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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have been cooking for many, many years. I have children, grandchildren and now a great grandchild! I have cooked for everyone and I thought I knew a lot about cooking.

However, as I went through this book, I learned so many things I have done wrong all my life - such as keeping too much food in the refrigerator and pantry. There is only two of us now and we do have a busy life so I guess as Kathleen says, "I buy for the life I inspire to have rather than my real life."

I used to end up with wilted romaine, yellow broccoli with flowers, and limp celery too often. After reading the book, I have changed my buying habits - I shop more often and buy less produce at a time. So far I have wasted nothing and I feel so proud.

I even put a photo at the back of my fridge which I can always see - so my fridge isn't stuffed any more. Sometimes it looks even a little bare but there is no waste.

I also learned to taste all kinds of canned goods - what a difference in canned beans when I was making chili. I even threw out one can - it was that bad. Some store brands are better than others but sometimes you have to go with the name brand for taste and texture.

I have been practicing my knife skills too and I chop things so much faster now. I like showing that off to my hubby (who doesn't cook at all by the way).

My pantry is getting bare but that's okay - I know everything I have and I am sure nothing is out of date.

The bonus is I have saved a lot of money at the grocery store and I like that. I make all my own salad dressings now and that is great fun and a real saving.

You're never too old to learn new tricks in the kitchen.

This book is not only a great read - it is life changing! I loved it.
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69 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read Flinn's previous book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry and I didn't fall in love with it, but thought it was interesting. This book came highly recommended to me by several people and so I was looking forward to reading it and maybe learning a little, and hearing about the cooking school Flinn developed. And then...I don't know.

There's something about this book I just don't like. Parts of the book seemed, for the lack of a better word, infomercial-ish. Like, she's using all this "sales language" to sell the cooking school attendees (and the readers) on why they should be doing something, and it's supposed to be really heartfelt and authentic, but all I can hear in my head is Ron Popeil saying "But WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!" It's hard for me to pin down exactly why I felt this way, but that's how I felt. Maybe it's because 99% of what Flinn talks about in the book is old news to me? I cook at home a lot - we only eat out, in our house, once a week, and I cook dinner from scratch at least four or five nights a week. I am not a "foodie" but I am aware of things like preservatives, why you should eat grassfed beef, buying organic, food waste, etc. I think maybe if you had no awareness of these things, the book would be very interesting and it would teach you things you didn't know. For me, I felt like she went on and on about things that have been very well-covered in other books and in the media and so parts of the book dragged on, while in the meantime I am hearing that chipper Ron Popeil voice in my head. At one point I got this flash vision of Flinn standing in the cooking-school kitchen, clutching a cookbook, with the same bright eyes and sincere, elated spirit of a religious missionary, evangelically preaching the cook-at-home gospel to the masses. She's self-deprecating in parts of the book, but other parts really reminded me of a cosmetic-salesperson-turned-cooking-teacher, relentlessly chipper in her relentless assault on her students' ideas about food.

The asides and backstories about the cooking school attendees were fine. I thought the story in the front of the book, about the woman she follows around in the grocery store, was strange. I didn't think, "wow, how sensitive and generous of Kathleen." I thought, "That poor woman, getting accosted in a supermarket by a total stranger who wants to talk about her shopping and eating habits." The lady Flinn approached was a lot more tolerant than I would have been - I would have listened politely for about 2 minutes before telling Flinn to bug off.

