12 secrets to planning a menu

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Falling in love with cooking is easy. Learning to cook is not.

Yesterday, Lindsey shared incredibly helpful cooking shortcuts, but what if you don’t know how to cook at all? It was years before I knew how to make pasta correctly. Even longer before I learned not to be afraid of risotto. And it’s only in the last few years that I learned what combination cooking is — and how it’s the absolute best way to make mouth-watering short-ribs, which I also learned I love.

And that’s all thanks to Rouxbe, our online cooking school.

As you know, I read cookbooks at bedtime and consider food memoirs the best fairytales out there. But no matter how delicious the story or salivating the food porn, none of these things taught me to cook. That’s a hands-on skill… one you’ll only perfect by watching someone else do it. For many people, that’s watching mom or dad. For others, it’s fond memories of a flour-dusted grandmother who executed baking prowess in the kitchen the likes of which the rest of us can only dream about.

For me, it’s paying a video-based cooking program out of Vancouver to school me in knife skills, frying, mastering homemade baguettes, and — life-changingly — how to poach an egg. Without the little poaching pods. (I’ll admit: Bill is the official egg poacher in our house. I make the hollandaise. Left to my own devices, I actually make ruffled eggs, which are the poor man’s saran-wrapped version of poaching pod eggs. It turns out that we all have skills, and poaching eggs is not one of mine. Eating them, yes.)

The videos are extremely clear, the directions helpful, and the fact that I can email and ask for help whenever something stumps me makes it the next-best-thing to canning my career as an almost-foodie and going to culinary school. (Actually, I can’t do that because I just don’t want to stand up that long every day. Sorry, food. I guess I’m more sloth than chef.) Thanks to Rouxbe, we now have the building block skills to carry us through even the most complex recipes I come across in my bedtime reading and — more importantly — the courage to give anything a try.

While we are Rouxbe loyalists because of their incredibly vast library of foolproof recipes (my favorites are the Ancho Chili Shortribs, Moroccan Lamb Tagine, and the Sausage Ragu with Soft Polenta), competitors abound, all with their own awesome selling points. America’s Test Kitchen offers an online cooking school that’s pretty affordable (less than twenty dollars a month with great classes like classic cakes and a whole course devoted just to chili!) as does Epicurious, which teamed up with the Culinary Institute of America for their pay-by-class program. Doesn’t the Mexican Classics class look amazing? Olé!

For those of you who don’t live in the middle of nowhere like we do (living at the beach has its perks, proximity to major food hubs is not one of them), both Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table offer cooking classes in store. In fact, my best friend just finished a macaron making class at Sur La Table in Chicago that had me drooling hundreds of miles away.

And then there are always the dream classes: cooking vacations in authentic Italian kitchens where we wander the streets of Rome on our way to our lesson in a master chef’s home in the Piazza Venezia, or homestays in Chiang Mai, Thailand while learning the ropes for gourmet curry at the source. My dreams are filled with the day we will finally be able to board a Silversea cruise and enjoy a Market to Plate program where we tour some fabulous foreign market, pick up ingredients, and return to the ship to put our ingredients to use. (They even have cooking competitions on board, which I’m pretty sure my husband would sell everything we own to get the chance to do.)

Back here in reality, though, it’s me, my trusty computer, the Internet connection, and Rouxbe. It’s opened up doors for food experiences I could never have imagined and, blessedly, it finally taught me how to cook.

Tell me: Who taught you to cook? Would you ever sign up for a cooking school or class?