Home alone – a guide for first time cooks


It’s a common fear amongst students – you return to Durham and settle into your very own house, purchased with your very own money (well, loaned money) and are feeling a little bit cocky. After all, you’re not a fresher any more, you’re an experienced university-goer who’s got the 411 on pretty much everything. That is, until you step into your dimly lit and no doubt slightly damp kitchen and realise that, for the first time, it is you who is completely in control of what you eat. Scary, huh? Well, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Yes there will be the dodgy tasting curries and the burnt casseroles, but, if you follow this guide, I can guarantee that those kitchen disasters will be kept to a minimum.

Shopping for food
The first culinary related issue to tackle is where to buy your food in the first place. After all, it’s kind of critical for cooking. The obvious choice has to be Tesco, as it has all the essentials at a good price and, because everyone knows students lead busy lives, mercifully all under one roof. Those with a bit more dosh to spend thanks to daddy, head straight to M&S and treat yourself to some of their pricier yet perfectly piquant meals. Alternatively those of you with slightly more exotic tastes or higher culinary expectations, why not check out Durham market for a mouth-watering selection of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, or Durham’s very own Asian supermarket tucked into the top of North Road for some spicy treats.

Cupboard essentials
So, now that you know where to purchase your edible wares, it’s probably a good idea to build up some staple items for your cupboards – as well as placating your mothers when they come to visit, a well stocked kitchen means a lot less time running to and from Tesco for forgotten ingredients when cooking a meal. Things like salt and pepper, cooking oil, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise seem so obvious it’s almost not worth mentioning, but when forgotten it can cause a lot of unnecessary aggravation, and keep a meal from reaching its full potential. Being a student words like ‘cheap’, ‘easy’, and ‘long-life’ no doubt provide you with much comfort, leading me to my next group of essentials – tins. Tuna, baked beans, soup, peas, sweetcorn, and even milk come in a tin and provide the ultimate quick and easy food, as long as you remember to bring a can opener! Thinking lastly of your freezer, it is always good to have a drawer full of frozen goodies which can be easily defrosted and digested, such as mixed vegetables, chicken breasts, pizza and even a loaf of bread for a quick sandwich between lectures.

Cooking tips
Everyone you ask will have an infinite amount of cooking wisdom to bestow upon you, no doubt trying to show off their skills in the kitchen, and I, fortunately, am no different. My first gem is to pop into Tesco and M&S before they close when you have an evening free and locate the reduced section, where you will be faced with a plethora of bargain buys, such as 10p bread or 60p pasta meals. Secondly, try to organise a cooking rota with your housemates as soon as possible – you chose to live with each other, so the assumption is that you’re keen to help one another out, and cooking for a group is not only cheaper and leads to a lot less food being wasted, but it also spares you from cooking on days when you have other things on your plate. Thirdly, if you haven’t already I can’t sing the praises of the Tesco Clubcard enough – every month you’ll get pages of vouchers and money off your shopping delivered straight to your door, which produces a feeling of elation I can only imagine equates to something like winning the lottery or finding a twenty pound note on the way to a lecture. Lastly, make sure you take yourself to the Poundland in The Gates and buy a couple of containers, as they are infinitely useful for storing leftovers which can be consumed after a night out or before an early morning lecture.

So there you have it, all the ingredients necessary to turn you from a mere amateur to a seasoned student chef, and all for little money and even less time and effort. Evenings at university shouldn’t be all about cooking, and this guide aims to show you that with a little preparation you can ensure that when it’s your turn to cook for your housemates, providing them with a cheap, quick, easy and delicious meal will be as easy as pie.

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