Judith Dunbar Hines' Chicken in Champagne Sauce, photographed at her home kitchen Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Chicago | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:02AM
After more than 30 years of teaching cooking, it’s safe to say I’ve met just about every type of student.
To get to know them, I often ask students to identify themselves in one of these categories: I Can’t Cook; I Watch Cooking Shows on TV; I Need Practice; I Want To Impress; I Love To Bake. From the answers, I can gauge their experience and interests.
The “I Can’t Cook” group has tried but failed, often because they didn’t have the skills or equipment necessary.
“I Watch Cooking Shows” respondents are interested in showy recipes, unique ingredients and are very adventurous. “I Need Practice” usually indicates intermediate cooks who are looking to sharpen their skills to be more successful.
Those checking off “I Want to Impress” are looking for that one great recipe to wow their friends, plus some chef secrets to give the impression they are much more skilled than they actually are.
And others who answer “I Love to Bake” usually are left-brained perfectionists who will have great success with baking and other complicated tasks.
If you have found yourself among these generalizations, you may be ready for a cooking class, where you will learn how to achieve new success in the kitchen by finding new recipes, flavors, techniques and new joy in cooking.
Knowing how to cook will bring new self-esteem, in the kitchen and sometimes outside it. Being adventurous widens your horizons, culinarily and culturally. Practicing skills will add speed, safety and accuracy to everyday meals as well as cooking for others.
Impressing guests always is fun! And indulging perfectionism, when applied to following recipes of every kind, will improve kitchen results, while stepping into a slightly more free-wheeling style once the rules are understood often encourages that cook to spread their culinary wings.
This recipe for Chicken in Champagne Sauce is one that stars in a basic cooking series I frequently teach.
It is designed to incorporate the categories above. Extremely simple, it uses a minimum of kitchen equipment.
Those who watch cooking shows or want to impress can add a dash of creativity by changing the liquid — broth, a different wine, even orange juice — or choosing a different herb combination to give delicious results and make this dish their own.
For those who need practice and for those focused on precise instructions, carefully monitoring the heat levels and learning the difference between saute (browning in a hot pan with little oil) and braise (browning first, then adding liquid and cooking at a low temperature in a closed container) will expand their skills beyond “fry the chicken in a pan” level.
In a class, the teacher will regularly demonstrate special tips and tricks that make all the difference. The ah-ha moment here is the swirl of a bit of butter in the end, making a silky, flavorful and very French-style sauce.
Sharing those ah-ha moments are what make it gratifying for the teacher, and interesting and worthwhile for the student.
Judith Dunbar Hines is a cooking teacher, tour guide, writer and culinary consultant in Chicago. Visit www.judithdunbarhines.com for information on her upcoming classes.