Hello, it’s summer. Soon it will be autumn again, because time moves in a linear direction, dragging us all on towards our deaths with inexorable inevitability, except David Attenborough, who is definitely never going to die. Even if the weather doesn’t acknowledge the seasons, time will pass.
So a bunch of people will in all probability be leaving for university and possibly having to cook for themselves for the first time. Or maybe you’re just… in a position now where you’re like, yeah, I should probably learn how to do the thing. I have also been there! And then I learnt how to make food and not die, which is a skill I feel I should pass on.
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
What shit do you absolutely definitely need?
2 x pans. Probably a frying pan and a saucepan. Get something that won’t stick to things if you can. Stainless steel if you can’t. If you don’t have a hot plate/stove because where you’re living is fucking deranged, skip that. You will be making a lot of things in mugs.
1 x not-metal spatula. Silicon is good. Wood is also good.
Some forks and shit
MAYBE a blender if you wanna get crazy about it
Mugs. Good for measuring and drinking out of.
Bowl. Maybe a plate.
Spoons. Get ones in actual measuring sizes and you won’t then need to buy measuring spoons as well. Although it’s worth remembering that if you’re not baking, amounts are pretty much a matter of personal preference.
Sharp knife, for cutting stuff. Big. But controllable. Make sure it STAYS sharp.
What do the fuckin’ words mean?
BAKE = I put this shit into a hot box and made it hot and now it is cooked.
ROAST = as above, but with fats (usually oil, sometimes animal fats)
BOIL = I put this shit in water and the water was making bubbles and then it was cooked
SIMMER = I put this shit in water that had been making bubbles but is now just constantly hot
FRY = I put this in a pan on a heat source with some fats probably
SAUTE = (pronounced Soh-tay because it’s French) frying, but quickly, and with a little bit of fats specifically
GRILL = I put this shit underneath a heat source on a thing that allows the fat/moisture to drain out from it without it sitting in it (rack, grill tray, whatever thing)
STEAM = I put this thing in a thing with a bit of water and raised it out of the water, then made the water hot so the steam cooked it
BROIL = Literally no idea, this is an American thing
BARBECUE = grill but the heat source is underneath and it’s probably outside
CHOP = cut it up, probably fairly small
SLICE = cut it up into thin regular bits
DICE = cut it into cubes
GRIND = you’re a beginner, don’t do this, just buy it pre-ground
WHISK = you don’t actually necessarily need a whisk for this, you can usually do it with a fork if it’s like, an omelette. circular motions around the bowl full of liquid, fast
STIR = like whisk, but a lot slower, and with a spoon or spatula
BLEND = usually involves a blender
PULSE = always involves a blender, and means stop-start blending at very short intervals
FOLD = this one’s a pain in the ass. You usually only do it with things that have been whisked up, to keep the air in them. Call it an Intermediate or Beginner 2 skill, and move on.
KNEAD = advanced, don’t bother yet
What do I do if it catches fire?
Shut off the heat source immediately. Now, what’s on fire?
Oil? Cover the thing the oil is in with a pan lid then leave the pan lid on it. The lack of oxygen should extinguish the flame. If it doesn’t – after like, 45 seconds? – dump a whole canister of baking soda on it.
Things which are not oil? You are okay to throw water on these, but it might still be more effective to cover them with a pan or pan lid.
What happens if I fuck up my meal?
There are different parameters of “fucked up”. Whichever happens, make a note of what you did so that it doesn’t happen the same way again. That’s science.
- Not as intended but still safe and probably not-disgusting to eat = eat it.
- Safe to eat but probably gross to eat = try a bit, if it’s actually gross bin it or cover it in ketchup and eat it anyway.
- Undercooked? Just cook it a bit longer. Throw it in the microwave and zap it for 5 minutes. NB: If you are doing this with an egg, break the shell off first or it will detonate like a tiny chicken bomb in the microwave and scare the living shit out of you.
- Overcooked? If it’s a cinder, in the bin. If it’s just A Bit Crispy, scrape that off and see what the middle’s like. No one is judging you on this shit; you just have to feed yourself.
SECOND THINGS PROBABLY COME SECOND
Are you broke as fuck? Yeah, me too, pretty much constantly. Here are some things which are cheap and useful to keep in your kitchen and won’t go off. This list presumes that you don’t really have access to a working freezer; if you do, here’s some shit you can freeze, please feel free to go absolutely ham in the marked-down food section.
- A massive quantity of cooking oil, whichever kind is cheapest
- A huge bag of rice. My local supermarket went bananas around Ramadan and started selling 10kg bags for £4. This is an excellent way to definitely not starve.
