~Notes from Luigi~
I can think of two very good reasons, just from the top of my head, why everyone should partcipate in "home cooking".
Firstly it is healthier;
Secondly it is cheaper.
The problem is alot of people perceive home cooking as either 'too complicated', or 'too time consuming'. Neither of these, is the case at all for most people though. I believe that the #1 reason why most people eat readymade meals, take aways, packet mixes, stir-in sauces or the ilk, wether they want to admit it or not, is that they are TOO lazy to cook. Period.
Just think of all the harm that all that packaging, production, and transportation costs are doing to the natural environment! There should be a ready meal tax, and less tax on fuel!
In the unlikely event, that your in the minority of people who don't know how to cook, or are keen to venture into the realm of home cooking for financial or health reasons, I hope this review will be of some use.
~Succesful Home Cooking~
When it comes to food I am a complete anal retentive. I make everything from scratch, other than most condiments, and I never EVER use any readymade sauces, or packet mixes at all. In fact I abhorr them, and think them to be a complete waste of money.
Obviously I eat out in resturaunts, but calorie laden take aways, are a definite NO-NO.
If I want Chinese, I make it.
If I want Indian I make it.
If I want Japanese, I'll go to Japan!
(yes there are limits, and Japanese is one of them)
Essentially all you need to be a succesful home cook, are a few basic principles;
-Have a well stocked larder
-Plan ahead where possible
-Learn the basics
So lets start the way I always like too, from the bottom up.
Learning the basics;
By learning the basics, I mean you need to have a grasp of basic skills.
-How to make a white sauce
-How to portion a whole chicken seperating and using breasts, thighs, wings, carcasses.
-How to make basic recipes
And things like how to make a stock, how to make a few basic sauces, how to season food properly, how to make a few basic recipes, and make them well.
Essentially you can learn all of these by either reading a book, or watching a few cookery shows, and then by lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of trial and error. Don't be scared of messing up. As the famous artist Bob Ross said, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. Fortunately with cooking, unlike art, you can eat most 'happy accidents'.
Plan ahead where possible;
If you are going to be wanting chicken tonight, its no use going home and discovering you do not have any. So when you do your weekly shop have some idea of what stock levels are like, to make sure you have all the ingredients for what your likely to fancy during the coming week.
In addition it is a good idea to visit a website such as "mysupermarket.co.uk" and find what deals are on, for things like fresh meat or poultry and stock up when the offers are running.
Keeping Stock of Stock;
Lastly the most important part of home cooking; The well stocked pantry/larder is what makes the difference between being able to make that dish, or having to use packet mixes.
From the below essentials, you will be able to create practically anything at all!
Essential Store-cupboard Items
-Various flours, including wholemeal, Strong white, Rye etc.
-White and Brown Sugar
-Dried fast acting yeast for breads, pizza's etc,
-Maldon Sea Salt, Rock Salt, and Whole Peppercorns
-Spice selection; Paprika, Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Coriander, Garam Masala, Chilli Powder, Tumeric, Vanilla Pods, Mustard seeds, Sesame Seeds, Star Anise, Chinese five Spice, All Spice, Mixed Spice, Cinnamon powder, Cinnamon Sticks, Others you fancy!
-Dried herbs; Oregano, Dill, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Parsley, Mint, Basil (albeit the latter three lose alot of flavour in dried form)
-Pine Nuts, Hazel Nuts, Walnuts, Cashew nuts (once opened freeze nuts to keep them fresh)
-Tinned fruit, Pineapple, Peach, Pear
-Soy Sauce (light and dark)
-American Long Grain Rice
-Yellow Split Pears
-Stock cubes, Vegetable, Chicken and Beef
-White wine vinegar
-Red wine vinegar
-Whole grain, and English Mustard
-Fresh herbs such as Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary
-Butter (real butter)
-Cheese, Parmesan, Cheddar, a Blue Cheese, Mozaerlla
-Cream, Sour, Double etc
(note Celery, Carrot and Onion form the basis for so many recipes always have those)
-Chicken portions (buy whole, portion them yourself)
-Turkey thighs diced (cheap, great for curries)
-Pork Belly, Chops, Loins
-Lamb, Leg, Shoulder, Chops
-Beef Joints, Steaks, cheaper cuts for stews
-Minces; Pork, Lamb, Beef
-Frozen fish such as salmon steaks, cod fillets, squid, etc.
-Fronze Green Beans,
-Frozen Mixed Vegetables,
~A few Ideas~
Fancy a Chinese? Stuff the take-away, try this healthy version of a takeaway favourite.
Sweet and Sour Pork;
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
2 squeezes of Tomato Ketchup
2 tablespoons of Soy Sauce, Light
2 tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar
Some diced pork,
1 onion cut into large chunks
Some diced pineapple
Mix together a few tablespoons of brown sugar into 100ml water, into it add a couple of good squeezes of tomato ketchup, and a couple of tablespoons of Soy sauce (light), then add a few tablespoons of flour, and two tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Stir together, and heat until it becomes thickens slightly, and is nice and sticky.
Meanwhile, fry off some pork chunks when virtually cooked, throw in the onion, and lastly after a few more minutes of cooking add the pineapple.
Over this pour the previously made sweet and sour sauce, and serve this over some plain boiled american long grain rice. Lovely!
