So you live on takeaways or your flatmate, partner, or parent cooks for you – sound like you? And one day you look in the mirror and realise you’ve never really cooked a meal in your life, and you’d LIKE to – where on earth do you start?
The first things I’ll say is this. You need some quick wins. And some might say you need to start with cooking rice or boiling eggs. But let’s get something straight. I have been cooking for years and quite often my rice is gluggy and my eggs are overcooked.
What you need are foolproof recipes that make you shine and have little margin for error. And top of this list is what I call ‘bung-it-in-the-oven’ recipes (or ‘set and forget’ in the rest of the world).
Anything slow-cooked is going to be your friend. I’ve been cooking slow-cooked lamb shoulders for years and it remains my signature dish. You rub a few spices on a piece of lamb (cumin, paprika, salt), and cook it in the oven for anywhere from 6-12 hours. It’s very hard for it to go wrong. You don’t need any special cooking techniques for this kind of dish – just a love of good food. And for goodness sake – if you’re a real novice, don’t push yourself. Feel free to buy some hummus and pita bread from the shops to go with the lamb and call it a day. Do a search online for ‘one-pot dishes’ to help you find inspiration for other ‘set and forget’ meals.
As a new cook, you might also have one or two dishes you feel comfortable with. Well, why don’t you see what variations you can make to that dish to improve it? For example, say you love making lasagna – why don’t you experiment with a vegetarian version? Or if you’re comfortable with a barbecue and tongs – why don’t you try barbecuing with some different ingredients – swap the steak for some prawns, and throw some halloumi and eggplant on there for good measure.
In this modern age, the internet is a new cook’s friend – there are so many food blogs and recipe websites to solve any food problem you may have. And YouTube is also a fantastic resource – even as a seasoned cook I use it all the time, especially if I’m doing something like jointing a chicken or wanting to fillet a fish – things I don’t do every day and need a little help with.
But here we get to something important – the tools a cook uses. There are some things that make cooking that much more pleasurable and easy. If you’re wanting to expand your experience in the kitchen here’s what I highly recommend:
- A good knife (or three): I’ve been there – as a uni student I’m amazed at what I called a poor substitute for a knife in my kitchen. And sure, I got by. But we want to keep our new cooks motivated, and nothing will make you feel better than a knife that slices through a tomato without squeezing all the juices all over the chopping board. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but at least one decent all-purpose kitchen knife will make you so much more efficient and happy!
- A colander: In my twenties, I spent a fair bit of time travelling, and I stayed for extended periods in holiday rentals where I cooked all my meals. I bought and donated a colander to every single rental that didn’t have one. For draining pasta, vegetables, stock – you name it – a colander is essential. And it’s cheap!
- Baking trays: Do yourself a favour and head to a chef’s catering store. There you can pick up a range of flat baking sheets perfect for roasting every type of food. They’re good quality and inexpensive. I couldn’t live without mine. And for the most part, they’re easy to clean.
Finally. cooking should give you joy. For me, there’s nothing more I love than cooking a wholesome meal for family and friends. I get a kick out of it, and as an added bonus, it’s usually good for my health too!
By Victoria Thaine,