And I think that's one of the other problems I have with the book. One of the reviews talks about the author's "humility" but I didn't really think Flinn displayed any humility. She seemed to have an answer for everything and to know what was best for her students even if they didn't know themselves. No offense, but Flinn was working with working mothers and people going through significant financial hardship. Meanwhile, she has no kids to deal with, a husband who seems remarkably tolerant and supportive, and an incredibly flexible career, and a seemingly decent amount of economic security (which enables her to start the cooking school without charging anyone for lessons). Then, in the middle of the cooking school she jets off on a European cruise. There's an image presented of Flinn saying "hey, I'm just like you" but as the book went on, it became clear to me that Flinn was not "just like" me, or the students in her school. I am sorry, but until you've worked an 9-5 blue collar or corporate job with a commute where you then go home to a spouse and kids who need to be fed in between soccer practice and homework and laundry and bill-paying and the science project that's due tomorrow and etc. etc. etc., I don't think you can say definitively that shopping frequently for fresh ingredients and making dinner from scratch is "easy" for a person who does deal with that, every single day.

What I definitely liked about the book were the recipes and some of the descriptions of cooking techniques. Honestly, if Flinn had written a cookbook and put in some stuff about her students, and excised most of the long discussions on food politics, this would have been a great, five-star book.

As it is, I can't say I disliked it, really, but I don't think I'll be recommending it to anyone, unless it's someone who doesn't cook and wants to change. Because really, people do have to want to change. In order to do the things that Flinn talks about in the book, it may not take time, and you may not have to be an expert cook, but you do have to care. And my experience is that there are a lot of people out there who don't care. And I understand that that's why the food-politics thing is important - to try to make people care - but ultimately, I think it becomes more noise for people - oh, so now it's not enough that I cook from scratch, but I need organic, fresh ingredients too? and it turns people off. As much as Flinn talks about "foodie elitism" and not living in the rarefied world of the foodie, and how you don't have to be a foodie to be a competent home cook, there isn't a lot of allowance made for people who do not want to shop at farmer's markets or who can't afford organic chicken. There's elitism that creeps in that I think is totally unintended, but that I found off-putting regardless. And I think ultimately that is what is keeping people out of the kitchen, not a lack of skills.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm a closet foodie and I love to cook and bake, but after working all day I don't have the energy. After reading this book I realized I'm far from alone.

For The Kitchen Counter Cooking School project, author Kathleen Flinn recruited nine volunteers who needed help. Each had something that needed improvement - they were cooking unhealthy food, buying take-out and resorting to what they thought would be the fastest and most convenient method of food preparation. All the volunteers were women and I could relate to all of them to some degree.

At the start of the book, the author introduces each volunteer by describing a visit to their homes and in particular their kitchens. There were issues with outdated food, too much food as well as content. Food labels were looked at, cooking methods discussed and even storage issues confronted. Each woman was surprised when a spotlight was pointed at their fridge and cupboards. Sometimes it takes an outsider to say, yep, storing 15 boxes of pre-made pasta dinners at this cost doesn't make sense when you can make something yourself for a fraction of the price, is much healthier and doesn't take nearly as much time as you'd think if you know what you're doing. The author rented a kitchen and once a week the volunteers learned how to do exactly that.

The book is divided into parts and each describes a food product or group and how best to prepare it. The volunteers were given the tools and instructions and were encouraged to experiment. Their delight in discovering that they could produce healthy and attractive dishes was evident. I like how the self-esteem of a person can be raised just by learning a method of cooking they previously thought had been impossible to master. At the end of the book, I enjoyed seeing how each volunteer benefited from what they'd learned during the lessons.

Each chapter ends with the recipes that are taught in the class. I found the chapter on meat to be especially instructive and after reading about how many hormones and antibiotics are fed to livestock, I want to learn how to cook more vegetarian dishes!