Fancy something Italian, this Italian Pasta bake, is moron proof.
Fry some onion and garlic, add a dozen or so de-seeded tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato puree some dried herbs, some water. Cook for ten-fifteen minutes, pour over cooked pasta, put into an oven proof dish, place some mozeralla in around the pasta, grate parmesan over the top, bake for twenty minutes in a hot oven. Eat.
Wait, what about a garlic bread to go with it. Griddle a slice of thick bread, oil it well (very very genorously) with olive oil first, once done, and nicely charred, rub a half of freshly cut garlic over it. It will taste better than any shop purchased one.
~Healthy and Financially rewarding~
It is a known fact, ready made meals, packet mixes and sauces are laden with salts (generally). That is not even taking into account other nasties lurking amongst the ingredients.
If you make things from scratch, you know exactly what is going in there, and more importantly what you are shovelling into your mouth!
Also by cooking with more fresh ingredients, you are actually consuming more vitamins and trace elements. Quite often the manufacturing process destroys these in ready meals, and the manufacturers bolster the levels with chemical alternatives.
So what about saving money, if I purchase your recommended larder contents it will cost a fortune?
Well yes it will initially, but once you are just maintaining what you have, you will be saving a fortune by not needing other products you used to purchase.
These days I cook nearly all our meals from scratch apart from the odd quick snack or occasional take-a-way.
Meals cooked from scratch usually taste better, unless I am trying out an experiment, which can sometimes go very wrong. I try not to let it worry me if something does go wrong though. It is the best way to learn what works and what doesn't.
It is also far cheaper to cook from scratch than to use processed food all the time. I do still use frozen vegetables and tinned vegetables and I will occasionally use sauce from a jar if I am short of time. The important thing is, that it should be enjoyable. Do not try to do so much, that you become harassed. This is when it stops being enjoyable and becomes a chore.
I do prefer to use fresh veggies whenever possible and love making my own cheese sauce, which I have never found an alternative for. More than anything though, I love to bake. I always make my own scotch pancakes and crumpets and I make a brilliant fruit loaf. Whenever I find a recipe that works out really well, I write it in my recipe book. This is a great way of building up a list of meals, snacks etc., that you can rely on to turn out well.
When you first start out cooking your own meals, it can cost a small fortune buying all those store cupboard ingredients. It really is not necessary to have every herb and spice in the supermarket. I have slowly built up my stores by buying a new ingredient every week or so. It's amazing how quickly it builds up and you do find that as your confidence grows, you will be able to change recipes to suit what you have in your store cupboard.
I believe that being able to cook is a great gift to pass to your children. My oldest son especially, is always offering to help me cook and I usually take him up on his offer. I love to see my kids enjoying cooking and it makes me feel good, knowing they will be capable of looking after themselves one day (at least in the food department).
If you do want to start cooking from scratch - go for it! Try not to take it all too seriously, you will make mistakes! Make sure that you have fun, experiment and be brave.
You may just find that as well as saving some cash, you are more than capable of making some mouth-watering dishes, which you and your family will love.
I know that there are a lot of very busy women who have little time to stand in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove and if I was at work all day long then more than likely I would only be too glad to stick something into the microwave. But I class myself as being very fortunate, I worked for many years but I am now a full time housewife who does have time to stand in the kitchen.
Semi-retirement is good because it allows you to pursue interests that you never had the time for before but it does mean living on a much smaller income but that is something that you just become accustomed to after a while.
The cheaper cuts of meat have always been my favourite to cook and eat and provided that you allow plenty of time to prepare and cook then they are an inexpensive way of providing a good hearty meal.
A couple of decades ago offal was very popular, liver was a regular on the menu, I used to cook stuffed lambs hearts and grilled kidneys on fried bread were considered a delicacy. Just mention offal to any of the younger members of my family and it incites a riot, they have strong views about eating animals innards !
But there are plenty of good cuts of meat that you can buy quite cheaply. Most of the cheaper cuts of meat need longer cooking times and my favourite cuts include Brisket of beef, Shin of beef, stewing steak, minced beef or minced steak, stewing lamb and shoulder of pork chops.
All of these cuts can be put into a pan with onions and vegetables, browned off on the hob, have a good stock added to them and be cooked slowly for three or four hours.
The slower you cook the meat the more tender it will be, as the the meat, onion and vegetables cook together the stock becomes very tasty and at the end when the contents of the pot are well cooked through then you can thicken the meat and vegetables using either plain flour or if you prefer some gravy granules.
These one pot meals are delicious served with roast, creamed or boiled potatoes. If you like you can add dumplings to the top of the mixture or you could consider adding a cobbler topping ( a plain scone mixture ). Even an odd Yorkshire pudding wouldn't go amiss, they are a good filler.
Although we have an allotment and we do get a lot of our vegetables for next to nothing I have been visiting Lidls lately and they have had some very cheap seasonal vegetables on offer. Carrots, swede, parsnip, Savoy cabbage have all been under 30p.
These wholesome meals are not going to suit everyone, some may look at them and put them firmly in the past. But if you are looking of ways of feeding a family on a tight budget then home cooking and baking is most certainly the way to do it.
