'Cooking School' challenges kitchen chickens

Do you have fuzzy green mysteries lurking in your refrigerator? Are the spices in your cabinets as old as the hills? Then you may be afraid of your kitchen. But Kathleen Flinn can help.

A writer from Seattle, Flinn was fortunate to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. But back in the States, she wasn't quite sure what to do with her new culinary degree until a trip to a local grocery store gave her an idea.

She saw a woman's cart filled with boxes of Hamburger Helper, mac and cheese and other processed foods and was overcome with a desire to save this poor woman’s family from another blah dinner. As she talked to the shopper Flinn realized this woman was just afraid to cook fresh food because she thought it would be too hard.

Flinn spent time shopping with and explaining to the woman that cooking fresh is actually cheaper, and, in the end, convinced her to put the packaged food back on the shelf and try cooking with real food.

Later, Flinn gathered a group of volunteers who felt the same as the woman in the grocery store but wanted to change their ways in the kitchen. In order to better understand her class, Flinn visited each of the students’ homes to see what was in their pantries, cabinets and refrigerators and how they cooked a simple meal. The results were appalling as she found out-of-date food and abandoned spices.

Flinn enlisted the help of other culinary professionals, rented a professional kitchen space and started a class on cooking fundamentals, from making simple Alfredo sauce to proper chopping techniques. The results of this grand experiment are documented in her book, “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How A Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks.”

The book tracks the nine brave volunteers as well as Flinn’s anxiety and successes as she dives in to teach them to be unafraid in one of the most important rooms in their homes. A lot of humor, a few tears and a lot of great information is the result.

This lively accounting is a delight to read, and Flinn includes common sense recipes and details that the reader will want to try. This book would be a great gift for the new bride, the college student, the busy mom, or anyone else who might be interested in learning how to do a little better in the kitchen.