Tuesday, 18 December 2012

learning to QOOQ




A few days ago, on the universal grapevine that is Twitter, I saw a flurry of activity surrounding something called a QOOQ. It turns out that it’s not a new addition to the Star Wars dramatis personae, but a kitchen recipe gadget of the interactive variety.

Now, at this point, a warning or two. I’m about as techno-friendly as a lobster with a migraine. Ergo, I don’t possess any iStuff or equivalent. Nope, not even an iPhone. So if ‘there’s an app for that’, it ain’t no use to me. I AM LUDDITE.

But. But...  the QOOQ (pronounced ‘cook’ – geddit?) is a dedicated recipe thingy, specifically designed for kitchen use, being non slip, wipe clean, splash- and humidity-resistant as it is. And it has a little built-in flip-out stand. So, as much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, I confess that I am, in fact, mildly interested, despite the above warnings and latent bah humbug tendencies, especially when faced with this sort of blurb:

“Each QOOQ comes preloaded with 1,000 international recipes that can be accessed by cuisine type, difficulty level, preparation time and ingredients, helping to customise the cooking experience to suit the chef and his or her kitchen. At the touch of a button, users are also able to purchase additional recipes, which are available individually or in themed packs and are focused on such topics as a destination, an ingredient or a specific chef. There is a catalogue of over 4,000 exclusive multimedia recipes made for QOOQ by more than 100 chefs.”

“Video speed is controlled by the user, and videos can be paused while the user accesses separate tutorials that explain specific culinary techniques. There is also behind-the-scene footage of the chefs’ restaurants, as well as hundreds of ingredient fact sheets that detail how individual products should be chosen, kept and cooked. For the health-conscious, recipe pages detail the calories contained in a dish and the Meal Planner function allows users to monitor and vary their diets.”

You get the idea.

Anyway, the first test for the QOOQ is, of course, whether I can, y’know, set it up and get it to work without assistance. Since it looks and feels much like an Etch-a-Sketch pad, which I vaguely remember being able to use, I feel dangerously confident.

 

Plug it in, turn it on, and...   oooh, look, things start happening. So far, surprisingly competent (me, not the QOOQ). Oh. It needs a WPA code to hook up t’interwebs. Cue interval of some minutes while said code is located. But then we’re away.

 

And I really mean it. It takes absolutely no time at all – literally – to start finding your way around the QOOQ. It’s a touchscreen interface, so you simply poke the screen at anything that seems appealing and take it from there. And appealing, it is. The visuals and text are clear and bright, and even for a techie numpty like me, it’s instinctive and intuitive to use, pretty much along the same lines as iStuff and their ilk. If instruction booklets put the bejasus up you, then you’ll have no such worries here – you simply don’t need one.

 

There’s not much the makers haven’t thought of. You can access recipes by a number of routes – by ingredient, occasion, chef, cuisine, theme, ‘inspiration’, etc. Once you choose what you want, it tells you (under respective tabs), the method, ingredients, and even the utensils you’ll need. Other information includes skill level, time to prep and cook, cost, and calorific content (yikes). Many recipes also incorporate videos to show you how to do anything remotely tricky – such as boning a fish (and yes, there’s a separate, dedicated techniques section to the QOOQ, should you need it) – and these can be paused and re-started as you flip back to the recipe.

 

Amongst the other plusses is the ability to scale a recipe up or down at a prod of the screen (I loved this, although it does lead to anomalies – 2 and 5/8 of a tablespoon?), and a weekly meal planner and shopping-list maker. The search facility is fast and accurate should you know what you’re after in the first place. And that’s just for starters. There’s also a whole section on wines, ingredients, ‘food facts’, and much else besides.

 

The QOOQ, then, has a lot going for it.

Having said that, it’s not entirely without flaws as it stands as the moment.

The recipes themselves show predominantly French and American influence, so will perhaps come across to an English market as a bit left-field. (Me, I happen to like that.)  All the featured chefs, and their recipes, are French, too, so the chances are you won’t find (m)any chefs you recognise on the QOOQ at the moment, although I imagine that will change over time. Other obvious issues include, for example, the spellings, measurements, ingredients being American (cups and sticks; cilantro, not coriander, and so on), worryingly vague in places (e.g. ‘a packet of vanilla sugar’; ‘1 pastry dough’), and the lack of rhyme or reason as to when a technique is explained/demonstrated or not. Vegetarian recipes seem to include fish (I suppose this is a French device, after all), ‘world cuisines’ are rather restricted at the moment, and as for ‘Asian’ recipes, read chiefly Indian or Japanese.

