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a quick question

red christmas star Normally at this time of year, I’d be blogging about the Menu for Hope which has been raising funds for the UN World Food Program for longer than I’ve been blogging. So we’re talking over 5 years.

But the Menu for Hope is having a rest this year so I thought I’d take an opportunity to do something a little different.

I believe that the ability to cook simple, healthy, delicious food is a basic skill, like reading, that everyone should and can have. And I want Stonesoup to inspire and help you master this skill with 5 ingredients recipes that often only take 10 minutes to prepare.

To help me plan for next year I have 2 quick questions. Feel free to answer in the comments or if you’re a bit shy, just pop an email to jules@thestonesoup.com

question 1. What are your biggest challenges when it comes to cooking?
Is it finding the time? Healthy recipes that still taste good? Organisation? Inspiration? Budget? Your level of skills or confidence? General motivation? What else?

question 2. If you were going to take a cooking class, what would be the thing you’d most want to learn?

Thanks for taking the time to share your answers. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you guys have to say.

Merry Christmas!
Jules x

ps. After a big year, I’ve decided to have a nice long holiday. Stonesoup will be back to normal on Monday 17th January. Look forward to seeing you then!


I’m feeling very impressed with myself. With 2 weeks to go for the year, I’m up to reading my 51st book so my goal to read 52 books this year is well on track. Especially since I’m flying all the way to Ireland on Sunday and will have lots of time to kill. Yay!

Head over to my Now Reading page If you’d like to see what I’ve been reading. And if you’ve got any recommendations I’d love to hear them.

{ 128 comments… add one }
  • Zoe 27 December, 2010, 11:25 am

    1. Time and budget. I work two jobs and go to school, so I’m often too tired to really cook any longer than, say, about 30 minutes.

    2. Knowing what and when to prep ahead. This goes with the time thing. I’m an avid baker and can prepare ahead for baking, but for some reason this doesn’t translate into cooking? Ha ha, don’t judge, don’t judge.

  • Siany 27 December, 2010, 2:32 pm

    Biggest Challenge – travelling for work; I’ve had to eat a lot of indifferent meals around the state (and some memorably yummy ones too, but that’s not the question). I’ve started carrying my own kitchenette chef cooking pack to keep my skills honed.

    Cooking Class – I’d love to learn to cook Chinese Food as it’s described in “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones; the food described in that book sounded like a journey for your mind and a joy for your taste buds.

  • Rebecca 28 December, 2010, 7:17 am

    Biggest Challenge: cooking for one or two in a way that is simple and interesting. I have a great repertoire of recipes for 6-8, but when it is just me and the companion, it can be hard to get out of the rut of the 5 or so recipes that we do all the time. The flip side that is also difficult, is recipes that translate well into lunches later in the week so that we aren’t eating lunch out too much.

    Cooking class–how to make the best possible combinations from the CSA box. Living in Northern IL, there are lots of great CSAs/farmers markets, but like I mentioned above, I am frequently doing the same old thing and that is annoying and boring.

  • Meredith 29 December, 2010, 2:45 am

    question 1. What are your biggest challenges when it comes to cooking?
    Budget and my TEENY kitchen! I have so many ideas I want to try, but I don’t always have the resources to drop on tons of ingredients (one reason I love stonesoup!). Also … everything in my kitchen is half sized: oven, fridge, range etc, and I have NO storage or pantry space (I don’t even have any drawers). But only for three more months =)

    question 2. If you were going to take a cooking class, what would be the thing you’d most want to learn?
    I’d love to learn from an expert some really basic knife and other cooking skills. I can make some amazing food – no bragging of course – but my chopping and slicing “abilities” are abominable. Or a baking class would be great too =)

  • Teague 29 December, 2010, 4:47 pm

    1. I’d have to say my greatest challenges would be a budget and creativity. I would love to try all the healthy recipes in the world but working in order to save up money for school doesn’t permit it. I also find that without a cook book or someone elses recipes I would be lost!

    2. My ideal cooking class would be a class that was unpretentious and where I wouldn’t feel like an outsider for not knowing certain ingredients or cooking methods. I would love to learn what ingredients go perfectly together and how to improve general cooking abilities.

