Please help, I just can't cook and it is getting me down!(99 Posts)
Just thrown away another horrible effort (beef in red wine in the slow cooker) - third time this week. Am in tears and have had huge row with DH after he tasted it and meekly suggested that we order out.
I'm new to all this stay-at-home-Mum-do-the-cooking thing and the cooking element is really getting me down. I have bought a slow cooker and done a couple of lovely chickens in it, a nice spag bol and a good chilli but that is about the extent of my repetoire. My son is 4mo and I am getting worried about weaning him now - what will I feed him? We now live in Dubai (you may have guessed!!) but when we lived and both worked in London we lived on M&S food - the like of which is not available here and I am now lost. My Mum was a terrible cook when we were younger (baked beans and pasta, as spag bol!) but she has suddenly become a domestic goddess - not sure how
I have tried the Delia cookery course but honestly I just find that this and lots of cookbooks just encourage you to buy loads of expensive and fancy ingredients that you never use again. Food is incredibly expensive here and I hate waste. I need to learn to cook standard, basic family fare. I don't want to bake, make my own pasta etc etc...just know how to feed the three of us without relying on pasta n sauce every night. Please help - this is really getting me down Thank you.
In case no-one's said this before, one really important thing to do as you're learning is to keep tasting. It's easy to follow all the instruction but forget to taste until the end, and then wonder what's gone wrong.
You can also 'correct' flavours that have gone wrong, to an extent. For example:
- Overdone the salt in a stew - add more veg, tomato, potato etc
- Too sour - add a bit of sugar or honey
- Too much chili - add yoghurt
- Tastes a bit bland - add a teeny bit more salt, chili, lemon juice, garlic as appropriate
- You often don't need more salt, but just a bit more acid - keep some vinegar or lemon juice (bottled or fresh, whatever you can get hold of) for this
IMO, unless it's burned or you've done something bonkers like add half a pound of cloves to a pound of mince, most stews and simple dishes can be rescued.
Another good cook rubbish slow cooker here. I also have a nearly 4 month old and I find anything that can be chucked in the oven and forgotten about is good.
One fail safe thing I do is chicken wrapped in bacon stuffed with philadelphia. Cut a pocket in the chicken breast, bung in some philly, and wrap the whole breast in bacon. Bung in the oven at 180C for about 40 mins. The philadelphia website probably has a recipe.
I don't eat fish, but my mother smears philly over cod, then sprinkles chopped bell peppers and chopped nuts over it and bungs in the oven.
A variation on that is to put whole chicken fillets into a pyrex dish, cover with chopped peppers, onions, and if you fancy them courgettes , cover and cook in the oven for about 40 mins.
Serve any of the above with baked potatoes - i'd just wrap in tin foil and bung in the oven a little earlier than the dishes.
Also, when making lassagne / cottage pie / moussaka etc., I always make some to freeze. I get 8 portions out of my pyrex dish and I but foil conrainers (the size you would get fried rice in a chinese). I put a portion in each one, label and freeze. On days I can't be arsed cooking, I take them out to defrost in the morning, take off the cardboard lid, cover in foil and reheat in the oven.
What an interesting thread! I totally agree with your comment that the 'key to cooking is following RECIPES'. I was a useless cook when I started, but I improved dramatically when I invested in a basic recipes book, which I keep using even for basic stuff because of the measurements (apart from maybe pasta dishes because I just throw in onions, veg and bacon with some tomato sauce and it seems to work everytime).
This I learnt from my mum's mistakes. She is still not a good cook at all, and gets upset when people remark on it, but she simply will not use a recipe and just trusts her instincts, sadly, her instincts are sh*t and I guess her tastebuds too...
badgerwife you make me laugh - I think our mums must be related
I so agree that the key to cooking is recipes and I would add to that: all sorts of supposedly difficult cooking scenarios are easy if you just have the right recipe
eg dinner party, do something you can cook in advance; cooking for 20 people, do something that's not too fiddly and scales up properly; etc etc.
while i think recipies are really important, you can never feel confident in the kitchen unless you have a set of techniques to do the basics.
I would learn how to do some really simple meat or fish and two veg type dishes and start learning about seasoning and flavouring through making salads or adding a bit of zing to veg. (tossing them in garlic and chilli for example).