Once a week I like to get my mixing basin out and bake. I have it off pat and I find that I can produce quite an array of cakes in a very short time.
Often I will make up a large quantity of Victoria Sponge mixture and work from there. Some it it will be made into fruity buns, some of the buns will be iced, a few will be topped with chocolate and I never fail to make a half a dozen butterfly cakes.
If I have sufficient mixture then I will make a jam sandwich cake, this always goes down well.
Victoria sponge mixture uses equal parts of self raising flour, soft margarine or butter and caster sugar and for every 2 ounces you need to add one egg.
None of these ingredients are tremendously expensive and for a minimal amount of money you can produce a good quantity of cake that the whole family will enjoy.
We love puddings but they are not something that we indulge in every day. Yet again many of the old fashioned puddings are cheap and easy to make.
A rice pudding cost just pence and it is filled with goodness as well as being very comforting.
Semolina is another of our favourites but we have to have a blob of jam to plonk in the middle of it !
Steamed sponges are again easy to make and inexpensive to produce, though you do have to have time to keep an eye on the saucepan while the pudding is steaming.
All of the kids in our family love jelly and custard, If I make `pink custard` ( blancmange ) they are thrilled.
Large tubs of vanilla ice cream can be very cheap to buy so you cam always throw in a scoop of ice cream for good measure.
There is no doubt in my mind that cooking from scratch can be time consuming but there is also no doubt in my mind that it is by far the cheaper way.
When you cook, you are in charge, you know exactly what you are putting into that dish or that cake and I find that gratifying.
If I can make a little go a long way then I feel quite chuffed with myself. Only recently I was reading an article online about Wartime rationing and when you take a look at what they had to cope with then in truth we are blessed.
What I have learned about cooking, I have learned from books and from my own experimentation in the kitchen. That said, I definitely prefer to cook things myself rather than to buy pre-prepared meals from a supermarket. Here are some of my tips:
When you are buying an ingredient for one specific meal, look for other meals you can make with it or see if you can find an alternative you already have. A lot of what I make I find additional recipes that I can make from a certain ingredient and it saves time if you already have that in the cupboards or the freezer.
Use the freezer. Wrapping ingredients in cling film and foil or in a plastic tub mean that you can take odd bits of vegetables that haven't been used yet, leftover portions of meals you have already made and even cakes and biscuits and put them in the freezer for another day. I try to do this a lot, and when I have the oven on to bake a pizza, I'll make up a batch of cupcakes to go on the middle shelf to make the most of the oven space.
Making a tomato-based sauce in bulk is a great start to a lot of different meals. Putting a tin of chopped tomatoes with some garlic, herbs and seasonings - don't forget to taste to make sure you like it means you have the basic sauce for a chilli con carne, or a spaghetti bolognese or even pizza sauce.
I always find the kitchen (and indeed the rest of the house) smell amazing after I've made something and it always makes me feel proud when people sniff the air and go "mmm".
Food is an incredibly important aspect of life, and being able to prepare it equally so. Especially as we live in an age where wild ready meals lumber about all over the place, low in taste, high in fat and salt.
What follows is an incredibly easy process for making your own pizza. Tastes better than the supermarket, is a bit healthier and it's fun to make (especially for kids).
What you will need:
300ml of warmish water
1tbsp of dried yeast
55g strong white flour (including some for dusting to prevent sticking)
Put the salt and flour into a bowl then add the yeast
Slowly add warm water until the mixture is one big sticky ball (not too much now)
Whack the dough onto your work surface (dusted lightly with flour) and thrash it to within an inch of its life. Knead (massage) the dough with the intention of trapping as much air into the mixture as possible (this will keep it light and help it rise).
When you are happy (probably after around 5-10 minutes) and the dough is nice and stretchy place in a bowl or container and cover with clingfilm. Leave the dough for around an hour.
The mixture should have doubled or trebled in size, take it out of the bowl and roll it out, any shape you want really, a circle a square or even a heart maybe. Go round the edges and with your fingers just pinch a little crust up around. If you dont like crusts you can leave this part out but it does make the pizza less messy to pick up and eat.
once you have put on your toppings (I put a thin layer of tomato paste over the base, sprinkled with salt, then added grated cheddar, streaky bacon and chopped portabello mushrooms), transfer the pizza to a preheated oven at 180 degrees (fan assisted) or 200 degrees non fan assisted.
Thats the 'hard' (or if you prefer incredibly easy) part done now all you have to do is wait until the cheese melts, the bacon cooks and the dough turns a deep golden colour (in my fan assisted oven this took 40 minutes).
Hopefully you'll find your pizza is delicious and far better than any supermarket offerings. And the beauty is, you can chop and change with ingredients. Why not try making your own tomato paste to put on, with chili, vegetables or whatever you like. Add mozzarella instead or as well as cheddar and pile on any combination of toppings your little heart desires.
It's so quick and easy to make and if your not an absolute masterchef (like me) it gives you a real sense of satisfaction. It'll keep your kids out of mischief for an hour or so to.
From start to finish the pizza took about two hours to prepare (including the hour to let it rise and cooking time). Be prepared though to get very messy, the dough feels a little strange and cements itself all over your hands. A small price to pay though for such a tasty result.
