Cooking for Yourself
The Campaign Against Sandwiches
University was the first time I had to buy/cook almost all my food for myself.This can be a major step up for people who have done virtually no cookingbefore; I at least knew my way about a hob and an oven, and was alreadycomfortable making pasta and a few other things, so I was able to impress myflat-mates with some very basic meals in the first few weeks.
In this situation, there can be a temptation to just live on sandwiches andmicrowave meals. This can work to start with if you really don’t know how tocook, but these options can be unhealthy, expensive, and potentially boring ifyou don’t eventually branch out. I hope that with this post I can convincesomeone to try cooking.
One of the biggest barriers against cooking can be simply not knowing how, orbeing too nervous to try to use kitchen appliances. Here are some basic mealsuggestions for getting to grips with the “big three”:
- Microwave: Baked beans;
- Oven: Pizza;
- Hob: Pasta.
For the pasta, you’ll need a pan, so I’ll mention cooking equipment.
- Frying pan: A large frying pan, ideally with a lid, is great forsauces and stir fries.
- Cooking pot or steamer: You’ll need one of these to cook pasta andrice, as well as for boiling vegetables (mostly potatoes). A nice trick canbe to get a multi-level steamer, since this adds a fair bit of versatility.The base layer works as a normal cooking pot, and steaming is one of theeasiest ways to cook vegetables. One of the steaming layers will even workas a makeshift colander if you’re trying to save money.
- Utensils: As a minimum, get a wooden spoon for stirring sauces.Metal spoons can damage non-stick pans, causing the surface to start flakingoff, which really isn’t great.
- Knives and Chopping Board: You only need one chopping board,provided you’re careful about contamination. It’s helpful to have at leasttwo sizes of knife for different sizes of ingredient, and for them beseriously sharp.
If you’re worried about getting food poisoning, you can avoid meat, eggs andfish, since these are the main foods that can cause it. I ate a low-meat dietduring my first year, with the occasional chicken or salmon meal being the mostI would have in a typical week.
Cooking in Bulk
Let’s say you’re able to make a meal like pasta and tomato sauce now.Great! It’s tasty and filling, but then you have to wash up. This isone of the main downsides of cooking your own food.
One option to mitigate this is to cook a larger batch of food, and put what youdon’t eat in the fridge (or another person if you’re sociable). This willoften be as simple as just putting more of the ingredients into the pan!
Something like a tomato sauce can then be re-heated in a bowl in the microwaveon another day. It’s worth noting that some foods can be dangerous to eatre-heated (notably rice), so check whether what you’re cooking is safe tore-heat, and how long it will last in the fridge.
A similar tip I got was to chop a lot of vegetables ahead of time and put themin pots in the fridge. Similarly to cooking in bulk, once you have the knifeand chopping board out, it isn’t much more effort to chop more vegetables thanyou need for the next meal. This can be a time-consuming task, so havingpre-chopped vegetables to hand is useful if, for example, you want to cookyourself something for lunch, between other important tasks.
Now you’re a chef in the making! Try looking up recipes online, or considergetting a cook book. Once you have a standard complement of about 5 meals, youcan try making minor variations on them by replacing or adding certainingredients. Have fun!