Cooking is an art. I have always struggled with it and it’s been even harder since being diagnosed with IBS which has forced me to cook from scratch more. Thankfully, my flatmate is an amazing cook so she has taught me a few tips and tricks. With the current quarantine, many of us are forced to cook at home more because most restaurants are closed. There is no better time to learn how to cook (also, I know that I have used the word “cook” way too many times but there is no other word I can use – trust me, I checked)! So rather than dwell on the fact that you can’t go out for your favourite meal, learn how to make it yourself – or at least a similar version of it. If you, like me, weren’t given the gift of cooking, follow these tips below. You are probably not going to come out of this lockdown as a Michelin Star cook, but at least your meals won’t taste like they’re a health hazard.
The most important lesson I have learned while cooking is to be patient. You may be starving or really looking forward to eating your favourite food, but being impatient will cause you to rush – and burn – things or serve a half-raw meal. Neither of those are good, so be sure to give yourself enough time to cook everything properly. If you are famished and waiting for your meal to cook is difficult, have a small snack: just enough to keep you going until you can eat.
Start with basics
There are many complicated recipes out there that call for exotic ingredients and spices that you can’t even pronounce. However, if your cooking game isn’t the strongest, focus on mastering the basics first: porridge, avocado toast, scrambled or poached eggs, pasta with sauce, steamed vegetables… After you have mastered these, you can slowly expand your repertoire to more demanding recipes.
Follow the recipe
When you are starting out, it is best to follow a recipe. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can go beyond the recipe and experiment with different ingredients for example. Until then though, try to stick to it as much as possible. If you are having trouble succeeding at the recipes you try – there’s no shame in it, it happens to me all the time – try getting a kids recipe book. Those recipes are often slightly easier and less time-consuming. It will enable you to develop your skills and then move on to more difficult recipes as you progress.
Enjoy the cooking process
One of my close friends, who has a food Instagram (go follow her @chill.n.cook) and a great talent for making amazing dishes, told me that enjoying the cooking process is extremely important – kind of similar to the quote “it’s about the journey, not the destination”. If you are having a hard time enjoying the cooking process itself, focus on how serving something nice to the people you love – including yourself – makes you feel. Or how there is nothing better than savouring a meal with every spoonful. Bringing positive vibes into the kitchen will help make your cooking more enjoyable and successful. Merci Cécile!
Cook in batches
If you don’t have time to be cooking every night, try cooking a big batch when you do have time. For many, this would usually be over the weekend. You can then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers and have a few ready-cooked meals at hand. If you do decide to freeze them though, do not forget to take them out the night before and let them thaw in the fridge. Thanks for the tip, Celine!
Choose good products
The products you choose can make or break a recipe. If you have read some of my older posts, you might remember me being a huge advocate of frozen veggies. And although I do think that they are good for some recipes, others benefit from fresh vegetables or fruit. The same goes for different cuts of meat or the origin of certain products. And this doesn’t necessarily mean having to spend loads of money on the ingredients. It just requires you to shop a little more sensibly and figure out what would suit your recipe best. Also, think about where you buy your products. Lidl’s fruit and vegetables are incredible and not that expensive!
Seasonal products are cheaper
Buying seasonal fruit and vegetables is cheaper, and they will taste better too because they grew in the right conditions. Buying locally is also better for the environment as it will lower your food’s carbon footprint.
Organise your pantry
My flatmate decided to reorganise our pantry while being stuck at home during this lockdown. It was a mess and really needed it. She did an amazing job and we are now able to see and use everything that’s there! There isn’t a more adult feeling in the world than opening your pantry and taking a moment to enjoy its tidiness.
Learn proper techniques
Learning how to whisk or hold a knife properly might sound silly but being able to do these things properly will make your cooking much easier and more successful!
Be mindful of how you cut things
Similar to the point made above, the way you cut and chop things is extremely important for any recipe. You might be required to finely chop, dice, slice or mince your ingredients. Knowing what these mean and being able to execute them will up your cooking game a lot. You will also be able to impress everyone with your skills!
Prepare everything beforehand
There is nothing more stressful than trying to quickly chop something that you have to add into the pan with the other ingredients. You can just hear the sizzling – the kind that sounds like your food is burning – and the panic sets in and you usually end up chopping the ingredient quite badly, and in some bad cases your finger with it. To avoid this rather awful experience, prepare all the ingredients you will need beforehand and lay them out on your work surface. This means washing and cutting up all your veggies, measuring out your spices and liquids. To be even more efficient, measure and mix the spices (that you will need to add at the same time) in a small container so your spice mix is ready to go!
Add a bit of water when frying veggies
When you are frying vegetables in a pan, add some water after they have cooked for a bit. This will end up steaming them slightly. It will ensure that they don’t burn, cook through and taste nice. I would reserve this trick for vegetables that don’t shed too much water though – mushrooms would be a big no-no for this.
Add some brown sugar to tomato sauce
I cannot make a nice tomato sauce for the life of me. That is a fact that I have finally accepted. Maybe I should try following a recipe for once! Nevertheless, one thing that greatly improves any tomato sauce is adding a heap of brown sugar to it. This helps get rid of the acidity. You can also add water to your sauce and cook it down slightly.
Season your food
Up until I started living with my current flatmate, so until I was almost 20 years old, I didn’t realise just how important seasoning was. My brother was the better cook so he would always whip up amazing dishes that used loads of different spices. I stayed away from them. Until I realised just how easy it is to use them. Salt and pepper will be your best friends. They will already make such a difference to any meal. Unless you are following a recipe, I suggest you slowly build up your use of seasoning. I usually end up using salt, pepper and one other spice or herb. This gives you more room for error because you are focusing on just one flavour.
Also, season your food at every stage: when you first put it in the pan, when it is simmering, right before serving, etc. Don’t over-season your food though! Remember: you can always add more but not take any away. Finally, please put salt into your water when you cook pasta. This will give your pasta a lovely flavour and really add to your dish.
Taste what you are cooking
This is probably the most important tip on this list. Taste what you are cooking so you know what is needed – whether that be more flavour, less tartness or further cooking. And please taste whether your pasta (or rice) is cooked before you drain it. It always needs a little bit longer than the time indicated on the pack.
Pour cold water into your pots and pans shortly after you finish cooking. This will make washing up so much easier. However, do not pour water into a pan with hot oil. Let that cool down first. Adding water to it will make the hot oil sizzle everywhere.
I hope some of these tips will be useful and if you’ve got any of your own, feel free to share them down below or on my Instagram! I hope you are coping okay with everything that is going on in the world right now. If you’re having a hard time, you are not alone. I’ve been having a hard time too and, if I’m being honest, everyone is. So pour yourself your favourite drink and cook a meal you enjoy. We’ll get through this together. Until then, stay safe and I will see you on Sunday.