- Tins of beans, baked or red kidney are usually the cheapest (savers/own brand, etc). Of all the things you can buy in tins, these are the most useful. Baked beans come with their own sauce so you can just throw them in cooked rice and pretend it is a meal. You can in theory buy big bags of dried lentils and dried beans and that’s cheaper, but requires Forward Planning and you are a not ready for that shit yet.
- Dried pasta. I hate pasta like the devil but it’s a staple food for a reason.
- Spices/dried herbs. NOT in those infuriating little Schwartz pots in the seasoning aisle. Go to the World Foods Aisle or your local Asian supermarket / Turkish supermarket and buy a big ol’ sack for like, 59p, then dump it in a screw-top jar.
- Salt. This is incredibly cheap and will prevent your food from tasting of sorrow.
- Tins of tomatoes also good, as are Squeezy Tube of Concentrated Tomato.
- Ketchup. To conceal your cooking sins.
- Onions, carrots, potatoes, and often swede are usually cheap as balls and take a long time to go off. With the potatoes, do not leave them in direct light or in a sealed plastic bag (buy them loose, not in a sack, if you can) or they will go liquid and gross and make your dwelling place stink and people will accuse you of trying to make vodka; I speak from very specific personal experience here, don’t do Thing.
- Eggs are pretty good and last a long time out of the fridge.
- Sardines are usually cheaper than tuna if you’re a fish person. I mean, a person who likes fish; if you’re a fish person I assume you live in the sea and don’t have a cupboard.
- Bag of peanuts, if you’re not allergic. The main purpose of these is to make food magically seem fancy, but the secret purpose is so that so that when you get in and you’re ravenous and confused and about to make BAD BUDGET/FOOD CHOICES, you can put peanuts in your face and your body will stop freaking out and you can then make a GOOD food decision, like “I will not spend my rent money on seven pizzas”. If you are allergic, try dried fruit or something instead.
- Emergency Vegetables. Tinned vegetables are disgusting but sometimes your fridge will die and you will need them.
- Sugar. Even if you don’t really have a sweet tooth, putting this in savoury dishes a tiny bit makes them taste miraculously good-er.
- Flour. DON’T PANIC. You’re not going to be baking cakes or bread or Advanced Level Shit. This is for making Pancakes (British/French style) which are very easy to make regardless of what Shrove Tuesday Propaganda has led people to think and fear.
- OPTIONAL: if your kitchen suffers from a fridge with a mind of its own, or you don’t drink milk fast enough to stop it going off before you’re finished, or you have a bad case of Thieving Shitheads in your dwelling-place, powdered milk is not a bad option at all and is usually in the baking or breakfast foods aisle.
Probably don’t buy all of that at once because it’s heavy. DO make a habit of stealing condiment and sugar/sweetener sachets whenever you’re within breathing distance of somewhere that has them.
Here are the important things:
- Don’t give yourself food poisoning
- Mild food poisoning is okay and isn’t a sign that you’re a terrible person
- Literally any items that you combine in the same sitting are a meal
- You are not making dinner to please Betty-Jo’s Italian Nona back in her ancestral homeland, you are making it for you. Go with what’s easiest and tastiest and if anyone utters the word “authentic” or “diet” around you, punch them.
- Try to eat regularly.
- If you eat it when you wake up it’s breakfast. Doesn’t matter what it is or when that is.
- Don’t panic.
ALRIGHT WE’RE READY
It’s time to make an omelette.
Get your frying pan. That’s the one with the low sides and the flat bottom.
Get a spatula. Basically a stick with a flat bit at the end. For moving your omelette with.
Get a spoon. Cereal spoon is fine. This is for measuring oil and milk. When you get the hang of this you can just eyeball it. If you want, you can also use butter.
Bowl. For mixing in.
Fork. For mixing with.
Plate for eating off later.
Milk, like 2 eggs, some salt.
You can add spices when you know which ones you like, or herbs, or both. You can also get stuff to put in your omelette. But first: Omelette: The Basics.
Okay. Deep breath! One thing at a time.
Break the eggs into the bowl. Try to tap them on the edge of the bowl with the middle of the longer side of the egg, then put your thumbs in the crack and pull it open. (VIDEO)
Fish out the bits of shell. No one has to know.
Drop in a pinch of salt. Literally just pinch some of the salt from between your thumb and forefinger and that’s it. Self-explanatory measurement.
Get your milk and your spoon. Pour out like 2, 3 spoons of milk. (Put the milk back in the fridge)
Get your fork. Hold onto the bowl, and with the fork, give the eggs and milk a good violent stir – this is called “beating” if you want an indication of what kind of level of violent. You’re aiming to break the yolk (yellow bit in the middle) and mix it up with the clear stuff and the milk. Keep going until the whole lot is mostly opaque light yellow.
Put that to one side, and wash your fork.
Okay cool. Go to your hot plate or stove burner or whatever. Put the pan on a ring/plate/thingy. Turn that on to a high heat.
