About a year or so ago I decided that I wanted to get better at cooking. Although I was capable of making basic meals, I very rarely bothered cooking something entirely from scratch, because frankly it seemed an awful lot of time and effort when it was only me who was going to eat it and I didn’t think it would be possible for me to use up all of the fresh food I would need to buy before it went out of date. So most of my dinners consisted of subtle variations on microwaved quiche, some new potatoes and a handful of peas. Whilst this was clearly not very adventurous, it did at least contain one proper vegetable and had not come out of a small plastic tray. However, I knew that some of my friends could make much better food than this and having watched a few episodes of various cookery programmes on TV, I was inspired to try and improve my culinary skills. I was also harbouring a secret desire to be the sort of person who can invite a few friends round for dinner, whip up something amazing entirely from scratch and then bask in the glowing admiration of all those present! I just love the idea of being a Domestic Goddess, à la Nigella Lawson. In addition, food and cooking is very much about home to me, as I imagine it is for a lot of people. One episode of the Food Programme focused on people’s food memories and listening to their stories was just so wonderful and heart-warming, because the memories were so closely tied to loved ones – usually parents or grandparents.
Fast forward twelve months or so and I have just finished the biggest baking session of my life. Last weekend I made pumpkin muffins, Dutch speculaas biscuits, chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge, coconut mice, mince pies AND I marzipanned, iced and decorated the Christmas cake I made a few weeks ago. I had in fact made the peanut butter fudge whilst keeping a sharp eye on (and occasionally basting) the honey and garlic pork that was roasting in the oven, which was not perhaps the best idea, because although the pork ended up being delicious, the fudge was somewhat dry and over-crumbly. I probably shouldn’t try making more than one thing at once – at least until I’ve become considerably more accomplished!
This transformation from reluctant cook to someone who is so enthusiastic about making food that I received a slow cooker, two recipe books, an oven glove, a set of cookie cutters and some cupcake cases for Christmas, has done far more than improve my meals, however. I have become more confident in my ability to provide for myself and take on new challenges, as well as becoming much more informed (and opinionated!) about food and the way we make and eat it. I started a recipe blog a while ago but my fear about the copyright implications of reproducing other people’s recipes on my blog – even if they were fully credited – meant that I didn’t get very far with it. However, having seen from other, more well-established recipe blogs that it is possible to cite other people’s recipes on your own blog without bringing down hordes of lawyers on your head, I shall almost certainly be posting on that more often, probably starting with some of my favourite recipes that I’ve used a lot in the past year.
For now, here is a short list of the blogs, books and programmes that have inspired, encouraged and enabled me to foster a new-found love of food and cooking:
- BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. I have downloaded every single episode of this that I could find on iTunes and I am now working my way through them, from 2010 right up until now. It is absolutely fascinating – there are episodes about different types of food, different cooking methods and different ways of producing food. It’s just glorious.
- agirlcalledjack.com – This blog, written by Jack Monroe, shows you how to prepare healthy, filling meals on a VERY tight budget, whilst interspersing recipes with her views on politics, food banks and other vital issues. Important stuff, particularly in today’s tough times of unemployment and austerity.
- The English Kitchen – Another recipe blog, this one is written by Marie, who moved to the UK from Canada 12 years ago and fell in love with English cooking. I have probably used more recipes from her blog than any other website – just superb.
- Google – I know there are specific websites which allow you to type in random ingredients and then provide with a list of things you can make using them, but having tried a couple of those sites, with varying degrees of success, I have decided that the most effective is still Google. Typing “chicken, courgette, coconut milk” into the search bar (I urgently needed to use up the latter two ingredients that evening) and finding a delicious curry recipe using all three was a particular highlight.
- Supermarket magazines – notably Asda, which is where the Christmas cake recipe came from. Their November and December issues were absolutely chockful of things to make for Bonfire Night and Christmas – and they also had price breakdowns for several of their recipes, which is very helpful if you have a limited budget.
- I have a few cookery books as well, but I don’t think I have used one in particular more than any of the others. You can get recipe ideas from anywhere really – books, TV and radio programmes, websites – some types of food packaging even have a recipe or two on the back.
That list is just to give anyone else who is interested in boosting their culinary skills some idea of where to start. As I said, I will definitely be posting more recipes on the food blog I started – my New Year’s Resolution might be to post one a week – a tall order, perhaps, and I don’t know who would read them, exactly, but it will be a nice record for me, a sort of online personal recipe book!
Anyway, thank you for reading and I wish you all a deliciously scrumptious Christmas and a very happy New Year!
NB. The title of this post comes from the phrase ” to be cooking on gas”, i.e. “to be making good progress and to be likely to succeed” (thank you Free Online Dictionary), which is pretty much where I see myself on the ‘Complete Novice —> Michelin-starred Chef’ Chart!