A Cooking Guide For The Newly Independent
Some people pop out of the womb as mini adults. They read newspapers in their high chairs, and work the vacuum cleaner around the house when their parents are busy. They grab their allotted space in the world with tiny claw baby hands, and stay there comfortably until they die old in their slippers.
I was not such a child. As soon as I could talk, I would weep about adulthood. “I WILL NEVER LEARN HOW TO COOK!” My four year old self screamed at my father. “I WILL STARVE BECAUSE I WON’T BE ABLE TO SWITCH ON THE OVEN!” If had been in his boat, I would have explained the fabulous concept of ready meals and take-outs. Instead, he assured me that I would naturally learn the skills when I got older.
Alas, this did not quite happen. Last year I moved into university halls. My nervous family and friends bombarded me with easy recipe cookbooks, and not one of them helped. Cookbooks make annoying little assumptions about what you already know. As it was, I didn’t know my fry from my steam, my table from my tea (spoon). And even if I could understand what the recipes said, I would never be so efficient so as to spend an hour on one meal. I can’t think of anything duller.
If you’re in the same horrifying situation that I was one year ago, then allow me to dispense a few tips. You shouldn’t have to go through what I did, what with all the raw chicken and milk in kettles. You deserve to be taught about simple staple meals that don’t compromise your health. For too long you have been told that cooking is hard. It’s time to expose the truth.
The food so nice they named it twice. I mean to boast, but I am the couscous queen. It can take time to learn how to handle such a versatile food, but I’ve done the experimentation and know what I’m talking about. Pasta is dubbed as a staple food by all and sundry, but personally I find it a little dull. Once it’s garnished with cheese, butter and spicy tomato sauce it’s ok, but who wants to subject their arteries to such torture? Couscous is basically tiny speckles of pasta. To cook it you only have to pour a boiled kettle of water onto in, and then it magically grows in front of your eyes. You can get it plain, or in seasoned packets. I advice the packets, as they only cost about 20p more and I swear that it’s impossible to make such flavour at home. You can use couscous in a curry, a salad, or as a side-dish. I have my own recipe that I’m willing to share. Please mention my name whenever you use it (I’m thirsty for fame).
Ingredients (serves two)
-1 sachet of seasoned couscous
-1 chopped onion
-2 chopped garlic cloves
-1 chopped yellow pepper
-Bag of baby spinach
Start off by popping the chopped pepper in the oven, as it takes the longest to cook. I don’t know what temperature, just make it suitably hot. After half an hour they should be all soft, which means you have officially roasted them! Congratulations! Make the couscous grow (I’ve already told you how), and then leave it to cool. Take a frying pan (that’s the flat pan), pour a bit of oil in it, and then shove a load of sugar in it. When it’s hot, fry the onions in the sugar. I always thought that this was the caramelizing technique, but I’ve just done a quick Google and apparently caramelizing onions involves frying them for bloody ages without any sugar. Use the word caramelize anyway because it sounds good. Pop the garlic in when the onions are almost done, as they take less time to cook. Pop the baby spinach at the bottom of the bowl, and then put the couscous on top. Add the garlic, onions and peppers, and sprinkle feta on top. Douse the final thing in balsamic vinegar.
Eggs may be cheap, healthy and multitalented, but they aren’t as simple to cook as everyone makes out. I eventually got the technique down, but before that I would spend hours wallowing in eggy despair. I still can’t poach an egg, but poached eggs are maximum effort for minimum tastiness, so what’s the point anyway?
A boiled egg was the second thing I ever learnt how to cook (pasta was first). At the ripe age of 18, I popped an egg in water and waited. The internet had told me to wait for four minutes, so that it was I did. Then I ate a raw egg. It wasn’t very nice. You see, no-one had ever sat down and told me how to tell when water was boiling. It’s when it’s a-bubbling, by the way. Before that I thought it was just a colloquial word meaning ‘you wouldn’t want to put your hand in that!’ Anyway, take your egg out the fridge and warm it with your hands while you wait for the water to bubble. This will stop it from breaking. Then pop it in, wait 4-6 minutes depending on how you like your yolk. Serve with pepper.
I didn’t believe scrambled eggs could be easy, due to their shapely exterior and silky texture. But, as it happens, they are! Start off by cracking three eggs in a bowl, and whisk them with a fork (whisking is just fast mixing). If you’re feeling luxurious, then pop a bit of milk or butter in the mix. Then take any pan that is clean, put it on the hob, and turn it to medium heat. Pour eggy mix in, wait a minute, and then sort of push the mixture about with a spoon. Scrambly eggs will appear like magic. Salt and pepper it up, and even add a little parsley if you come across some.
Begin as you would with scrambled eggs, but before you tip the mixture in the pan, put a bunch of fun ingredients in it. Cheese, peppers, onions, mushrooms, meat, it’s all acceptable in this crazy world of eggs. Tip it into a flat pan, have the heat on medium, and wait till the whole thing solidifies. I won’t advise you on how to flip it cos I don’t even know how to do that myself. Get a savvy friend to do it, or use a big flat spatula thing. Cook on the other side and then serve with ketchup.
Fried is easy peasy, especially when you’re not a fuss pot and like it sunny side up. Whack on some oil, crack open an egg, wait a couple of minutes and enjoy with a slice of toast!
Soup is very nourishing and homely, and is therefore the perfect meal to soothe the anxious soul. Before I met my flatmate Rachel, I believed it was magically born in tins. Then she showed me how to make it in bulk from scratch, and my whole world changed. Because I’m currently helping (watching) her unpack, I’ll quickly interview her.
ME: Rachel, what’s the soup called?
RACHEL: Vegetable surprise.
ME: Could you say something funnier? I’m writing this all in my article.
RACHEL: (saddened look in her eyes) I don’t think I know how to be funny on cue.
ME: Never mind, what are the key ingredients?
RACHEL: Anything you can find in the fridge, even the bendy vegetables. I use onion, garlic, potatoes, carrots, leeks, chillies… anything.
ME: And what’s the technique?
RACHEL: Fry the onions and garlic, and um, then fry the leeks off.
ME: Fry the leeks off?
RACHEL: Yeah, well, pop them on the frying thing.
ME: Then what?
RACHEL: Pour the stock in, we usually use chicken OXO, and then put chopped up peeled vegetables in. This tartan dress is vile, it’s really squashing my boobs!
ME: Concentrate! What next?
RACHEL: Let in simmer for a while, add a few herbs if you want, and then use a hand blender to make the mixture chunky or smooth.
So there you have it, vegetable soup! And remember, you can put whatever you like in it to suit your fussy little tastebuds.
SOME FINAL ADVICE:
You can put ceramics in the microwave but not tin foil. You can put tin foil in the oven but not ceramics. Chicken should never be medium rare. Chilli sauce makes everything better, except for a tuna salad. Don’t eat anything bigger than your own head, and if your head is made from butter, then don’t become a chef. I got that last bit from a Chinese fortune cookie, so it must be true.
What kind of dishes do you like to cook? What are your tricks? Leave us a comment and share!
Written by Phoebe Eccles