  • Emily 30 December, 2010, 7:14 am

    First up, I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading stone soup for a while and it’s a fantastic blog :D However, I didn’t know you are a fellow Sydney-sider! SOmehow knowing you’re cooking all this in the same city as me is more inspirational, it’s not as distant as other cooking blogs I read that use different ingredients etc. So, thanks for representing! Keep up the awesome work in 2011!

    Onto the questions…

    1. Food intolerances. Frustratingly these restrict a lot of the food I’d like to have!! Hm, food intolerances and budget I’d say.

    2. I’d love to learn how to cook great curries from scratch. Also want to get into baking more!

  • Jeanne 30 December, 2010, 9:31 am

    Biggest Challenge is that I am a vegetarian and my husband is diabetic. Although I love to cook, I find that my energy does not always last until dinner. So quick meals are sometimes a must but many quick meals are boring.

    Cooking Class …. well I love bread and I love soup. Those two items often make a meal here. So new ideas for making soup and a little improvement on making the perfect loaf.

  • Jane in CA 30 December, 2010, 9:48 am

    1. Planning. Without question that is my most difficult challenge. And perhaps it’s in part due to lack of inspiration about what to prepare, but when I get asked at 11am (or, worse, 3pm) “What’s for dinner”, I often literally have no idea, and winging it at the last minute is not my forte.

    2. How to take my cooking to the next level–how to challenge myself without it being overwhelming. I’m a little better than a beginner, and like recipes that push me a little farther. Oh. And perhaps a class about how to plan–and make–a week’s menu of relatively quick and healthy meals.

  • Ellen 31 December, 2010, 6:15 am

    1. My biggest challenge in cooking would be using seasonings/spices to make things tasty and new without being fattening. I also lack some special cooking techniques that would help me to cook better.

    2. If I was going to take a cooking class it would be to learn how to use seasonings and spices from other countries. I love Thai food for instance and would like to use fresh lime juice and spicy sauces to jumpstart my cooking a bit.

  • mick 31 December, 2010, 12:21 pm

    biggest challenge is trying to source consistent quality produce

    Cooking school – love to learn traditional and regional methods and recipes

  • Louise Cadeau 3 January, 2011, 1:12 pm

    Jules, goodquestions! My challenge: early mornings. I work at seven-thirty am and lunch and then dinner are a long time away! Organizing that day for myself and kids who pack lunches is monster.

    Cooking class? Eggs, bread, soup. Gotta love the basics.

  • amr 5 January, 2011, 8:26 am

    My cooking quandaries are as follows Jules;

    Biggest challenge; Cooking something quick, easy, nutritious and tasty for one at around 9.30pm after nightly high intensity training every weekday, yet be light enough to feel like having breakfast in the morning before starting work around 8.

    Cooking class; Learn the basic ingredients/techniques of regional cuisine for about 12 different countries so I can dramatically improve my repertoire.

    Happy New Year too!

  • Solange 6 January, 2011, 8:04 am

    Biggest challenge: unboring, uncomplicated yet challenging, must-be-delicious food for a family of four with one shellfish allergy!

    Cooking class: Recipes from around the world! Even if we don’t visit there, I still want to feel like I went to the market there and prepared a fabulous meal!
    Happy New Year to you!

  • SallyBR 7 January, 2011, 8:53 am

    Biggest challenge: not get paralyzed in front of my (insert disturbingly high number here) of cookbooks, printouts, blog bookmarks of recipes, unable to decide what to cook. Information overload? Addiction? Mixture of both? I guess so.

    Cooking class: I am not fond of cooking classes and doubt I’ll ever take one. But, if I absolutely had to go for a cooking class, it would be on bread baking, sourdough type.

  • Frou Frou 7 January, 2011, 11:55 am

    Biggest Challenge: Too many steps! If a recipe involves using both the oven and the stove top I will generally skip it in favor of something I can make using just one pan.

    Cooking Class: I’d love to improve my knife skills :)

  • kirsten 8 January, 2011, 4:19 am

    my biggest challenge are my kids. they are so picky, no matter what food i expose them to. it is discouraging and very limiting when it comes to planning meals.

  • Alexandra 10 January, 2011, 10:56 am

    My biggest challange: Cooking for myself – cooking meals that are interesting and tasty but don’t have massive amounts of left overs

    Cooking Class: Tasty meals in under 30 minutes (including preparation!)