I would be the first to admit that I am not a naturally talented cook. However I do love cooking, these tips have just come from my own personal experience and I hope that they may be helpful or interesting to someone....somewhere....
1) Learn the basics for certain dishes....
I am referring to dishes like soups, risottos, stir fries, stews and curries. I say this for many reasons. Firstly, they are largely wholesome and nutritious (well, depending on the ingredients that you use. Secondly many of these dishes can be cooked in bulk and in advance for eating later. This is particularly good if you know you have a long day ahead and won't want to cook when you get home. And, above all, these dishes are incredibly versatile as to what you put in them, be that meat or veg. This is especially good if you have leftover cold meat or any veg which is lurking in your larder or fridge at the end of your weekly/fortnightly shop.
2) Ensure that you build up a good herb and spice rack
These ingredients go well in curries, with mayonnaise for a dressing, spicing up potato dishes, couscous, sauces and marinades with the minimum of effort. Own brand herbs and spices in supermarkets are quite cheap and you can buy refill packs. Julian Graves sells herbs and spices in bags which can be decanted into any spare herb and spice pots that you have lying around; they are particularly good for chunky cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods.
3) Know when to splurge when buying equipment and utensils
A good set of knives are well worthwhile, making easy work of food preparation. A good food processor will be especially designed so that it is easy to put together and clean and will process food to the right consistency for further preparation. But, above everything else something you must invest in is a good set of non-stick pans (including a wok). My personal favourites come from Tefal but Tesco and Lakeland do fine own brand ones. They minimise your need for oil, and remain undamaged and easy to clean if you do 'catch' your cooking.
4) Build yourself a good recipe collection
The best bit about this tip is that it can cost you virtually nothing to get a great everyday recipe base. Most supermarkets have free regular magazines that they give away instore. These tend to include recipes which are family orientated so not too expensive or complicated and with ingredients which are reasonably priced and that you are quite likely to have in the house anyway.
Newspapers, especially at weekends, tend to come with a number of recipes and associated food articles that may be useful. Websites such as the 'goodfoodchannel' and the food section of the BBC website have an enormous wealth of recipes which can be copied or printed yourself. They also have excellent search engines and are organised well within the site. If you actually want to buy some books without spending a massive amount of money then you could do worse than to try the Book People website or to buy a selection of student cookbooks (these are now contain a lot more info than just basic cooking info, encouraging healthy ingredients and cheap eating without slaving away for hours in the kitchen; especially if you are only cooking for yourself or one other person.
5) Search out local producers
A good farm shop within a reasonable distance is worth its weight in gold. Quality is often utmost and on a completely unaltruistic level - it does give you a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside when thinking about supporting local suppliers.
It is always nice to find a locally sourced ingredient which is really very special like a cheese or a locally produced drink like cider and then introduce friends and family to your discovery. An excellent place to search out and discover new products like this are at local festivals. There you often get to meet the actual producers face-to-face as well as to 'try before you buy'. You will probably be really surprised as to how many small local producers of quality products exist in your locality.
Many, many years ago there was a girl who moved out from her parent's home and went to University. She loved her new apartment and all the freedom that came with that but after tow weeks she was running short on money and couldn't afford having a Take Away every night anymore.
That pretty much sums up my experience when I moved out from home and discovered that 'cooking' is not only putting a pizza your mum bought in the oven. At first I was very enthusiastic about cooking but I soon realised that as a student I really have to watch my money. The first two weeks of abundance followed several weeks of spaghetti with pre-made sauce - every single evening. It took quite a while till I figured out how to cook nice and healthy dishes without spending much.
Here are some of the things I learned and I hope that they can save you a few pennies!
* Buy frozen vegetables and fruit
Yes, I know that many people prefer the fresh variety but lets face it, frozen vegetables have more vitamins and trace elements than the ones you pick up at the market just before they want to throw them away. There are usually a lot cheaper and pre-chopped which saves you time.
* Share products with friends
I love to have milk with my cereals for breakfast but not every day, just once in a while. Most of the time I throw milk away because it's gone off. So when you do your shopping agree with a friend to share your milk. Each of you gets half of the pack; you save money and don't have to throw the milk away. Same goes for big packs of cheese, big plastic bags with 2kilo potatoes etc.
* Freeze left-over wine
Cooking with wine is great - and I don't mean drinking while cooking - but opening a bottle of wine just for small dash to make the pasta sauce tastier? Sounds a bit like a waste. The easy solution is to freeze left-over wine in ice cubes. They are really handy and you save money!
* Don't be a food-snop
Buy own brand products, in most cases you won't taste any difference but you'll definitely feel the difference in your wallet.
* Be Organised!
Plan what you can/want to cook. I have a little recipe book with all my favourite recipes in the kitchen. Make sure that you only include recipes that you are confident to cook; there's no need to buy expensive beef when you already know that it will burn anyway. Stick to the thinks you can cook for everyday food and try something new once in a while but not every day.
Do your shopping based on this; don't buy tons of potatoes just because they're on offer. If you don't know a single recipe with potato then don't buy them before looking it up in a cook book.
Clean the kitchen area before you start cooking. Nothing is more annoying than finding out midway through a pasta dish that the cheese grinder is dirty and buried under tons of dirty plates in the sink.
Make yourself comfortable, work in a clean environment and have all things you need while cooking ready.