My sister doesn't really cook very much and my Mum brought her this book to boost her cooking skills & confidence. All the recipes have 4 ingredients - there are a few other similar themed titles available on amazon
Sling the slowcooker is the best advice. There is probably nothing more guaranteed to make a meal taste like rubber cardboard than a slowcooker. The only thing I ever do in the slowcooker is a whole chicken with lemon and garlic stuffed inside.
schwartz slow cooker mixes (beef and tomato ones lovely)
Lentil soup- half a bag of lentils, prepared soup mix, 2 knor ham stock cubes, boil 10 min, add quatered potatoes and bacon simmer for 30 min. Salt pepper and loads of crusty bread.
Ready made meatballs and an onion. Fry til browned then add ready made supermarket sauce of choice and cubed peppers (i like cherry toms) simmer for 10 min. Serve with pasta and garlic bread.
Chicken onion mushrooms, fry then add maysan curry powder mix simmer for 15 min (usually found in butchers). Serve with boil in the bag rice.
Hope these help
I pride myself on being a decent cook BUT the one thing I absolutely CAN'T do is meat! Thing is, I don't eat it (no ideology, just always hated red meat) and I just can't get the hang of cooking it. I'm forever scared that it's not gonna cook through so I end up severely overdoing it Took me a while to master chicken, too. One thing I've learnt is, it's always easier to cook meat/chicken chopped to small chunks than whole.
I can share two very simple fish recipes. One is whole fish, one is fillets. Both go well with potatoes (boiled/mashed/chips/baked), rice, veg or pasta (tagliatelle/linguine + fish and you need no sauce!).
Whole: my adaptation of the French "sea bass in a salt crust" recipe.
To serve two, you'll need:
- 2 small/medium size fish, scale on, approx 250-400 g each. Or you could do one big one. Ask the fishmonger to gut it. Do NOT have it scaled as some recipes suggest coz then it'll salt through to death while cooking.
(It can be any fish really, not just sea bass, but be careful with fish that have very fine scales (e.g. trout) as they tend to get too salty if slightly overdone.)
- a lot of salt, at least 1 kg but I'd have 2.5 kg handy. Ideally it should be rock salt, but I've used ordinary table salt.
- any fresh herb you can find: dill, coriander, chives, leeks or rosemary are all great. Or anything else you think will go with fish. I'd avoid mint tho. If there's no fresh herb you can get hold of, bay leaves will do.
- casserole, frying pan, or any oven-proof dish big enough to accomodate your fish but not too big so you don't waste too much salt.
- lemon wedges or lemon juice to serve (optional)
Rinse the fish with cold water. Chop heads off if a bit too big for your dish. Stuff the cavities with herb.
Pour some salt into the dish so as to cover the bottom. A 1/2 inch deep layer is plenty. Lay the fish on top of the salt and por the rest of the salt in. Fish should be completely covered. Try not to get any salt into the body cavity. Sprinkle on top with some water (that'll form a salt crust).
Stick in the oven preheated to 190-200C and cook for 25-30 mins (less for smaller fish, more for bigger).
When it's done, take the dish out of the oven and stick on top of some newspaper sheets. Crack the crust with something heavy like a big knife or a mallet. Brush or shake off onto the newspaper enough salt to expose the fish. Carefully move the fish onto a plate. Using a knife and fork, skin the fish. Now it's up to you whether you'll want to serve it as is, or take it off the bone (in which case it'll look a bit messy, but then you'll have less mess while eating).
The good thing about this recipe - it's much simpler than it looks (it'll prob take you less to do it than it took me to type it up!) and because the fish cooks in its own juices, it'll never be too dry or, erm, smell of fish
- 2 fish fillets, ideally salmon. Skin on or off, doesn't matter.
- 3-5 bay leaves
- optional: some fresh herb (see above for types of herb)
- optional: 2-3 cloves, several black peppercorns
- pinch salt to season (+ ground black pepper if not using peppercorns)
- sheet of foil, or a small lidded oven-proof dish, just big enough to stuff the fillets it tightly
Preheat oven to 180-190C. Rinse fish in cold water. Put onto the foil/in the dish, season with salt/pepper/cloves, lay bay leaves and herbs on, under and between the fillets. Wrap the foil tightly around the fish and put on a baking tray OR put lid on dish if using a dish. Stick in the oven for 20-25 min.
