While all of the lessons included in Kathleen Flinn's The Kitchen Counter Cooking School are important, perhaps the most essential takeaway is positioned smack in the middle of the Seattle instructor's lively chronicle of teaching nine failed cooks how to thrive in the kitchen: "You must taste, taste, taste."
"When I gave cooking lessons, I noticed students would just add ingredients," Flinn says. "They would never taste them first. If you don't taste, you might put in oil you didn't realize went rancid, but it's something home cooks really don't do."
To emphasize the importance of tasting - and to have a bit of fun - Flinn is staging a pantry staple tasting next Tuesday in conjunction with her book's paperback release. The event at The Book Larder marks the start of Flinn's national book tour, and will also include wine tasting and knife sharpening (perhaps not in that order.)
Although tastings usually showcase pricy luxuries such as cheeses, whiskeys or wines, Flinn says tastings of less-romantic items often produce more striking results.
"It probably has a more profound effect because it's what they're cooking with every day," Flinn says.
Tasters at The Book Larder will have the chance to compare chicken broths, canned tunas and olive oils, but Flinn says the salt tasting is typically the showstopper. While most home cooks reflexively reach for salt to intensify meat and vegetable flavors, very few of them consider the flavor of the salt.
"I'm not a big fan of iodized salt, and when people taste it, they see why," Flinn says. "They join my religion."
Conversion isn't free, Flinn admits: Quality ingredients are typically costlier than shoddy versions of the same. But Flinn insists it's money well-spent.
"One of the reasons chefs' food is so good is they use good ingredients," she says.
The Book Larder event starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. But for one lucky winner, a first-edition copy of Flinn's first book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry, and a paperback copy of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School are free. To enter the contest, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.