doubt a staple on your mother’s shelf, this book is perfect as a starting point in the basics of pastry making, cake baking and roast making. A genuine triumph in the cookery book world.

9. The New Curry Bible by Pat Chapman

Chapman’s bible does not follow the conventional rules of cookery books, but is a diamond in the rough for curry fanatics out there and the reason it has made this best cooking books list. The New Curry Bible does not simply show you the recipes but teaches you the history of curry making. It is not a book to be bought for people who want a quick fix curry. If you are one of those people I suggest you save yourself time and money and just buy a ready meal. However, if you are interested in the exquisite nature of curries, then this book teaches you all you need to know. Like any specialist cook book, it is a little disheartening at first to encounter all of the strange herbs and spices that you know you don’t own, but the rewards from having knowledge of these is irreplaceable. Although it may take you a while to get to grips with the fine art of balancing the spices, you will most certainly become famous amongst friends and family for the talent you will take from this beautiful book.

8. Rick Stein’s Taste of the Sea: 150 Fabulous Recipes for Every Occasion

As a massive lover of seafood, this book has literally been my magna carta. Rick Stein takes you on a journey around the coast and teaches you to really appreciate fish in all its scaly glory. From skinning methods to filleting, this book teaches you how to prepare and cook fish to perfection. Stein writes in a clear and simple fashion and it is impossible to resist his infectious passion. With a variety of dishes that cater for absolutely every occasion, this book is a must have for beginners and experienced fish mongers alike. The instructions are not condescending or set in stone, and leave freedom for experimentation. A truly great book by a truly great chef and teacher.

7. Simple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Kwong

Following the theme of specialist cooking books, Simple Chinese Cooking is an absolute must have for anyone wanting to start a love affair with chinese cooking. Filled with beautiful photography, this book coaches you through each dish with clear and crisp step-by-step instructions. Usually when faced with a specific cook book, there seems a never-ending list of ingredients that appear to exist in outer space, but this book has essentials that can be bought and found easily in local grocery stores. Not only is this book a great guide, but it is also incredibly exciting as each week you can watch yourself develop and gain confidence with once seemingly difficult dishes. From steamed cod to sweet and sour pork, Kwong’s recipes will have you burning all your chinese takeaway menus from the get go.

6. Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver

There can be no such thing as a best cooking books list without Mr Oliver, of course. One of the things I love most about almost all of Jamie Oliver’s cook books are their beautiful and impeccable presentation. They are not endless pages of lines and lines of writing but are instead filled with bright, colourful and delectable pictures, as well as no- nonsense recipes. In his 30 Minute Meals Jaime shows you that once and for all cooking does not have to be a stressful and laborious affair. Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals is amazing for working people for whom time is money, and of course students who wish to spend minimum amount of time cooking and maximum amount of time… studying. Not only is it wonderfully organised with a designated section for starters, mains and desserts, but there are numerous vegetarian recipes scattered inside, making this book literally for every type of chef.

5. The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman

After his debut cook book How to Cook Everything became an international sensation, Bittman is back to teach you it is easier than you thought to cook recipes from all around the world. With no unnecessary embellishments Bittman gently leads you on a culinary round the world trip that will leave your taste buds in a state of euphoria. The best aspect of Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes In The World whilst you may never get round to cooking everything inside, the dishes you do make will leave you feeling inspired to take dishes you already cook and turn them on their head. Although it can be overwhelming to face so many recipes in one book, I urge you to add this to your collection. It is timeless and will only help to increase your knowledge of food.

4. Gordon Ramsay’s Secrets by Gordon Ramsay

In this incredible and not too badly priced book, Gordon Ramsay lets you in on a few secrets that have made him the world-renowned chef that we have all come to love. With a huge collection of recipes from poultry to fish and desserts to soups, this cookbook lets you in on inside info that will have friends and family thinking you are a bona-fide kitchen guru. The recipes are simple and effective and Ramsay has even added flourishes of his own, such as useful tips on presenting dishes. If you really have a passion for cooking or would love to learn more, this is the book that teaches you not just to cook but how to become a chef. These tips help to make cooking a truly enjoyable experience and will boost your confidence to be adventurous not only in cooking but also in eating as well.

3. The Complete Book of Sushi by Hideo Dekura

As a self-confessed sushi addict this book is incredible – the pages are almost edible. It combines the modern with the traditional and allows you to get to grips with this difficult Japanese style of cooking. Although not to everyone’s taste, this book teaches you the secrets behind making that difficult sticky rice and how to present your sushi in wonderful ways. The most interesting thing about Dekura’s book is they way it advances from simple to expert. This allows you to move gradually at your own pace and also sets little targets within the book. Whilst there are other books on the market such as Yo Sushi’s, it is Dekura’s book that really stands out of the crowd. With gorgeous photography it inspires with a mere flick of the page, and unlike its contemporaries has clear and simple instructions. A must have for any sushi fan and it also makes a great present.

