Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cooking for Beginners, Round Two

I am happy to report that I did not scare my students off after week one of cooking for beginners. Hooray!! Last week I was happy to get down to business and do some serious cooking with these ladies. So much more fun than the more hands-off nature of the weeks before, but you know...that darn horse liking to have the cart behind it.

And once again, my brilliant pre-class plan turned out to be not as brilliant as I'd thought. My intent with this round was to begin teaching some basic cooking techniques, specifically sautéing, stir-frying and roasting. That was going swimmingly until I forgot to pack the right oil for stir-frying. (Sidebar: do you know how hard it is to pack everything from your own kitchen you will need to teach a cooking class? do you know how much harder it is to accomplish this the night before at 1:00 AM after a day of driving across the midwest?!) Obviously, it would have been too easy for the kitchen I was using to happen to have some appropriate oil on hand, so the stir-fry got scratched.

This ended up making the timing perfect, as 90 minutes was enough to have discussion, instruct on roasting potatoes and instruct and make chili.

My purpose behind basing this section of the course on cooking methods is rooted in this thought: If you know how to saute/bake/braise/stir-fry/chop/whisk, etc. you will be much more confident when a recipe asks you to perform these tasks. I think it's harder understand "chop 1 medium onion and mince 1 clove of garlic. Heat a skillet with 2 tbsp. of olive oil to medium and cook onion and garlic until translucent." than "sautee 1 chopped medium onion and 1 minced clove of garlic in olive oil." If you know the words, you have a much easier time speaking the language.

In addition to roasting potatoes (done up simply with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, by the way. Which they LOVED, by the way) we cooked up some chili.

Thought process for teaching chili:
1. It's April and still feels like February. Let's extend chili season by a few weeks, shall we?
2. I am not being paid to teach this class. They are not paying to take this class. Chili is the cheapest thing on the planet to make.

I also considered the fact that I could integrate an opportunity to teach sautéing, but believe me, the comfort food aspect was on the forefront of my thinking. So we learned how to smash garlic for peeling, the easy way to open up an onion and how to cut an onion. Then we practiced our saute. And our ability to walk away (accidental rhyme, I swear). I'm learning that people who aren't totally comfortable cooking love to stir food. I assured them It's not a super fine line between keeping the food practically raw and burning it to a crisp, so they slowly set down their wooden spoons and backed away and just let everything on the stovetop do its thing. Cooking on medium heat, it's going to take some time to do seriously irreparable damage. Just don't walk away and forget about it.

This brings up the other interesting aspect of the class: I refused to let them use recipes. Now, having me there giving specific instructions helped reduce the need for one in the first place, but there's something different about having to cook with your brain, not just your reading comprehension skills. I have to say, these ladies were great sports about being refused an index card to live and die by.

After getting onion and garlic prepared, they went to the table with a lot of potential chili ingredients and were told to add whatever they wanted in whatever amount looked good to them. After getting that warmed up and tasted, they reported that it was pretty boring...because I hadn't let them add any spices. I wanted to give them an idea of what it tasted like before they started so they knew where they were going with the seasoning. Lots of chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin and coriander later, we had three delicious and unique pots of chili bubbling away on the stove.

I rewarded them with a tray of lovely roasted potatoes to munch on at the end of class and a pot of chili of their very own that they were able to take home to finish. I was happy to hear back from them that they all were very pleased with and proud of the food that they'd made. That's what it's all about for me. Helping someone be proud of their accomplishments, no matter how small, especially when they take them home to share with the people they love.

The next couple of weeks will be spent tweaking this plan that I've put in place over the last month to refine it into actual individual cooking lessons and a more formal teaching plan. But in the meantime, there is leftover chili in the freezer and I can't wait for the next time I get to teach!

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