Cooking Tips for Students on a Budget

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When people leave home to become a student, it is the start of a new chapter of their lives. Along with the freedom and independence come additional responsibilities which require the development of new life skills. Two such skills are cooking and budgeting. The majority of students will have limited funds and will need to cover bills in their new accommodation as well as making sure they eat a healthy and nutritious diet. To achieve this on such limited funds can be tricky, but it is manageable with a little thought and planning into shopping and the preparation of food. Here are some ideas of some staple foods that every student should buy and some ideas for student meals on a budget.

Pulses

These are a much cheaper source of protein than meat. They can be used to make vegetarian alternatives to meals or to bulk up a meal if only a small amount of meat can be afforded. Chilli con Carne is one such meal where meat can be entirely replaced, or kidney beans and haricot (or baked) beans can be used to bulk up the meal using only a small amount of minced meat.  Beans on toast are also a really quick snack or meal to eat that is cheap and packed with nutrients. Opt for tins with low salt and sugar content.

Rice

Rice is usually really cheap to buy and you can buy it in large bags to store for long periods of time, thus avoiding wasting money and food. You can use rice as a side dish to accompany another item, such as a curry, or to create a dish on its own. Adding spices, small amounts of meat or fish and as many vegetables as you like are quick, easy, cheap and tasty ways to use rice. Rice is also an ingredient that you can experiment with a little as it will absorb the flavors of the other ingredients with which it is served.

Pasta

Similarly, pasta is inexpensive and you can but it in large quantities that store for long periods of time. There are countless ways of serving pasta.  One really easy and cheap option is to simply add a tomato sauce to the pasta.  You can do this either by using a jar of pasta sauce or making a homemade sauce using fresh tomatoes and some herbs. A simple ratatouille added to the pasta is another option for a cheap, tasty and nutritious dish. There are many variations of this but frying courgette, tomatoes and peppers together is really easy even for an amateur cook. Other options with pasta include tuna pasta bake, pasta carbonara (adding cheese, ham and mushrooms) or spaghetti bolognese. 

Experiment

Finally, the best advice that can be given to a student is to experiment with the food you create. Buy lots of things that store well and try out different combinations of ingredients together. Keep a stock of dried herbs and spices in the cupboard so you can get experimental with flavours in your cooking.

RECIPE: Shortcrust Pastry

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It never ceases to amaze me that people do not make their own pastry when it is such a simple thing to make. Here is how to make shortcrust pastry with the ingredients, instructions, and some helpful tips. 

flour and butter

Ingredients for Shortcrust Pastry

  • 8 oz/ 225 g plain flour
  • 2 oz/ 60 g butter
  • 2 oz/ 20 g lard
  • Good pinch of salt

rolling pin

Instructions

  1. Weigh out the ingredients.
  2. Sieve the flour and the salt into a bowl.
  3. Chop the lard and the butter into the bowl.
  4. Rub the flour and the fat between your fingers to form a crumb.
  5. Add a small amount of water to the bowl and stir the crumbs with your hand to bind them together. Continue to add small amounts of water until you have a firm pastry dough.
  6. Wrap the pastry and put in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  7. Dust the work surface with a little flour and rub some flour into a rolling pin.
  8. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator, remove cling film and place on the floured surface.
  9. Take the rolling pin and roll backward and forwards on the pastry, pressing down firmly.
  10. Turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat.

Tips

  • Vegetarians– Replace the lard with an extra 2 oz of butter or use margarine.
  • Sweet Pastry– Add 1 oz of caster sugar and do not add the salt.
  • Sticking pastry– If the pastry is sticking to the rolling pin, simply sprinkle a little flour over the pastry and rub some flour into the rolling pin.
  • Lifting the pastry– If you are finding it tricky to lift the pastry without breaking it, then use your rolling pin. Lie the rolling pin across the centre of the pastry. Take the edge furthest away from yourself and lift over the rolling pin until the back edge meets the front edge. Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry.
  • Glaze- If you are using the pastry for a pie crust, you should add a glaze. Use a pastry brush to cover the pastry with either milk or a whisked egg.

 

 

Reducing Salt Intake In Your Diet

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There is a never-ending stream of advice with regards to how people should live a healthier lifestyle.  Doctors, magazines and TV programmes alike are telling everybody to reduce their alcohol intake, quit smoking, eat five fruit and vegetables a day and exercise on a regular basis.  Amongst the things that they tell people that they should be doing is reducing the amount of salt that is in their diets.

The Health Risks

Whilst some salt in your diet is essential.  Too much salt is linked to many illnesses and diseases including heart disease and increasing the risk of having a stroke.  It can also cause damage to the kidneys if eaten in large quantities.  This is bad news for people who crave salt in their diets.  However, there are healthier options for people who crave salt in their diet.

Reduced Sodium Salt

A kitchen essential for those who are trying to reduce their salt intake but enjoy the flavour that salt gives their food is reduced sodium salt.  Using this when preparing food or adding it to food once it is cooked will still give you the flavour of salt, but will have a less harmful effect on your body. This is the first step in cutting back on salt in your food.

