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Cooking On-Line

November 29, 2000|JENNIFER LOWE

Bridget, my cooking teacher, is going over basic ingredients for making cookies. She is straightforward and even-toned. Bridget, an instructor with Cooksillustrated.com's Cooking School, is teaching me over the Internet.

"Cookie Jar Favorites" works like the half-dozen other classes offered on the site, run by Cook's Illustrated magazine. For a few hours each week, students read lessons, make recipes, then respond to instructors and classmates through e-mail or on bulletin boards. Courses are $19.95 to $49.95 and last two to four weeks.

The advantage of this kind of class is that you learn when you want. No late-to-class worries here. Cooksillustrated.com says instructors likely will respond within two hours to any e-mail. I think Bridget did get back to me fairly quickly when I posted a question about how dry weather affects baking, but I say "I think" because not until a day later did I realize I had been looking for her reply in the wrong spot. Duh.

Which brings up the main disadvantage of online learning--navigating around a Web site. Cooksillustrated.com takes its cue from the extremely basic how-tos of the magazine and is fairly easy to navigate. But if you're not familiar enough with computers or electronic learning, it can take a little getting used to. Besides waiting at the wrong spot for my instructor's answer, I had trouble logging on a couple of times. I also printed a number of blank pages when trying to print course material (a good idea, so you can refer to it while at the stove).

And you have to wonder why you need an online course when so many cookbooks offer similar information (especially Cook's Illustrated own). I like cooking courses for classroom interaction and being able to watch instructors demonstrate techniques; you don't see that on a screen full of words, though the bulletin boards are supposed to stimulate discussion.

What Cooksillustrated.com does have going for it is the experience of its teachers, some of who edit the magazine, and its well-tested recipes. My batch of Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies were gone in a matter of moments after leaving the oven, and the recipe worked to the letter.

Of course, with no one standing over me in a classroom, I ignored the directions to "file a cooking report" on my results; I was too busy eating my results.

http://www.cooksillustrated.com

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