Cooking is one of those things that seem as easy as falling off a log when you can do it, but an arcane science to those who can’t.
Like anything creative, it’s a matter of understanding what you want to achieve, using your imagination and practicing to make perfect. A few basic skills get you started and once the ball is rolling you just keep on getting better, more skillful and enjoying yourself.
Where to start? By eating, tasting, and developing your palate. What makes that cake so delicious? What has been added to this casserole to give the extraordinary depth of flavour?
You then need some simple techniques and equipment. I learned to cook in my mother’s kitchen. From a small child I was welcome to climb up on a chair in the kitchen and to start breaking eggs, sifting flour and rolling out pastry. I learned the textures and feel of food in preparation, how moist a cake mix needed to be, how the right proportions of fat and flour in pastry feel when you are rubbing the two together. Not everyone has these advantages of course, but it is never too late to start cooking.
Start with something really simple. A jacket potato, perhaps. Soups are great and you can make a delicious savoury and cheap soup just from a selection of root vegetables. Taste, taste and taste again, starting with not too much salt but a good sprinkling of pepper and some herbs. You can easily add more, if it’s needed, but it’s hard to make a soup less salty. You can add some grated cheese for added savour, lentils to thicken, cream for luxury. Really, it’s a matter of what you have at hand, and what you like.
The next easiest things are tomato sauce based meals, such as used for spaghetti bolognese. Just fry chopped onion in a little oil, add some chopped garlic, tinned or fresh tomatoes, tomato puree, some basil, oregano or parsley salt and pepper and simmer until thick and gorgeous. A slurp of red wine, or a small tin of anchovies adds to the depth of flavor. For bolognese you include some fried minced (ground) beef with the onions, frying it through to get it nice and brown and caramelized. This meaty sauce is easily adapted to being a chilli; just add some chopped chillies or chilli flakes. Cook up the pasta or rice to go with it… lovely. But again, you must taste, taste, taste,
Most recipes are variations on a theme – creamy sauces, tomato sauces, stir-fry, roasts – so once you have mastered something you can use it again and again.
You will need some basic equipment; perhaps two really good knives, that feel comfortable in your hand; one large for chopping and one small for finer work, a couple of good pans, small and large, a chopping board, a mixing bowl – but really not too many gadgets. Your palate and your imagination are the essential tools.
Before long, you’ll be wanting, and able, to make your own pasta, choux pastry or cheese soufflé!
A lifetime of delicious home-made food awaits. What are you waiting for!