If you’re new to cooking and just finding your feet in the kitchen, you’re not alone! Student Money Mentor Claire has been there too and is keen to dispense some words of wisdom gleaned through her own culinary trials, errors and triumphs.
Cooking – you either love it or hate it. Some people can add a pinch of salt and a touch of spice to meals with their eyes closed. They can tell what a dish needs just by smelling it and their desserts are to die for.
I, sadly, am not one of those people.
I am the kind of person who burns toast and then smears it with a thick layer of butter and jam to disguise the charcoal aftertaste. I either cook so much rice it lasts for a week and a half, or so little I need to cook a second batch because I can’t get the proportions right.
I have eaten porridge for breakfast and for lunch (Tip: Don’t do that, it is incredibly depressing) and chewed my way though pasta which I convinced myself was ‘al dente’ rather than undercooked.
This article is for people like me who are not gifted in the kitchen, but want to try. Please learn from my mistakes. Only once have I given myself food poisoning, but that was one time too many and now I have pledged to get better.
1. Measure things out
If you have room for a little electronic scale in your kitchen, buy one. They are pretty cheap and will save you guessing what 50 grams of grains looks like (although that is a fun game. If you are bored and want to try it, be my guest. The problem afterwards is trying to get the stuff back into the packet without spilling it over the kitchen floor)
If you don’t want to buy a scale, use proportions. Measure things out in tea cups and get the ratio right. Most recipes will have weights and cups so pick the one with applies to you.
2. Follow those recipes
If you are making something and it looks a bit dry, trust it. Once you start thinking you are better than Nigella Lawson and varying the ingredients, it will be a recipe for disaster – literally. These people have tried and tested what they have written, so have faith in the food gods and simply obey their instructions.
3. Never underestimate a microwave
It can reheat, defrost and cook a wealth of things. There are several websites and videos with microwave hacks (see links below). Not only do you save time and money, but it is a very easy way to cook veg which can be part of your 5 a day.
Also, it means you can freeze leftovers for another day, decreasing food waste. Many things can be frozen, including bread, fresh berries for smoothies, curries and fresh meats. However, do not freeze veg with a high water content (e.g. lettuce) or creamy things like cheese and yoghurt (unless you have followed a recipe for making your own ice cream). The curds will separate and it will taste very crystal-y (yes, I have tried it).
Also, when defrosting things, use a low setting for a longer time, don’t be impatient like me and whack it on high thinking it will speed things up. The outside gets hot and the inside is frozen. It tastes really strange.
HEALTH WARNING: Defrost everything thoroughly. Please.
4. Cook together
If you want to cook a nice meal, get together with your flatmates and prepare it. Not only is it more fun, but you are more likely to do things better when you know there are other people, as you really don’t want to poison your friends. Plus, you may learn a few tips from them.
5. Start simple
It is not a sin to use bottled sauces, in fact, I would encourage it! It saves time and you don’t have to buy a hundred different spices. It is not cheating just because it is easy. Also, pick simple recipes at the start, or get advice from family who have been cooking for decades. Before you go to uni, watch them prepare a meal and help out, so you can see what needs to be done. No one is expecting Michelin star food quite yet, but you have to start somewhere.
So those are my tips for the kitchen.. Instant noodles are acceptable once in a while, but I know you can do better than that.
One ultimate conundrum though is this: no matter how hard you try, your food will never quite taste as good as your mum’s. That extra pinch of love is something which you can’t buy in the shops