As soon as I saw the title of Kathleen Flinn’s new book, I knew it would claim a place of pride on my shelf: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks.
I mean, come on. Haven’t I been running my own kitchen counter cooking school for the last few years? In the book, Kat describes how a random bout of snooping in another woman’s shopping cart (a cart filled with boxes and packets of processed “food,” but no actual ingredients) led her to find ten women who, for one reason or another, were intimidated by their own kitchens. They fed themselves and their families convenience foods because they had no idea how to do anything else. All ten allowed Kat inside their homes to catalogue the contents of their cupboards, and then cooked a typical meal for her. From there, she created a mini-cooking school, devoted to filling in the gaps in her students’ knowledge.
The book chronicles Kat’s experiment with these women—women who represent so many of us. My own cooking class tends to attract people who are familiar with their kitchens, but need help figuring out how to continue to cook with a baby hanging off their bodies. Every so often, though, a mom signs up (I’ve only had one dad take my class! What is up with that?) who’s a kitchen newbie. It thrills me, teaching her how to gently smash a clove of garlic with the flat side of a knife and slip off the peel, or that “season to taste” simply means she should add salt and pepper until she’s happy with the flavor. So as I read Kat’s book (I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it so much I couldn’t wait to tell you about it) I’m nodding along, smiling, laughing. I expect you will, too. Each chapter ends with a handful of incredibly appealing, remarkably simple recipes.
Before this book, I knew Kat as the author of another wonderful, wonderful book—one you should read if you’ve ever fantasized about dropping everything and heading to, say, the Cordon Bleu in Paris. It’s called The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School.
Go, read it now. I’ll wait.
Anyhoosie, Kat and I had crossed paths before at a food writers’ conference or two, but we’d never actually met. The other night, that finally changed. The Institute for Culinary Education, where I’ve taken quite a few classes, hosted a panel discussion devoted to Kat’s new book and the subject of home cooking. Also on the panel: Pam Anderson, who I’ve long worshipped from afar (seriously, her How to Cook Without a Book has been a source of inspiration for the last decade) and Lauren Shockey, a restaurant critic for the Village Voice and author of Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris.
I went. I had to.
The mingly first 45 minutes were, I’ll admit, torture for me. There was some fabulous food, all prepared from recipes in Kitchen Counter. I met Kat—finally!—and we spoke briefly, but everybody wanted to speak to her. And I didn’t know another soul. Friends, I suck at talking to strangers. I jumped on Twitter, begging somebody, anybody, to come rescue me from myself. Ultimately, someone did: Maggie Anderson, Pam’s daughter and one-third (along with her mom and sister) of the most excellent blog Three Many Cooks. Thank god for her. It’s no wonder she’s one of the driving forces behind the Big Summer Potluck as well as Bloggers without Borders (who received a portion of the event’s proceeds; click the “donate” button near the top of the right-hand column of this page if you’d like to help spread the love)—she’s just about the friendliest person on earth.
Anyhoosie, back to the panel. I scribbled down a few choice quotes:
“I’d never been down a frozen food aisle before. I’m a food writer. I buy ramps.” –Kat Flinn, describing her experience stalking the owner of that grocery cart
“The ‘Pasta Parmesan’ was supposed to replicate pasta with oil and parm. But it had 28 ingredients.” –Kat again, on the contents of the cart
“Working in restaurant kitchens really made me realize how much I wanted to be a home cook, to see the response of the people I’m cooking for.” –Lauren Shockey
“The solution is different for different people. I was just in Florida showing my aging parents where to find the refrigerated real mashed potatoes, now that they can’t really cook from scratch any more.” –Pam Anderson, on the notion that minimally-processed food is perfectly acceptable
“My epitaph is going to be, ‘It’s fine!’” –Pam Anderson
“You never learn from doing something right. Only from mistakes.” –Pam Anderson
And my favorite quote of the night, the one I’m going to try to live by:
“Put a picture of the thing you love most in the world in the back of your fridge. You should never have so much stuff in there that you can’t see that picture.” –Kat Flinn, on how crucial it is not only to have good ingredients on-hand, but also to use them
Kat gave me permission to share a recipe from the book with you—this is an amazingly flavorful, rich-tasting carrot soup. It was served as a passed hors d’oeuvre, in shot glasses, each one topped with a sprinkle of chopped chives and the teensiest little dollop of yogurt.
So tell me: What’s stopping you from cooking tonight?
Velvety Chilled Rosemary Carrot Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 leeks (white and light green parts), chopped
1 pound carrots, diced
Several fresh rosemary sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1/3 cup quality plain yogurt (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart or larger saucepan. Add the onion and leeks and sauté until softened. Add the carrots, rosemary sprigs, bay leaf, stock, a couple of pinches of coarse salt, a few grinds of coarse pepper, and a pinch of cayenne if using. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer until the carrots soften, about 1 hour.
- Remove from the heat. Discard the rosemary and the bay leaf. Puree until smooth. Add in additional water if necessary. Return to the pot. Check the seasonings, adding salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste.
- Serve warm or cooled. Garnish with a scoop of yogurt or croutons if desired.
MAKE BABY FOOD: Hells, yeah! This practically isbaby food—but the best baby food you’ll ever taste.