Cooking for One
I’ve always been a terrible cook. At least, that’s what I tell people anyway. The truth is that, before coming to university, I’d just never really tried that much. I did the whole ‘Food Technology’ thing in high school, but that was only compulsory for the first two years, and I think that’s where my whole fear of cooking stems from. Our teacher was well-respected and had been at the school long enough to have taught the parents of some of the kids in my class, but she had one of those screechy kind of voices and everything had to be perfect otherwise she deemed what you made as practically inedible. She was lovely really, she just had incredibly high standards. I remember the first time we were all making pastry and were crumbling the the flour and butter together and she insisted that the key was to lift your hands up high out of the bowl to bring air into the pastry. She was right of course, but I just remember her screeching "Higher, higher…. HIGHERRRR!!!" as she stalked around the classroom, ready to pounce. I jumped in the air every time she said it (which was a lot) and needless to say most of my pastry ended up outside of the bowl rather than actually in it, and I left the room at the end of the lesson shaking like a leaf.
Anyway, when my obligatory Food Tech lessons had ended, I tried to do a bit more cooking with my parents, but they were late home from work a lot of the time and so when they made dinner, they understandably wanted to get it finished quickly rather than stand around instructing me, which took about three times as long. My Dad is a brilliant cook, but he’s the kind of person that has one way of doing something, and his way is the right way – if you do it differently, you’re wrong. So when I dared to dice an onion ever so slightly differently from his recommended method, it normally ended with a sigh of exasperation before the knife was whipped out of my hand so that he could do it instead. After a while, I sort of just gave up.
Years went by and suddenly I was about to go off to university and survive by myself for the first time and I realised that I literally did not know how to cook anything. Although my fears were slightly allayed when I discovered that someone else in my flat didn’t know how to boil a kettle. Even I can manage that.
This led to me living largely on oven food for the first couple of months of my uni life. Don’t get me wrong, oven food is great in that it is simple and quick, but it kinda gets boring eating chicken kievs twice a week every week. So, in about November, I braved it and took down from my shelf the folder which my Mum had given me as a sort of going-away present which contained some of the family-favourite recipes that I was used to eating at home. Off I went to Tesco to fetch the ingredients and that afternoon, I made my very first chili con carne. I know that people may laugh at my lack of kitchen skills ("oooh a 19 yr old girl who can’t cook? Get in the kitchen love!" Hello to you too 21st century misogyny) but you know, everyone has to start somewhere.
I could not have been happier with the result of my chili. It was delicious and I proudly showed it off to all of my flat who congratulated me on my new-found adulthood.
This was when I discovered the secret to surviving university in terms of cooking for one person. It can be quite difficult to shop for just yourself; figuring out what you’ll need and how much you’ll need of what. Most recipes are designed for 2 or 4 people, and even if you scale them down to be for 1 person, just buying the ingredients for 1 serving isn’t always easy either. I wanted to start cooking more for myself, but I also didn’t want to be standing there slaving away every night, so I found the solution. Again, this may sound perfectly obvious to a lot of other people with a higher degree of culinary education/experience than me, but for me it was a revelation.
Now, I buy enough ingredients to make a meal for a family of four and cook in bulk. One portion for me, three portions for the freezer to be whipped out another day. Less time cooking, more food made. So many meals can be frozen really easily, such as chili, bolognese, pies etc. Any kind of sauce for pasta or anything like that can be frozen, and then you just defrost it the day you want to eat it, heat it up in the microwave and cook the pasta/rice etc and there you have it – your meal in 15 mins max.
And that is the perfect plan for cooking for one at university.
This week is shepherd’s pie and I’m really rather looking forward to it…