Ask Anna #9: Anna's Cooking Tips

Incredibly, you guys asked for this. So here's an entire blog post to answer all the food and cooking questions you sent me.

No cooking advice I assume? :p

Ha ha ha. You assume wrong. I have a lot to say on this subject. And some strong words for cookbook authors about clarity.

That title isn't saying what you think it is…

That title isn't saying what you think it is…

As people who follow me on Twitter know, my cooking skills are legendary. I am a beginner, so any recipe I use has to spell things out. Recipes can't assume any knowledge on my part, no matter how obvious it seems. How many times have I been diligently following a recipe only to discover glaring omissions about the next step? Answer: EVERY TIME.  Do I peel the potatoes or not? What size pan do I need? How much of "one leek" do I use? What's the difference between dicing and cubing? No matter how "beginner" a recipe claims to be, there's always something they didn't make clear. And those grey areas are where people like me go wrong. Horribly, terrifyingly wrong. I mean, I screwed up THIS recipe:

Two ingredients: ice cream and flour. How could anyone mess that up?

Two ingredients: ice cream and flour. How could anyone mess that up?

The bread I created from that recipe was so dense that its gravity sucked in all my kitchen appliances. NASA has it now. So my cooking advice is for the people writing recipes: QA your work, dammit. If you say it's for novices, have a genuine beginner try to make it. Otherwise, this is how it reads to people like me:

Sounds legit.

Sounds legit.

What is your favorite food?

This can't be a serious question. I can't even decide who my favorite Hitachiin twin is and you want me to pick one food from all the food in the universe? Oh wait. Unless you mean a food category. In that case, I like desserts best. But savory foods are also delicious. And cheese is the only thing standing between me and true veganism. Also, fresh fruit is the ♥best.♥ 

So, I cheated and googled this question. Apparently, most people say pizza. Pizza is good, but not my favorite. The popular runner-up is chocolate. Also an excellent choice, but there are so many different kinds of chocolate that it becomes its own competition.

Chocolat Movie Clip. Yes, I know they're not just talking about chocolate. 

In the interest of finishing this Ask Anna post today, let's move on to the next question.

Can I have your pancake recipe?

Of course! Here's my simple ten-step process:

  1. Decide to make pancakes.
  2. Remember how badly pancakes turned out last time.
  3. Tell yourself the problem was the recipe.
  4. Google a new recipe.
  5. Follow the new recipe.
  6. Sing Kpop into your spatula.
  7. Ruin the pancakes somehow.
  8. Eat them anyway while watching the rain and sobbing.
  9. Resolve to never make pancakes again.
  10. Repeat steps 1-10.

This infallible recipe in action.

How do you turn the litmus paper blue?

Ah, science! This question assumes a far more advanced level of cooking than I'm at. You're talking molecular gastronomy, right? Well, ask yourself this: Could you sleep at night knowing I was messing around with matter on a molecular level? I didn't think so.

My culinary skills aside, molecular gastronomy is brilliant. Check out the recipes on this website:  You can make Disappearing Transparent Ravioli, Honey Handkerchiefs, and Edible Wood. Magic. I'm fascinated by this style of cooking. It's like modern-day alchemy. Or witchcraft.

And speaking of witchcraft…


Have you tried cooking a snake yet? I hear they are capable of breaking hexes if prepared correctly.

I've had such a long and painful run of bad luck recently that I almost considered measures this drastic to break my hex. Only a few things stopped me: 

  1. I'm a vegetarian and strongly opposed to animal cruelty in any form. For snakes, too. Even for spiders.
  2. We all know by now that I'd mess up any snake-hex recipe and probably make things worse. I sure don't need double bad luck hexes. Or to have a ghost snake haunting my sleep with hissed reproaches
  3. Oh yeah, I don't believe in hexes. 

So rest easy, snakes! You're safe from my culinary depredations.

(PS: DO NOT google "snake cooking" under any circumstances. Don't do it, folks. It will either horrify you or make you sad.)

And this goes out to the person I'm pretty sure sent me that question: I'm telling ya, the snake emoticon market is wide open.


I was afraid to ask this but what's your favorite vege burger?

I understand your fear. This is a loaded question. I have been in some heated debates with other vegetarians about which veggie burger brand tastes best. Alcohol may have been involved. But still! People have strong opinions about it. For example, while I hold the reasonable opinion that anyone who likes Dr. Praeger's burgers should go on an EatPrayLove-style retreat to think hard about their flawed life choices, some people like them. 

All these choices of  edible  burgers and they picked Praeger's. 

All these choices of edible burgers and they picked Praeger's. 

We can only conjecture what that says about their taste in general. Favorite movie? The Room. Favorite color? Taupe. Favorite band? None! They prefer the sound of single raindrops plinking into a metal bowl. Over and over and over and over…

But I digress.

Regardless of brand, black bean burgers get the most love from vegetarians I know. I was always a fan of those MorningStar Farms black bean burgers until they changed the recipe and made them all…leathery. And we all know that the best burgers are the ones you make at home from fresh ingredients. So one day I thought, "How hard can it be to make those from scratch?" I was on a cleanse at the time, so I went with a super-healthy recipe: Spicy Black Bean Burgers  I was excited to make them, because I had just purchased a new immersion blender and wanted to try it out.

[sustained screaming offscreen  ]

[sustained screaming offscreen]

Long story short, I learned that you should always check to make sure the blender is unplugged before cleaning the blades and that redheads have an unusually high tolerance for local anesthetics. (EXTREMELY GRAPHIC picture of my injury here for those who like gore.) When I think of homemade veggie burgers now, I think of human blood. And pain. 

So, uh…I guess any kind of store-bought veggie burger is fine.

Made from vegetarian cows on Abbatoir Road.

Made from vegetarian cows on Abbatoir Road.

Spit or swallow? (on the topic of wine-tasting, of course)

Okay, ordinarily I don't answer questions like this because of the whole double-entendre thing. I shake my once-mutilated finger in the face of the naughty person who asked this. Tsk! But as a former bartender, I have strong feelings about wasting alcohol, so let me say this: give me wine and I will drink it. Feel free to send me bottles of good wine so that I can demonstrate my willingness to drink it.

In conclusion

So there you have it. My answers to your burning (har har) questions about cooking. Although nobody asked for it, I want to offer a final piece of advice to other novice chefs: be adventurous, but don't be stupid. Whatever the recipe, odds are you can find a better version of it at a nearby restaurant or online. Or one of your more talented, generous friends who love you—don't they love you? Prove it.—can make the dish for you. Experimentation is fun, but know your limits. After all, we've only got ten fingers.

Click the pic and know you're not alone.

Click the pic and know you're not alone.

Twitter user NeoNugget suggested a brilliant title for my cookbook. I might have to make this happen now.