The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, by Kathleen Flinn, is one of those books that I picked up from the discount bin, read the first few pages and then promptly forgot about. Then, about a week or so ago, I was looking for something to read while I ate my supper and decided to pick it up again. I’m glad I did.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks, begins with an encounter between the author and a shopper in a grocery store. The shopper has a cart filled with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn, gives her some guidance on ways to better shop and prepare foods. This encounter also starts the author out on a journey.
As a recent graduate from the Cordon Bleu School of cooking in Paris, Flinn still hadn’t found her place in the culinary world. Following this grocery store tutorial, she makes an appearance on a radio show where she talks about the encounter, and this in turn lead her into teaching a group of people how to shop and cook better.
As part of the project, Flinn visits each of the people who will be participating in the project recording the food they have in the house, and watching them prepare a dish. It says something of Flinn’s character that she is able to generate trust among the students even before the project begins. The book then documents the lessons progressing from knife skills to leftovers, and everything in between, before concluding with a later visit, a few months after the classes ended.
The stories along the way are inspiring. Many of them are about the students making small changes. Some of these changes involve their relationships with family, friends, and lovers. Many however are changes within themselves and with their relationship with food. The women that participated in the project cover a fairly broad range of personalities, backgrounds, and kitchen experience. In their experiences, you will most likely find your own experiences, even if you are a middle-aged white male like me.
There are several things about this book that I really like. Foremost among them is the way in which Flinn describes her own learning experiences as she is teaching the classes. As one example, when teaching about food waste, and how to look in your cupboard to see what you need to make use, she looks into her own cupboards and realizes she too needs to learn lesson around food waste as much as her class does.
Another, almost equally important characteristic, is how she maintains focus on helping the students become effective home cooks. She is not trying to turn them into restaurant calibre chefs, but rather helping them feed themselves and their families, well and quickly. I found this refreshing. Earlier this year I started Tamar Adler’s, An Everlasting Meal. It had been recommended to me by another food blogger. While it started out interesting I found it bogged down as it went along, and became rather pedantic and tedious. That is never the case with Kitchen Counter Cooking School.
There are many other interesting questions raised by the book, but there are two other things, briefly, that I really like about the book. One it is a handy reference, that I will find myself going back to. This is particularly true of the extra recipes and flavour profile section. Two, success for the home cooks is measured in terms of progress, not in terms of achieving a certain level of competence. This is because the author recognizes where the students have come from as much as where they are at, or going.
Finally, I like to try at least one of the recipes from any book I review, so below is a recipe for bread. It is as easy as it seems.
No-Knead Artisan Bread for Busy People (Pages 140-142)
immediately, refrigerate the dough, covered, for up to two weeks.
Baking the Loaf
Here’s where I broke with the recipe that Flinn shares. I used a baking method that I picked up from Pinch of Yum. In the comments it was noted, that although the author of Pinch of Yum had credited others for her knowledge of the recipe she hadn’t done proper obeisance to Mark Bittman, and Jim Lahey. This Jim Lahey, not that one. So, hopefully that covers all my bases.
BAKE: Remove the plastic from the dough. Lift the dough and parchment together into the pan so the parchment lines the bottom of the hot pan (be careful not to touch the pan since it’s very hot). Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake another 10-15 minutes to get the exterior nice and golden brown and crispy. Voila! Done. Miracle no-knead bread, you boss you.
The recipe suggests 10-15 minutes with the lid off, but I found that while, it wasn’t golden brown, the thirty minutes alone was enough I may need to try a slightly larger loaf next time.
If you know someone who is interested in cooking for themselves but doesn’t know where to start, this book would make a great Christmas present. It’s also a great book if you feel you need to reevaluate your own relationship with food, as it relates to preparing your own. I highly recommend The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.