Measure out one spoon of oil into the pan and tip the pan about until the oil has spread out. When the air above the pan feels worryingly hot, turn the heat down and right away tip your eggy mixture into the pan.
Tip the pan about like you did with the oil so the eggy mixture covers the whole thing evenly. This may be when you discover how badly your kitchen slopes. Congratulations, you have subsidence! Me too!
Let that sit there on the heat. (If you have extra bits, this is when you add them. Grated cheese is a good one.) The top will start to look more solid in a bit. When it does, give it a gentle prod with the spatula.
Is it still liquid? Leave it longer.
(This is okay)
Pretty much not liquid?
Time to put the edge of the spatula under the omelette and unstick it from the bottom. If the omelette is cooked, this should be easy. If it tears, no big, you just have a torn omelette. It’s still edible.
With the spatula, fold the omelette in half, then press down on the top. If you want, you can also turn it over from underneath at this point.
Count to like, twenty.
Turn off the heat, make sure the stove/burner is definitely off.
Tip out your omelette onto the plate! Go put your mixing bowl in the sink with some soapy water. You can also do that with the frying pan but to be honest, if you’ve only cooked the omelette it won’t actually need cleaning yet. Done?
EAT YOUR OMELETTE, YOU OMELETTE-MAKING CHAMPION.
Not shit. Pasta. We’re going to make pasta. I’m not going to talk to you about time and making pasta, because time is an illusion and you are legally prohibited from leaving boiling water alone until you’re at least Basic 3, and you have a phone, just look at your phone while you’re standing next to the pot of water waiting for it to boil.
Okay. We’re also going to make a sauce with it. Get some stuff.
If you have a colander get that. It’s a sort of bowl full of holes. You can also use a sieve. I normally crack open a pan lid a fraction to drain stuff but that’s because I’m like, Intermediate 1 and I’m allowed to.
Pan! Deep one. For boiling.
Wooden spoon or spatula.
Cereal spoon for measuring, fork for eating. Bowl for mixing stuff in and eating out of.
Salt, pepper, onion – you can buy this frozen and pre-chopped. Or fresh and pre-chopped. I’m not going to try to make you chop an onion yet. 1 carrot. 1 stick of celery. 1 tin or carton of chopped tomatoes. This is going to make a lot of sauce, btw, so you can save some. Paprika if you like it, and garlic powder. I’m also not going to make you deal with the pain in the arse that is peeling and pressing garlic cloves. You can alternatively buy a tube of garlic paste. If you have and like dried oregano you can put that in, same goes for black pepper.
Big handful of dried pasta, two if you want to eat the same thing tomorrow and just microwave that shit.
Cut up the carrot and celery into lumps. Smallish ones.
Put water in your pan. Put the pan on the heat source. A hob or hotplate or whatever. Make it as hot as it will go, and put the lid on.
Play a phone game until the pan is boiling and terrifying. Turn the heat down a little bit, and wrap something heatproof around your hand before take the lid off. Fling your pasta in, with some salt probably. Turn the heat up a bit until the pan is raging again, then turn it down a little so you’re not actively terrified.
Play another phone game.
Fish out a bit of pasta with the spatula or spoon, and bite it. Blow on it first, idiot.
Is it the way you like pasta? Cool, turn off the heat and drain the pan over the sink. If it isn’t, keep cooking and checking until it is.
When the pasta’s definitely how you like it, drain it in the colander (over the sink), then put the pan back on the heat source and put the pasta in a bowl with the pan lid over the top to keep the heat in. You’re going to make sauce.
First, check your pan is dry-ish. Then put in about a spoonful of your oil – cereal spoon is fine – and turn up the heat.
Remember the way you tested the air over the pan for the omelette? Do that again. If it’s hot, put the chopped onions in. If you got garlic paste put that in too; if you got powder, wait until later.
Turn the heat down a wee bit so it’s not hellish and shove that shit around with your spatula/wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. Smells nice, doesn’t it? Put the carrot and celery in and turn the heat down more. You can play another phone game now but make sure the stuff doesn’t stick.
Finished your game? Are the onions looking a different colour now?
Stick all that tomato in. Fling in the salt and pepper and spice and herbs and whatever you have there. Turn the heat up a bit until the tomato goes bubble bubble.
Now just phone game and stir – so it doesn’t stick – until it gets thicker and less watery.
And when it does? Congrat! You have sauce! You can do this with chopped mushrooms or aubergine and stuff in, but probably don’t try mince yet. If you eat meat, and you want to put bacon in this sauce, you put chopped up little pieces in at the same time as the onion.
Take that pasta, put it in the pan and mess it around a bit for like, a minute. NOW you can turn off the heat and put your pasta and sauce in the bowl. You did it!
you’ve made two whole things
I’ll come back and tell you how to make more stuff later.
Images not mine.