Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (includes giveaway)

The author of The Sharper Your Knife tells the inspiring story of how she helped nine others find their inner cook.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn's "chefternal" instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers' culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.
I am very pleased this week to have teamed up with Candace from to bring you a discussion about The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn. In addition, I share a glimpse into my last shopping trip and my pantry, and there is also a giveaway at the end of the post!

Lots going on this post, so lets get started! Candace's thoughts are in purple and mine in black! Also, don't forget to head over to Bethfishreads to read the second half of the discussion! Enjoy!


The idea for this book came when Kathleen Flinn started chatting to a woman in the supermarket after watching what she loaded into her shopping trolley. I must say that I would be totally mortified either if a stranger did that to me, or if I was thinking about doing it for myself. We briefly contemplated taking photos of our own shopping trolleys and that was even mortifying!

Definitely. No way I was going to start spying on people. Flinn was gutsy.

During the course of the book we are introduced to nine different cooks. Could you relate to any of them?

Not really. Not even the cooks who were close to my age. I think the main difference is that I grew up in a family of cooks and helped out from a young age. I also took home ec in junior high and high school so I was baking and cooking simple dishes by the time I was 12. The students in the book didn’t really know anything.

I could relate to a degree. My mother is, and always has been, a terrible and unimaginative cook so we never really grew up enjoying the cooking process. We did some home ec at school for one year but it didn’t really stick with me!

I am a lazy cook. I can cook but I prefer the find a new recipe, go to the shops and make it kind of weekend cooking - not Monday to Friday cooking! I often get home from work and think oh, I am far too tired to make something from scratch, and that’s assuming that we didn’t stop for takeaway on the way home. I do have some of those packets of pasta side dishes etc in my cupboard but I am tempted to at least to give a couple of the pasta suggestions a go.

Oddly enough, I’m a lazy cook too. But for me that means I don’t make recipes that require a lot of clean up or all-day fussing. Once you get a few skills, however, there are quite a lot of dinners you can make in under an hour from scratch.

Brave enough to photograph the pantry, not
shopping trolleys though!
If Kathleen Flinn was to look in your pantry what would she find?

I took a photograph of my bounty from the farmers’ market and a few things I filled in with that weren’t fresh. In my refrigerator one would find unsalted butter, various hot sauces and condiments, cheese, orange juice, rice milk, dried fruit, and sometimes yogurt. My freezer has frozen vegetables, shrimp, lamb, nuts, chocolate chips, and maybe some chicken, pork, or beef.

My shopping this week is actually pretty good for me! There are probably two reasons for this - firstly, because I knew that we were going to take photos and secondly, I took a list and actually stuck to it!

My son watched the videos that are available and he was definitely ready to try a couple of the recipes - Pomodoro in particular (see below). Not too long ago we tried to make a recipe from a four ingredients type cookbook which was similar but it was bland, bland, bland. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference those extra couple of ingredients make.

One of the really interesting things in the book was the passage about recipes that appear in magazines and how they sometimes cut ingredients because there isn’t enough room to print them in full or because the recipe is going to appear in a certain month or season. I am almost always disappointed by recipes that use only 4 or 5 ingredients.

I watched a few of Flinn’s videos and have to say I was more excited about them than I was about the book. I think anyone could learn some basic dishes by watching her videos.

Relatively good trip to the shops this week!
For me one of the interesting things I found was thinking about things like what all the extra ingredients are in packets of food (cake mixes, pancakes mixes, side dishes etc). My son loves pancakes and so we always have some of those bottles of shake and mix pancake mixes and just looking at the list there are nine different ingredients and some of those are actually things like flavours and raising agents so there could be a lot more than nine. Pretty sure that there are less if I was to make them from scratch. We might have to try!

I think this book suffers a little bit from a lack of direction and therefore my reaction to it varied quite broadly. For example, there is a chapter about where she goes on a cruise to teach. The first part focuses on a romantic dinner with husband which I didn’t think needed to be there. A bit later there was a small section which talked about the meals they had and I wanted to be there with them. Such different reactions even within just one chapter.