2. Wahaca – Mexican Food At Home by Thomasina Miers

This book comes in at number two of this best cooking books top ten and is a must have for any frequent Wahaca customer. It was only recently published and plunges you straight into the vibrant and tasty world of Mexican street food. One thing that did surprise me was the breakfast section, and I have to admit I have been thoroughly converted to a mexican way of eating in the morning. Full of beautiful pictures and written in an accessible and friendly way, this book does exactly what the title states and brings Mexican food straight into your kitchen. Miers has clearly done the research required for such an exquisite book, and the information about mexican chillies is invaluable. An excellent book for cooking meals for friends and a great equivalent to BBQ parties.

1.Jaime does… by Jaime Oliver

In at number one is Jaime does. In this book Jaime travels through foodie hotspots such as Spain, France and Morocco in order to find innovative recipes. The book is beautifully presented (like all of Jaime’s books) and has wonderful pictures of his travels alongside the amazing pictures of his food. Each country has an introductory paragraph that explains the culture and food he came into contact with, and then in very simple language and an ever friendly tone, Jaime guides you through a range of dishes. From light bites such as patatas bravas to the more complex dishes like the steak tartare, Jaime’s tone never condescends you as the amateur chef. This book not only provides great enjoyment as a teaching tool but is also nice to flip through every now and again to behold the location shots of his food journey. Overall a very deserving winner of this Best Cooking Books list. Absolutely delicious!

This is by no means the only ten cook books I think you should own. There are many other brilliant cookbooks out there for beginners such as The Student Cookbook by Sophie Grigson. This is superb for amateur chefs who simply do not have the time to cook elaborate meals every day and are after recipes for both real cooking and convenience cooking. Then for more adventurous chefs who are willing to getinventive and scientific in the kitchen, there is Heston Bluementhal’s brilliant book The Fat Duck Cookbook, which combines vivid illustrations and wacky recipes for a truly great cooking experience. Overall, the ten books that compose this best cooking books list all offer friendly, easy to follow guidance which enables you to not only enjoy them as books, but also enjoy them as learning tools that will one day make you the king of the kitchen.

Outdoor Cooking Equipment – 20 Great Tips to Plan For the Coming Season

Some people just love eating and some people just love cooking; but when it comes to cooking and eating outside most people say, hey, I love it.

So lets get to it. Summer will soon be upon us and the outdoor season beckons. Its now the ideal time to think about those barbecues you’ll be having. Whether those meals will be on the patio or in the outback its now the time to ensure that you’ve got all your outdoor cooking equipment to hand and that you’ve got a good idea about how best to go about things.

There’s many that will argue, including me, that nothing tastes better than food cooked outdoors! Don’t you just love the aroma when cooking outdoors, the smells seems to just waft around as the food cooks and this makes everyone hungry. How is it that the food cooked outdoors always seems to smell so much nicer than when its cooked indoors?

Cooking outdoors comes in many guises. You and your family may prefer to use wood or charcoal because of those wonderful flavors that come from the charcoal and the smoke; or, you may prefer the cleanliness, control and convenience of cooking with propane gas. Whatever you prefer the market is now awash with great outdoor cooking equipment to make your cooking experience enjoyable and the results fabulous.

Now when it comes to choosing your outdoor cooking equipment a little thought is necessary as you can easily miss a trick or two and fall short when the time comes to perform! So, here are 20 great tips to help you make the right decisions when planning this season’s outdoor cooking:

