by Aparajita Bhandari
University is a time for learning, not just the laws of physics or the factors leading to the Trojan War but also for acquiring basic life skills – including learning how to cook for yourself. Now, I started this year with very limited cooking skills. I could boil pasta, make a passable omelette, microwave popcorn, and really that was it. My current cooking abilities are still embarrassingly limited but in the last five months I’ve learned enough to neither starve, nor contract scurvy nor burn down the house, which I consider an accomplishment. Today I will share some of my food preparation secrets with you.
Your freezer is your best friend
I share one fridge with five other housemates so fridge space is pretty limited and freezer space even more so. We got a second larger freezer in our house because freezing food honestly makes life so much easier. You can buy meat in bulk when it’s cheap, cut it up, wrap it in meal sized portions and keep it in the freezer for months, saving you from the hassle of constantly having to go out to buy meat. However, avoid refreezing raw meat or fish that’s been thawed as it increases the chance of bacteria growing. Frozen vegetables contain all the nutritional value of fresh vegetables and can be stored for many months. Another smart thing to do is to spend one afternoon cooking many meals and then freezing them. They will come in handy during busy weeks such as finals when you need a fast meal.
Invest in herbs and spices
Inevitably most of your meals will just be variations of the same few basic recipes, which you’ll probably grow tired of really quickly. Adding seasoning, even just black pepper and salt, will be where your meals will get their variety. However, be careful not to go overboard with these additions, or the taste will be overpowering.
There are lots of guidelines that you can find online on which herbs should be paired with what food so you can consult those if you’re unsure. Experimenting is how you learn so don’t be afraid to try some new combinations. To get you started, here’s one guide to possible herb and food pairings.
Invest in cooking equipment
You don’t need a huge range of fancy gadgets but a few appliances can make your life a lot easier. Slow cookers are great because you add the ingredients in the morning, leave for the day and then come home to a ready-to-eat hot meal. I would recommend getting a toaster oven rather than a toaster, as it can be also be used to bake smaller things in place of the main oven.
When you’ve had class all day and you come home already hungry it’s hard to motivate yourself to cook a healthy meal, especially when fast food places are so abundant near campus. Planning ahead makes the cooking process easier for when these types of situations arise. Make sure you always have the basics on hand: flour, eggs, milk, butter, oil, bread and rice. Canned beans, tomatoes and fish have very long shelf lives and can come in really handy to substitute when you are running low on other groceries. I personally detest the process of cutting up ingredients (mostly because I’m clumsy and often cut myself) so I buy pre-cut produce and meats when I can. It’s a little bit more costly but it greatly simplifies the cooking process for me so I find it worth the extra money.
Honestly, the best way to learn how to cook is to just go and try it. I think that I used to overestimate the difficulty of cooking which prevented me from trying out new recipes, but it actually has been really easy to learn. Cooking can actually be a lot of fun and even stress-relieving, so go grab a pot, find a recipe and make something delicious (or at least edible). Although we’ve gotten the hang of actually cooking, we need to work on cleaning up after cooking. One step at a time, I guess.
Got any cooking tips or favorite recipes? Share them below and help all of us out!