roast turkey on dinner table

Kitchen Counter Cooking School: Review and Takeaways

Book Reviews

Has anyone else watched an episode of Worst Cooks in America and thought, “I could be on this show?

No? Just me then?

homer simpson hiding

Cooking has always seemed like the worst kind of chore to me – something that must be done for survival, but should be minimized as much as possible.

This book made me actually *want* to cook.

And if you don’t know me, that probably sounds like a mild statement. An easy reversal.

But it’s really not. It’s very high praise for Kathleen Flinn’s work.

When I was about halfway through, I was hanging with a friend, and she suggested we cook up some salmon for dinner. Normally, I would have run screaming in the other direction, but thanks to Flinn’s passion for making cooking accessible to those with cooking fear and avoidance, I jumped at the chance.

I learned how to cut up and cook a salmon fillet. And yes, I know that process is wildly easy for a lot of people. But for me, it was intimidating to the point where I wouldn’t have even wanted to attempt it. Until now. Huzzah!

I picked up a LOT of great information by reading this, and I would highly recommend this book if you’re at all kitchen-shy, like me. And even if you’re already a pretty seasoned home cook, you’ll probably find a lot of helpful gems and inspiration in here.

I’ll be starting with some of the basics I learned, but I made a note to come back and read it again a few years down the road, when I may be ready to handle some of the more advanced techniques.

 

fresh salmon salad

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Kitchen Counter Cooking School

We start with an introduction to the cast of characters: a group of women who — for one reason or another… or for many reasons — just don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen.

I feel empathy for these ladies, as I relate deeply to their stories. There’s an underlying feeling that one should be able to cook, and that it comes naturally to other people… but that we were somehow left out of the “how” part of the process. When we do venture an attempt at expanding our horizons, the results are often less than stellar, serving to confirm that we lack something that everyone else seems to have – ease and success in the kitchen.

“… I could not have predicted the residue and damage that a lack of cooking skills had on people’s daily lives. Among the boxes and cans, I found a larger story of perceived failure that left them struggling with guilt, frustration, and a stinging lack of confidence.” (P58)

Once we’ve met the ladies and heard their reasons for feeling shy in the kitchen, we move to the heart of the book: the hands-on lessons.

I was truly surprised by how useful it was to read about Flinn’s demonstrations and the struggles of the newbie chefs as they attempted to copy her work.

Not only did I start to feel less alone and weird, but her answers to their questions were far more helpful to understanding cooking techniques than the scripted performances I’ve seen on video demonstrations.

Something about being “in the room” with these ladies as they struggled through their own learning processes made me feel like I was learning and growing with them, too.

FROZEN FLAVOR BOOST

One of the most awesome tricks I picked up from this book is a really simple one:

“Caramelized onions are an easy way to add a lot of flavor to a dish. I make a big batch and freeze it in 1-cup portions. A large ten-ounce onion cooks down to about a half cup, or five ounces, of caramelized onion.” (P74)

As someone who is occasionally guilty of buying pre-chopped onions from the grocery store (I know, I know), this sounded like a brilliant tip!

Basic technique: Thinly slice the onions. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until softened, then lower the heat to a simmer and gently brown them for about 25 minutes.” (P74)

Once frozen, these can be easily added to all kinds of dishes! And it shaves off prep time! I love it.

DIY VINAIGRETTE

After reading Deep Nutrition, I’ve become a lot more conscious about the ingredients in salad dressings. Sadly, most commercial versions are filled with vegetable oils, sugar, and preservatives.

“If you can’t cook, you put yourself at the mercy of companies whose interests are overwhelmingly financial.” (P21)

But what’s most disappointing about shelling out $5 for a bottle of chemicals and metabolism-disruptors is that it’s actually ridiculously simple to make your own vinaigrette dressing! It’s a simple three-to-one ratio of oil to acid (vinegar or citrus juice).

The hostess and I measured three tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar into her empty jar. We added some salt and pepper. I gave it to the hostess to shake fiercely.

“Now what do we do?” she asked excitedly.

“Congratulations. You just made vinaigrette,” I said.” (P145)

TRY TO HAVE SOME FUN

“No one is going to make you pack your knives and go home if a dish doesn’t turn out.” (P259)

Throughout this book, there is a beautifully uplifting spirit of trial and error, and of learning to trust and enjoy the process.

Flinn’s heartfelt desire to share her unbridled joy for cooking, and the care and integrity with which she goes about the process, really allowed her students to blossom and find their inner chefs. And it’s pretty inspiring to follow along with their journeys, and see what could be possible in my own life.

CONCLUSION

While Flinn provided many helpful tips and detailed recipes, I think the most valuable aspect of this book is experiencing the process of growth with these fledgling chefs, and how doing so demystifies and normalizes cooking for those who fear it.

I *feel* remarkably different about cooking than I felt before.

Am I suddenly an amazing chef? No.

Have a tackled roasting a whole chicken as the book describes? No, of course not… not yet.

But the ice that has always been in my heart for cooking is starting to melt. There’s less of a wall between me and the idea of experimenting in the kitchen.

Flinn awakened one of my favorite things: curiosity. And she did it in an area I never expected.

 

Non Fiction Bingo 2018 Progress

Putting a “Cooking” category in #nonficbingo2018 was one of those things you do, to push yourself outside your comfort zone. It worked out pretty well this time! 😀

nonfiction bingo 2018 kitchen counter cooking school

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Featured image by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash

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