Cookbooks have traditionally made terrific Christmas gifts, whether the recipient is a beginner or a would-be chef. But this year, there's a new competitor for those gift-dollars that may give cookbooks a run for the money.
To date, almost any subject matter can be found on videocassettes; there are movies, sports, concerts, aerobic workouts and much more. Enter the cooking video. These slick visual cooking manuals aspire to make home chefs out of even novice cooks--spanning the gamut from subjects like pasta, garnishes and one-pot meals to menu themes and various entree suggestions.
Would anyone really watch a cooking video and then dash off to the kitchen for the preparation when step-by-step cookbooks are so widely available?
Evidently yes, according to the producers of this new medium. Consumers seem to enjoy seeing exactly what's going on, said Eileen McComb of Metropolitan Home magazine, one of the video producers.
'A Real Asset'
"Because of the life styles in America today, it's no longer a housewife staying home looking in a cookbook and experimenting," she said. "It (the video cookbook) is convenient and they (consumers) can work along with it, and that's a real asset. It's cooking for the '80s."
In most cases the viewer sees each stage of the recipe being developed as it occurs, from the proper method of chopping and dicing vegetables to the proper rhythm to use in stirring and whisking sauces. There are also serving and garnishing suggestions, plus ideas for new recipes that will be sure to please the more advanced cook on your list.
The idea of video cooking is not new. It started earlier this year when Julia Child began videotaping her popular cooking shows. Her series included cassettes on cooking meat; soups, salads and bread; fish and eggs; first courses and desserts; vegetables and poultry.
Other famous chefs quickly followed suit--Judith Olney, Madeleine Kamman and Craig Claiborne are a few. But what these star-studded cassettes basically amount to are personality profiles with famous people demonstrating their craft. They are certainly entertaining and they do afford the home cook the luxury of repeating a step over and over again until confident.
But these videos, like the cookbooks they resemble, usually are not designed for real beginners. Most of the cooking drudgery--slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing and measuring--has already been done and the chefs are simply putting together recipes from pre-prepared ingredients.
What is new about cooking videos is the back-to-basics approach taken by some producers. Popular gourmet magazines like Cook's and Metropolitan Home have joined the video revolution. They have limited their tapes to single subjects and have intentionally included in their methodology instruction for basic procedures like measuring flour, peeling tomatoes and chopping fresh herbs.
These videos, by design, are ideal for novice cooks, yet they are presented in an informative and interesting manner with recipes that are of such universal appeal that they make good gifts for more experienced cooks as well.
Of course, there are some videos that are not as basic, and the idea is to offer suggestions for some new or slightly more difficult recipes, in which case a cookbook might be equally suitable.
The viewing times range from 30 to 60 minutes and the price tag varies from $14.95 to $39.95, the average price of a cooking lesson. Unfortunately, some are only available through mail order and thus do not lend themselves to holiday giving this year.
Pasta Beyond Primavera (Video Menus, Metropolitan Home: $29.95, 60 minutes).
This is the hands-down winner for teaching the essentials of making pasta. The video begins with an introduction of all seven recipes included on the tape (completed dishes plus garnishes and serving suggestions). Recipes include the basic pasta dough recipe used for mezzelune; ravioloni; rotolo and pappardelle; spinach gnocchi; forest fettuccine da silvano; da silvano taglierini with Gorgonzola and walnuts, and pappardelle with porcini and livers.
Beginning with the basics, this tape instructs viewers on such fundamental techniques as the method of measuring and leveling off flour, measuring half an egg, chopping onion and peeling, seeding and chopping tomatoes. Complete stages of recipes are shown.
The phrase "knead until very thick," for example, is demonstrated thoroughly, showing the texture of the flour at every stage of kneading until the dough is formed. The camera stays tightly focused on the hands of the instructor. Plus, there are garnishing tips and other cooking hints given throughout the demonstration. Convenient recipe-box-size cards with recipes, ingredients, method and yield are included.
To order Vol. 1 of Video Menus, "Pasta Beyond Primavera," send $29.95 plus $2 postage and handling in check, money order or credit card information for Visa, MasterCard or American Express (include expiration date and signature) to Video Menus Inc., P.O. Box 10856, Des Moines, Iowa 50336. Specify VHS or BETA format.
Basic New Orleans Cooking (Video Cooking Library, Kartes Video Communications: $14.95, 30 minutes).
This is one of a series of eight instruction videos, which are best suited for persons with some cooking experience since basics like chopping and measuring are not included. Other titles in the series include: "One Dish Meals"; "Pasta, Pasta, Pasta"; "Basic Italian Cuisine"; "The Basic Bread Baker"; "Thanksgiving Dinner"; "Seven Simple Chicken Dishes," and "Meals for Two."
In 30 minutes the New Orleans cassette demonstrates six typical dishes from the region, including sausage chicken gumbo, shrimp with remoulade sauce, black-eyed peas and creme brulee.
However, the amount of time devoted to each recipe is far too short to fully instruct a beginner on the methodology of Creole cooking techniques, such as making a roux (the flour and oil mixture essential to gumbo and other Creole dishes). The flour is already pre-measured and the frames change too rapidly between stages to give the novice a full understanding of the procedure.
More experienced cooks, however, would probably appreciate the pace since they do not need to see what "bite-size" pieces of sausage or finely diced vegetables are.