When done, unwrap the foil and remove all the debris including fish skins with a knife and fork.
Both these recipes are baby/toddler-friendly as well, although I'd forgo pepper/cloves if cooking for a little one.
How to PAINLESSLY cook rice to perfection
- 80-100 ml rice per person
- water (for quantity, see below)
- oil or butter
- salt and (optional) spice
- medium-sized saucepan, ideally one with a thick bottom. Avoid non-stick saucepans as the bottom layer of the rice tends to get very dry in those.
for whatever reason few ppl I've met know the trick, but there's a very simple way to boil rice so it's not sticky or dry. All you need is ONE measure of (dry) rice and just under TWO measures of water. So, to serve two you'll need 200 ml rice and about 380 ml water. Some varieties of short-grain rice need slightly less, say 350-360 ml water. For whatever reason PUDDING RICE available in the UK needs 1.5 measures of water, I suspect it must be pre-steamed. But that's the only variety of rice I know of that needs that little.
Rinse the rice in cold water. Drain well. Put the rice into the pan. Pour in water.
Put on the hob and turn heat up to max. When water begins to boil, turn the heat right down and give the rice a quick stir so it doesn't stick to the sides. Salt (1/4 - 1/3 teaspoonful's fine). If using any spice, now's the time to chuck it in. Add 1-2 table spoonfuls of oil, or if using butter, leave that till the end. Give it another quick stir. Cover with a lid.
THAT'S IT!! Now all you need to do is wait till the rice soaks up all the water and air holes become well visible. That'll take approx 15-25 min depending on how hard the rice is. My mum usually cooks it on low heat for 15 min, then turns the heat off and leaves the pan on the hob for a further 10-15 min (the hob will still be hot so the rice will cook through but there's no danger it'll burn).
When done, add butter and stir.
How to Feed Your Whole Family a Healthy Balanced Diet, with Very Little Money and Hardly Any Time, Even If You Have a Tiny Kitchen, Only Three ... - Unless You Count the Garlic Crusher... by Gill Holcome is also an excellent book, full of really simple recipes with very readily avalaible ingredients. It also has shopping lists and menu plans to help you get the best out of each meal by using leftovers and so on.
Have had a sick baby for a couple of days but now I am back to this thread and, blimey, I am on the mumsnet homepage (a "culinary klutz", no less ) and have had lots and lots more wonderful advice. I will try to respond to you lovely of people individually later, but thanks * a million. Glad this is help some other kitchen disasters out too!
Masterchef here I come.
If we're giving tips on foolproof preparation for things, here's mine for couscous. This will work every single time.
1. Ignore the instructions on the packet.
2. Pour required amount of couscous into a bowl (approximately 30g per person if you want to measure it out).
3. Pour over boiling water from kettle, shaking the bowl slightly to make sure the water is going all the way down and not simply being absorbed at the top. Stop pouring when the water is covering the couscous by about 1/2 cm.
3. Cover with a plate of some clingfilm and leave for 5 minutes.
4. Stir through with a fork and some butter or olive oil
5. Add any flavourings etc you want (or if you're DH, simply pile on a plate and eat with whatever else you're having)
1. Premade "rubs" in different flavours. DH particularly likes an Egyptian one his mother sends us.
2. Chopped herbs (parsely, mint, thyme, coriander are all good together or alone) and some lemon
3. Raisens, sultanas or other chopped dried fruit. Add some chopped nuts too if you feel like it.
It is also absolutely delicious as a meal with roasted vegetables. Make sure to include some tomatoes when you're roasting the veg as they will give it a lovely juiciness which will soak into the couscous. Top with some feta or goats cheese and/or toasted pine nuts for extra luxury.
Or make it as a salad with roasted veggies, excluding the tomatoes, and use olive oil and lemon and some chopped parsley and mind as a dressing. You could add a spoon of yoghurt to the dressing too.
chopped parsely and MINT for the dressing.
I just wanted to come back and acknowledge all the lovely responses I've had on here - you've been fab and I feel much more positive about cooking.
