DVD Article

What's Cooking: TV Dinners

Culinary videos -- We look at some of the best tapes that instruct the art of cooking

Cooking experts claim, ''If you can read, you can cook.'' Yet, as anyone who's ever tried to create a soufflé from a cookbook knows, printed instructions can often be half-baked. In contrast, culinary videos can actually show you how it's done. Even so, not all of the many cassettes available on the art of cooking are well done. Here are the best of the batch.

Julia Child: The Way to Cook
Billed as ''a complete home video cooking course,'' these six fast-paced cassettes cover the basics in meticulous detail. For this anti-red-meat era, Poultry offers a variety of innovative main-course alternatives, including roast duck and broiled game hens with mustard coating. In her reassuringly familiar voice, Child matter-of-factly demonstrates techniques that are difficult to follow in traditional cookbooks: trimming chicken parts, carving breast meat, trussing a turkey. Meat, Vegetables, Soups, Salads & Bread, Fish & Eggs, and First Courses & Desserts round out a valuable foundation for any cook's library. All six tapes: A

Craig Claiborne's New York Times Video Cookbook
The preeminent food editor shares his personal favorites in this internationally flavored video featuring everything from Billi Bi soup to hazelnut cheesecake. Intimidating-sounding dishes like chiffonade of lobster Chez Denis, extensive ingredients lists, and lengthy preparation times may be off-putting to novices, but ''all good cooking takes is a little patience,'' says Claiborne, who helpfully explains the reasons behind every step. B+

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, Vol. I
If the lines are too long at New Orleans' popular K-Paul's restaurant, you can sample some of its famous cuisine described in this video from the crawdaddy of Cajun cooking. Paul Prudhomme can wax poetic about crawfish, but for all the talking, he offers just five (traditional) recipes: Cajun popcorn, blackened redfish, bread pudding, yeast rolls, and Cajun martinis. Heed his warning: Prudhomme doesn't always follow his own recipes but uses different measurements or ingredients in the name of creativity. B

Bon Appetit Cooking Videos
The best volume in this four-tape series, Easy Entertaining, lives up to its name with impressive yet surprisingly simple ideas for Sunday brunch and a special occasion dinner. Hosts Mark Peel (owner-chef at L.A.'s Campanile restaurant) and Susan Arnell (an enthusiastic amateur cook) focus as much on presentation as the recipes themselves, resulting in artfully arranged garnishes that will make guests & think you slaved over the zucchini pancakes and watercress, pear, and bleu cheese salad. Perfect for beginners, each video (the others are Weeknight Inspirations, Light & Fresh Cooking, and Festive Desserts) comes with recipe cards, shopping lists, and coupons. All four tapes: A

Perfect Bread: How to Conquer Bread Baking
How do you turn a sticky mess into the staff of life? In this easy-to-follow video, Betsy Oppenneer clearly and patiently shows that baking bread is simpler than you probably think. Step by step, she kneads, rolls, shapes, and glazes, teaching you how to develop rhythm and recognize the sign of proper kneading (air pockets in the dough). A

Originally posted May 17, 1991 Published in issue #66 May 17, 1991 Order article reprints