In the shrimp remoulade and black-eyed pea recipes, the methodology is slightly more detailed. The proper technique for cleaning and deveining shrimp, for instance, is included. Recipes are given on the cassette, but no booklet is included.
Kartes cooking videos are available in Waldenbooks and some supermarkets. To order by mail or to find the nearest sales location, call (800) 582-2000.
Garnishes (Video Cooking Library, Cook's Magazine: $29.95, 60 minutes).
This is one of a series of specific cooking procedures featured in videos offered by the popular magazine Cook's. "Cake Decorating" and "Chocolate" are other titles in the series, and recipe booklets are included.
The cassette well demonstrates 25 basic cutting techniques that can be used in a variety of recipes: onion chrysanthemums, radish crowns, leek and green onion flowers, radish accordions, carrot curls and flowers and eggplant spirals.
Recipes that use the basic garnishing techniques are also offered. There are centerpiece creations like honeydew swan, roast chicken with chile garnish and pastry cornucopia, plus some food-styling techniques like "painting" plates with sauces to improve presentation, and chopping and dicing methods for perfectly sized vegetables.
To order "Garnishes," "Cake Decorating" or "Chocolate," send $29.95 for each tape or $74.95 for the entire series to Cook's Magazine, 2710 North Ave., Bridgeport, CT 06604. Telephone orders may be charged to Visa, MasterCard or American Express by calling (800) 826-2000. Specify VHS or BETA format.
The Short Order Gourmet (Esquire Associates and Serendipity Productions: $29.95, 57 minutes).
This is one of six new titles in the Esquire Success series of home videocassettes produced through a joint venture of Esquire magazine and Serendipity Productions. (Other titles are not food related.)
"The Short Order Gourmet" features chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Roberto Gerometta of California's Culinary Academy, who offer advice on the preparation of quick and easy restaurant-style dishes that can be made at home.
It includes tips on preparing meals with eggs, pasta, seafood, meats and vegetables and looks at some desserts by pastry chef Jim Dodge of the Stanford Court Hotel's Fournou's Ovens. The cassette also features interviews with firefighter and author Jim Neil. Martin Yan, author of "Joy of Woking," demonstrates nutritional and time-saving benefits of cooking in a wok.
It is available in upscale video stores, gourmet food and wine stores, and B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.
Cuisinart Food Processor Techniques With Abby Mandel (Cuisinart Home Video Classroom: $20, 36 minutes).
This expanded version of Mandel's food processor cookbook, "Cuisinart Classroom," provides demonstrations of a wide variety of processing techniques, which are used in recipes such as sliced tomatoes on chiffonade of salad; Parmesan pastry straws; sweet and sour cocktail meatballs, and gratin of potatoes and cheese.
The tape begins with a brief introduction to processor cookery, followed by an explanation of parts and assembly of the SuperPro model, covering blade and stem connections, changing discs and locking features. A recipe booklet is included.
Some typical processing methods include slicing iceberg lettuce, chopping parsley with onion, then processing with salad dressing ingredients, slicing tomatoes into dressing, chopping Parmesan cheese cubes and mixing cheese pastry dough.
The camera maintains very close-up views of techniques, and each stage of the recipes is demonstrated--from cutting Parmesan cheese into one-inch pieces to chopping with blade 30 seconds until finely ground. The proper rhythm for pulsing and using some attachments are also covered.
Cassettes are available in cookware stores and houseware departments that carry Cuisinart products.
Yes You Can Microwave (Producers InSync: $29.95, 60 minutes).
Television cooking show host Donovan Jon Fandre presents this video on the basics of microwave cookery, including a discussion of cooking in general, some microwaving experiments, cooking tips, accessories and recipe conversions.
The video begins with a detailed explanation of microwave cooking--what it is, how it differs from other cooking methods and some safety precautions. Taking his explanation a step further, Fandre then executes some simple experiments with foil, pots and browning agents to demonstrate usage of the oven to the viewer.
Simple recipes are also included. Leg of lamb, broccoli mousseline, salmon steaks with yogurt and dill sauce and stuffed pork loin are some examples.
The video is available at some book and video stores or through JCI Inc., the distributor, (818) 555-1212.
Great Garnishes--Part I: The Basics (RMI Media Productions: $39.95, 45 to 50 minutes).
Food and garnishing expert Tomi Ryan gives step-by-step instructions for making beautiful garnishes at home in this three-part video series. Other titles in the series include "Great Garnishes Part II: Basics and Beyond" and "Part III: Advanced Garnishes."
Part I begins with an introduction to inexpensive garnishing tools, including knives, scissors, stripper-zester-flutter and mukimono carving tools.
The introduction is followed by a detailed, close-up demonstration of the basic garnishing cuts: the straight cut, the "V" or wedge cut and the round cut. Photography is close-up, showing the viewer the proper way to hold the knife and how far into the vegetable to make the incisions.
Part I is ideal for beginners. The more advanced viewer would enjoy either Part II or Part III, which apply the principles of the basic three cuts but demonstrate more difficult embellishments.
Vegetable garnishes include leek and pea pod leaves, interwoven carrot flowers and hearts, radish flowers, and carrot-turnip daisies.
To order, call (800) 821-5480 or send check or money to cover cost of video ($39.95), plus 5% postage and handling to RMI Media Productions, 2807 West 47th St., Shawnee Mission, Kan. 66205.