I've bought the Annabel Karmel weaning book - so DS won't starve and DH and I have lived on left over (delicious) lasagne for most of the week! It was a real help to have some "proper" food in the fridge as DS cut his first tooth yesterday and he's been hard work all week with teething pain - bless.
I am planning to do the following next week:
1 x lasagne (to practice)
1 x Jamie recipe curry (again, to practice although perhaps not the vindaloo as it was a bit spicey for me)
1 x jacket pots
1 x left over
1 x beans on toast/omlette or similar
1 x pizza (we ALWAYS have a pizza night at the weekend)
and 1 x slow cooker chicken (we seem to be divided on the slow cooker issue but I do find chickens easy in there)
and I feel quite calm about it all
Chica - I am glad I am not alone and glad this thread is helping you. Your little one is only 3 weeks old though! I think you have an even better excuse than me for not cooking...
Anna26Anna - Le Meridien in Garhoud do cooking demos and I've heard they are pretty good. If I can return your favour by offering any Dubai advice please let me know - even if you want to pop round for a cup of tea sometime...just pm me...moving is scary but Dubai is a great place to live - especially if you have kids. The weather is just about perfect now so it's a great time to arrive. If you haven't already take a look at expatwoman.com for help and advice.
The lady who asked about local cooking and local ingredients (sorry can't seem to scroll back and find your name). Emirati/bedouin cooking has been a little swamped by Indian and Lebanese cuisine here (most of the population are Indian or south east Asian and Lebanese food seems to be very popular amoungst all Arabs.) I found this article for you - it's about the father of a boy I taught for a while (he was MORTIFIED that his father was a chef) and is quite telling about the local attitude to cooking! MrEbdowa
All those who have recommended cookbooks - every last one is now on my Amazon wish list so hopefully I will build up a decent collection that'll see me through.
And finally to those who have taken the time to type out recipes, thank you. It is most appreciated
Won't be long before you are serving up home made pizza
i would just like to know your experiences of catering companies?
where they good or bad?
what advice would you give to a new catering company?
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Your meal plan liooks lovely and I'm so glad that you are feeling chilled. Haven't posted before but most of what I wanted to say has been said before. Just wanted to second the slow cooker thing. I'm a ok cook, but can't get on with my slow cooker. Think the advice of using your regular cooker before trying out too many recipes in your slow cooker is a good one.
I also could never get on with Annabel Karmel, every child I know weaned her way is fussy any the thought of cooking special meals just for one person just seemed a bit crazy to me. I weaned DS on fruit and veg purees, then just started mashing our food. Dd was a total spoon refuser, so was weaned on our food straight away.
Have a look at the blw if you want an an alternative view, and don't forget Mn weaning advice and section
I actually learned to cook from watching ready steady cook when I was ill for a few months.
Before that I could follow a recipe, but not make anything up.
OK here's a simple one. Before you start shove a couple of potatoes in the oven to bake and buy a bag of salad so you are only using one pan.
Leave the potatoes for about an hour - they should be soft to press, througha tea towel you do not want to burn.
OK your shopping list
2 salmon steaks (easier for a first timer than fillets)
1 carton of double cream or creme fresh, at a pinch you could use philadelphia
1 jar of whole grain mustard
oil - I like olive but veg would be fine
put the pan on the hear and turned up full
pour a little oil over both 'sides' of the steaks, so not the skin or inside. Add about a teaspoon of oil tothe pan.
put the steaks in the pan and turn it down to medium.
Watch the steak turn light pink from the bottom to the middle and then turn them over.
Now watch the pink rise from the bottom to meet the pink in the middle.
Add two teaspoons of the mustard and enough cream / creme fresh to cover the base of the pan.
Use a wooden stirer/wooden spoon to mix the mustard and cream, turn the heat up and and keep mixing.
As soon as the cream starts to bubble it is done, turn off the pan, put the fish with the salad and baked potato on a plate, pour the cream mixture over and eat.
You can do this with chicken or other fish and it is good with pork steaks, if they are available in Dubai.
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I disagree with the 'sling the slow cooker' I am the laziest cook but my slow cooker dishes always go down a storm. I also live in Dxb. Happy to meet up if u need a bit of practical support and a glass of vino.
Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course is brilliant if you really are starting to scratch. Just do what she says and bingo.
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