Friday, 13 May 2011

10 Tips for The Beginner Cook

This is a blog post aimed at anyone who is starting to cook! I’ve included a few tips on cooking methods as well as a few simple recipes to get you started! Then you can have a go at the other recipes on my blog!

This is mainly aimed at students, whether you are going to uni for the first time in September, or you’re a fresher who’s fed up of pot noodles and frozen pizzas, this is the place to start!

I hope they help!


Before you start cooking there are a few things you need to make sure you have. You don’t need any fancy gadgets when you’re just starting out, but if you’re off to uni in September I’d bear these in mind.

A frying pan – this can be used to cook ALL sorts including stir-frys so don’t worry about a wok!

A small pan – this will be good for making sauces and cooking things like peas!

A medium size pan – for pasta, rice, boiling potatoes etc. (Don’t get a large pan because you will find it hard to stick to portions for one!)

A flipper - Technical term or what!? You’ll need this for any oven baked goods and getting your omelette out perfectly!

A wooden spoon.

A sharp knife – you really can live with just one! I spent the majority of my time at uni with an Asda’s basics vegetable knife; I think it cost less than 50p!

An oven tray.

An oven dish – for pasta bakes, shepherds pies, lasagnes etc!

This really is all you will need!

Happy cooking!

How to heat oil safely

Now, this sounds like a no brainer! BUT I guarantee at least once during your uni years you will come close to setting your pan on fire, when you leave your oil heating for too long!

This is particularly a problem with stir fry’s where you want the pan hot...but not on fire!

The signs of overheating:

·         Small bubbles starting to form

·         A sheen of smoke over the oils surface

Turning it down won’t stop it overheating so take it off of the heat straight away!

By keeping an eye on your pan, and using a bigger pan, and less oil where possible you won’t end up setting halls fire alarms off, and are less likely to burn yourself with spitting oil!

How to defrost food safely

Anyone on a budget will know it’s cheaper to buy in bulk and freeze for later!

If you’re going to freeze your food its best to let it thoroughly defrost before you cook it to avoid any upset stomachs.

To thaw meat, you can either place it in the fridge at the start of the day so it will be ready for the evening, or for a speedier method, place the meat (which I’m assuming will be in some sort of cling film/freezer bag) and plunge in cool water. Change the water every half an hour.

You can defrost meat in a microwave, but often even the defrost settings partially cook the meat so I would avoid this method!

With home-made meals (e.g. lasagne, or chilli) that have been defrosted after cooking, again it is best to defrost these over a long period of time, but these dishes can be defrosted in a microwave, and then re-heated again in the microwave safely!

How to cook the perfect pasta

You will want a BIG pan to cook your pasta in, and roughly a litre of water in your pan for every portion (which is roughly 100g)

Add half a tsp of salt NO olive oil (this stops the pasta absorbing the water, and sauce, and just makes it fattening for no reason!)

Make sure the water is fiercely boiling before you pop the pasta in.

Check the pasta after 8 mins, then 9 then 10 etc until it is done. You want it slightly firm but not hard (a.k.a al dente!)

Drain it in the colander making sure you leave a little moisture on the pasta, no one wants dry pasta!!!

Add your sauce and serve!

This will give you perfect pasta every time! No more bits of pasta stuck at the bottom, of lifeless floppy soggy pasta.

People will soon start asking you if you were a chef in Italy on your gap year!

How to make a dippy egg!

First you will need an egg (or two) take this out of the fridge now so it gets to room temperature.

Start boiling a pan of water (or the kettle) once you have the water boiling steadily in a pan, plunge your eggs into the water.

Time for EXACTLY 3 mins.

Take out. Pop in your egg cup soldiers. And make yourself some soldiers (in other words toast!)

The egg cup will keep it warm without letting the yolk go hard.

Knock off the top of your egg and you’re done!

How to make a jacket potato – that doesn’t take HOURS in the oven.

Cut off any “eyes” from your potatoes (a.k.a. sprouty bits) and give them a bit of a scrub if you so wish (a bit of dirt never killed anyone!)