People may dislike cooking or simply don't cook for various reasons. Perhaps they were never taught properly, or as children they were shooed out of the kitchen. Maybe their spouses like doing it more than themselves. Whatever the reason, I recommend this book. It shows how anyone can learn to prepare nutritious and cost-effective meals even if they've always thought the task a daunting one. The recipes are simple and fast and there's something for everyone in The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have read the author's earlier book about going to school in France. As someone who likes cooking and France, I think I enjoyed that book more. This book, of course, has its merits; I learned a few things that I didn't know. The majority of the cooking tips, however, aren't that amazing and anyone who isn't a novice in the kitchen has learned them before. The idea is nice, too...teaching women to cook can really impact their lives; their health, their finances, their families. Just as with the last book, though, I can't say I like the author or her writing style. I don't mean this as a personal attack; we just don't click. I bought this book because of the topic, not the author. I found several parts of the book to be boring and pushed through them. The author's thoughts, comments, and explanations slowed down the "meat and potatoes" of the text. I also found the "story within a story" regarding a spontaneous trip to the Mediterranean to be exactly what it was billed as - an interruption. And an unnecessary one, at that. The other tale about raising money by hosting dinner parties with a burlesque dancer as entertainment to be odd...am I supposed to think this is fun? Creative? Interesting? Again, we just don't click. I wish her well, but don't think I would buy another book by this author.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
After reading her 1st book I knew I was going to buy any subsequent ones because she is such a good writer. The writing does not disappoint, it is as good as ever. What I enjoyed less about this was what it covered. The first book was about much more than just attending a prestigious cooking school in France, although that alone made it worth reading. It was also a captivating personal story of adventure and challenge. This book is covers a more narrow ground. While she does try to bring her students alive with descriptions she of course knows far less about the students then herself and the difference shows.

My real puzzle about this book, though, is what it is intended to do. Michael Ruhlman comes to mind as an author who wrote about cooking school and then went on to write books explaining how to cook. This book goes partway there, describing the author's foray into teaching cooking skills. But even though it includes recipes and advice, it is not detailed enough (no drawings, for instance) for a culinary novice to learn from it alone. Certainly the 9 students she describes leading in class gained confidence and skills, but I doubt they would have found the same success if just handed this book instead.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read this book after a good friend recommended it. I honestly thought, "Hey, I'm really too good of a cook to read something meant for novices." But I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong. This is an inspiring tale for anyone who loves food...and would love to take control of their culinary lives. Flinn proves that anyone can learn to make healthy, delicious meals. She gives her novice protégés confidence, and provides a base of knowledge that miraculously turns these non-water boilers into some pretty darn good cooks. It provides intriguing insight into how one looks at food, from the smallest ingredient (such as salt), to the big picture view of how food, cooking and even relationships intertwine. In between bouts of genius, (like the tip of using post it notes on food to determine how much you spend on leftovers), you find yourself wrapped up in these womens' lives. Flinn blends the expertise learned from the culinary powerhouse, Le Cordon Bleu, into layman's terms with accessible ingredients. It's truly a great read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Seattle's Kathleen Flinn, a graduate of Paris's Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, was concerned: over the two generations since World War II, home cooks had grown dependent on the food industry's offerings of processed foods, and despite their desire now to follow advice like Michael Pollan's "eat things your grandmother would recognize as food," they had grown utterly unfamiliar with whole foods and the techniques and utensils (especially knives) needed to prepare them.

She declares, "Recipe writers don't use certain words anymore, like 'braise.' Instead, they write, 'Cover and simmer in the oven,' because people don't know what 'braise' means." Food television has largely turned into entertainment -- a spectator sport -- versus the instruction of Julia Child's day. And home cooks don't know the reality of today's media -- "that there is so much pressure to make recipes short that food writers have to cut out steps or ingredients to make them look simpler [or...] less expensive." They've thus lost their confidence, blaming themselves when magazine recipes fail, whereas when they "make stuff from a box, it always turns out right."

So when Flinn happened upon an episode of TV's "What Not to Wear," she had the idea to adapt its makeovers of the fashion-clueless to a cooking project: recruit a group of struggling home cooks; observe their kitchens and meal preparations; offer hands-on instruction and coaching; and re-observe. This book documents that project in a way that gives readers helpful takeaways just as What Not to Wear benefits its viewers.