Firstly you must decide will it be gas or charcoal; don’t fudge this one as its important; if you want ease and convenience go for gas grills; if you don’t mind a little extra trouble & time and your family loves the flavors that are picked up from the smoke then go for charcoal;
If you go for charcoal always start the fire naturally, never use lighter fuels; let me say that again, never use lighter fuels! Why? Because no matter how long it is before you bring your food to the grill you’ll pick up those chemical smells…Yuk!;
Ask yourself, are you making an investment for the future of just for the coming summer season; because thats how long cheap ‘stuff’ is going to last! I recommend making an investment in the future, therefore go for quality; as you know in your heart, you pay for what you get! Don’t go cheap if you can afford better; for example: stainless steel looks better and lasts longer than aluminum and cleans up much better and easier; although it has to be said heat distributes more evenly and quickly with aluminum so the arguments are not always so clear cut; portable pick up and go grills are going to be great for tailgating and impromtu stops but they’ll be a disappointment on the patio when cooking for a group of friends & family;
There are many styles & sizes of outdoor grills, picking the right one to meet your needs and of course your budget is important, but remember that quality counts; you don’t want to be regretting your purchase half way through the summer! Go for the best you can.
Think about where you’re going to be doing your cooking and buy your kit appropriately. Ask yourself, will we be cooking on the patio, or will you be tailgating or then again will we be going outback; this makes a big difference to your choice of kit; indeed you may decide that you need quite separate cooking equipment for the patio as opposed to when you’re getting out and about. Gas grills are heavier and bulkier than charcoal, on the patio that’s a bonus in the outback its a chore; gas grills cook quicker than the charcoal grills; some people hate gas grills by comparison because they love the flavors that wood bestows; gas grills are more expensive than charcoal ones etc. etc.
Decide what style of cooking best suits you because the kit you’ll need will change with your preferred style of cooking. If you’re into Jambalaya cooking then you should buy Jambalaya pots, if your going to be frying whole turkeys then a turkey fryer kit will be ideal; do you prefer cast iron stove ware for cooking, Dutch ovens are great for simple outdoor cooking or do you prefer open grills;? The questions go on and on and only you know what the family are going to prefer. Its not as hard to think things through as you might think, I suggest that you go to a store that sells the full range of equipment and ask yourself what’s going to work best for us?
When cooking with propane check the level of gas in the cylinder and whenever possible have a second one in reserve. There’s nothing worse with friends and family hovering, the meal is half ready and the gas goes out!!! If you’ve a replacement, no problem, but if you’ve not, just how bad can things get?
Don’t forget basic safety advice when cooking outdoors; remember salmonella is just as happy and active outdoors as it is inside. So what to do? Keep those fresh meat plates and your cooking utensils away from any plates and cooking utensils that you’ll be using for eating off. Yes i know its obvious but this is important and its easily forgotten especially by the kids if they take a hand;
Will you betaking your cooking kit out in the outback or to the beach where there are safety regulations preventing the use of certain cooking methods; how annoying is it to arrive and then find your kit isn’t appropriate. And don’t think you’ll be okay they’ll never know. have you seen the recent damage that’s been caused by fires that get out of control; think safety first. Its important to remember that usually you find restrictions at picnic areas and on beaches & camping zones;
When you find a great recipe that cooks well outside share it with family; especially the simple tips that made it work out so well. Many people are apprehensive about cooking out doors and even when they do they make simple errors that you could help them avoid making. Simple tips need passing on;
Never pierce food on a BBQ or the juices will run out and it will dry out very quickly: most people who say they don’t like BBQs do so because they hate dried out tasteless food that so often arises from a smoldering BBQ
Never cook meat too long as again it dries out
Always make sure that meat is fully defrosted before starting cooking on your grill, not only is this dangerous to your health but the food will burn on the outside before you’ve cooked it in the inside!
Try to cook slower rather than faster when cooking outdoors, except with you steaks of course, they need searing and a minimum of time is preferred for however well you like them cooked; [yes I know this goes against what conventional wisdom says and your desire to tuck ij but the rewards of slower cooked foods great exceed the extra time it takes; believe me
Always let your meat rest after cooking without cutting it up. This allows the juices to settle and the full flavor to come out, it also means all the juices don’t run away across the serving plate; 7-10 minutes is all you need to wait and whilst the time is short the difference in flavor can be huge; try it.
Try marinating your meats before barbecuing, and remember, the longer the better, overnight if you can. If you do the flavors of your cooking will be greatly enhanced and your friends will marvel;
If you use a grill with a lid, keep it closed as much as possible. This improves the consistency of cooking due to the retention of the heat which otherwise is lost each time you open the grill; stop worrying and go and have a chat;
Try some of the many free recipes you’ll find online; there are so many and some are really good. Don’t get hooked on complication though; keeping things simple and experiment are the keys. But equally don’t get into the ideas of those that say quick and easy is best go for things that cook quickly! NO. Marinades are simple and add tremendous flavor, cook slower than quickly and you’ll retain more flavors;
Try out Dutch cooking; its easy and straightforward and the flavors are great; look for Dutch cooking recipes on the web;
Keep your outdoor cooking fun; share the joy of the cooking with friends & family. Try to get the kids involved; if you do you’ll develop in them a lifetime passion for cooking, which is often hard to do in the kitchen. Better still you’ll have a laugh and if you involve your friends you’ll start appreciate them in totally different ways than before; its like a new way of bonding. You’ll start to see them in a totally different light…… interesting! … Oh, just one quick point, but take care the opposite can work out too.

Campfire Cooking

Cooking is one of my specialties. While in the US Army Reserves I learned about Cooking. Indoor, outdoor and cooking using a utensil over an open flame was fun and easy with cast iron cookware. I remember the outdoors and the smell of cooking, accompanied by the chorus of the squirrels, crickets and birds, during bivouacs.

