To some, the kitchen can be a place of mayhem, where obligation and expectation are the main ingredients. To others the kitchen is a place of sanctuary, where the stresses of the day can be sliced and diced away, and the taste of gratification is palpable. There are those individuals that live for throwing fab dinner parties -- planning the menus, pairing the wines, and the tedious prep time is truly a labor of love.
The majority of us, however, view the kitchen in a more utilitarian way. It may just be where the coffee pot lives and where milk goes bad. Dinner is viewed as a chore and to have a dinner "party" could be a fate worse than death. Despite the ease with which we are able to obtain prepackaged, precooked, practically pre-eaten food -- which are so often unhealthy -- we all know that home-cooked meals are ideal.
So how does one bridge the gap from shy chef to a gastronomical guru? Perhaps a dash of class will do the trick by unveiling the mysteries of your kitchen.
Remember when cooking was fun? This may be far-fetched for some, be seriously, remember that eager kid helping out in the kitchen, mixing the ingredients, maybe getting a bite of raw cookie dough? You can get in touch with that inner child and remodel your kitchen from the inside out, in a way, by enrolling in a cooking class.
Candace Conley owns and teaches at The Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street here in Tulsa and is known for her blog The Girl Can Cook! She's been teaching cooking since 2006. She has a background in teaching, but once she taught her first cooking class, she found her niche.
She has a variety of classes, from kitchen basics to risottos to grilling. She even hosts a date night class, which is a great way to spend an evening with your sweetie. But using the word "class" almost sounds too stodgy for what actually goes on at Urban Kitchen. It is almost a choose-your-own adventure dinner party, where classmates laugh, eat, drink and, of course, learn.
"We try to create an atmosphere that would be something like having a cooking party in your home," Conley said. "I invite people into the kitchen, they get their own aprons to take home, we pour them a glass of wine (if they want one) and off we go."
In class you can learn to make perfect pasta or grill a steak to a rosy medium rare just like you would get at your favorite restaurant. With just a few tricks of the trade, cooking delicious meals at home is well within reach. Conley reaches her students by keeping it simple and taking intimidation out of the equation.
"I do not show people how to make things that would be difficult for them to prepare by themselves.
That is not the point of teaching," Conley said. "I'm not here to dazzle you with my fancy footwork. I'm here to show you how to become a better cook and enjoy cooking."
Enjoying the act of cooking is definitely a benefit, but the biggest benefit is how healthy it is. It's tempting to just hit a drive-thru, but you don't know what ingredients are in the food you get. Most likely, you don't want to know. In essence, it's not really "food" at all.
When you cook your meals at home, you know exactly what you are preparing. But even in the kitchen, there are many shortcuts available in prepackaged form that make it seem like a cinch to cook fast. In the end, though, it is actually easier -- and less expensive -- to use fresh ingredients. By learning to work with fresh ingredients and flavors, you don't have to be ruled by the pricey prepackaged options, nor apprehensive about working with fresh vegetables.
"Anytime you cook fresh food versus opening a can or a frozen dinner, you are improving your health," Conley said, "Those foods are typically full of preservatives and additives so you're not getting the full benefit of the food item."
Conley teaches her students how to work with fresh food and not to fear the leafy greens or exotic squashes. By learning a few tips and tricks, your dinners will have the full benefit of the ingredients you use. Nutritious and delicious is an easily attainable combination. You can even learn to get a little fancy with your cooking by employing spices and herbs so heavy sauces or condiments can be replaced by spritely vinaigrettes or toppings that "that allow the real flavor of the foods to sing," Conley said.
Cooking in your own kitchen is healthier, less expensive, and can even be fun. But the real joy is sharing the experience, sharing the meal, and enjoying time with others.
"People come in not knowing each other and leave friends," Conley said. "I've had people leave the class and have dessert and drinks together and they didn't know a soul before coming to class. Now that's awesome!"
Cooking classes are really great for those who may feel a little timid in the kitchen, but classes aren't just reserved for novices. Those who consider themselves foodies and know their way around a kitchen can still reap the benefits of a cooking class.
For many in this category, learning more about food and the art of cooking is an ongoing obsession. Experimenting with new recipes, flavors, and ingredients can be a lifelong exploration. Cooking classes are just one more way to actively learn in a group environment from professionals who have their own take on gastronomy.
"Every time you cook, you're doing continuing education," Conley said, "and all cooks/chefs have different points of view (and opinions!), so there's always something to learn."
Your kitchen can be a magical place, family meals can be a joy and cooking can become a hobby instead of an obligation. Feed your curiosity and check out one of the many cooking classes available across town. Take eating healthier into your own hands and watch as your wallet expands instead of your waistline. It's possible to be a great cook; learning a new recipe or technique is half the fun. And let's face it: there is nothing more satisfying than baking your cake and eating it too.
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