It's great to be organised but sometimes - especially at the end of the month - I have a fridge full of things that don't really work together. There are to options then, either throw everything away or be creative.
I usually mix everything together - sometimes with a great result.
The best for this is preparing a curry, just throw all the leftover veggies plus some beans or lentils in a wok, add coconut milk and curry paste - voila, a great dish with leftovers for only a few pence.
Have universal products at home!
To avoid running out of options always have a basic stock at home. Here are some products that are essential to create nice and cheap dishes, I'll try my best to have them always at home and there are so many different dishes you can create from these few ingredients:
Spices & Herbs
*Mixed Mediterranean herbs
*Sunflower and olive oil
Have fun cooking!
My grandma had diabetes but she loved sweets so much she would sometime try anything and everything to eat them. When I was with her when she was sick I would read so many recipe books and websites to try and make something she loves but with minimum sugar content. If you are diabetic or health conscious and want to avoid the sugary desserts, then try this cream caramel recipe. It is so light and so very tasty you won't crave for any sugary desserts anymore.
All the ingredients are low fat but still have similar taste to full fat products.
Just or caramelising there is 1 spoon of sugar used but you can totally avoid it if you want.
Low fat Cream Caramel-
2½ cups low fat milk
1 tablespoon custard powder
3 sachets sugar substitute
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
5 grams gelling agent- e.g.: gelatine or agar agar
1 teaspoon sugar for caramelising
1. Prepare the gelling agent as told on the pack- prepare a warm solution
2. In a pudding mould, add the sugar (for caramelising) and 1 teaspoon of water and continue cooking until the sugar becomes brown.
3. Spread the caramelised sugar all over the base of the mould, rotating the mould to spread it evenly. The sugar will harden quickly.
4. Mix the custard powder in ½ cup of cold milk.
5. Boil the remaining milk. When it comes to a boil, add the custard powder and milk mixture and continue cooking till you get a smooth sauce.
6. Add the gelling solution to the custard and boil again for 2 minutes.
7. Strain the mixture and cool it slightly. (Strain the mixture if it is lumpy).
8. Add the vanilla essence and sugar substitute and mix well. Pour this mixture over the prepared pudding mould. Allow to set in a refrigerator.
9. Before serving, loosen the sides with a sharp knife and invert on a plate.
10. Serve chilled.
I have tried this 4-5 times but the first couple of times, I just couldn't get it right. But now it comes perfect, so don't give up trying if the first time it becomes too watery or too hard- it's all a part of cooking.
Normally I would suggest the best tip for home cooking is to go to someone else home and let them cook that way you do not have to worry about the clearing up afterwards, you can make a half hearted offer but most hosts tell you not to worry and then you can sit back and relax with a clean conscience, naturally at some point you have to return the invite so you will have to cook.
My number one requirement for home cooking is a set of high quality and very sharp knives, that makes the perperation and serving of food so much easier in my opinion and it is worth the extra expense.
My other top tip is to make sure all your cooking appliances and utensils are at the right heat before you start cooking, that means to heat up the oven to the right temperature, if using a wok then it should be very hot, this helps seal in the flavours of the food when you drop them in, especially meat, and also keeps the veg crisp. The same goes for frying pan as well.
I find it ideal to have a nice big working space in which to work, cramped conditions lead to spills ad a greater risk of accidents in the kitchen, I try and cean as I go to prevent the pile up of pans and also to clean up any food spillages straight away.
Finally I find it pays to use good quality raw materials, the value mushrooms that Tesco sell are ok in a casserole or bolognese that is going to cook for a long time but rubbish for stir fry or if fried in garlic butter as they go soggy and have liitle flavour.
Ever thought of trying your hand at making a home made cake? Surely no one could resist the thought of being able to savour warm cake fresh out of the oven. If you've never made a cake before, or struggled to make one, let me give you a few tips to bake a perfect cake.
A basic cake needs flour, sugar, butter and eggs. Some recipes use milk in the batter as well. If it is a plain butter cake you'd also need some vanilla essence, it reduces the eggy smell from the cake. All ingredients need to be as fresh as possible, so if you have had your eggs in the fridge for a month and flour from last year don't expect Delia-esque cakes. Eggs are best when they're at room temperature when used. Flour should be as light as possible so make sure you sift it, along with the raising agents if you're using plain flour. Some people sift the flour about 6 or 7 times before baking as it apparently gives a very soft texture, sounds pretty sad to me though so I've never tried it. Keep all your ingredients on the worktop before you start so that everything is ready and you don't have to be surprised midway by realising that you don't have everything.