The most ordinary form of cooking is campfire cooking. For families it is particularly well fitting, it is an activity which presents an opportunity for pleasant evenings and outings. It has its own taste and fancy. Skill and knowledge is required, but both are easily acquired. Cooking is a tradition in itself and some cooks have years of experience both on safaris and at home. It is one of my favorite things in life. It is great; however, most open flame cooking is done in campgrounds. Credit to improvements in camping cooking gear and a horde of easy-prep and in-store ingredients, it need not be limited to burgers, dogs and smokes. Another unique way of cooking is to cook some food items inside of other foods. Another unusual cooking, using a utensil over an open flame method, is cooking in paper. An unfussy and simple way of outdoor cooking is to set a large coffee can on the coals. The days of utilitarian campfire cooking of yesteryear are gone. Try out a few odd techniques the next time you’re out camping.

For the tools and tips, place in your favorite search engines: campfire grill, campfire ring, propane in the ground campfire with a cast iron pot, campfire grill, campfire tripod, campfire in a can , California campfire fireplace, little red campfire , cooking steamer, induction cooking, cooking tripod, cooking strainer, cooking smoker, cooking station, cooking table, cooking pot, cooking twine, cooking thermometer, cooking rings, bistro cooking, plank cooking. Search for some prime cooking on the web or books on tips and tricks for Dutch oven cooking. Buy books which are specifically written for the camper who wants to make this method of cooking easier, safer, revealing how to make outdoor cooking grilling and RVing easy and fun in camping. I learned years ago from a relative that most pans will do well.

If you’ve never done any open flame cooking or camp cooking before, one of the things to be aware of is that you’ll need to monitor food closely from start to finish because it can burn quickly. Placing a marshmallow or hot dog on the end of a good stick and holding the food at just the right distance from the heat. One of the disadvantages to this kind of cooking is that cookware gets much dirtier than it does when cooking with a stove. So most likely open flame cooking will require less clean-up. Although campfire cooking can take a little more time than simply firing up the stove, it is more rewarding. If on the other hand you’re in the mood to take your time and enjoy the experience, cooking using a utensil over an open flame can be relaxing in a way that a stove can’t begin to match.

Here are some items that you will need to have to be prepared : Camping Cookbooks containing all the unique and fun camping recipes to make open flame cooking enjoyable. A large barbecue grill or rack will let you enjoy the full flavor and aroma, using either wood or charcoal briquettes. On a Campfire a simple and easy way of cooking is to set a large coffee can on the coals.

This method of cooking is the most common form of outdoor cooking. There is definitely more to It than just scorching marshmallows and making smokes. Have an outdoor party. Guest or spectators may soon become participants as the host or hosts divide their guests into teams and turn them loose for an afternoon of supervised scorching Spurred on, in part, as they are getting hungry. It is gaining in popularity because it brings friends and family together at the same time.

Attend a cooking using a utensil over an open flame class. There are conducted nationwide tours or clinics held every year at different campgrounds across the country.

While some view cooking using a utensil over an open flame as a survival skill, most people do it for other reasons. this method of cooking is a way to bring groups together. It is a method in which to lure kids away from their video games or as a way for divorced dads to entertain kids on weekends, It is an ideal way for families to reconnect. Everything tastes better roasted over an open fire. Maybe that is why with kids It is so popular. When you are done with your kid’s , make sure the fire is totally out.

How about Breakfast Muffins, fried or poached eggs, Chopped Ham, Shredded cheese, Diced potatoes, for example. Try cooking in a black skillet or even a 12 hole muffin pan. Salt and pepper half of muffin tin placing 6 eggs in 6 holes with 6 muffin mix muffins in the remaining 6 holes. Campfire popcorn can be popped in foil: Popcorn Kernels and oil or butter with salt for seasoning. Tear off an 18 inch square of tin foil. The first lesson to be learned about campfire cooking is that you do not cook over an open flame all the time. Try to have all the latest and greatest campfire gear on hand. Purchase only cast iron products. Browse products of campfire gear to find those goods that will work the best for you. Dutch oven Campfire Cooking is almost an ancient form of making food but is very prevalent today.

Select the relaxed comfort of your living room fireplace; staring into the embers as your banquet cooks, or watching the flickering flames dance and play while toasting your choice dessert; is a great way to generate memories with your family.

Whether camping with the family, hunting with friends or merely achieving that wood-grilled flavor at home is easier than you might think. Dutch oven cooking is one of the best ways to make meals on camping trips. The secret of any open flame cooking is to try and maintain steadily glowing coals, but once you have your fire in this state, you can gage its approximate temperature by using your hand. The single most indispensable piece of gear for open flame cooking is the cast iron skillet. open flame cooking is something of a science, much like cooking on the stove at home. In the days of automatic coffee makers and microwave ovens, it is somewhat of a step back.