Cooking classes grow confidence in the kitchen

Updated: Apr 27

Who said there’s nothing to do in northeast Iowa during the winter? Well, we’re not buying it. That’s why the North Iowa Times is continuing to feature some of the fun, healthy and educational activities area residents can enjoy during the colder months.

“Growing up, I was lucky to have a grandma and mom who did a lot of home cooking,” said Katie Ruff. But as she ventured off to college, and into a career field centered around food, she found many people didn’t share the experience.

That’s why, when Ruff opened her downtown McGregor store, By the Spoonful, offering cooking classes was one of her ultimate goals.

Having previously conducted food demonstrations and classes, “I found I enjoyed teaching people how to cook, how to do things like pick and cut produce,” she explained. “People would ask me questions about how to prepare a dish, saying they were too scared and didn’t want to ruin it or mess it up.”

“I realized what comes naturally to me doesn’t to others,” Ruff added. 

Now, she’s on a mission to empower others to create food at home with fresh ingredients—to confidently prepare new dishes and expand their taste buds.

Ruff offers cooking classes in the basement kitchen at By the Spoonful up to several times each week, typically Thursday and Friday evenings and during the daytime on weekends. Most classes are three hours long and include time to prepare a meal, then eat it and socialize with fellow attendees.

So far, classes have covered a wide range of topics, from cooking with fresh herbs and baking a cake from scratch to making cheese and creating ethnic dishes using authentic recipes.

The latter are some of Ruff’s favorites. Recent offerings included sushi, Hawaiian poke bowl and Indian cuisine.

“There are not a lot of restaurants that offer this locally,” Ruff said, “but you can get a lot of ingredients locally, and the flavors are things people are going to enjoy.”

The Indian class, for example, utilizes many spices people already have in their cupboards, she explained.

“You can adjust the spices, and I show you how to do that,” she noted.

Ruff warns attendees that not every dish they create at her classes will turn out as anticipated. But that’s part of the beauty in it, she said. In cooking, you can create new uses and new names, or modify recipes when you don’t have all the required ingredients.

“I love giving those tips and tricks,” she quipped.

At By the Spoonful’s cooking classes, participants shouldn’t expect to sit and watch while Ruff prepares the meal.

“It’s hands on,” she said. Attendees split the recipes among one another, then “divide and conquer.”

Friends often come together to the classes, but Ruff sees couples and individuals as well. Kids 10 and older are even welcome if they’re skilled and comfortable in the kitchen. 

Groups of six to eight people are her favorite. It creates a fun energy, and participants help teach one another. 

“It’s a no judgment zone,” she stressed. “You leave with recipes you can recreate at home and learn new skills.”

“The only thing that’s not fun is doing the dishes,” she added, “but one of the pluses is that I do those.”

By taking her classes, Ruff hopes participants gain more confidence in the kitchen, and that they don’t let “intimidating” foods or dishes keep them from trying something new. She wants them to find joy in making food from scratch.

“There’s a time for box mixes and convenience,” she said, “but if you have the time and want to do something special, this can add more flair to your dinner and wow your guests. Plus, the flavor is so much better.”

Want to know more? By the Spoonful will be offering cooking classes now until June, with a break during the summer. Visit or find “By the Spoonful” on Facebook for information about upcoming offerings. Call Ruff at (563) 873-2900 to book a spot or set up a class for a private group.


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