Following Flinn's earlier memoir about learning to cook (The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry), this book is about her teaching others to cook: how to stock a pantry; how to hold and use a knife; how to taste, including comparative tastings and suggested seasonings; how to bake simple bread and prepare eggs, whole chickens, fish and meats. She writes well and accessibly, describing techniques in the preparation of a couple-dozen recipes. (Still, it was helpful to watch the video clips on her YouTube page -- search there for "katflinn.") She does digress into a couple memoir-ish chapters about teaching culinary techniques on a cruise ship and at dinner parties; these seem self-indulgent and out of place. Otherwise, Flinn is supportive, entertaining and informative; she inspires a respect for food and a desire to jump in. Her basic eggs, no-knead artisanal bread, and fish en papillote are easy essentials. Recommended for beginning home cooks and those wanting to cook "outside the box."

(Review based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.)

P.S. For a lovely companion read -- fiction about a series of cooking classes, also set in Seattle -- I highly recommend Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I just finished this book and it has already changed the way I think about food. I am married with 2 small children. I never had an interest in cooking before and was guilty of buying the quick and easy/ heat and serve things at the store. I had no idea what we were actually eating, I just wanted to get food on the table as quickly as possible. Now, I understand that my relationship with food/cooking really influences my kids. I want them to grow up feeling comfortable in the kitchen, not nervous about wrecking a recipe. The author presents simple, healthy choices in a non-preaching way. I just went to the grocery store today and I felt like I knew what to buy! I wasn't embarrassed of my cart in the check-out line either. It was full of lots of fresh foods and not many items from the middle aisles of the store. I can't express enough how if you feel lacking in the kitchen, you should read this book and it will fill you with confidence and pride. This is the only time I have written an Amazon review. Buy this book or gift it to someone you love who needs kitchen confidence.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Flinn had me hooked in her intro when she followed a woman around a grocery store, dismayed at the fact that she didn't have any real food in her cart, only processed, chemical-filled, nutrient-deprived garbage. As someone who has recently (in the last year or two) begun to value eating real food over processed, the idea that there a book that addressed the topic intrigued me.

I'm the furthest thing from a foodie there is, and I pretty much hate to cook, but this book sparked my interest even more in taking healthy cooking to the next level. More memoir than cookbook, I still learned more from this book about cooking than any cookbook I've ever read. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School starts with the author visiting the homes of women who wanted to overhaul their family's eating habits and taught them where they were going wrong...and, more importantly, helped them fix things.

I loved the chapters on taste and what to do with chicken especially, but the book was filled with foodie wisdom and healthy tips that only seem difficult. The book is rich with ideas and is packed with sensory delights that will entice anyone to take on cooking as an art that anyone can master. There's even a wonderful chapter on how to use leftovers.

Though I dumped frozen dinners and boxed mixes two years ago for more real food, I still have a long way to go. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School inspired me to increase my skills and do even more to embrace healthier eating, for myself and for my family.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2014
Format: Paperback
This book help changed my life. I went through a dramatic life change trying to be more healthy, but when it came to cooking, all I thought that was healthy was cutting lettuce and adding tomatoes. As for cooking, it was frozen dinners, easy mac n cheese and eating out. It was only after reading the book The Kitchen Counter Cooking School that I realized that cooking was soooo easy. The book demystified a lot and it got me cooking and feeling fearless about it. When I learned how to make a vinaigrette, sauces and the flavor profiles, I was totally blown away. This is a great book for anyone who wanted to learn how to cook..and it's not for wanna be cooking students. The book is very entertaining and a lot of people could relate to it.

If you ever wanted to cook, but were afraid, this book is definitely for you. She teaches people from all walks of life that were just like myself..someone who couldn't cook, and turned them into pretty good cooks. Now, instead of having a fridge full of leftovers from carryout, and frozen dinners, now I have fresh veggies and fruits galore. I cook now on a regular basis...and to top it off..now, I"m close to a hundred pounds down.

Great book and I'd recommend it very very highly. It's not a cookbook, but it gives you the confidence and some basic knowledge to get you going.
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