I like to think of myself as a semi-competent cook, however, like most people I am continuously learning new skills and recipes which I love! We all have to start somewhere so here are some essential cooking skills to cover if you’re a beginner or just want to improve!
Eggs are an extremely versatile food so if you can cover some of the basics you already have a variety of options for meals. 4 easy ways to make eggs are; hard boiled, scrambled, fried and in an omelette!
Hard Boiled – Boil a saucepan and lower your egg in to the water gently so it doesn’t crack on the bottom of the pan. For a soft boiled egg boil for approximately 5 – 8 minutes and for a hard boiled egg boil for 10 minutes. To serve cold, put the egg in an ice bath.
Scrambled – For one portion crack 2 eggs into a bowl and whisk with a fork and mix in salt and pepper. Heat a saucepan on the hob with some butter, once the butter is melted, pour in the egg mix and stir continuously until the mix is solid.
Fried – Heat a frying pan with some oil, once fully heated crack your egg and pour into the frying pan (if you aren’t confident cracking eggs, crack it into a bowl first and then pour into the saucepan). Once the egg white goes from clear to white and begin browning underneath you can remove them from the pan. To keep the yolk running, remove the egg before it cooks fully.
Omelette – Similarly to scrambled eggs, crack and whisk 2 eggs in a bowl, add seasoning and your choice of fillings (for example, ham and cheese). Pour the mix into a frying pan but instead of stirring, allow it to cook in one piece (like a pancake), once the bottom of the omelette has begun to brown, flip the omelette over the cook both sides fully.
This is a staple ingredient for a lot of meals so it’s essential to know how to cook it. This may seem like a super simple concept (boiling water right?), but there are so many different kinds of pasta, surely it can’t be the same for all? The simplest guide for cooking pasta is to follow the instructions on the bag, but as you get more practice you’ll probably figure out whether you prefer it more or less cooked.
With regards to portioning, this is still something I often mess up if I’m in a rush and just chuck some in a pot and then end up with a mountain of pasta. As a general rule I tend to go for approximately 70g of uncooked pasta per person if you’re having a meal where pasta takes up the biggest proportion of the dish, however, if you’re making something like a bolognese which is heavier with meat and veg I would bring the pasta portion down to 55/60g per person. Again, you’ll figure out your preferences as you go, but that’s a good place to start.
Once you know how to make sauces, coming up with recipes is so much easier. There are so many different sauces you can try but the 2 key ones I would recommend to start are a basic tomato sauce and a roux (white sauce).
Tomato Sauce – You can use tinned chopped tomatoes or passata as a basis but the key to making a good tomato sauce is the little extras you add on top. Start by frying some onion and garlic in a saucepan (you could also add mixed peppers for a heavier sauce). Then pour in your chopped tomatoes, add seasoning and stir through. On top of salt and pepper you can also add mixed herbs like basil or oregano, or for a spicier mix add chilli flakes/powder.
Roux – You can adapt a white sauce depending on the use but this is the basic method. Start by melting some butter in a saucepan, once fully melted add flour bit by bit and mix until it becomes a thick paste. Then add milk again gradually and stir in cheese and seasoning for taste, mix until it becomes a suitable consistency for use, for example, a light white sauce will have more milk, or a heavier sauce like macaroni cheese will have more cheese and less milk proportionately. You can add more flour and milk until you find the right consistency. Other recipes may use stock instead of milk but personally I prefer it with milk.
Often if you’re cooking abilities are limited you may feel like your meals are a bit basic and bland, one way to improve them instantly and make them more exciting is by using seasoning effectively. If you don’t already have them I would definitely recommend to start; salt & pepper (obviously), mixed herbs (Italian herb blend), chilli flakes/powder, cajun spices, garlic powder (if you don’t use chopped garlic) and some kind of fajita/taco spice blend (personal preference). Adding any of these herbs & spices to your meals will make them far more exciting to eat.
If you don’t have much experience cooking chicken, the key thing to remember is that it MUST BE COOKED THE WHOLE WAY THROUGH. If you don’t cook chicken properly you can make yourself very ill so when cooking big pieces of chicken, frozen chicken or if you are just unsure, always cut the biggest bit in half and make sure there is no pink in the middle.
Another particularly versatile ingredient is potatoes! So rather than having the same thing every time try; mash, chips, wedges, jacket potatoes, sweet potatoes.
Mash Potato – Wash, peal and chop your potatoes, then boil them in a saucepan for 15-20 minutes (the smaller you chop them the quicker they will cook). Once the potatoes are fully cooked you should be able to stab them easily with a fork. Mash the potatoes fully in the saucepan and put the pan back on the heat. Add butter, milk and salt & pepper into the mix, adjust the proportions of milk so the mash is the thickness you would like.
Chips/Potato Wedges – Clean the potatoes and chop into thin strips/wedges. On a baking tray spread the chips out and coat with oil and seasoning (salt/pepper or cajun spices). Bake in the over at 180°C for approximately 20 minutes, make sure the turn regularly to avoid sticking (the thicker the chips/wedges, the longer they will take so keep an eye on the oven for when they start browning). Once fully cooked you can top again with salt.
Jacket Potatoes – If you want a low-effort simple meal that will fill you up, you can’t go too far wrong with a jacket potato. Preheat your oven to 180°C, rinse your potato, poke some holes into it with a fork, then rub it in olive oil and salt. Place on an oven proof tray and bake for 1 hour. You can then add a variety of fillings; simple butter and cheese, baked beans and cheese or tuna and sweetcorn.
Or alternately mix any of these methods up with a sweet potato instead!
Those are just a few helpful tips to get you started, keep an eye out for more cooking ideas for beginners!
Also See: Bolognese
Easy Student Recipes Coming Soon!