Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Fraicher's Guide - Part 2

Welcome to part 2, the other half, of the Fraicher's Guide. Enjoy!

Knowledge, inspiration and imagination are three words that can be associated with successful cooking. Knowledge doesn't come from your head (initially), it comes from recipe books, magazines and more. Once these resources have taught you something (for example, that a certain herb works with a certain meat) you then become inspired to try something new, incorporating what you have learnt. Suddenly this cooking lark is becoming more interesting. But before all that you need inspiration. So below I've listed some potential sources of the stuff:

There is an ever expanding plethora of recipe books available today, and many of them are dedicated student cook books. Because of this huge amount of choice I decided to avoid all the student books and bought Jamie's Ministry of Food. I did this simply because of bold tag line: “Anyone can learn to cook in 24 hours”. I assumed that it must be for the uber novice such as myself. It turned out to be more comprehensive than novice; the sheer range of recipes is staggering and I have barely scratched the surface of its contents. Admittedly it has to be said that it could be simpler (i.e. less ingredients to save the hard up student money). Still, the point is that it taught me a lot – the Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish recipe proved somewhat revolutionary to me and inspired me to keep trying new dishes with new ingredients I have never tried before. At the end of the day you can't really go wrong with a good recipe book.

These are great. What you are essentially getting is a short monthly cookbook for less than a fiver. The recipes are often varied and economic, as well as being conveniently seasonal. In addition, they have pages of advice, sections where you can send your own questions, and random yet useful titbits of information you probably wouldn't find in a recipe book. Hurrah for magazines!

The Web
Probably the best thing about the web is that the recipes are free, and the fact that others can often rate them. The only downside is having to print/copy down the recipe unless you wish to risk griddled laptop. Another great thing is that websites will often have forums where you can ask questions and discuss matters with other people. Also, websites such as the BBC's GoodFood one have very useful help pages with basic tutorials and the like. Check and for a mind-boggling range of recipes. TV chef's websites also tend to host some rather good recipes too. Check Jamie Oliver's and Raymond Blanc's for starters.

Little needs to be said about this, but watching programmes like Masterchef is simply inspiring - there's no other way to put it. Check Youtube (search '4od food') and BBC's iPlayer, both of which have some quality content. A great way to get the reluctant chef inside you into the kitchen.

Cooking Itself

When Following Recipes

  • If you're not sure about some of the ingredients, look them up on the supermarket's website. You can then work out how affordable the meal is.
  • Always allow for far more time than you think you'll need. Recipe's always take longer than their author's say they will! Also bear in mind the weighing of ingredients, the clearing up, washing up and drying up. I would always give about two hours for the whole process (including eating).
  • When cooking for just yourself, cook enough for two servings and then fridge half and eat it the following day, or freeze it if applicable. It makes the time spent in the first place all the more worthwhile.
  • Be sure to read the recipe through before going into it – that way you can always forsee any potential problems that may arise.
Some More Tips

Cook for your flatmates. Not only is this convenient, as you will be able to buy ingredients in proper quantities/not have irritating leftovers, but those who you cook for will love you for it (unless you poison them). This also has the potential benefit of them returning the favour, meaning you won't have to cook on another evening. Yay!

Desserts. Most people love a great pud but when having to make main meals for yourself, you really won't want to spend the time on something so seemingly insignificant. A great way, however, of getting an excuse to make one is to make a bargain with a mate. Make a dessert for them (and yourself) in an exchange for them making a main meal for you. It should work.

Freezing. Most shop bought food will tell you on the label whether it is freezable or not. If so the general rule is something like this: Freeze before the use-by date. Most frozen goods will last for 1-3 months in the freezer. To defrost, leave out over night (or day), or if in a rush it is possible to defrost in a microwave (just be careful not to over do it). Once defrosted, a food should be eaten relatively soon, and not refrozen. However, if, for example, your frozen food was mince beef, once defrosted and then cooked properly it can be refrozen. After it has defrosted the second time, be sure to consume it sooner rather than later and don't refreeze again.

Tinned food is a great time saver. Nothing fancy needs to be done, simply heat it in a pan a microwave. Make sure to stock up on cans and tins.

Ready Meals and Take-Aways. Ready meals are fine now and again. They're not all bad, can be cheap, and save time. Just don't live off them. Take-aways are always nice but go easy on them – they're often very much less than healthy and will put a rather large dent in your wallet.

Finally, be creative, experiment and have fun!

So that's the end of the Fraicher's Guide. I do hope it has been of help. Did I miss anything off? If I did, please let me know!

PS - Remember, all the tips here are just based on my personal experience during my first year of university, so don't try and sue me for anything 'cos it didn't work out for you. It should work out for you, but I'm just covering my butt really. It's the kind of thing you have to do in this lamentable day and age...

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