  • April 10 January, 2011, 6:02 pm

    I’m pretty late to this post, and there are so many comments I might just be repeating things… But I had to leave my two cents.

    1. The most difficult for me is dealing with picky eaters. I love your concept of fresh, simple dishes that are healthy (and cheap!), but many times you feature ingredients that I know WILL NOT be eaten here, so I have to skip that recipe. And that one. Aaaand that one. :P So, I need help finding fresh, simple, and healthy dishes that a typical five year old would be willing to eat (though my picky eaters are much older than five!). I’m tired of the typical (and unhealthy) children’s menu items, like chicken fingers, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, Campbell’s soup, etc.

    2. What I’d like to learn the most besides basic kitchen skills (how to use and sharpen knives, how to season a cast-iron pan, etc.) is about food itself. How to store it? How to freeze it? What goes well with it? What really doesn’t? Where does it come from? Any interesting food science behind it? I’m talking about produce, spices, fully cooked meals—the works.

  • Adventure-Some Matthew 11 January, 2011, 10:45 am

    1. Both my wife and I are full-time students with part-time jobs. So we’re busy and not always free at the same times. Our ideal is to have quick, healthy, cheap meals that we can fix and eat together. Of course (since we’re talking ideally), these meals would also brown-bag well.

    2. I’d like to learn solid fundamental meals that can be easily altered/tweaked/played with. With this knowledge, I feel that I could learn how to always be able to make a meal with whatever I happened to see in the fridge/pantry.

  • Mary J 11 January, 2011, 4:31 pm

    1. Time and prep. I start too late and don’t have a plan. I’m hungry and want a quick solution/instant gratification. I think ‘pizza’ or ‘burger’ and feel guilty. I just don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to follow a recipe.

    2.More veggies and lunch/snack food. The mid-afternoon snack is a danger zone for me.

  • raina 13 January, 2011, 2:48 pm

    My biggest challenge is a weekly food plan for two people for dinners. I always make too much, we are bad at eating leftovers and I end up throwing a lot of food out. I am actually going to be taking an artisenal baking class in February. But really I am just bored with my regular recipes. I work a corporate job and am doing school so my time is so limited and I find I just can’t seem to sit down and figure a weekly menu.

  • Margi Macdonald 14 January, 2011, 9:36 am

    Preparing meals for one. Day in and day out. People really struggle with this.
    There’s the solitude, as much as shopping for ingredients in itty bitty quantities – if you want variety -or buying in bulk for economy, and then having to store, prepare and eat it all before it spoils or becomes boring and repetitive.
    It becomes even more of a challenge for people who haven’t been able to learn good basic cooking skills, or the language of cooking.
    Projects like 5 Ingredient Recipes are a great way to inspire and show people how to eat yummy, nourishing, easy-to-prepare meals.
    Cooking classes – someone already suggested it- how to plan a week of meals, including snacks.

  • Lenda 15 January, 2011, 5:50 am

    1. Time and planning. I need to create healthier meals, but I find myself driving home trying to figure out what I am going to cook that night. So I often wind up with either fast food or something that is quick and definitely not healthy.

    2. I would like to know how to create a menu. How do I determine what goes well with a main course? I find a main course that I want to try but I am often stumped as to what will go well with it.

  • Steve 15 January, 2011, 7:46 am

    I’m new so I’m still loving everything I’m finding at the moment, but thought it might be time to answer this post.
    I can relate to raina and many above. Still, here are my answers:

    I work a job, and with travel that means I am up at 6am (or before) and home at just after 5pm (at best) or as late as 6pm. I have been slack on the exercise lately, and want to build that back into my life. I am also about to start studying again, so there’s another hour to two hours a night. So….you know where I’m comin’ from, right?! :) An hour or two to make and have dinner, and do any relaxing thing I want to do for the evening. i.e. I’d like to spend as little time making dinner as posible, yet still have a focus on healthy food, not the exact same stir fry every tuesday night, lol

    – So challenge 1a is a combined challenge of time, organisation etc. I need to plan a weekly menu (who wants to be a slave, right? So lets at least make it a planned Mon – Thurs night menu), shop for that menu (to minimise leftovers and waste), and for the dishes to be simple, quick and at least yummy enough to not say, “not that again”

