Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review - Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Viking, 2011
Net Galley Review Copy

Why?  I've read so many good reviews of this one, and it seemed right up my alley with the back to basics in cooking and eating more naturally
What Now?  I have purchased the hardback version of this book and into the glass shelves it will go...right next to Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Golden Lines

For most people, the only real stumbling block is fear of failure.  In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.  Julia Child

By failing to understand what's involved in certain kinds of basic food preparation, American consumers have been duped.  p. 24

We all have different sensory thresholds and different taste memories.  Ultimately it's about finding out what we like, and trusting our own palates.  That's all that matters. p. 77

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.  Try to find a comfortable place somewhere between Tuna Helper and Top Chef.  If you burn, scorch, drop, boil over, overcook, undercook, underseason, or otherwise put a meal together that is less than a success, in the end it doesn't matter.  It's just one meal.  You'll make another tomorrow.  p. 167

A friend of mine majored in chemistry in college and later went to work for a major food company.  To this day he refuses to eat ultraprocessed foods.  One reason is that the method to approve food additives requires that individual ingredients be tested and weighed in isolation, and as a result no one has any idea how they all interact together.
"When it comes to food additives, we're the mice," he said.  p. 200

Box of yellow cake mix : Sugar, enriched bleached wheat flour (flour niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), vegetable oil shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean oil propylene glycol mono - and diesters of fats, mono - and diglycerides), leavening (sodium bicarbonate, dicalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), contains 2% or less of: wheat starch, salt dextrose, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, cellulose gum, artificial flavors, xanthum gum, maltodextrin, modified corn starch, colored with yellow 5 lake, red 40 lake.
Cake mix from scratch: unbleached flour, sugar, milk, eggs, unsalted butter, vanilla, baking powder.

"Planning menus is the greatest skill that we've collectively lost," she said.  "That, and what to do with leftovers." p. 212

Smart shoppers plan meals and use thorough lists. p. 221

The key thing is to think of food as money.  You wouldn't toss a five dollar bill in the garbage, would you?  If you throw a head of lettuce and some dead cucumbers in the trash, it's exactly the same thing.  It adds up.


Ten ladies allow Kathleen Flinn to come into their homes, look into their pantries and refrigerators and share a everyday meal with them in order to help them learn about the basics of real cooking and the benefits of eating fresh rather than relying on packaged, processed food.  Those same ten ladies then take part in a free experimental cooking school with Kathleen and friends over the course of several weeks.  The ladies learned not just the basics of cooking but how to trust themselves, be more independent and fearless in the kitchen, and how to feed their families nutritious, palate pleasing food.

What I Liked

Realistic: Even though Kathleen is a professionally trained chef, she is able to look into the real world of real people, take their individual issues into consideration and make some recommendations that make sense for each particular person.  She also cuts the ladies some slack when they decide which recommendations to choose and which ones to let go of.

Even Kathleen herself didn't call herself a baker...until she found No Knead Artisan Bread.  After she and husband Mike taught the ladies the basics, most of them, in the end, continued with this practice and some even said they seldom bought store bought bread anymore.  I'm scared to death of bread, I might just have hope.

There are a variety of issues embedded in the cooking lessons:  social consciousness, finances, self sustainability, sustainability of the Earth, self-esteem, marriage, travel, friendship, the fast food industry, marketing, frugality, and health, just to name a few.

Within each chapter, as each lesson was taught, I also felt like I was experiencing the lesson.  Then, at the end of each chapter the "recipes" for the lessons are shared in standard recipe format.  I highlighted steps or comments throughout the lesson itself that I might want to revisit as I experiment with the recipes.  

The chapters on waste and food's where Kathleen's cruise that interrupted the lessons came in handy...Kathleen visited the ship's kitchens and talked with the chef about how he managed large amounts of food served in the middle of the ocean...planning menus, buying smart and using foods in rotation without waste are key when you're feeding hundreds of people daily and can't run to the grocery store for more butter.

The Chapter called "What's in the box?" brought home to me what I know about processed food...the amount of "stuff" we blindly put into our bodies everyday.  We've been convinced that the processed version is better, cuts down on time, and is cheaper.  But if we plan, buy smart and use time wisely, processed foods really aren't that much of a bargain...and they are very likely doing more harm than good in the long run.

Vegetarianism - one of the women participating in the experiment was a vegetarian, so the lesson on beef was understandably hard for her and she left early that night.  Kathleen respected her wishes and did not try to "change her mind" about the food she was comfortable eating.  Kathleen stressed and encouraged all the students to know where their food comes from, and if you choose to eat meat, try to find better options than the over-processed meat factories that seem to be producing most of the meat Americans eat these days.  

