Cooking, sewing, basic home repairs: Those seem to be the most useful skills our generation is losing. We aren’t learning the basics that would make our lives easier and cheaper. Instead, we have to head to professionals or buy ready-made things.
Nowadays though, access to courses and education is much easier – if nothing else has come from our pandemic time, then it’s at least that so much more takes place online. And if you think taste can’t be taught over a video, you are wrong.
In time to prep for all the New Year’s Resolutions, I took part in an online cooking class at the end of last year to see what you can really learn.
A little about me: I like cooking, I ruin a ready meal even if it says “heat in the microwave for 5 minutes” and didn’t grow up with them (though I did grow up with a fair amount of frozen meals and canned veg) and the most exotic we got was using white or red pepper instead of black. But, I like cooking (I am a disaster when it comes to baking though), have played around with a few recipes and have successfully fed myself for a few years now. So that’s me before the course: A happy, but basic cook, mostly out of necessity.
And then, I took four classes (spoiler alert, I’ve signed up for two more this month) to learn the basics of real cooking; in my own kitchen, with my own (limited but sufficient) equipment, working around my schedule.
How you ask?
We found an online cooking course called Cookable. Their mission is to “Get Britain Cooking” and making our food healthier and cheaper – and that’s exactly what we want, too!
First, you get access to an online hub where you book into your classes and check your shopping list for the week (and can later look at additional resources as well). If you don’t know how to navigate it, don’t worry, you get an email with links to the pages you need.
Each week, you will focus on a skill and cook a recipe as you go along (classes are conveniently scheduled to finish around dinner time). First week is about “cooking essentials” and we made a stir-fry.
Ahead of time, we checked the shopping list: Easy ingredients to find and lots and lots of options for substitutions: dried, frozen or fresh ingredients, choices of vegetables, alternatives to sauces… all planned for in order to use as much as possible of what is already in the pantry and fridge instead of buying specifically for the class.
All we had to do before the class was get the ingredients ready as well as equipment (a bowl, a knife, a saucepan and a frying pan as well as a chopping board) and get onto zoom.
Enter: Jack, our teacher throughout these four weeks and Emily, who helps throughout the class with technical issues, answering our questions, muting and unmuting us so we can ask Jack questions but still hear him, as well make sure we get a good view of each step – whether it’s watching how to chop or what’s happening in the pan.
Jack is a cook and was previously Head Teacher at the Jamie Oliver Cooking School. And now he’s here, in our kitchen, getting us cooking. His goal is simple: He wants to simplify home cooking for us, teach us basics such as chopping skills, set ups and building a meal, so we can eat at home more.
How it went
It’s an emotional story, you guys.
We made a stir fry. I cooked just for my grandad and me. Grandma was feeling ill and went to sleep early. So I learnt to chop and taste and actually build flavour in ways I had only ever heard about (and not fully understood) on cooking competitions, and then served it up for the two of us. We ate it all, even though the sauce was meant for 4 or 6, it was too good.
Throughout the week I found myself correcting my knife hold, and changing even how I made the salad sauce, using the basics seasoning I had learnt – much to everyone’s delight.
We made a pasta with tomato sauce. Simple, you may think, but I had never gone through the steps of building a real sauce from scratch – I even put sardines in it! (It was a replacement for capers I didn’t have and don’t like and you didn’t notice the actual sardines in the final sauce).
Update on grandma at that point: She had an ear infection and was deaf. Profoundly deaf. No communication possible, but she ate with us that day and her conclusion (as the person who has cooked for the family for more than 60 years) was: “I will never dare to say I am making pasta with tomato sauce again. Nothing I have ever made compares to this.” Was I proud? Maybe a little… I also tried to list the ingredients for her on my phone, and the sardines were a confusing one to explain.
We made a Thai salad with vegetables (or chicken) and wild rice. Update: Grandma still profoundly deaf and getting more depressed by the day, feeling lonely and disconnected (turns out TV subtitles don’t work and many other things are not as accessible as we may think). My chopping and seasoning skills have taken a turn though. I still cry chopping onions, there’s no way around that, but I’ve gone over anything anyone made over the past week to improve little things here and there.
Now onto this Thai salad – the hero of the day. We chopped and tasted and seasoned and I finally used the pestle and mortar that was standing unused in my kitchen since circa 2018, and eventually I served it up to my grandparents (who have probably eaten Thai food once in their life). My chillies may have been a bit strong (we were all crying pretty quickly) but the salad for 6 was gone (except for a portion I kept aside for an auntie for the next day) that night. We couldn’t speak to each other, but we laughed around burning mouths, but overall, an incredible salad.
The next day, we finally found a speech-to-text software that worked on desktops, and one of the first things to be scripted was the salad recipe, which grandma insisted she needed. We laughed over a few hilarious mistranslations, but at the end, the woman who has recently said she wasn’t able to cook anymore and who had only been sitting in her armchair half asleep for two weeks, sent me to the shop to buy the ingredients to make it again, with her. She wanted to finally learn to use a pestle and mortar (and could I leave it for her if I didn’t need it) and that if someone chopped for her, she wanted to learn to make it. This happened in December, can we call this a Christmas miracle?
We made a curry! It was the season of Christmas parties and I wasn’t at home, so along with my laptop I set up in the Anything Goes Lifestyle kitchen (the magic of online classes!) and cooked there. This week’s challenge: making bread! I did say I wasn’t a baker right? But guess what? My first attempt at Chapattis worked out pretty well! This is the beauty of an interactive class: First you can watch in detail how it’s done, and when it’s your turn and you’re not sure, you can just hold up your dough or pot or pan to get a professional opinion. That week, the day after curry night, Grandma started to get her hearing back.
Our conclusion on Cookable online classes
First of all, it’s cheap (£40 for the four weeks) and a perfect gift to yourself or for someone else: Everyone can squeeze a few classes into their schedule and it really changes the way you cook (or gets you started).
It really is easy as long as you have zoom set up and you don’t need much equipment and a lot of spices can be substituted, you won’t end up with a drawer full of ingredients to never use again. It’s not so much about the recipes, but about the skills you learn to make them.
The reason I booked in for more, is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hadn’t had so much fun in a class or whilst cooking in a long time and every week I had something to look forward to. I forgot how fun it is to learn something new, be challenged, feel empowered by new skills, but also go through it with other people – you may each be on your screen, but you still chat and laugh.
Finally, for those who have followed the emotional roller coaster: Yes, I made the salad again and grandma made the dressing in the pestle and mortar (yes, I will leave it for her since it’s too heavy for my travel backpack) and she has now got about 80 percent of her hearing back and is doing much better.