Meauring out quantities
Butter is easy enough to measure as you have markings on the wrapper. Just cut out the quantity you need. All the rest I measure using measuring cups, this is quick and simple and it cuts out using the scales altogether. Buy a set of measuring cups and spoons if you don't have them, it is a small but good investment. Remember that cups measure by volume, not weight, so 100g of flour wouldn't have the same cup measurement as 100g of sugar. You can use your scales if that is easier for you but if you decide to use cups and need to convert,
1 cup flour, cocoa, cornflour, custard powder or milk powder = 4oz
1 cup sugar, semolina or breadcrumbs = 6 oz
1 cup liquid = 8 oz
Here is a recipe for basic cake:
225g / 8oz butter
225g / 8oz (1 1/3 cup) sugar
225g / 8oz (2 cups) flour
2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (not needed if using self-raising flour)
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
60 ml (1/4 cup) milk
Set the oven to 180 degrees. Put the butter in a bowl and beat until light and creamy. Add sugar, a little at a time (maybe a third at a time), until it looks dissolved into the mix. Drop in the eggs and continue beating. Add the vanilla, turn off beater and fold in the flour and raising agents. Folding is done so that air is incorporated into the mix, if you don't know how to do it you can use the beater on a slow setting. Finally mix in the milk. Pour onto a greased and lined tin. Do not put too much of the batter in the tin, a 1 inch height might look too thin but remember that the cake will rise so it is plenty. Bake for about 1/2 hour. When you think the cake is ready you can either insert a skewer and check that it comes out clean, or just press lightly in the centre of the cake with your finger. If the cake springs back slowly when pressed it's done.
A common problem that people have is that the cake is done on the outside and the inside is uncooked. This may be because the cake is too deep and/or the oven too hot. If you *have* to make a deep cake line the sides of the tin with two or three layers of baking paper while the bottom has only one.
Variations to the above cake
Chocolate chip cake:
Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped chocolate or chocolate chips and omit milk.
Light fruit cake:
Add 1 cup chopped dry fruit and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Omit milk.
Orange cake or Lemon cake:
Add 1 tbsp orange/lemon rind and 1/2 cup orange/lemon juice instead of milk.
(This has the most tantalising smell while baking)
Add 1 tbsp coffee and 1/2 tsp soda bicarb into the milk and stir into the mixture. Bake in two tins. Cool and sandwich together with coffee cream.
I have found the coffee cake in particular to be a big hit with my guests. Almost all of them have generally liked it hot out of the oven without it being iced.
Sodium bicarbonate is not only used as a raising agent but it also gives a nice colour to coffee and chocolate cake. Of course there are an infinite number of different cakes you can make, these are just a few to get you started. I also make date and cashewnut cake, love cake (a very rich cake made with pumpkin preserve, cashewnuts and other things but no flour) and the ever popular chocolate cake etc. but perhaps that's for another day!
I enjoy cooking in the kitchen, and over the years have accrued (via my mother, books and my own personal experiences) a few hints and tips which I will pass on. Obviously, some of you will already know about these hints and tips, but in the hope I can make the 'kitchen experience' a little bit easier for those of you who don't, then the following is a list of these little tips that I have found to make kitchen life a touch more pleasurable.
1) To prevent onions from making your eyes water, place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag and refrigerate them overnight. The coldness seems to stop the onion oils, which in turn prevents those watery eyes!
2) Turn your stale bread into breadcrumbs by crumbing them in a processor and then storing them in jars and placing in the freezer until needed.
3) Before juicing citrus fruits, roll them on a flat surface with the palm of your hand which will allow you to extract more of the juice.
4) To make an extremely delicious and soul warming pea soup, mix four cups of chicken stock with one cup of chopped onions, and two cups of peas, and three tablespoons of rice, and cook it for about 15 minutes. Then purée the soup and drizzle with cream and some chopped parsley. Eat with plenty of thick crusty bread!!
5) If you are planning to make some fried rice, cook the rice the day before and cool in the refrigerator. This process makes the fried rice taste infinitely more tasty.
6) To spice up those plain and boring Brussels sprouts why not try cooking them and adding pan fried bacon and onion to them. Then sprinkle with black pepper and some grated lemon rind.
7) Eggs are a perishable food and therefore need to be kept in the coldest part of the fridge. Bring them out a few hours before they are needed as cold eggs can be difficult to bind to flour when baking cakes etc.
8) Do not refrigerate fresh tomatoes as cold temperatures destroys the flavour and texture of them.
9) To add some excitement to the roast chicken place some fresh tarragon in some melted butter and brush it over the chicken and baste with this mix throughout the cooking process.
10) If you find some 'dried on' stubborn stains in your microwave oven then place a cup of water containing 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in the microwave and heat on its highest setting for 2-3 minutes. This will soften the hard dried bits that can then easily be wiped off with a damp cloth.
11) Spray some cooking oil over a cheese grater which will prevent the cheese from sticking to the grater and make it much easier to clean.
12) To get a nice crust when frying potatoes sprinkle a small amount of sugar over them.
13) After buying some bread poke a little hole in the opposite end from the opening and then place in the refrigerator. The bread will last longer and the hole at the bottom circulates the air which will prevent mold from forming.
I dont know about you, but I love cooking, and I also love watching tv shows that teach you how to cook decent meals. In my honest opinion, I dont think that food taste the same unless you have made it yourself, and I especially love the feeling you get when you actually get to enjoy the food you have made. These days, it is so easy to cook at home, and there is no longer need to buy take aways or frozen meals. If you look it any cooking book, you will find that every recipe lists all of the ingredients that you will need for the meal. When you have made your list, then you can go to your local supermakret, and depending on what you are cooking, you will normally find that these ingrediants will be quite cheap. This is also an advantage as they ingrediants can usually last a long time time, such as flour, and sugar, which means that you dont have to spend all the time, which is quite often what puts people off cooking themselves.
