"I always feel a bit more secure in what I'm undertaking," says Toronto home cook Wendy Rozeluk, who works in communications at Google, of cooking with the laptop nearby. "I feel much more confident in being able to try something new with guests the first time rather than having to try it on my own."
Ready to improve your own skills? Here are eight ways to use the Web to get there.
1. Don't go it aloneâ€¨
Want to try a new recipe from a cookbook or magazine but daunted by some of the steps -- or considering making some changes? Search for that recipe online and you'll be sure to find blog posts from other home cooks who've already tried it.
Instead of cooking blind, learn from the successes and failures of others who've been there before, and see photos of what their dishes looked like during cooking and at the end.
2. Convert measurements
â€¨Rozeluk points out a cool use of Google -- type in, for example, "5 ounces to grams" and you'll get the conversion at the top of your search results, without having to use a calculator or find that page in that one cookbook you know has a conversion chart. (It's 141.7476, if you were wondering.)
3. Get visually inspired
â€¨Have you tried Pinterest yet? It's a social bookmarking site that helps you save, share and browse images -- and recipes are huge on the site. All you need is to sign up for an account and you can save recipes you find online into groups by their images -- then browse through your "pins," or other peoples', next time you're looking for a recipe to make. (Don't forget to follow Canadian Living on Pinterest once you've signed up.)
4. Learn techniques through video
â€¨Rozeluk recommends browsing and searching YouTube to find videos on all sorts of techniques and recipes. "Understanding the techniques can be so visual," she says. For instance, she found a video on how to cut radishes to make them look like a flower -- a lovely decorative touch on a spring or summer meal that will really impress your guests.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to document and organize your recipes on page 2 5. Document what you've made â€¨
The word blog comes from "web log," and a blog is a fantastic way to, well, log what you've made -- and what you've learned -- so you can come back to it later, whether you intend for others to read it as well or not. Sign up for a free account at wordpress.com or blogger.com, take a few tutorials to get up to speed and you'll be on your way to having your own super-useful and fun virtual food diary.
6. Organize your recipesâ€¨
Forget ripped-out magazine pages and sticky notes on recipe books -- once you start using online recipes, you'll find they're a lot easier to organize and harder to lose. One easy way is to create a spreadsheet or Google doc that contains links to things you've made and want to make. Once you've tried recipes, you can make notes and -- assuming they turned out -- transfer them to the "keep" file. Bonus: these files are searchable, so you can, say, easily find everything that has "chocolate" in the title.
Rozeluk, for her part, uses a spreadsheet in web-based tool Google Docs for her organizational needs. It works just like any other spreadsheet software, except your document is accessible from wherever you are -- and by anyone you invite to view it. Rozeluk shares a Google spreadsheet with her cousin, for example, and they make notes on preparation tips so they can both see them. For instance, she says, "I can see that she tried it with pecans instead of almonds and it turned out really good."
7. Discover ingredients and substitutions
â€¨A web search is also highly useful if you need more information about an unfamiliar ingredient, or need an alternative option. Just type in a name for a definition, or something like "star anise substitution" if you don't have the ingredient that's called for. Someone out there online will have already tried subbing different ingredients and you'll be able to find out if it worked for them.
8. Browse and discover
â€¨One of the coolest things about the Internet is how it connects all of us, no matter where we live, into one big network of people with common interests. Another cool thing? How you can come across things you never would have known existed. Rozeluk's latest discovery? Baking cupcakes in ice cream cones, which she says she never would have come up with herself. So browse, click links, explore and see what's out there. It could be your next favourite dish.
Page 2 of 2