Prick it all over with a fork and place in your microwave for 10mins.

During this time pre-heat your oven as high as it goes!

Once the potato has finished in the microwave (and don’t worry, it will look a bit shrivelled put it straight in the oven.

In 5 to 10 mins it will be nice and crisp and ready for beans, coleslaw, cheese, tuna or even chilli on top!

How to stir-fry like your favourite Chinese!

Stir fry is the quickest easiest way of getting veg into your food.

The key really is to preparing everything before! You can chop up your veg however you want. Long and slightly chunky is best to keep the texture.

Veg that works brilliant include, peppers, mushrooms, spring onion, carrot, mange tout, baby sweetcorn, asparagus and anything else you can think of!

If you want something more authentic you can get bean sprouts and tins of bamboo shoots!

All you have to do is heat your wok (or frying pan) until it’s super hot. You can do this with vegetable oil, or a specialist stir fry oil (Asda do their own for 91p!)

Once the pan is fiercely hot chuck in your veg (if you have meat do this first until it is cooked)

Stir for 2 mins max!

If you have a sauce chuck it in now, if not a dash of soy sauce will do fine!

Stir in the wok for an extra min and it is done!

This can be served with noodles or rice!

Jamie Oliver does 30 minute meals. We do 3 minute meals!

How to make an omelette

Melt some butter in a pan.

Whisky up 2 eggs, a splash of milk and salt and pepper in a bowl (or alternatively a mug...we are students after all)

When the butter stops bubbling add in the egg mix.

Push the egg mix into the centre of the pan as it cooks letting the raw egg flow back out to keep its circular shape.

Let it all set and form a circle.

It will then be easy to flip out of the pan on to your plate!

Sprinkle with cheese and you have the perfect omelette!

How to make a basic cheese sauce

Grate a MASSIVE pile of cheese...I like it cheesy...half a block?

Melt a big knob of butter in a pan (on a VERY low heat)

Add a big tablespoon of flour (doesn’t matter what kind...whatever you have in the cupboard!)

Mix until it forms a paste.

Slowly add milk making the paste smooth but getting thinner (obv the more sauce you want to make the more milk you use!)

Keeping the pan on a low heat and let it start to form the consistency of a creamy sauce and add the cheese. (Again the more sauce you want to make the more cheese you will need to add)

Let the cheese melt.

Season to taste! And pour all over the PERFECT pasta you made earlier!

This is a basic sauce and you can make it more exciting adding different types of cheese, and if you’re really posh, nutmeg etc.

How to make a basic gravy

You’ve just fried off some sausages...made mash, got some peas...but don’t have any gravy! What do you do?

Thinly slice some onions and fry them off in the sausage juices.

Add a big spoon of flour and mix together as best as possible!

Pour water over the mixture, and stir so the flour, onion and juice all melts together.

Let it thicken over the heat and you have a quick onion gravy to go with your sausages! Perfect!

If you’re feeling more adventurous, this blog includes recipes for:

·         Fairy Cakes

·         Home-made Pizza Dough

·         Curry from scratch

And much, much more!

This is the home of quick, simple, healthy (most of the time) but most importantly cheap food!

Enjoy the recipes!



  1. "Add half a tsp of salt NO olive oil (this stops the pasta absorbing the water, and sauce, and just makes it fattening for no reason!"

    Lol! No it doesn't. Olive oil absorbs the starch out of the pasta. The pasta will still absorb the water. lol It won't absorb much of the olive oil...
    And pasta is more "fattening" than olive oil serving size wise.

  2. This is so helpful! I wish I had this list and all of these tips before I went to uni, would have saved alot of time scouring the internet!

  3. How interest, our home ec teacher always told us the Olive Oil thing would not help at all (shows what she knew haha) and that the sauce would take to the pasta much better if we did not include the olive oil! I guess different people have different ways of doing things!

    And Xinmei, hopefully a few students coming to uni in September will find this :) I'm already planning a series of posts on how to cook on a budget for the summer!



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