Getting Home Cooked Food Right

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I don’t usually blog about food, but this post is something that I have been thinking about for a while. One of the biggest challenges of setting up your own home is being responsible for cooking your own food. When I left home I was given a myriad of cookbooks. I had lots of kitchen gadgets. Somehow though, whenever it came time to prepare a meal I felt at a loss. I wasted money on food that sat in my fridge going bad until it got binned. I still felt that all I could cook was a basic pasta dish (poorly). I ended up turning to ready meals for a while before I decided I needed to change.

This post is not a recipe, rather a list of skills and approaches that will help you take control in the kitchen.

Learn Some Basic Skills

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With cooking the basics make a huge difference and often save you a lot of time so, I suggest you take to Google (or YouTube) and learn how to do the following:

  1. Chop an onion (seriously, there is a right way to do it)
  2. Chop garlic (tip: crush it with the flat of a knife before you peel it)
  3. Cook pasta al dente  – it will taste so much better
  4. Wash and cook basmati rice properly (you will never go back)
  5. Dice/ chop veggies evenly – it means that they will cook evenly and taste better
  6. How to ‘wash up as you go’ when cooking
  7. How to season your food + a few herb/spice combinations

These 7 skills aren’t particularly difficult but are everyday habits that will change the way you cook and massively increase your confidence in the kitchen.

Tip: Measure out all of your ingredients before you start cooking so that everything is to hand. This takes the stress out and will make cooking more enjoyable.

Build your Repertoire

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Once you have the confidence to actually cook in the first place it is time to build your repertoire of dishes. These will vary depending on your diet and the climate you live in, but for most people this should serve well as somewhere to start:

  • Chips (fries to Americans) from scratch – so much better than frozen
  • 3 pasta dishes
  • 3 curries
  • 3 oven bakes or casseroles
  • 2 different roasts with trimmings (I’m vegetarian and even I have two!)
  • 3 different salads
  • 3 soups
  • A homemade version of your favourite take away meal
  • 3 desserts
  • 1 really good cake
  • 3 breakfasts
  • A really good packed lunch

It looks like a long list but when you break it down you probably know some of these already (or at leave have a good idea what you would like to learn). If you really want to be organised, you could write or print all of the recipes and but them in a folder in your kitchen with your own little notes along the side. By cooking the same things in rotation you will get good at cooking the recipes and build your confidence and technique.

Meal Planning and Shopping

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As I said at the beginning, one of my biggest faults was letting things go off in the fridge. I would go to the supermarket with a vague idea of what I wanted. I would then  wander aimlessly putting things in the trolley. When I got home I would discover I didn’t have the right things for most recipes and would end up doing multiple shopping trips throughout the week. I spent a small fortune and wasted a tonne of food. Having honed my skills, here are a few things that would have saved me time and money from the beginning:

1. Plan Your Meals

You might feel a bit silly at first, like some 1950s housewife, but the truth is that having a plan is key. Write it the day you go shopping and put on it everything that you will need for the week. The aim is that your cupboards/ fridge will be more or less empty by the end of it but that you will have eaten well the whole week. Remember to pick out things for breakfast and lunch too.

2. Write a List

It sounds obvious, but go through your recipes (and look in your cupboards first) and write down everything that you need. Keep an eye on what veg are in season as these will be cheapest, freshest and most readily available. Don’t forget to include the quantity needed and adjust the recipe for the number of portions you plan to make. Do a quick run around the house to ensure that you have enough of essentials like toothpaste and if not add them to the list.

It helps to categorise products into the aisles that they are found in e.g. all meat together, all refrigerated dairy together, fresh veggies together etc. When you go shopping bring a pen and cross stuff off your list as you go. It will help avoid buying stuff twice, or forgetting things.

Finally, the golden rule, is stick to the list! If it was that important then you would have written it down when you wrote the list in the first place.

Not buying something is always better value than buying an offer that you don’t need.

Consider it happy chance if the product you wanted is on special but other than that just ignore them. They are a ploy by supermarkets to make you spend more on stuff you don’t need. I sometimes switch brands if a competitor to my regular one is on special but in general just ignore special offers.

3. Only Buy the Right Amount

On your list you should have the quantity needed for the number of portions/ recipe. You will find, especially if you are only cooking for 1 or 2, that you will only need a small quantity of most ingredients. Only buy this amount as the rest usually goes to waste. Your trolley might look a little odd with two chicken thighs from the butchers counter, 2 loose carrots and 8 loose potatoes, but your wallet will thank you. Don’t be hooked in by multi-buy offers or large value bags if they will leave you with far more than you need for the recipe you plan to cook. The exception to this is dry goods that last a long time such as pasta or rice. With these I tend to buy the bulk 3kg bags every few months as they are better value.

4. Store Everything Properly

A final tip to cooking delicious food is ensuring that your ingredients are properly cared for. Check online if you are unsure about how to store things. For instance, tomatoes should be kept out of the fridge to preserve their flavour. Potatoes should be kept in a bag in a cupboard as even a small sliver of light will cause them to start growing sprouts.

Keep Your Kitchen Clean and Welcoming

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There is nothing that makes you want to order take away more than the thought of having to do the dishes and clean the kitchen before you can even begin cooking. So, when you start cooking run a sink of soapy water. As you use each utensil put it in the water. If you have a break (for instance while something comes to the boil) you can turn and do a couple of dishes. If you are chopping different things use the same knife, just give it a quick wash in between. When you are finished eating wash up everything and leave your kitchen welcoming. Get into the mindset that your kitchen’s natural state is to be clean and tidy and that it should be reset to this every time after use.

With these tips I hope that you will save time and money, as well as gaining skill and confidence to make delicious, nutritious food.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other core skills that you think should be on this list, and how you fared when you first had to run your own kitchen.

All the best, Daisy xx

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[images from Pixabay]

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