Livin’ Solo – Cookery Tips #101

“Cooking is not difficult. Everyone has taste, even if they don’t realise it. Even if you’re not a great chef, there’s nothing to stop you understanding the difference between what tastes good and what doesn’t.” ~ Gerard Depardieu

When you shift away from home, one of the hardest things you may have to become accustomed to is cooking for yourself. When you’re in undergraduate school, and possibly still going to college from home, this concern is practically non-existent, because either your family will be around or college canteens will be your go-to.

However once you hit your Master’s Degree or you start working, it’s a different ball game altogether. Of course, you can still eat out and the options in today’s world are endless with Zomato and UberEats for example – yet wouldn’t it be gratifying to know that you can be self-reliant to whip up something quickly for yourself? It’s been three years since I started to dabble in the kitchen, and although I’m no expert, I believe I can provide some tips that’ll help make your life just a little bit easier. These aren’t recipes, because naturally there’ll be cuisine and taste variations from person to person – but just how you can incorporate cooking into your day-to-day life.

Note: You’ll save money big time, believe me! 🙂

1. Start simple

No one becomes a Master Chef overnight. It’s true that some people have a flair for the art of cooking as opposed to others – but if you have to start somewhere, start simple. Pick out the recipes that have familiar ingredients – and are suggested to take less time. Do your research; herbs or spices that are unfamiliar are ones that you may have not used at home and don’t know how to work around with; hence you may bring about more work for yourself than you bargained for (and have time for too!).

Tip: Various ingredients that may not readily be available can be substituted for and you can still be able to make something delicious in a short span of time. Check on Google (doesn’t everyone nowadays?) – with the Internet at our doorsteps, cooking is truly so much easier.

2. Don’t have high expectations

You’re bound to make a couple of mistakes the first time you enter the kitchen. The possibilities are endless: you may over-cook something, use too much of an ingredient, or not get the flavour just quite right. Nonetheless, don’t just give up when and if this happens! As with anything in life, just because it goes wrong the first time around doesn’t mean you can’t fix it – you just have to get back into it and keep trying.

Snippet: I first started making chapathis (Indian breads) about 2 years ago, and I gave up because I couldn’t get the consistency right at all! So I started buying frozen packs. But the problem with these is you get bored so quickly of the taste, and it also tightens the pocket after a while. Plus, home-cooked and fresh is not only better for your health, but tastes so much better too. 🙂

3. Plan your grocery list ahead of time

Buying groceries is a pain, I know. What’s worse is when you decide to randomly go to the grocery store to pick up a ‘couple items’, go back home with your hands full of bags and realise that you don’t have that one thing you actually meant to buy. *sighs*

Tip: Make a rough timetable of the several dishes you know you can make in large quantities* (see point 6) – and then make a list of the things you want to buy before leaving home. This way you can make sure you’ve gotten everything, and refer back to your list as you go shopping. We’re so distracted these days its impossible to not forget something.

4. Call up the chef back home

Who knows better than the family? Whether the cooks at home are your Mum or Dad – or both! – ask them for tips and the family recipes. This is particularly true when you’re either home-sick or feeling ill, the one thing that you do miss is the home-cooked delicacies – because those are the moments when you crave for something familiar. Those are the moments when loneliness can hit you hard. As a child, when you fall sick your parents will take care of you. As an adult though, you’ve got to be able to take care of yourself. Whatever your comfort food is, learn to make that because when you’re sick, outside food just doesn’t fit right.

5. Budgeting 

At this point in time you may start off with a salary that perhaps would not immediately suit the lifestyle you aspire to. Depending on what you want to achieve – be it a high-flying social life, extensive travel schedules, or that one asset you’ve been wanting to buy (camera or a car?) – you’re going to have to save up for it. Keeping that in mind, one of the few things that you want to be spending on is food – you’d be surprised how much goes out of your pocket for it on a daily basis.

Tip: Start keeping a daily budget of how much you spend in an excel sheet, and see how it accumulates over the week. This way you’ll also see how your expenses vary as the month comes to an end, and it can always be a useful tool to refer to and see where you could cut back on your expenses.

6. Cook with enough to spare

Although fresh food is naturally always nicer, it is quite a task to have to cook on a daily basis – with a social life, study/work schedule, and including time for yourself. It just may not happen that you can prepare meals every single day. So cook abundantly.

Tip: Pick one day, build up the mood for it, get out your apron and spend an hour or two just sorting out everything and getting it done. Try cooking about 2-3 dishes that you know will last for about the next 2-3 days, and as long as it’s nothing with cream and milk (products that’ll spoil quickly) – you’re good to go!

Bhaji

7. Taking it a step further

What’s your favourite meal? Is it breakfasts, or maybe desserts? Think of those when you cook too, and go the extra mile and learn how to make those, not just for yourself, but for your friends and family too! My personal favourite is breakfast – I could eat it all-day! – and desserts; and I believe sharing that love of cooking or baking that particular dish with those who are close to you really reinforces the hobby.

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Have I missed out on anything? Things that you can think of that you’d like to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂 Let’s share some ideas so that we can make it easier for those out there looking for help!