I totally agree. If you truly wanted to learn to cook, you would have a difficult time working your way through this book. It’s really more like a memoir than a guide. I was often left wondering who the audience was. I found a tidbit here and there interesting or new but as an experienced cook, I didn’t find much new. Some of the advice was definitely solid -- like learning cooking techniques and learning to taste.

Other aspects were good in theory but even someone like me (works from home, experienced cook) wouldn’t do. For example, I’m happy to buy low-sodium organic chicken broth rather than make my own. And although I am perfectly capable of cutting up a chicken (and so is my husband) and I know it’s cheaper, I’m just as happy buying only the parts we really like -- despite the cost.

I think the cutting up a chicken chapter really needs to be a visual explanation rather than a written explanation. I would like to see a video of that one!

I only have a small freezer and so the idea of making stock and storing it, or even just bags and bags of bones is impractical. I think that there is nothing wrong with using short cuts like bought stock if that is what works for you and your lifestyle.


Don't forget to head over to read the second part of our discussion at Bethfishreads, and while you are there check out the links to lots of other fabulous Weekend Cooking posts.

Are you interested in reading this book? Thanks to the good people at Viking I have a copy of the book and also a magnet (see right).

The rules...

- US or Canada only (no PO boxes please)
- leave a comment and don't forget your email address or Twitter ID so that I can contact the lucky winner
- the contest closes on 3 October at Midnight Australian Eastern Standard Time. (one week from today)

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.


  1. A very respectable pantry Marg ... I see a few familiar items such as Campbell's salt reduced stock. I do love the purple pig too ... is it a salt pig?

  2. It's actually a moneybox that I got from a super fund at some event or another!

  3. I had so much fun doing this joint review. Your pantry and and shopping bags look pretty good.

  4. I am really surprised to hear that the editors would purposely leave out ingredients in a magazine recipe; how can they be sure it will work?

    I love to watch cooking shows, so I would probably enjoy the video portion of this offering.

    I enjoyed these dual posts very much :)

  5. How fun to do a joint blog post. And how very brave of you to photograph your pantry! I'd have to clean mine out for about a week before I would consider taking a photo in there. Clever to have the microwave tucked away too. I hadn't heard of this book, but have just recently heard of her other book. I watched the video and find it rather extraordinary for two main reasons- that people would need encouragement and lessons to make such a simple sauce ( I do know that there is a need, but I find that quite sad), and that she encourages people to taste their cherry tomatoes as they buy them! I don't think the supermarkets are going to be all that fond of that. I know everyone does it with grapes or cherries, but tomatoes are in those closed containers usually. It would be like opening the raspberries to try those.

  6. Interesting post, enjoyed the clip. I think I'll try the recipe with fresh cherry tomatoes. Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. What a fun joint book review! This book just came to my attention in the last week, and I'm really intrigued by it. I'm looking for anything to help me get better in the kitchen.

  8. Surprised somewhat about magazine recipes! But I do agree about the blandness of some recipes that have a lack of ingredients. What a great review, I love the tandem posts. Heading over to see Part II I enjoyed Part I very much, I think I am a mix of both types.

  9. I watched the pomodoro video last week at Red Lady's Reading Room blog, and this week made it. Didn't use tomatoes. Did use onions and summer squash. Added salt to pasta cooking pot, and put vermicelli in with vegetables after it was cooked (but not all the way). It was delicious! I think because my coming-of-age with food was the whole foods/organic/vegetarian movement that I run a mile from foods with long lists of ingredients. I think they are behind the myriad illnesses people suffer. I'm so all about real food.
    Loved your pantry - especially the curving of the shelves. I've not seen that before. I love what I call my 'butt'ry' shelves. I can be found just staring at them.
    Such a fun idea for you two to do this together. Just great, and so interesting!

  10. Joint posts are such fun to read! Your pantry and shopping look great... shaking my head at the thought of magazines leaving out ingredients though!

