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Teaching Others to Cook

I have volunteered to teach a couple of women I know some basics of cooking. We are all trying to eating healthier, and one of the women is considering becoming a vegetarian/vegan. We will probably get together every couple of weeks, on a weekend afternoon to practice and enjoy eating the results.

The criteria are

1. Ease of cooking: Both women are very intimidated by cooking and they tell me that, in the past, when they have tried to cook they have bought a bunch of expensive ingredients and gotten underwhelming results in the end. So I need stuff that's pretty simple and doesn't require them to have fancy cookware or buy a ton of ingredients they will use only for a single recipe.

2. Healthy options: We are all trying to eat better and I'm thinking this will challenge me to focus on cooking healthier while I teach them to make food that tastes good, but is solid nutritionally. Right now, both of them rely pretty heavily upon take-out, fast food, and convenience foods like frozen pizza and health is a big motivating factor.

3. Flexibility: One of the women is single and has a very busy schedule with work and hobbies. The other woman doesn't work outside the home but stays very busy with her 4 kids and volunteer work. Food that will work for kids and can be made in larger quantities is necessary for her, obviously. None of us have a ton of money.

Here is my thinking for now

I'll pick a "theme" each week we are able to get together. That will allow me to show them how to use the same set of flavors to make a variety of recipes that they could use throughout the week. It also allows us to enjoy a meal together at the end of the day. I can introduce new spices and techniques as we go and also show them ways they can use the leftovers or do the whole cook once/eat twice style of cooking.

So far, I'm thinking Mexican, Asian, and Italian would be good and accessible places to begin.

We're going to start next Sunday and here's what I am thinking of cooking

1. Teach them how to make crockpot carnitas. I know it's not completely authentic, but that's not really the purpose. We can use the meat for tacos on Sunday, but I can give them suggestions of other fabulous ways they can use this same meat. It also freezes well, which is something both women are interested in learning.

2. Make a green chili and chicken mixture. One the day we're together, I can show them how to make it into simple enchiladas but it would also be a great base for chicken and white bean chili during the winter. It's also something that can be made quickly, with very little prep work and can be turned into a dinner as simple or as fancy as you need.

3. Arroz Verde. I love it, it's delicious, it's not totally standard, and would go well with both meats, or could be used for delicious and healthy lunches with a can or beans and some salsa. I also plan to buy radishes for the tacos and I love using the green tops in this rice.

4. I'll probably go over how to make quick quesadillas. I'm especially partial to mango and shrimp in mine and would provide a different flavor than most people think of when they make quesadillas.

Most of these foods can be used a few different ways and the ingredients can easily be used up. For example, leftover tortillas are delicious with refried beans and a fried egg. Especially if you have a little fresh lime or cilantro to toss on top. The rice can easily be mixed with things for lunches. Etc.

So, thoughts on this? What would you show people how to make? Would your list look about the same or completely different? Would you take a totally different approach? I've never done this before and I don't want to make them MORE scared of cooking! I feel like I need to do it in a way that the payoff is pretty immediate as well, in that they walk away knowing how to actually put meals on the table that meet their needs as opposed to learning the difference between roasting and braising.

I'm excited and I'd love for this to go well! Help me out!

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  1. Well, apart from having some bandages and booze hanging about, I'd probably start with some basics, like knife skills, mise en place, how to work with eggs, how to sear and so forth.

    You've laid out some recipes, which is nice, but the potential issue with that is that they may "learn" the recipe and not be able to adapt techniques and process from that point. Or they lock themselves into a very specific recipe and won't be able to adapt.

    If you teach a technique, you can show very small basic recipes which make use of a technique which can them be extrapolated to more complicated preparations.

    1. I think it's great that you are helping them learn to cook, and I bet you will have a lot of fun too! As wattacetti points out, you may want to include some technique, but I wouldn't focus too heavily on that...I would get them a little more comfortable with a few basics before they worry about whether they are doing everything "the right way". Nothing leads to more confidence like a little success. I would also spend a little time with vocabulary. It's amazing how many people aren't familiar with basic terms (fold, saute, deglaze, etc), which makes it difficult to follow a recipe.

      For specifics:
      The very first meal I remember cooking was a roast chicken. Easy, easy, and then you could discuss ways to use the leftover meat for different meals. Likewise, chicken breast can be grilled and then used in multiple different recipes.

      Soups! I am amazed how many people don't realize that soup doesn't need to come out of a can. So easy and versatile and can easily be frozen.

      Anything with beans. Again, most people are very afraid of dried beans, which are so inexpensive, filling, and nutritious. Again, once you make a batch of beans they can be used in so many different recipes.

      Other suggestions:
      I'm not sure where you live, but I think growing herbs is one of the best ways to make great tasting food on a budget. It avoids the problem of buying something expensive for one dish.

      Good luck!

      1 Reply
      1. re: mountaincachers

        wish I lived where you do. beans are expensive around here. (easily a dollar a pound, if not two)

      2. I always like to show people how to make chili, Bolognese sauce, and a good yellow cake with cocoa & confectioners buttercream.

        1. 2nding roast chicken and soups. Soups are endlessly versatile, and leftover roast chicken can easily be turned into soft (rolled) tacos.
          Crock pots will definitely be a tool to use here, given the time constraints. Show them some sort of basic brown and braise stew, either with beef or pork. Last year during Hatch chile season I totally pulled a green pork stew out of my rear end, and it actually ended up being good! I think I'm in hock to do it again this year.
          Do you have access to a grill? Salmon on a cedar plank is dead simple if you know how to check your fish. I just use a poke test. Same goes for a big ole sirloin (not on a plank, just on the grill).
          Do give tips on things like techniques, knife skills, etc. It's becoming my experience that cooking is about 90% technique and 10% recipes.

          1. I have taught cooking to large groups of people. If I had the chance to cook with just a couple, I would certainly start by finding out what they already knew how to do and what tools they had to do it. Everyone should bring a set of knives so you can be sure they have decent, sharp ones--then see if they know how to dice, slice, work with onions and garlic. I would then work on a really simple meal that would show me their cooking skills. Maybe a sauteed chicken breast with mashed potatoes and green beans. From that I would learn how they work with heat, how they season foods, how do they determine "doneness", can they put together three separate dishes to create a meal that gets on the table warm and tasty. Only after that would I feel comfortable moving forward, knowing where their strengths and weaknesses were. Otherwise, you are just an in person show that is giving them more recipes.

            2 Replies
            1. re: escondido123

              I second escondido here. Most of us on chowhound have a base level of knowledge that is far beyond what a person who really doesn't know how to cook would have. For instance, escondido's suggestion of the really simple meal of sauteed chicken breast and mashed potatoes. I have friends who wouldn't have the faintest idea of where to begin with that - and I mean they wouldn't know what to buy at the supermarket (chicken breast with or without bones and skin? Russet potatoes or red? Butter, oil, milk, cream, chicken broth?) Then, they wouldn't know if you needed to boil the potatoes first or bake them, or peel them, etc. You need to find out just how inexperienced they are, and then you can decide on which techniques to start with!

              1. re: biondanonima

                also, this is ten ingredients by the time you're done. I'd focus on things with three or four, myself. Go with easy, it builds trust.