There's been a lot of talk lately about the death of the cookbook.
These days even old-school cooks regularly cruise foodie websites like Epicurious and Chow. The Internet offers a zillion recipes. It's interactive: along with recipes you can find reviews from other home cooks. It's personalized: you can build your own virtual recipe box. And it's easily searchable: you can Google that apple pie recipe instead of hunting through a stack of books.
And as technology ramps up, so do the cooking possibilities. You can now get a Martha Stewart Cookies app for your iPad or daily recipes delivered to your smartphone.
For younger cooks, video is big, especially the crazy adventureland of YouTube. Jamie Oliver's YouTube channel, Food Tube, has more than 139,000 subscribers and almost 13 million views. You can follow the ubiquitous British chef as he enthuses over the perfect omelette or the best pizza or whatever his viewers are asking for. ("It's all about what you guys want.")
Some food vids seem more like cooking as spectator sport -- entertaining diversions that are unlikely to result in actual dinner on the table. (A good example would be YouTube cult favourite Cooking with Dog, in which a quiet Japanese woman known only as Chef prepares traditional Japanese dishes while her small grey poodle Francis, ostensibly the narrator, stands on the kitchen counter, often perilously -- and probably unhygienically -- near the stove.)
But YouTube also seems to be a real resource for a new generation of tech nomads who don't want to lug heavy cookbooks around or find a place for them in their crammed apartment kitchens. They're used to living online, so it's no surprise that they cook there, too.
Take Sorted Food, an online food hub that offers "Food, Recipes, Videos and Banter." Created by 20-something English chef Ben Ebbrell and his fresh-faced crew, Sorted is all over social media, with a huge YouTube presence ("handy bitesize videos"), as well as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Ben is a likable lad. ("So you can cook AND you have a British accent. Let me love you," gushes one of his fans on tumblr.) He and his sous chefs/sidekicks Jamie, Barry and Mike have been compared to a "foodie boyband." They started their project a few years ago in a pub, Barry explains in one video, when Ben realized that "none of us lot knew how to cook."
Sorted is geared toward young people who like food but don't have a lot of money or fancy kitchen equipment. It offers cheap and cheerful versions of basics like spaghetti bolognese, as well as quick homemade versions of "takeaways," as the Brits say, like Singapore noodles and fish tacos.
There's also more elaborate fare like squid ink risotto and Moroccan tagine. It's "good grub," as Ben says, usually using just a few basic ingredients. The videos mostly clock in under five minutes, and often the cooking doesn't take much longer.
I still love my cookbooks, but I have to admit that it does feel kind of sociable to cook along with Ben and his friends. They really enjoy their food, and they make cooking seem fun, throwing ingredients around in a casual way, gushing about how "mad" and "brilliant" everything is. The videos are easy to access, and you can always print out a recipe if you're a hard-copy kind of person.
I tried out Sorted's recipe for ramen noodles, a staple student food that gets quite an upgrade here with prawns and greens. I also made a chocolate mousse, which Ben describes as "dead fancy and impressive." (And of course, one of his mates makes the obligatory moose/mousse joke.)
I enjoyed my excursion into YouTube cooking, but I'm also relieved to see that Ben and the gang have already released three conventional cookbooks -- you know, the kind made out of paper.
Evidently, rumours of the death of the cookbook are greatly exaggerated. It looks like new media and old media will continue to jostle along together for a while longer.
Teriyaki ramen noodles
45 ml (3 tbsp) soy sauce
45 ml (3 tbsp) mirin (Japanese rice wine)
15 ml (1 tbsp) honey
15 ml (1 tbsp) sesame oil
Knob fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 small red chili (optional)
Large handful of raw prawns (about 150 g or 5 oz)
Pack of ramen noodles, the instant type
Small bag of snap peas, sliced
Handful of bean sprouts
Handful of fresh coriander
Few green onions
Mix the soy sauce, mirin, honey and sesame oil together in a bowl.
Grate the ginger, mince the garlic and dice the chili and add to the mix.
Pour boiling water over the noodles in a bowl and leave for 3-4 minutes.
Fry the prawns in a hot wok with a tiny splash of oil for 30 seconds and then add the snap peas and bean sprouts, cooking for a minute more.
Pour the sauce and drained noodles into the pan and keep the contents of the pan moving as it all heats through.
Chop coriander and green onions and sprinkle over dish before serving.
-- Adapted from sortedfood.com
Tester's notes: This gussied-up version of ramen noodles has a lot of flavour and crunch, though I might switch to low-sodium soy next time. As you can see from the loosey-goosey recipe, the amounts aren't exact and there's lots of room to improvise. If you don't want to use prawns, you could throw in some leftover cooked chicken or just go vegetarian.
250 g (8 oz) chocolate
100 ml (3.5 oz) whole milk
1 orange, zested
280 ml (9.5 oz) whipping cream
3 large egg whites
Crack the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with the milk.
Heat gently over a pan of simmering water until melted and silky smooth or blast in the microwave, stirring occasionally.
Zest in the orange to the melted chocolate and leave to cool slightly.
Whip the cream to soft, but floppy, peaks.
Whisk the egg whites in another bowl to soft peaks.
Fold the chocolate into the cream mixture as carefully as possible; then do the same with the egg whites.
Divide into individual glasses, dishes or cups and chill for at least 4 hours.
Decorate with a bit of whipped cream and more orange zest just before serving.
-- Adapted from sortedfood.com
Tester's notes: Not a purist recipe -- the French would say you can't make chocolate mousse without egg yolks -- but it was easy-peasy and tasty. I don't know that I would "blast" my chocolate in the microwave. I used a low power setting, and as Ben explains in the video, heated just to the point at which the chocolate was partially melted, and then stirred until the mixture was smooth and glossy.
A note about raw egg whites: Health Canada advises that foods containing raw or lightly cooked eggs may be harmful to vulnerable people such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems. If you are concerned about using raw eggs, consider pasteurized liquid egg whites, which can now be found in the egg section of many grocery stores. I used these for the first time in this recipe, and they whipped up really well.