  11. Love this joint review! I enjoyed the peek into your pantry.

  12. Fun! I'm looking forward to jumping over to read the rest. I actually do cut up a chicken every week, mostly because the locally-raised chickens are so much tastier than I can get otherwise and they are whole. It took me one month and five chickens to feel competent (deboning the chicken breast was the part that took the longest to learn). It's been three years now and cutting up a chicken is no big deal at all. Now, though, I have more stock than I use and feel guilty about throwing away chicken parts. I'm going to have to figure out more dishes for chicken stock to get this working better for me.

  13. I guess that I also could be described as an unimaginative cook. I have tons of cookbooks, but I tend to try a handful of recipes from each, weed out the ones that I am not crazy about, and then cook the others until I get tired of them. There are some recipes that I modify and that have stayed on the roll for ages, and some that I tire of rather quickly, or make very infrequently. I have to say that the best of my recipes are the ones that require minimal fuss and that taste delicious despite the lack of time they take to cook. I loved reading both of your thoughts on this cookbook. It sounds like it might be an interesting read.

  14. I've seen the author's videos and liked them a lot. I'm not sure I'll buy this cookbook. I'll check it out at the bookstore and maybe the library. The concept sounds good.

  15. Interesting to get a peek in your pantry. I am afraid that mine is quite empty. I would totally take a picture of my shopping trolley. And to be honest I do look at what other people show. I mean when I am waiting at the check out point, and people place their groceries on the band, I am just waiting so I look... ;)

    I am a bit late this week, but here is my weekend cooking:

  16. I really like the format of the post. Stock, I do both, I make my owh chicken and veggie broth, though I do always buy beef. I save my chicken bones in bags in the freezer. Generally I save the beef fat trimmings and will do them up to add the resulting broth to gravy.

  17. I love this joint review. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School sounds like a good read though it has some important flaws. I'm still adding it to my tbr pile. Great job.

  18. Vasilly, thanks. It was a lot of fun to do! There were some flaws, but it was still things to be learned from it.

    Heather, I am really impressed!

    Uniflame, I might look at other people's trolleys but I wouldn't go up and say you are buying the wrong things.

    Margot, the concept is good!

    Zibilee, unimaginative is a good word for me too.

    Joy, I must confess I don't even cut chicken up when I buy cooked ones. I always ask them to do it for me.

    Thanks Belle.

    JoAnn, that was something new for me too.

    Nan, the curving shelves are great for being able to reach things, but you do lose a lot of shelf space.

    Carol, it will be very interesting to do a comparison between the two similar recipes.

    Thejoyofbooking, I would always like to be better too!

    Linda, I am definitely intending to try that one too.

    Louise, I was surprised by the taste the cherry tomatoes comment too. I just figured that maybe they got sold loose in the US. Here they always come in those punnet style containers too.

    Bookgirl, the videos were pretty good. I would like to see more of those from her.

    Beth, me too!

  19. I once loved to cook, now, not so much. I do enjoy baking. I review cook books and magazines often looking for something new. Maybe this would be fun!

  20. What fun, a joint review. By chance I have just commented on another blog and this book was also listed as on their next reads. I think I will see if it is available on Amazon yet.

  21. I love reading cook books but I don't cook from them a lot. I tend to stick to recipes I know and only cook new ones a few times a month. this book sounds interesting if a little uneven.

    I loved this joint review, it's great fun to read.
    You could have knocked me over with a feather when you said magazine articles leave out some recipe ingredients! How ridiculous...and what's the point, then?!

    Off to read the rest of this post...


  22. I'm not a cook at all. I gave that chore over to my husband after growing tired of watching him go right back to the kitchen to whip up more food, right after I cleaned up from a meal! But, I desire to get back to cooking, so I'd definitely like to read this book.

    bookfoolery at gmail dot com

    Love your courage! My pantry is so scary.

  23. I like to cook. Unfortunately, the house I'm living in right now has a "bad" kitchen which makes preparing meals difficult. So these days I read cooking more often than I practice it! I would love to read this little book. And this was a lovely way to post your thoughts on this title - I enjoyed it very much!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  24. Very fun way to tackle this book review!

    I don't know that I'd be brave enough to share a photo of my pantry or grocery cart :)