The Deliberate Reader, mentioned this book I actually went and placed it on my Christmas wish list. I'm not a big fan of books about cooking. For one thing, I'm not a big fan of cooking. But The Kitchen Counter Cooking School snagged me with the subtitle, How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks. When you know you're a culinary novice and would like to be a fearless home cook, well ... you buy the book.
This isn't a cookbook, although there are recipes included. It is primarily the story of one woman's mission to make cooking more accessible to a handful of women who tended to fill their shopping carts with boxes and cans and loads of processed foods. She found nine volunteers, visited and critiqued their kitchens, then offered them a cooking class to learn how to prepare more foods from scratch. The volunteers were definitely kitchen-phobics. I could completely relate to this book. In fact, at times it hurt to read it because it felt like my own angst was splashed on the pages.
I am thoroughly uncomfortable in the kitchen. I am insecure. I fail miserably when I try to make things taste good or look presentable. I fail at providing my family with the nourishment I want to give them. That is why this book struck such a strong nerve with me. It brought to mind a moment when we had company and I had prepared some Chicken Parmigiana from a freezer box. The wife made an off-hand comment about how simple it is to prepare this yourself and then you don't get all the additional chemicals and unwanted preservatives. I thought, "Well, this might be simple for you to whip up a feast of chicken parmigiana, but for me it would be quite another story." It also brought to mind all the times when my sisters-in-law would flood the kitchen (this happens with both sides of the family, actually) and I would hang back worried that they all were thinking I was just unwilling to help, when really the thought of helping terrified me.
I would love to say that after reading this book I've been transformed. Sadly, I don't think so. It was fun to read about her method and the class sounded like quite an adventure (despite my kitchen phobia), but I don't think I can transfer what I read into actual practice. The very first lesson was how to use a knife. I'm no more clear on how to use a knife after reading about it. It is something I would need to learn hands-on, I think. Same thing with the lesson on purchasing a whole chicken and roasting it, rather than buying the packaged pieces (something I don't do all that often anyway, since we don't eat much in the way of meat). I thought to myself, "I could go ask the butcher in the grocery store meat section to teach me how to cut up a chicken, but why would they agree to do that, when it would mean their expensive packaged meats would be purchased less?"
There were several things mentioned in the book that I'm already capable of. I steam vegetables regularly and can make a satisfying omelet. I've tackled soups before with a bit less trepidation than other types of recipes. Plus, I'm a big fan of fillets in foil (a concept the author highlighted in one of the chapters). But, I cannot see myself making my own chicken stock by roasting and then boiling the bones. While I'd love to try the bread, I would lean towards a more whole-wheat recipe than was listed in the book.
I can't really say whether I think this book helped me or not. I suppose I will give a few things in the book a try. I still have a desire to improve our diet. The question will be whether I have the follow-through. I was surprised when she ended the book with the revelation that all nine students had changed their ways to some degree and were implementing the suggestions made in her classes (getting away from the overly processed foods and the tendencies to both eat out too much and to waste too much food). In her follow-up visits to their homes, their cupboards and fridges bore evidence of their new-found comfort in the kitchen. I guess I expected at least one of them to have tried and failed to ease their way into more home-cooking.
I don't know if I'll ever get to the point where I feel comfortable in a kitchen. Perhaps it is just the way I'm wired. Still, I enjoyed learning that I'm not alone in my kitchen angst and it was fun to read the story of these women and the classes that changed their lives.