But I’m being picky – all these niggles are eminently fixable, and I’m sure the QOOQ team is busy refining as I write this.

The device isn’t limited purely to being a souped-up recipe ‘book’, either. You can use it to access the internet and your (web)mails, and get instant access via the logo buttons to Facebook, Twitter, Wiki and a few other common favourites. So can you be busy tweeting away while cooking, but not have to stop to give your hands a wipe so as not so spoil your iStuff. The QOOQ’s wipe clean, remember?

So, to the nitty-gritty. The QOOQ retails at a shade under £250.00, and a year’s subscription costs just over £60.00 (alternatively, you can buy pay-as-you-go credits). Is it worth it?

For iStuff die-hards, I suspect the price point isn’t quite right, although I’d still suggest you try to get hold of one and have a play for yourself before making up your mind. But for someone like me, who’s a gadget-free zone, but who uses a computer and social media AND likes to cook, it’s a fun device well worth considering. In my case, it certainly saved on running between the kitchen and my study like a demented chicken, as is my usual mode.

Yup, friends, I LIKED IT.

Now, where’s my list for Father Christmas....?

For more information, follow @QOOQ on Twitter and take a look at their website:  http://www.qooq.com/en/ 

With thanks to QOOQ and Andre Dang PR.

 

Friday, 7 December 2012

something for Christmas...

No, not in that 'something for the weekend' way. I don't do that kind of thing, thank you very much. No, I mean something that you might buy for someone else, or even for yourself (yes, why not? It's Christmas. That's what it's for). Earlier this year I was sent a couple of books to review. Speaking as someone who happens to have a weak spot for baked sweet things, they could hardly have been more lustworthy - Signe Johansen's Scandilicious: Baking, and Laura Amos's The Dessert Deli. (I'll come on to the pudding basin later.)


Let me explain.

I reviewed Signe's first book last year. I loved it. The news that she was to write a second book, purely on baking, was always going to be food to my ears. Because, in my very humble opinion, the Scandinavians are the vastly underrated geniuses of the baking world, and any book - especially by Sig, who can, y'know, bake a bit - on Scandi baking has therefore to be a VERY GOOD THING indeed.

As for Laura - well, we have 'history'. I've followed her progress ever since she set up a tiny stall in Hildreth Street Market in Balham a few years ago. Her desserts and cakes were insanely good, right from the off. It's been a real pleasure to watch her business grow rapidly since then so that she's now one of the most sought-after independent dessert chefs in London. It's a testament to her huge success that she's now in print - and it's great for fans of her food, like me, to see all her regular stall favourites in her new book.

So - the brief lowdown... For the baked goods glutton in your life, both these books are must-haves. Signe's is the weightier tome, with a greater number and variety of recipes - including breads and savoury bakes as well as cakes and puddings. Laura's is just as you would expect from a book entitled 'The Dessert Deli', and a budding amateur patissier's delight - packed with recipes for luscious cakes, desserts, petits fours, and similar.

I've baked most from Signe's book, if only because I was sent it earlier, and had more time to 'play' with it. As with her first book, it's appealing to use - the gorgeous recipes are laid out clearly, with lots of white space around the text, and there are plenty of colour photographs so that you can see what you're aiming for.

Laura's is a different kettle of, er, cakes, but still another glossy production. The layout of the recipe pages is rather more cluttered (albeit with helpful tips!), and I'm not a fan of the swirly title and sub-title font used. But the photo:recipe ratio is even higher than in Sig's book, with a picture accompanying every single recipe, and the dribble factor is enormous.

Both authors' recipes are evidently much tried and tested - quite simply, they WORK (not a given, in my long baking experience).

I could bleat on about them in lyrical fashion, but really, there's little point. These are highly desirable books, and well worth buying for any keen baker. Even Lorraine Pascale says so (she endorses both of them). For Christmas presents, if I didn't have them already, they'd be top of my wishlist.

The pudding basin? Oh, yes. From Mermaid, maker of many of my baking tins. It's ideal size and shape for your Christmas pudding, and for any steamed puds, come to that. I'd also use it for making ice cream-based desserts, like zuccotto. And, speaking as someone whose wrists can be a bit cream-crackered at this time of year, it's a good lightweight alternative to your traditional ceramic basins. As with other Mermaid products, I highly recommend it.

Right. Christmas Public Service Announcement over. You know what you have to do. Me, I'm off to bake Laura's Christmas cake and Sig's clementine butter biscuits. In case you're interested.

With thanks to Hodder and Stoughton, Legend Press, and Mermaid (via The Lenny Agency).