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Student cooking survival guide

The basics

cooking pasta

There are loads of different shapes and sizes of pasta. I would recommend buying dried pasta as it's cheaper and lasts longer. However, if you are cooking a nice meal it's worth splashing out on the fresh stuff. Fresh pasta just needs blanching in boiling water for a minute or so, whereas dried pasta can take anywhere between 8 and 12 minutes to cook. You will be able to find specific instructions on how long it takes to cook each type of pasta on the packet. Generally speaking, you need to place a large pan on the hob and fill it about two thirds full of water. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring this to the boil. Add you pasta and cook for as long as the instructions tell you too, or until the pasta is cooked but 'al dente' which means 'firm to the tooth'.

cooking rice

Rice is a little more complicated than pasta and traditionally requires rinsing in cold water before being cooked, However, you can now buy 'easy cook' rice which you can generally just boil. It is worth putting in the effort to achieve well cooked rice as either plain or with a little spice, rice can really make a meal.

cooking potatoes

Potatoes can be cooked in a million and one different ways:

Jaked-bakes

The easiest is probably baked potatoes. To do this, simply place large baking potatoes in a hot oven and cook for about an hour until the skin is crispy and a skewer can be easily pushed through the potato with no resistance. These can be served very simply with any of the following; butter, cheese, coleslaw, tuna mayo, chilli, cream cheese, prawn mayonnaise or as a side dish with meat.

If you want a slightly different twist on the traditional jacket potato, see the recipe below for 'twice-baked' potatoes

Boiled

Drop baby, new or salad potatoes into boiling salted water until cooked. Serve hot with butter as a side dish to fish or meat or serve cold chopped up in salads.

Mashed

Mashed potatoes are fairly easy to make too. Peel the potatoes and chop into larger-than-bitesize pieces. Drop the potatoes into boiling water until they are cooked. Drain the potatoes into a colander and return them to the pan which should now be off the heat. Add a knob of butter a splash of milk or cream and season with salt and pepper. Mash thoroughly and serve with pretty much anything. A favourite winter meal is mashed potato, sausages and lashings of onion gravy = yum!

Roasted

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7, 200 C. Begin as you would for mashed potatoes; peel, chop into large chunks and boil for about 10 minutes until the edges are fluffy. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return them to a pan. Hold the lid onto the pan and shake until the edges on the potatoes are fluffed up. Transfer the potatoes to an oven proof dish. Heat about a third of a block of lard in a small saucepan until sizzling. Pour the fat over the potatoes, ensuring that all the potatoes are coated, and place the dish containing the potatoes in the hot oven. You will cook the potatoes for about 40 minutes until they are crispy all over.

Twice baked potatoes

These potatoes can be stuffed with pretty much anything, they are great for using up leftovers!

Ingredients

You will need:

You will also need your choice of filling, here are a couple of my favourite combinations:

Method

  1. Set the oven to Gas mark 7, 200C.
  2. Chuck in your potatoes for about an hour until they are cooked.
  3. Take them out of the oven, cut the in half lengthways and carefully scrape out the middle into a bowl. (They will be hot!) Be careful not to break the potato skins as you will need them in a minute.
  4. Add your chosen filling (If using meat or tough veggies cook these first) along with come salt, pepper, butter and half a beaten egg.
  5. Mash all of this together and then spoon the mash mixture back into the potato skin shells.
  6. Place the refilled potatoes back into the oven and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until your mixture is piping hot all the way through.

Serve with salad, baked beans or on their own.

Roux sauce

An important basic in cooking is a roux sauce (pronounced rou). This is simply butter and flour cooked together to form the basis of many sauces. A lot of people thin roux sauce is complicated to make but it's vary easy. Here is a video of how to make a roux:

Roux sauce video

You would most commonly use a roux sauce as the base of making a white sauce. (A roux with milk). This whit sauce can be poured over lasagne, or you can add cheese to make macaroni cheese, or white wine for a white sauce that goes well with fish.

A cheap jar of white lasagne sauce from the supermarket will cost you around £1.30, but to make your own white sauce will cost you about 30p and will taste nicer - so it is really worth learning how to cook this:

Here is a video of how to make white (also called bechemel) sauce to top a lasagne:

Bechemal sauce video

finding and following recipes

Recommended Further Reading

It's always useful to have a couple of cookbooks handy, but if you have the internet at home you have access to hundreds of thousands of recipes for free. You can either google recipes, look them up on youtube (which is great for complex techniques) or search for them on your favourite sites. I really love the bbc food site. It has hundreds of good recipes written by top chefs, and you can search by ingredient which is a great way to use up left-overs.

As with all things on the internet, some information is better than others, and some recipes will be awful (such as the bonjela sandwich mentioned above!) However, you will learn which sites are useful and which chef's recipes you like the most.

For example, Delia smith is a very precise cook, everything is weighed and measured and cooked to perfection. Jamie Oliver on the other hand doesn't really bother with weighing ingredients, he just chucks 'a bit of this' and 'a bit of that' in. Yeah, pukka mate, innit.

I much prefer Jamie Oliver's style of cooking because that's how I naturally cook, and also because I don't have any scales! You will also find your cooking style and begin to adapt recipes to this style after a while.

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