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What is most important to new cooks?

July 13th, 2009 · 15 Comments · General


I’ve signed on to teach two cooking classes this fall at the Community Mercantile, and I need your help. The first class, on September 22, will be Cooking 101. Here’s the current class description, which is subject to revision:

Cooking 101. So you want to cook your own meals but you don’t know boil from broil? This crash course on home cooking will teach you how to read recipes, measure and use simple cooking techniques plus choose supplies and equipment. You’ll try slicing and dicing and learn such basics as cooking rice and eggs, sautéing vegetables and more. You’ll have the tools to create a week’s worth of menus that you can prepare. With volunteers from the class, we’ll make and sample an Omelet, from-scratch Herbed Biscuits, a Fruit Salad and Brownies like you’ve never had from a box.

How does that sound to you? The class will last two hours, and I’ll have plenty of handouts covering things like measuring conversions (such as 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons), temperatures at which meat is safely done, supply list and so forth.

Please help!

What I’d love to hear from you are any of the following:

  • The most important thing or things you needed to know when you were learning to cook.
  • The concepts or principles that were most interesting and beneficial to your child/friend/spouse when you were teaching him or her how to cook.
  • The thing you learned years into your cooking experience that you wish you had known years earlier.

I’ve given cooking classes before, but never in front of a group that could well include people I know personally, so I’m a little nervous! I’m also worried no one will sign up, so if you know any possible candidates, I hope you’ll let them know about it. At the moment, the class isn’t posted to the Merc’s web site, but I trust it will be before too long.

Second class

The second class, by the way, is tentatively as follows:

How to Cook Grass-Fed Beef, Pastured Pork & Pastured Poultry. Cooking beef, pork and chicken raised the old-fashioned way may be a little different from what you are used to. Learn how to get the most flavor and best texture from these nutritionally superior meats that most people think taste better too. We’ll make and sample a Better All-American Hamburger, a savory Chicken & Garlic Stew, Spicy Pork & Cellophane Noodles and Marinated Chuck Steak with Herb Sauce.

It’s scheduled for Tuesday, October 20.

Speak up!

OK, now. Let me have it! What would you have wanted to learn if you’d taken Cooking 101?


15 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris Essig

    For me mise en place is probably the best thing I ever learned. By being prepared to cook it made me enjoy the experience more, since I wasn’t constantly running around trying to get something chopped or whatever. it also has given me the ability now that I am a better cook that when I am in a hurry I can start cooking without everything being ready because I have learned when I need something and how long it takes me to prepare it.

  • Mercedes

    How VERY exciting, Janet!!
    I’ll ponder the questions and email you.
    Congratulations on the new gig.

  • Maxine

    *None of my thoughts are original but here they are.*
    It sure is a process and it changes over the years.
    My thoughts: Keep It Simple. Really most of what I cook is easy.
    And of course Keep It Fresh–the less processed the better. But I’m telling
    YOU this?????? That’s easier in the summer than in the winter–but we get
    fresh fruits and veggies ALL year.
    And Have Fun Cooking–and don’t worry if it doesn’t come out perfectly!

  • Janet Majure

    Interesting, Chris. That’s how I learned, but I rarely do it except when baking because I’m always in a hurry, it seems. I’m sure you’re right that it’s an excellent starting point, though.

    Thanks, Mercedes! I think it will be fun. I’ll look forward to getting your suggestions.

    And Maxine, I couldn’t agree more about keeping it fun. Who cares if it isn’t perfect (which seems usually to apply to how something looks)? All I care about is if it tastes good!

  • Susan G.

    Thoughts in no particular order:

    –Repetition makes difficult things come easier or taste better. Don’t give up after a failure. Go back when you’re ready and repeat. Two words: pie crust.

    –Write notes in your cookbook or on a recipe! It isn’t going back to a library or bookstore. Things like “really good”, “don’t ever make this again”, “try more liquid”, “too much garlic”.

    –The single hardest thing to master isn’t techniques (though I still dread making 7 minute boiled frosting)…it’s timing. Getting everything done at the same time for a meal is always a challenge.

    –Make a list of main dishes you know how to make and when you can’t decide what to cook, refer to it. Helps getting out of a rut. Then build a shopping list around your selections.

    –I finally realized later in my cooking life that scrambled eggs didn’t have to be dry, nearly scorched and cooked to death. Mom was a great cook, but oh, those eggs.

    –Cooking, or any new thing, can be hard. Embrace it! As Pres. Kennedy said, we don’t go to the moon because it is easy, but because it is hard! Rise to the challenge to learn something that you will use all your life.

