When was the last time you took a cooking class? Have you ever taken a cooking class? Do you want to?
When I thought about my aspirations for 2014, I realized that my cooking goals were ones better served by cooking classes than my library of cookbooks. And yeah, I set annual cooking goals. I'm an enthusiastic hobbyist. In 2013 those goals involved cooking more with bacon fat, finding the best cookies to pair with beer (Martha Stewart's potato chip cookies), identifying a go-to dessert cake recipe that didn't have chocolate (Lemon Buttermilk Cake from America's Test Kitchen) and getting over my fear of deep frying (which I did, with arancini resulting). I'm not much for the traditional New Year's resolution to eat healthier.
This year, my goals are closer in nature to the deep frying one - skills best learned when you have someone else there guiding you through.
I want to improve my candymaking technique, be bolder in creating my own recipes for baked goods, give sourdough a chance, and understand how wine tasting works. I'd rather an actual person show me how to do these things than try puzzling it out through books. Which isn't to say I won't acquire multiple cookbooks (I've already got two new candymaking ones) but taking a class first will make following the written instructions much less frustrating.
I already started on the recipes for baked goods goal several years ago when Butterfly Bakery offered a series of workshops on modifying recipes. We went over substituting maple syrup for other sweeteners, experimented with a half dozen different flours for cake baking (barley flour turned out to be pretty tasty), and tried transforming one recipe into another - like turning a favorite cake into a cookie. I've still got the vanilla-stained sheets covered in handwritten notes that I took back from the workshops and I refer to them regularly. The most important lesson was learning to be okay with failure. It's just a cake. If it has too much baking powder, it is not a major crisis. Which is a fine attitude to read about, but much easier to adopt when there's someone else there buttering a fresh cake pan and ready to cheerfully revise your not-quite-perfected recipe and try again.
There are plenty of places to find cooking classes in Vermont. Often, local food stores and co-ops offer classes on a range of topics. Farners Markets may include cooking demonstrations. Festivals, such as the springtime celebrations of maple syrup, also have cooking demonstrations with local ingredients. Some restaurants offer occasional classes - others, like The Essex Resort and Spa, have whole cooking schools. King Arthur Flour Bakery has a baking education center. The DigInVT Events Page is regularly filled with cooking classes listed from around the state. . . and if you have a class you're offering, let us know by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
There's really no excuse NOT to learn some new cooking skills in 2014. . .
Helen Labun Jordan writes about food and the business for food for local and regional publications. Find her work online at www.discoveringflavor.com