For me, cooking from scratch is a priority. It takes up quite a lot of my life - from the planning to the execution to the tidy up. I can understand why people don't prioritise it - on the days that I've prepared something in advance (here's looking at you slow cooker...) or we've caved and got take-out, it feels like I have so much more time to spend on other things. Not only that but it can be expensive - it doesn't have to be (just look at Jack Monroe's blog) but it certainly can be. But I like knowing exactly what goes into our food. I like that I can tailor every dish to suit our specific likes and dislikes (especially handy if you live with a fussy eater!). I also just think that it tastes better and for that alone it's worth the effort. Dolmio has nothing on spaghetti bolognese cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients. Don't get me wrong, there are days when I have to drag myself through the motions (I'm the cook in this household and Paul is the cleaner - so most nights it's me that needs to do the food prep) and I get it.
I wasn't always this way. When I first moved out of home I was very much a 'sauce in a jar' girl. Whether it was stir fry, curry, casserole, or even pasta dishes, it usually came out of a packet. Or at least the 'difficult' part did. The times that I tried to cook from scratch were usually a bit of a debacle, an unorganised mess which left me stressing about underdone potatoes and overdone chicken. My first roast dinner was certainly nothing to write home about (and the gravy was Bisto, anyway). But over time, I taught myself some dishes and I made myself be more organised in the kitchen. I gathered some coping skills to make cooking from scratch every night a reality, so I want to share them with you - in case you are in that position. It'll be fun, trust me.
1. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
Writing a weekly menu and shopping list is one of the chores that I hate. Despite loving food, coming up with an original menu and making sure we've got all the ingredients is just my most hated thing. But, this one little task is what makes it possible for me to cook from scratch (almost) every night of the week. It means that we have everything in that we need so there's no scrambling about at the last minute and it means that we don't waste as much food since we only buy what we need. Give yourself easy meals to make on nights when you'll be rushing about more than usual - I usually go for fajitas or stir fry for these nights - and plan more complicated, luxurious meals for nights that you've got enough time. Our list is never set in stone, but it lays the foundations ready for the week ahead.
2. Stock your cupboards
When you're not used to cooking from scratch, buying all the ingredients for every recipe feels super expensive. So start to stock your cupboards with some basics every time you go shopping, so when you want to rustle something up from scratch you'll have most of the ingredients on hand. I'm planning some posts on the ingredients that make up my kitchen staples but What to Cook Tonight have an excellent list of store cupboard staples to point you in the right direction.
3. Tidy up after yourself
The worst thing ever is when you've just finished a delicious meal and you take the plates back into the kitchen to be confronted with a bomb site. It's really demoralising and makes you not want to do it again, right? So tidy up as you go! Please don't think I'm being patronising by saying this - it seems like obvious advice I know, but I used to be such a messy cook. It's really off-putting and makes you long for the simplicity of a ready meal, particularly if you don't have a dishwasher. So make a concerted effort to tidy up as you go - ingredients which are finished with go back in the cupboards, utensils that you're done with can be stuck in the dishwasher or sink, you get the picture. There's usually a point in the recipe where there's a bit of downtime - when something's simmering or baking in the oven - so use that time wisely!
4. Learn a few basics
You don't have to be churning out gourmet meal every night. Start with the basics and try to learn a few simple recipes off by heart. It makes the whole process so much quicker if you can just get on with it, rather than having to refer back to recipes the whole time. I'd say about 80-90% of what we eat is simple meals that I know how to do without using a recipe. I usually save anything new or more complicated for the weekends when I have more time and energy to spend in the kitchen. Easy Cook magazine is really good for simple week-night meals if you're looking for somewhere to start.
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