I love making a homemade curry, and I can buy the chicken pieces already cut from Tesco for around £1.99, and the sauce for no more than £2.50. All that it left is the onion and mushrooms, along with the rice, which together is usually under £2, so when you think about, a meal which could easily go around 4 people, can only cost £6 and even less. I bet you would spend a lot more than that on a take away. I cooking, so go, give a try.
We all know that home cooking is a lot better for us that buying convenience foods and bunging them in the oven or microwave. Sometimes there just isn't the time to prepare such meals and the fail save oven ready dishes are quickly grabbed from the freezer.
Recently I have been trying to prepare more of my meals to save both time and money in the long run. I am finding my fridge has healthier items in, and my freezer is fuller of my own re freezable pots than the cardboard packaging from the supermarket foods.
Starting out on the home cooking route is harder than keeping it up. It doesn't have to be expensive, but you may find yourself spending more on the initial outlay of ingredients. The key is to remember that each pot of spice or herb that you may buy will last for many meals to come and will work out cost effective in the end.
At the start however it's the time to decide whether you are actually going to continue with the home cooking or if it will be just a fad. I think it's a habit and once you're in the habit of home cooking then it's easy to carry it on.
You don't necessarily need to buy any new equipment so it's not an excuse to go out and buy a new bread maker or slow cooker that will just sit at the back of the cupboard in a couple of months.
A good starting point on the journey of home cooking would be to have a browse through some recipe books or recipes on the internet to see what you and your family enjoy eating, and gauging it against your cooking ability. Even if you think you can't cook I still believe there will simple recipes and methods for you to do home cooking.
Initially I would choose seven dishes which equates to a week's worth of eating. This can then be expanded and changed over time to avoid repetitiveness.
For me this method works because I work late shifts and my partner also works one late shift a week, we don't always get to sit down and have a meal together, but it's nice to know that even if I don't eat the meal cooked on Monday, I may be able to eat it on the Tuesday instead.
If you have plenty of time at home and are around at meal times then you can opt for the traditional oven cooking method where you can prepare meals on a daily basis. I opt for the slow cooking method quite a lot as I know that my partner can just come home and cook some pasta or potatoes and they all have a meal ready for them to go with them.
Making sure you cook meals that are suitable for the freezer is also a good option. If you have plenty of time then you could batch cook something such as bolognaise and then freeze it in portions, ready to add to spaghetti or mashed potato on another day when you are short of time.
The basis of home cooking is down to planning, and then you will realise it doesn't take as much of your time as you may first think when wanting to do it.
Some good meals I have discovered since trying to cook more are;
o This can be done in the slow cooker or on the hob, depending on time. Just brown mince and chopped onion, add tinned tomatoes, whatever chopped veg you want to add, tomato puree, some oregano or mixed herbs, water and let it simmer on the hob for 20 minutes or leave on low in the slow cooker during the day.
This can then be put into portions and froze as I mentioned or made into a spaghetti bolognaise, shepherd's pie, lasagne etc at dinner time.
- Chicken Casserole
o In a casserole or slow cooker, add some chicken stock, herbs, chicken portions, mushrooms, carrots, and put in the over for an hour or so or leave in the slow cooker during the day. This can be served with potato, rice or anything you fancy.
There are many meals you can cook and freeze. I find I use chicken a lot in my recipes but if I am using the slow cooker then I will buy the cheaper option of chicken portions and just remove the skin before placing in the pot. By cooking all day the meat just falls off the bone and it has a lovely tender texture to it.
To be able to freeze my meals I use leftover takeaway cartons (we are allowed a treat every now and again), and any other freezable pot I can find.
By home cooking I have realised we as a family are eating more healthily. I know what is going into my meals and I always have tinned items in the cupboard that I can look through when I don't want to follow my plan or inspiration disappears.
I highly recommend home cooking even to a busy family as in the long run it will save you some time, as most things can be reheated in less time than it will take for the dodgy microwave meal to be nuked.
Home cooking is the best cooking of all but, of course, not everyone has the time these days. I remember my Mum was always baking something and some of that has rubbed off on me. We always had puddings when I was a child, which I also try provide but, on a working day, it is usually yoghurt with some stewed fruit; on non-working days I try and make something more substantial.
There are many ways I have found to cut down on the time and effort that home cooking needs. One of the best tips is to try and double up on meals. For example, there are many dishes that can be made from minced beef; if you prepare enough bolognaise, say, or chilli, for two meals, you can freeze the rest for reheating when you are short of time. I freeze things like this in freezer bags which line plastic storage containers. Once they have frozen, it's just a matter of taking the contents out and placing them in the freezer; because they are then shaped like the plastic containers, they are easy to stack.
Whenever I make a stew or casserole, I only peel the vegetables that really need it; things like carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes and so on only need washing. If I do peel, I save the peelings themselves, wash them and roast them in a fairly hot oven with a little olive oil and some seasoning - lovely if you've run out of crisps!
Most days, whether I am working or not, I try and prepare as much as possible of the evening meal in the morning (for Sunday's roast, I prepare it the day before). I hate having to start peeling and chopping when I am starving hungry and just want to get the dinner on.