What I Didn't Like

There were a couple of times where I felt like Flinn almost got off track...At one point during the cooking school she was offered a job on a cruise ship and for various reasons (which I completely understood) she took the job and had to reschedule 2 weeks worth of lessons...That's certainly realistic, but then Flinn shifted the book from the cooking classes to the cruise and then brought us back to the school when she came back.  Another chapter described her Red Velvet Dinners...a money making cooking school that she organized - again, I understood why she needed to host these dinners for paying customers; the chapter just seemed to change the sequence of the lessons.
It wasn't that I didn't "like" these two distractions; I actually felt like these were other stories to develop and another book maybe?

Overall Recommendations

If you are a home cook who wants to go back to the basics of cooking or wants to cut back on the amount of fast-food/processed food your family eats, this book is so for you.  You might as well buy it though because you'll want to write in it, bookmark it and keep it handy for everyday use. 

**Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School from the publisher via Net Galley by my request.  All opinions are my own.


  1. I totallly agree with your review.  I liked the book but found myself skimming over the parts about the cruise and the Red Velvet Dinners.   I am glad that I read it and got some great cooking tips from it.

  2. BibliophilebytheseaJanuary 12, 2012 at 5:33 AM

    This probably wouldn't be one for me, but I did enjoy reading your thoughts.

  3. This was one of my 2011 favorites. I also gave it to my daughter and daughter-in-law for Christmas. They're both new brides. In fact, I think it would be a great bridal shower gift. 

  4. This will be one that I revisit again and again :)

  5. I think someone who already cooks and is comfortable in the kitchen would not like the book as well as I did...Sandy N. and I talked about that when I posted about my chicken and dumplings experiment which spawned from reading this book.  I'm also afraid that the chapters on chicken and beef would be too much for Vegetarians and Vegans.

  6. I love the idea of this book as a wedding shower gift!! I may order a couple more copies to have on hand!!

  7. I requested this one from the library and am waiting for it to arrive very soon, so I will have to let you know what I think of it. I can see that it might be very helpful to me, considering that I am the type of person who likes to make things sort of willy-nilly. Great review!

  8. This sounds really good - and I loved the quotes you included here! Especially the ingredients for packet mixes. My MIL and her family are always using them and I joke and call myself a snob because I love to bake and refuse to buy them (I don't even like eating them once I know it's from a packet), but what I really want to say to them is, look, you're ingesting a whole shitload of unnecessary ingredients that aren't good for you, and it really ISN'T easier than baking from scratch! It's all a scam. But somehow, just calling myself a snob seems like the only thing I can say.

  9. I'm more willy-nilly than is good for me, Heather...I need all the help I can get :)

  10. Shannon, you'll love the part where Flinn talks about the science behind how food producers develop processed foods with an equation designed to produce a response from our pleasure receptors...that's why when you drive by McDonalds, whether you like it or not, you start salivating at the idea of their french fries.  It's almost an addiction...and THAT's scary.

  11. I must read this one!

  12. I really want to read this one. I like the comment about finding a comfortable place between Tuna Helper and Top Chef! That pretty much sums up where I want my meals to be.

  13. I am constantly amazed by how much people loved this look and were inspired. I was mostly bored and didn't feel there was anything new here. I was annoyed with her discussions of the cruise and the dinners.

    But, like you said, this book was likely not written with someone like me in mind.

    Oh and BTW: I bake bread several times a week and have done so for more than 20 years. I bake totally by hand or with the use of my stand mixer, food processor, or bread machine (knead & rise only; never for baking) but I have had terrible luck with the bread in 5 minutes a day. I've tried three times but the dough doesn't work for me. Hope it works for you.

  14. Thanks, Candace...I haven't tried the bread yet but do have plans to.  I used to make the most fabulous cinnamon rolls by making my dough in a bread maker.  I attempted cinnamon rolls during Christmas and they were an absolute horror.  I don't have my bread maker anymore and am looking for another.  Do you have any recommendations?  What kind do you use?  I'd love to make bread several times a week!!!

  15. I felt guilty last night, Beth bc I made brownies from a box...but we had green salad and roasted chicken for supper.  I think we have to learn to forgive ourselves sometimes, do the very best we can and move forward.  That's what I'm trying to do anyway :)

  16. It's really a good one, Sam :)

  17. I have a copy of this from NetGalley. Your review makes me want to read this even more!

  18. I have heard a lot of great things about this book.  I hope to get around to reading it sometime soon.

  19. I'll be looking for a copy of this book! It sounds really interesting!
    Here's Mine

  20. I really enjoyed your thorough review of this book. I see how useful this could be. I off to get a copy.

  21. You definitely need to! :)

  22. You already cook a lot, Lisa so I would definitely be interested in what you think about this one.

  23. I will refer to this one again and again I'm sure :)  Hopefully I'll be able to do these basics from memory before long :)

  24. Thanks, Margot!  I really enjoyed the book :)

  25. Thanks for the great review. this book is really worth of it. countertops maryland

  26. I've seen this one around a lot but YOUR review convinced me to propose this book as my 2012 family read (including my mom and two sisters). Can't wait to read and discuss!