“What is the Cooking For Life course?”
Cooking For Life is a 12-week course that will teach you how to cook. You will learn the principles of food preparation that will give you the understanding to create the sort of foods you want to eat.
“Why should I sign up for the Cooking For Life course?”
Unlike most cooking courses Cooking For Life aims for an understanding of why some things work and others don’t. I’m not going to show you a recipe that you can mindlessly copy. Instead I want to teach you how to think about food so you don’t need to copy.
“What cuisine(s) do you teach?”
This is often the first question I get asked when I mention the course to anyone I meet.
The Cooking for Life 12-week course doesn’t cover any particular cuisine. You will learn the foundation of cooking and you will be able to apply the techniques to most cuisines.
“Is this a healthy cooking/weight loss programme?”
This course gives you the tools to control what goes into your meals. You’ll be in a position to “turn the dial” on how much salt, sugar, fat etc. that you eat.
I don’t promote any particular diet. I’m skeptical of fad diets and claims about the life-changing qualities of any one diet.
One of the main reasons I created this programme is to give you the ability to widen your choices and increase your flexibility. I personally cook relatively lean, low-sugar meals for my regular weekday meals but I also splurge and cook more indulgent meals and desserts when I’m hosting friends and family.
I share what I do and eat but I don’t suggest that you copy me exactly. Your body type, activity level, objectives etc. could be quite different to mine.
If you’re currently working with a good nutritionist, please continue to seek advice from them. If you’re looking for one, just drop me an email and I can give you a few recommendations.
“Do you cater for particular diets? (Such as Paleo, Raw, Vegan etc.)?”
Sorry but at the moment I don’t cater for any particular diets or dietary restrictions.
I may eventually bring out modules that cover vegetarian and vegan cooking. At the bottom of this page is a box for you to let me know if you’d be interested in a cooking course that caters for a particular diet. If there is sufficient demand, I will work on it and let you know as soon as possible. Realistically, it will not be until at least 2017.
This course gives you an understanding of how cooking works. You will have better control of what goes into your food and, more importantly, not be so limited in your repertoire of meals (variety isn’t just interesting, it also helps you to get the breadth of nutrients for a healthy body).
Some of my clients work with nutritionists who advise them on what foods are best suited for their lifestyle and objectives.
The food I mention and recommend will usually be minimally processed. I understand that given all the other things we are trying to fit into our lives, there will be compromises. Sometimes it helps to get a head start with flavour when preparing a quick meal at the end of the long day. Most of my clients have incredibly busy lives – career, kids, networking, voluntary work, fitness, friends, family (not to mention simply taking a breather) – so making everything from scratch is too ambitious/demanding for them.
“What do you mean by ‘cooking from scratch’?”
As mentioned earlier, the aim of this course is to move you away from highly processed food. We are, however, forgiving and realistic about your schedule and work demands. So this course doesn’t expect you to go from ‘pinging’ microwave meals to shopping at farmers’ markets, making stocks/baking bread and spending your Sundays preparing meals for the week ahead.
Perhaps you will choose to do those things anyway because you find joy in cooking and you even come to like speaking to the farmers directly.
But that’s not the focus of this 12 week course. Realistically, you will make compromises. We’re here to help you make healthier compromises.
If you have to cheat with some time-saving shortcuts, let’s look at products that have fewer additives, are less processed and are better for you.
So instead of buying a ready made spaghetti bolognese to heat in the microwave, you may now get some passata or tinned tomatoes and rustle up a sauce “from scratch”.
Instead of picking up a Chinese take-away, you may buy pre-chopped vegetables from the supermarket and whip up a stir-fry in minutes. I encourage you to go as far as you can reasonably manage to cook from scratch that is sustainable for you.
Almost all of us are somewhere along the spectrum. I have friends who bake their own bread but they don’t mill their own flour (there are people who do). There are people who would only be willing to eat the vegetables they grow themselves or come from a source they personally know.