    – With that, goes another concern. On the nights we are literally too exhausted to do anything (takeaway anyone?), we need an instant solution. This is where I’d be willing to spend a BIT of time on a weekend (Sunday late arvo perhaps) doing “something” to help for the week. I’ve made the odd pot of soup, or the odd double measure of bolognaise sauce – but nothing organised. I’d be willing to spend some time, making some things that are going to be there to rescue me from ruining my weight loss plan by turning to the takeaway solution. I guess in that department, we are fortunate to have a freezer given to us in the garage (I think it currently holds some ice, and some frozen raspberrys at the bottom, lol)

    Another challenge for me, apart from the, “I’m too busy during the week” thing, is cooking for others. I was a bachelor until late last year (off the market now, sorry ladies), and am really only used to cooking for 1 or 2 people. I love cooking for one – it can be weird and even vegetarian and no one will care! 2 or 3 people (family members) for a meal, no real issues. But the idea of groups scare me! I’ve done a BBQ for 11 people, and was proud that everything turned out well. But, in point forn:

    – what about cooking dinner for 4 people (could even just be family – no big deal), but you want to make it ‘special’? I have no idea, apart from go look for some recipes on the net that are from different cultures for example. Plus, thinking in terms of 3 courses, and not just 1 that you might have during the week.
    – what about if you end up with a group of 6 – 10? I’d like to be comfortable handling that amount of people myself (or with some kitchen hand help from wife). She would handle this size group, but I think it’d be great if I could be the chef too! I guess this is where you need to know how to roast etc…..

    In summary, it’d be nice to have the confidence to know that friends or family could come around, and I could feed them – whether a basic meal, or invite them around for something a little bit special*
    (*special, not necessarily ‘fancy’ or ‘complicated’).

    2. So, those are the two challenges that I can think of. Schools that would interest me would pretty much be aimed at meeting the goals above! Do I have the necessary kitchen skills to accomplish the above (mechanical skills)? How to actually accomplish the above (knowledge)? Learn by watching (see someone ‘do’ the above) etc. Basically, I’d be interested in anything that could take me from where I am now, to where I want to be….confident that weeknights dont need to always become a choice between takeaway or stir-through pasta. And confident that I can have a few people around, and be in charge of cooking for them.

  • patti 15 January, 2011, 9:17 pm

    question 1. What are your biggest challenges when it comes to cooking?
    Is it finding the time? Healthy recipes that still taste good? Organisation? Inspiration? Budget? Your level of skills or confidence? General motivation? What else?

    my biggest challenge is the complete inability to start making a meal in a kitchen that has dishes hanging around from the previous meal. crumbs and buttered knives on benches sap my energy.

    question 2. If you were going to take a cooking class, what would be the thing you’d most want to learn?
    i’d love to learn how to make cheese.
    i love knowing how to make things from scratch and i’ve learnt how to make tempeh and soymilk and tofu and bread and kefir and yoghurt and so on…..but cheesemaking seems like such an art.
    i worked as a chef for years, but i was never a crash hot baker.
    i’d love to attend a baking class! sweet things…..

  • Mike Palmer 17 January, 2011, 4:52 am

    Biggest challenge: Time! I usually get home from work at 8pm, so there’s no time for lots of prep work.

    Cooking class: Bread! Good, crusty, chewy, artisan bread. Time consuming, so probably not practical to fit into my schedule, but I’d love to know how to do it, and do it successfully, at least once.

  • Beth 18 January, 2011, 9:02 am

    1. Finding recipes that are not too difficult or time consuming, and that the whole family likes is sooo hard. My husband was recently diagnosed with diabetes, so we’re cutting WAY back on the carbs–no rice or pasta dishes; my son is allergic to eggs, nuts, soy, and shellfish; and neither of my kids likes anything that’s the least bit spicy.

    2. I’d like to learn basic recipes for different types of meat, with some ideas for variations. For example, what are some different things I could do with boneless skinless chicken breasts?

  • jules 18 January, 2011, 3:32 pm

    thanks again everyone!
    really appreciate all your insights.
    I’ve now got my new calendar of classes for this year over at The Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School: http://stonesoupvirtualcookeryschool.com/calendar/

    jules x

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