I cut sheets from the kitchen roll into quarters and keep them stacked in a container; it saves using a big sheet when you only want to wipe a knife or something. I only started doing this recently and reckon I must save on one roll in three; surprisingly, the rest of the family have taken to using the smaller sheets, too. I don't cut all the rolls up, though; there are still lots of uses for the big sheets.
I bake large puddings that will last two to three days. Bread-and-butter is a favourite and ideal for using up stale bread. I also make my own bread and find we don't waste any because it doesn't seem to dry out as quickly as shop-bought bread. Home made bread is cheaper, too, especially now that prices have gone up so much. Any bits that don't get used can be processed into breadcrumbs, which are ideal to add to various dishes.
I make lots of soups using vegetables that are past their best and I also find that fruit that has become over-ripe can be stewed and added to natural yoghurt to make a quick pudding.
Many other vegetables, besides potatoes, can be roasted; carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash and peppers are great cooked this way and save on energy as well as cooking pots.
One of the things I want to try is making my own yoghurt; apparently, this can be done using a wide-mouthed flask. I'm hoping it will work out cheaper than buying from the supermarket.
I try and make the most of the oven when I'm using it but this does take a bit of juggling. It's great if you can cook the pudding at the same time as the dinner and, now that energy prices have gone through the roof, it's worth working out how you can use all the oven shelves at the same time. I have recently bought a Remoska (electric mini-oven), which I have reviewed here earlier, and try and do most of my cooking in that; it saves even more energy and also keeps the oven-cleaning to a minimum!
Other useful things to keep in the kitchen are latex gloves. They cost between £1 and £2.50 for a box of 100, and are great for using when making pastry or kneading bread because they keep your hands clean.
Another useful tip is to try and organise a handy area to keep all the spices and seasonings that you use a lot; there's nothing worse than having to rummage around in the cupboards looking for little packets or jars.
Magic liner is something that I couldn't do without. It can be bought from Lakeland (although some supermarkets sell cheaper versions which are just as good). It is brilliant stuff and is used to line baking dishes, loaf tins, cake tins and so on. It comes in a fairly big sheet which can be cut to size if necessary. It is easy to wash and store, too.
One more thing that I make the most of when home cooking is my timer. I have one on the oven itself but tend to use a little hand timer that can be set up to an hour ahead. It has a really long loud ring and is essential for a baking session.
That's all I can think of for now but I'm sure there are many other short cuts that I have discovered over the years. I will edit this review when I think of them!
It's been great reading other reviews on this subject - I love saving both time and money in the kitchen.
I love cooking and have loved it since I was some 11 years old(ie since I got over my fright of my mum's gas hob lighting up with a whump) and I hate wasting things as the saying goes 'waste not want not'.
I always tend to end up with more white bread than I could eat more often than not and hence have tried to make the best use of them or preserve them.
Listed here are some alternative ways to make use of extra bread that are in the order of the easiest tried and tested ones to the tougher newer ones as follows:-
A part of the bread on the day of purchse if the label says freezable.
2. Making substitutes of bread crumbs:
Usually do this by toasting gently and then leaving the toast in a very hot-oven (switched off). Taking it out after 3-4hrs and then just grinding it up coarsely in the blender/processor .
3. Making Croutons:
Just chop the bread into small 1.5cm cubes .
In a separate bowl take tbsp of olive oil a few pinches of salt , chuck in the bread crumbs and toss well. If you want you can add any one or more of the following depending on how you want your soup to taste..
A sprinkling of pepper, nutmeg , dried mixed herb, just dried basil , cumin powder, kasuri meethi or anything else you fancy.
Sure enough to make any soup taste much better.
4. Make a Dessert:
What better way to use something extra.
Oh yum one of my favourite idea !! did you know bread-pudding tastes best when the bread used is slightly stale .
Two small helpings:
4 slices of bread
25 g- butter
25 g(roughly a handful) -currants/raisins
150 ml- milk
30 ml double cream
30gms caster sugar
grated zest ½ small lemon (optional)
1 large/2 small - eggs
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C).
You will also need a 1pint (0.6 litre) enamel baking -dish well buttered.
Butter the bread and cut each slice of buttered bread in fours (may leaving the crusts on). Now arrange one layer of buttered bread over the base of the baking dish, sprinkle the zest if using and half the currants over, then cover with another layer of the bread slices and the remainder of the currants.
Next, in a glass measuring jug, measure out the milk and add the double cream. Stir in the caster sugar, then whisk the eggs, first on their own in a bowl and then into the milk mixture. Pour the whole mixture over the bread, sprinkle over some freshly grated nutmeg, and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve .
5. Make a savoury :
ohhh another yummy and easy addition to the starters list ..
makes 8 patties:
3tbsp chopped onion
1tsp chopped green chillies(only if you like hot things)
½ tsp pepper powder
4tbs instant potato mash
2tbsp corriander/parsley chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
few tbsp oil for shallow frying
Soak the bread in a little water and squeeze excess water out . Put it with all the other ingredients into a bowl and mix well . Divide into 8 balls and then flatten them into discs .
Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry them till brown turning a few times.
Serve hot with chutney or ketchup or a dip.
If you still don't like going into the hassel of all the above ..just leave it on a bird table and the poor birds will take care of it for you... better than it being binned I think and they won't even mind a bit tangy stale taste to the loaf.