Some lessons to overcome fear of cooking
Do you know what's lurking in your fridge, freezer, or pantry?
How many expired labels are hidden on the bottoms of cans and packages of items purchased for that one recipe that never came to fruition?
Or how often does your bread mold, lettuce turn to slime, milk sour, yogurt liquefy, and fruit transform into "the blob" hiding in the crisper drawer of your fridge?
While it stinks to admit it, I throw out quite a lot of expired food. I'll come up with a plan at the grocery store to eat healthy, go out less for dinner, and cook at least five meals that week.
So I'll stock up on healthy and nutritious items (that all have a very short shelf life) only to get weighed down with the time crunch of work and life obligations, turning to quick-fix meals instead.
I eat far too many nachos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, frozen dinners, and mac and cheese, thinking that "tomorrow" will be a fresh start with cooking. Only tomorrow's cooking has morphed into that nebulous concept that doesn't actually exist and I once again turn to fast food, pizza delivery and the occasional ramen noodles.
The "I'm too busy" line only worked for so long, and now I need to face the fact that I don't prioritize cooking and thus don't make time for it.
I should prioritize cooking; after all, my mom is a fantastic cook and my grandmothers were as well. If I grew up around it, why am I so squeamish around a whole raw chicken? And why do I feel so nervous when I have to cook?
It is all these experiences and feelings regarding cooking that serve as the basis of Kathleen Flinn's latest book, "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks."
In the book, Flinn goes into the kitchens of nine volunteers with her husband (and his video camera) in tow, searching through people's cabinets, fridges and freezers to see how they shop and use food, then observing as they prepare meals that they regularly eat to get a sense of their cooking skills.
After reviewing people's kitchens and cooking abilities, Flinn offers a class for the nine volunteers to attend in which she teaches the basic mechanics of knife skills; offers taste testing across brands for things like canned tomatoes, chicken stock, salt, etc.; and begins the introduction of cooking across the food spectrum.
Flinn presents the cooking classes chronologically in her book, introducing the reader to techniques of bread making, salad dressing preparation, and how to cook eggs, poultry, red meat, fish and soup.
Along the way, she also discusses ways to waste less food by recreating leftovers or creating new recipes by using what's in the fridge and cupboards.
And after the pages of delicious detail describing the preparation and cooking of mouth-watering dishes, Flinn encourages the reader to get in the kitchen and cook by offering the recipes at the end of each chapter. Imagine making your very own Alfredo sauce, chicken stock, spaghetti sauce or artisan bread. Tempting, isn't it?
Flinn writes about how she instructed the volunteers with the different techniques, but rather than reading an accounting of an event, I almost felt as if I were there with the volunteers, learning how to braise, saut and actually cut apart a whole chicken. Flinn's descriptions help the reader relate to the volunteers, showing that discomfort in the kitchen is just a matter of learning; once you learn how to do something, it's not so scary anymore.
As Flinn writes, "So who says you can't cook? Not every meal has to be from scratch, nor does everything you consume have to be organic, locally sourced, and pasture raised. If you burn, scorch, drop, overcook, undercook, underseason or otherwise put a meal together that's less than a success, in the end it doesn't matter. It's just one meal. You'll make another one tomorrow. In a hundred years, no one will know the difference."
Amber Castens is an adult and teen services librarian at the Urbana Free Library, where she is also the technology volunteer program coordinator.