Today’s post is specially for those of you who are a little bit nervous in the kitchen and would like to break themselves in gently.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am that I grew up with parents, then parent, who knew how to cook and how to experiment with food, and would eat my sometimes rather dangerous early creations. Daddy Scrumptious is well known for his eclectic combining of ingredients. My sister describes his experiments as “About 60% ‘Wow’ and about 40% ‘What the fuck?!'”. (I’ll just smugly mention that I get a 30/70 split.)
And as Dad pointed out, it’s only food. If it isn’t Michelin star quality, you throw it out, or you drown it in ketchup, learn, and move on. You don’t get to see the Scrumptiouses-gone-wrong (except my Oreo Chocolate Disastercakes , because they were just too funny to not share.). You haven’t seen the occasional times I’ve looked at something made in my kitchen, decided even I can’t rescue it, scraped it into the compost bin, and dialled Domino’s.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be afraid to try a few new things. The worst thing that can happen is either you hit it with your favourite condiment and force it down, or you have an excuse to order in.
Anyway. The point. Here are some handy hints:
- Don’t try a new recipe for the first time when it’s a big occasion, dinner party, or anything when you need it to go absolutely right. Just don’t. See the Oreo post.
- Alcohol is for when it already has gone as wrong as it can go, and you have to get just drunk enough to get the food down. OR, for when you’ve made a recipe a dozen times before and can do it on autopilot.
- Kid’s cookbooks are amazing. Really really. They often contain the simplest versions of recipes, some useful hacks, and are generally geared toward the novice cook. Plus, their recipes are fun and very photogenic. Don’t turn your nose up at making your own quiche or sausage rolls. This is still on my cookbook shelf to this day. My sister bought it me when I was ten and it’s fantastic. The quiche recipe is on point and makes the most delicious quiche I’ve ever had.
- Ready roll is your friend. Pizza dough, puff pastry, filo, shortcrust, croissants, they’re all out there. I suck at pastry and buy Jus-Rol every time. It still tastes better than buying pre-baked from a store, and it gives you chance to worry about the filling or topping. Get to making pastry or dough for yourself in time.
- Jazz up pre-made meals or ingredients with your own twist. Cooking frozen potato wedges? Toss them in some spices, garlic salt, or cajun seasoning to suit the dish you’re having them with. Bought a pizza? Make it your own by adding your choice of vegetables, pepperoni, or other toppings. Sauce mixes are a useful tool, and you can personalise them and make them healthier by adding extra veggies of your own. Making Dolmio bolognese? Throw in some courgette (zucchini), extra bell peppers, fresh cherry tomatoes, or some briquettes of frozen spinach (I LOVE my little briquetttes. So good for sneaking in iron and fibre into any meal).
- In time, you can figure out what mixes to outgrow and what stay useful hacks. No person with a full time job makes their own custard, really. And whatever Jamie tells you, most Italians don’t make their own pasta. But making your own bread, soup, and pasta sauces is great fun, fairly easy, and very rewarding. Instant mash is handy to have around for emergencies (and for thickening soups, stews, pie mixes, anything wet really), but mash made with real boiled potatoes is so much tastier!
- Fridge cake is still cooking. There are plenty of things you can make just by melting chocolate and mixing in something dry. Rocky Road, Rice Krispy cakes, ganache truffles, and more, can all be done without even touching your oven. Just google ‘no bake desserts’ for a wealth of ideas. Cheesecakes are ridiculously easy, too. Here’s my favourite.
- Find recipe ideas on Youtube and other social media. Tasty by Buzzfeed have simple, impressive-looking, easy-to-follow recipe videos, as well as some guidance on kitchen skills. A lot of Tasty’s recipes are great for entertaining, or for taking to potluck dinners, as they make a lot in one go. If you want something a little more upmarket or challenging, try Great British Chefs. Their videos and articles are almost encyclopaedic. Every kitchen skill you could ever conceivably need or want is gone through in thorough detail. Their photos and articles are beautifully composed, unfussy yet stimulating. There’s also something incredibly soothing about their videos. I love this guide to making Sicilian Salad, where you can hear each little thump of the chef’s knife on the board. I doubt I’ll ever make Sicilian salad, but I know I’ll watch this video over and over (it helps me get to sleep).
- If you have a friend that cooks really well, invite them over! Set aside a day or evening for cooking, go shopping together, plan a dish, and enjoy. Cooking with friends is so much fun, and you’ll have an experienced co-pilot to navigate you through this uncharted territory.
- Check out local healthy eating groups and resources for basic kitchen skills/cookery courses. Change 4 Life, Wrap, even Tesco, offer free basic cookery courses from time to time. If you’re a parent, enquire at your children’s school or nursery about a cookery club. Also investigate your local Super Kitchen, Real Junk Food Project, church kitchen, or community café. Many of these groups will welcome a willing volunteer and will offer some training for those who want to learn. You might start off peeling potatoes, but your skills will grow, and it’s a great way to meet people.
Whatever you do, enjoy your new skills. Cooking and eating are for fuel, yes, but they’re also for enjoyment, community, sharing, and for giving you a sense of pride in what you’ve made and what you eat. If I’ve even inspired someone to switch from microwave pasta to cooking by themselves with Dolmio, job done. Journey started. Enjoy every step.