Aprons on and knives at the ready – it’s time to get cooking!
Whether you’re a dab hand at sauces, a pro at roast dinners, or a whiz at desserts, knowing how to make a good dish is crucial. Keeping yourself well fed is one thing, but you also need to be able to impress any visitors you have over for dinner, from family and friends to dates!
Cooking is one of the focus topics in our ‘Life Skills‘ series, helping you learn some top tips that will see you through those first few years of living independently – even if you do need to ring your Mum occasionally with questions like, “yeah, but how would YOU poach an egg?”
Take a look at our tips and see if they make a gourmet chef out of you!
For that one recipe you fancy trying, an Ebelskiver Pan might sound like an oddly specific yet genius idea. However, for the other 364 days in the year, there are more useful ways to spend your money.
There are a few essential items that will see you through 99.99% of recipes, so invest in good quality models of each to make sure they do the job, and last you a long time.
- A good set of knives – If you spend your money on anything, make it this. Get yourself standard kitchen knives of varying sizes, from super-handy little vegetable knives through to meat carvers. Sharpen them regularly to keep them in perfect condition, and find a set that comes in a fancy presentation holder to save money on kitchen décor, too.
- Pans – Whether for frying or boiling, you need 2-3 quality pans at a minimum to cook meats, marinades, mash, and anything in-between.
- Chopping boards – Getting colour-coded boards will help you maintain hygiene in your kitchen, separating your raw meats from your veggies.
- Wooden spoons – Is there anything they’re not good for?
- Cheese grater – Because cheese makes everything better.
- Fish slice – Its uses extend far beyond fish. This can be handy for omelettes, stir-fries, tray-bake desserts… the list goes on!
One of the first lessons to be learned is which food stuffs are worth investing more money in. Some items, such as tinned vegetables and pasta, will likely taste the same whether they cost a penny or a pound. When it comes to meat, however, it’s better to buy quality.
Use-by dates are the number one thing to look out for. Before you do your big shop, figure out your schedule for the week, what food in the fridge needs using up, and how many meals you’ve got to make. This will help you buy only what you need, and create a meal plan to avoid wasting food.
If you’ve got house/flatmates, see what you can cook together to cut down on costs. If you won’t get through a whole bag of kale yourself (because they are always huge), buy one between you to stop you throwing half away when it goes bad.
Don’t be tempted by things that seem ‘easy’, either. We guarantee that with a decent recipe to hand you’ll make a better pasta sauce than anything you find in a jar, and dessert packet mixes are normally more expensive than buying the ingredients yourself… and lacking the hearty goodness of a home-made dish.
Freeze everything you possibly can
Meat, veg, fruit, entire meals… you’ll be surprised by just how much of your weekly shop can be frozen.
You have a couple of options: freeze fresh food, or buy it frozen. The trick with fresh is to freeze it as soon as you get it home, so it will taste just as good once you’ve defrosted it.
With meat, you want to separate portions before you freeze them: you might only need one chicken breast at a time, so having to defrost a whole packet won’t always be practical, and could still lead to you wasting food.
Always check on labels to see if food can safely be frozen, and also how best to defrost. Some foods cannot be safely defrosted in a microwave, so be sure to look this up before you throw the packet away.
Buy freezer bags with space to mark the date you bought/made the food, and write down any information about defrosting later on.
Even if you don’t have the biggest freezer in the world, but make use of whatever space you’ve got to prevent wastage.
Bulk is best
Fridge/freezer space permitting, make as big a portion as you can and spread it out over a few meals. It’s cost-effective, and saves time in the long-run. One-pot stews and casseroles are perfect for this, as well as soups. A slow-cooker is your best friend if you need your food to simmer away over a long period of time with minimal effort.
Once you’ve made your bulk portion, divide it up into single meals: Tupperware boxes can be the ideal way to determine this. Find the size box that can fit the perfect portion for your appetite, and make this your portion divider. Label your boxes so you know what’s inside, and pop them in the fridge or freezer for another day.
This can prevent wastage by using up whole ingredients rather than cutting them up to make single portions at a time.
Ready-meals are all well and good, but this is a much healthier alternative. It gives you all the convenience of being able to heat it in the microwave, but you know exactly what has gone into it because you made it!
If all else fails…
The internet is a wonderful resource. You can find recipes to use up whatever you’ve got left in the fridge, learn ways to put an extra twist on a classic dish, and pick up tips from the pros.
Alternatively, once you’ve burnt the pan for the 5th time this week, you can throw in the towel and order a takeaway at the click of a button.
Once you get the hang of grilling and roasting, you can try your hand at sautéing and flambéing; you’ll find yourself cooking top-quality dishes before you know it. Start small, build up your repertoire of signature dishes, and you can develop a healthy diet that gets you the most for your money.
If you’ve created your own recipe and need to jot it down before you forget, stock up on notepads to keep a record of your acts of culinary genius.
Fancy trying out your new skills? Have a go at this delicious recipe for prawn and chilli spaghetti from http://www.hampicklesandoreos.com/