    –Encourage your children. I showed my kids some things, but I have to credit Boy Scouts with them being willing to give anything a try. Cooking at every month’s camp outs allowed them to experiment with their buddies and Dad’s who weren’t hovering. Proud to say, both our sons cook. Any organization/class/club/or relative that wants to help your children cook should be encouraged.

  • Diane

    Learning to fix creative, simple main dishes with or without meat–and they should be inexpensive. Also, learning to substitute when you don’t have all of the ingredients in the house. My mother always said that you should not go to the store until you cannot fix another meal with what you have at hand. You are SO creative with all of this, Janet and you will be the best teacher. I am glad that you are taking on this endeavor. The meat class is great, too, as that is an area that needs much education–also storage info. Diane

  • Janet Majure

    Great list, Susan! That timing thing is one of the ongoing challenges, isn’t it? And Diane, you have some excellent suggestions too.

    Thanks, both of you!

  • Nancy Marshall

    In good cooking, timing is everything. No, wait, that’s comedy. But good timing helps in cooking too.
    Your site is great.

  • Ed Bruske

    Janet, I’ve been teaching kids how to cook for several years now, but never adults. I always fantasized that if I had my own class of beginners, I would start by teaching them how different kinds of heat work on food: radiant heat, convection heat, direct heat, steaming. They all have their different effects on ingredients, and they have their uses. For instance, if an oven is so much hotter than a pot of boiling water, why does it take so much longer for food in the oven to cook than it does in a pot on the stove? With kids, I sometimes use a blow torch on food to show how direct heat affects different foods. Also important for people to know is the cooking temperature of water versus oil. Water will only heat to 210 degrees before it turns into steam. But oil will often heat to 400 degrees before it begins to burn. You can’t brown foods in water. But you can poach them, by controlling the temperature of the water to remain below the boiling point. I always thought that if I gave this class, I would use eggs to show how different cooking methods work.

    With meat I think doneness is the biggest issue and the only way to really measure doneness iw with a good thermometer. First thing, students need to know how to use an instant-read thermometer and how to calibrate one (if it’s not digital). They should also know that the most flavor comes from muscles that work hard, and these typically are not cuts for grilling but for slow cooking (braising or smoking). With these cuts, fat is your friend, whereas the better cuts for grilling are leaner and cook faster. Students should also be familiar with the concept of meat “coasting” after its been taken off the heat. A roast–whether its beef, pork or chicken–will continue to cook after its been removed from the heat, and the internal temperature will often continue to rise by as much as 10 degrees if its allowed to “rest” 15 minutes before carving. In that same regard, ignore the doneness temperatures handed out by the USDA and copied in most cookbooks. These temperatures a meant purely to destroy disease organisms. They have nothing to do with the way people like to eat meat. For instance, we cook a prime rib to about 118 degrees internal temperature. Let it rest on a cutting board 15 minutes before serving and it will come out perfectly medium-rare.

    But any cooking method you can apply to an egg you can apply to meat as well: saute pan, oven, boil, poach grill.

  • Susan G.

    Another thought , even though I heartily concur that quick and simple will be the best emphasis, encourage people to take some time. A slow roast in the oven for 3 hours or some crockpot concoction are time savers in their own way and are a great way to build flavor, no need to be constantly attended to…

  • Janet Majure

    Thanks, Nancy, for the nice remark and the humor.

    Wow, Ed! I’m grateful that you would spend so much time on your response. This clearly is something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I will definitely give a lot of thought to what I can incorporate of your suggestions in my two-hour time slot.

    And Susan, another good point, duly noted.

    Wow! I’m definitely going to have to report back here on how it turns out after all these great suggestions. Thanks, everybody!

  • Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener

    I’ve been teaching cooking for a while, but while I have beginners, I’ve never had absolute beginners. I think it would be a challenge to realize what is not known.

    I would indeed focused on a few simple techniques and illustrate what they do to different ingredients and how versatile they are. Example: sauteeing (chicken, pork, veggie) and stir-fry. Also would emphasize the type of recipes where you can have some freedom 9Who cares if you are short a vegetable or two in a multi-beg stir-fry) vs. the ones where – at least for now – it’s better to follow.

    But really I would emphasize that it is not cooking is not about “recipes”, it’s about techniques and tastes.

    I, for one, would love to hear back on how it works. I would think that a series could develop from that 2-hour course.

  • Janet Majure

    More good suggestions. Thanks, Sylvie, and I’m sure I’ll post on how it goes!

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