Off the eaten track
Want to know how to bake canneles or whip up wontons? Look no further than the Net, writes Susan Jung
DESPITE THE DEMISE of the dotcom industry, there's no denying that the Internet is a big help. Research has never been easier, with search engines such as Google (google.com) and Ask Jeeves (askjeeves.com).
The Net is also a fantastic resource for eager cooks and food lovers. If you want to re-visit a restaurant in Paris but can't remember where it was, there's a good chance you'll find it simply by typing the name into a search engine (just make sure you get the spelling right).
It's just as easy to find an obscure recipe. I tasted canneles (small, sweet cakes) on a trip to Bordeaux, and wanted to make this regional speciality at home. But none of my myriad cookbooks had the recipe, so I typed 'canneles' into Google, went through the options, and found it.
Web sites devoted solely to food range from the dreadful to the wonderful. Some are obviously put together by eager amateurs, with recipes like 'take one can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and add to the casserole'. Others, however, are indispensable for cooks, and there are a few so good I've bookmarked them on my computer. I use Epicurious (epicurious.com) most frequently, both for its recipes - taken mostly from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines - and its food dictionary (go to the 'Learn' pull-down menu and select 'Food Dictionary').
The recipe search is also helpful, especially when you do an 'advanced search', which narrows it down to type of cuisine, main ingredient, course (appetiser, main, dessert) and other options. Many recipes are 'ranked' by surfers, so you can see what others think of it before making it yourself.
The food dictionary is a bit cumbersome as you need to type in the precise word as it appears in the Epicurious dictionary - if you type in 'lentils', for instance, it will say 'No matches were found' for your search. It then suggests: 'You might want to double-check your spelling and then continue searching.'' It's in the Epicurious dictionary only as 'lentil'.
RecipeSource (recipesource.com) is a great new site. Like Epicurious, you can do an advanced search by ingredient and course, but the type of cuisine is more comprehensive. Instead of looking up 'Asian' as with Epicurious for instance, RecipeSource narrows it down to Burmese, Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and so on.
It's easy to navigate because everything of importance is on the homepage, unlike Epicurious, which is starting to cover a little too much. RecipeSource doesn't give cookery lessons, and assumes the cook knows what he or she is doing.
A good site for those who want to learn more about cooking is the New York Times (nytimes.com). Scan the left side of the page for 'dining & wine', click on it, then go to 'Cooking with the Times', about three-quarters down the page. The series is updated monthly, and covers everything from how to roast a chicken or cook a lobster, to making apple tarts and mayonnaise. It explains the correct techniques and gives several recipes.
Love her or hate her, Martha Stewart - the epitome of the Perfect Homemaker - is great at marketing herself. She has interesting ideas and enough assistants to make everything seem effortless. On her Web site (marthastewart.com), the featured recipes of the week (click on 'cooking') often have pictures of the dish from start to finished product.
There's also a recipe finder, which searches by ingredient, course and holiday (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween). Cooking 101, Baking 101 and Entertaining 101 give mini-lessons on subjects such as how to look after your knives, menu planning, and packaging and shipping cookies.
There are, of course, many links to Martha Stewart-related products, but these are easy enough to ignore.
If you're looking for a specific type of cuisine, it's easiest to go to a search engine and type, in quotation marks, the cuisine and the word recipe, ie 'thai & recipe', 'vietnamese & recipe' or 'french & recipe'. That's how I found Thai recipes at importfood.com/recipes.html, which is part of an online Thai supermarket, the Vietnamese recipe site (ivietbusiness.com/ vietnamese-food-recipe.html), part of an online Vietnamese business directory, and French Food and Cook (frenchfoodandcook.com).
All three sites have lots of recipes, but offer few tips on technique, so some knowledge of cooking and the related cuisine is still necessary. Although Chowhound.com (chowhound.com) doesn't contain recipes, it will be of interest to food lovers with a sense of humour. The site was featured recently in the New Yorker.
Its homepage states emphatically that chowhounds are not foodies; the latter 'eat where they're told' and ensure they 'eagerly follow trends', while chowhounds 'blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighbourhoods for hidden culinary treasure'.
The chowhounds proudly post messages about off-the-beaten-track places they've eaten. The site is mostly US-based, but there's an 'international' message board with a few postings about Hong Kong.
The message board is a bit of a slog to navigate; much more interesting are the regular columns: 'What Jim had for Dinner' (Jim is Jim Laff, chowhound's 'Alpha Dog') and 'When Bad Food Happens to Good People' (about food poisoning).
For Hong Kong foodies (as opposed to chowhounds), there's Food4hongkong (food4hongkong.com). It's linked to Camargue (which is relaunching as CMRG) - if you open the homepage and click on 'dining', it will take you straight to a page about the Wyndham Street restaurant. Instead, click on 'home' (in English or Chinese) and you can search for restaurants by cuisine, price range and district.