My point is that there is little point in judging what other people choose to do. Take the steps that move you in the direction you understand to be best for your body and your circumstances. Be kind to yourself in every sense.
“I hear that you recommend that I use a thermometer and measuring spoons initially. Isn’t that fussy and troublesome?”
Experienced cooks and chefs can eyeball their measurements and know when the food is cooked to the right temperature because they spend many, many, many hours cooking till they have a good feel for it.
They are also used to the timing based on the equipment they are using.
I’m trying to give you a shortcut so you can get that experience quicker!
Once you have probed and tested you’ll have a feel the time required for a particular type and size of meat cooked at a particular temperature. Then you can also get away with just using time as your measurement.
If I were to say to you, isn’t using Google maps overkill? What’s wrong with using a paper map and your sense of direction and instincts?
A couple of things might occur to you
a) but using an app is so much more convenient – in an instant I know where I am and what direction I need to go in
b) if I relied solely on the device to lead me and I never looked around, what happens if I’m in an area without a signal?
This is why I think tools should be used to guide you and teach you, not replace all your senses. So non-contact thermometers can train you to look for the signs that a pan is hot enough. Put your hand just above the surface and feel how warm it is. Note how high you’ve set the stove and how long it has taken to reach that temperature for that pan.
Soon you’ll be able to eye-ball it without the need for the thermometer.
The way to learn is to make an educated guess first and then use the thermometer to give you instant feedback so you can adjust your estimate the next time based on the corrected observations.
This way you’ll learn much faster than trying to mimic someone without knowing which signals they are using.
“Does the quality of ingredients matter?”
In general, the better your ingredients, the less you have to do to them to make them taste good. It takes genius to get bland ingredients to taste good.
So why would you buy less flavourful food in the first place? Well, it’s possible that you don’t have access to more flavourful ingredients. They could be out of season or have to travel a long way to get to you. Or maybe you don’t have the budget or the time to shop in places that sell better ingredients.
I also think that some of these “taste differences” are just the placebo effect – we are told the food comes from a better source so our mind confabulates a story that convinces our tastebuds that it is a more delicious experience.
In blind taste tests, people often struggle to tell the difference between the supposedly best ingredients and the run-of-the-mill ingredients. My partner and I run blind taste tests at home from time to time. Recently we compared a slow-matured, herb-fed chicken (£13.65) to a value chicken (£3.34) and although I could see and feel a difference in the firmness of the bone structure for instance, it was actually difficult to say which tasted better when blindfolded!
This is not to say that there aren’t any other reasons to buy the herb-fed chicken. For one, it eats better than I do! Animal welfare and environmental care are among the many reasons to go for better ingredients. Better produce also have fewer pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones etc.; better produce has also taken less time to get from its source to you. So if you have can afford the time and money, it’s not a bad option to consider improving the quality of your ingredients.
I just thought I’d share my thoughts because some people get worried that they need to spend more money and more time shopping in order to get their food to taste better. Don’t panic if you can only manage to get to the local supermarket to get your groceries (or use a delivery service). I personally use Ocado when I’m busy as they deliver really early and late in the day, which suits my sometimes crazy schedule.
“I have children – does this course teach me how to cook meals for kids or involve my kids in cooking?”
This course does not have a specific modules that focus on food for children. Maybe in the future I will collaborate with others to design a suitable course. I don’t have children and I grew up eating what adults ate so I’m personally unfamiliar with the idea that kids, above toddler age, eating special “kid-friendly” food.
This course teaches you how to cook delicious food of many different types and flavours, so while it’s not directly designed for kids there’s no reason why they shouldn’t enjoy the results as much as you do.
One major concern parents have is that their kids are fussy eaters. Cooking For Life gives you the understanding of how to be flexible in your cooking so you can prepare the kinds of food that you and your family want to eat.
For more information on feeding your kids, you might find this course helpful