Avoid Pre-prepared Foods

Whenever possible, avoid buying pre-prepared foods as these are often high in salt. This applies to food in packets, frozen meals, and tinned food. If you prepare your meals yourself, then you have full control over how much salt goes into the dish. If you must buy ready meals, then choose ones that have reduced salt.  This means that they still contain salt and will have the flavour, but there is a reduced amount in that product, thus making it a healthier option.  Gravy granules are also available in reduced salt varieties.  Gravy is generally a very salty product so this is a good alternative.

Choose Naturally Salty Ingredients

Another tip is to cook with food that has a naturally salty flavour and will not require you to add salt to the dish.  Gammon and bacon are good options as they are naturally salty and will flavour any food that is cooked in the same pan.  You can also save the stock from a gammon joint to add to soups or gravy giving them a meaty, salty flavour.

Use Alternative Flavours

Finally, if it is simply that you feel that food is bland without the addition of salt, then look for alternatives to use in your cooking to add extra taste and flavour to your meals.  Experiment with different herbs and spices to find ones that tantalize your taste buds and use these instead.  They are a much healthier option and you will greatly reduce the amount of salt in your diet by doing this.

Hot to Get Kids Eating Vegetables

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Vegetables are an essential part of a varied, healthy and balanced diet.  It is important that your child eats vegetables daily so that they remain healthy and develop normally.  One of the biggest challenges parents face is getting their children to eat vegetables. This is sometimes because they don’t like the taste, texture, or color and occasionally because they have choked on a particular food when they were younger and this has developed into a phobia.  Here are some tips on how you can get your children to eat vegetables.

Start As You Mean To Go On

It is important to introduce a wide range of vegetables from the start.  This can be done even in the early stages of weaning your child as vegetables are ideal for mashing pureeing.  They are also fantastic finger foods when your child moves to the next stage.

Set an Example

Children mimic their parent’s behaviour  If they see you eating a variety of vegetables daily, then they will see this as being the norm and follow your lead.  If they only see you eating junk food, then vegetables will become an alien concept that they be unwilling to eat. 

Make It Fun and Involve Them

Making mealtimes and the food that is served can help the meal to seem more appealing.  One way of doing this is to turn the food into pictures.  For example, top a pizza with cherry tomatoes and slices of pepper arranged into the design of a face.  Children also like to be involved in the cooking process and if they have made the food their selves or helped to prepare it, it can make the vegetables served more appealing.

Grow Your Own

Seeing the whole process of the creation of vegetables, from seed to serving on a plate, can make the food seem interesting. If they get involved in this process, they will feel pride in what they have achieved.  It is also a great way to educate children about how plants grow and the sources of different food types.

Disguise the Vegetables

If you are really struggling to get your child to eat vegetables and want them to benefit from the nutrients, then you can disguise the vegetables.  One way is to dice them up very finely in foods like casseroles, chilli con carne or spaghetti bolognese.  Soups are also a great way to disguise the vegetable content as they are usually pureed.  Similarly, making homemade pasta sauces with ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers and onions is a good way of disguising what their meal contains.

Recipe Follower or Experimental Cook?

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I am interested to know whether other people prefer to follow recipes or they enjoy experimenting in the kitchen.

Personally, I am a combination of both types of cook. When it comes to baking cakes and biscuits, I always stick to the recipe religiously. A slight deviation one way or another can completely change the results and not always for the better. I see baking as a science with a strict methodology that must be followed.

On the other hand, in all other areas of cooking, I rarely follow a recipe exactly and would describe myself as an experimental cook. If I use a recipe at all, and this is rare, then I will usually deviate from it. I will either add in extra ingredients or take out an ingredient to suit the tastes of myself and my family. 

Other times, I will simply use a recipe for inspiration. What I actually make may not resemble the meal that inspired me in the first place because I have just taken the basic concept and made it my own. 

More often than not, the meals I cook for the family are completely of my own creation using the ingredients that we like. I am quite adept at looking what we have in the fridge, freezer, or cupboard and making an interesting and tasty meal that everyone will enjoy.

I will gradually add more recipes to this blog and any followers will see that they are predominantly simple, tasty dishes for all the family rather than complicated, fine-dining type dishes. They are also of my own creation or adapted from other recipes.

Feel free to comment on what type of cook you are below.

8 Ways to Use Blue Cheese

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Blue cheese is one of those ingredients that some people love and other people hate. I am certainly in the category of people who love blue cheese. While it is often eaten alone, I think this is an extremely versatile ingredient that you can use in many different ways. Depending on the variety you choose, it can add many different flavours, from creamy to tangy. Here are some of my favourite ways to use blue cheese.

Blue Cheese Stuffed Chicken– Similar to a Kiev, stuffing a chicken breast with blue cheese before baking it in the oven means you add a delicious and creamy flavour to what is sometimes a rather bland meat. When you cut into the breast, the melted blue cheese oozes out onto the plate.

Poached Pears with Blue Cheese and Walnuts– This may seem an unusual combination but it absolutely delicious. Poach halved and cored pears in a poaching liquor of your choice and then place on a baking tray. Add chopped walnuts and crumbled blue cheese to the top before baking in the oven.

Steak with Blue Cheese Sauce– A combination of two of my favourite things, steak with blue cheese sauce is a classic. I make it in the pan I have cooked the steak in while the meat is resting using the steak juices, double cream, crumbled blue cheese, and ground black pepper.

Blue Cheese Soufflé– If you are a fan of cheese soufflé, then you probably love a blue cheese soufflé. It has a deeper flavour and you simply switch the regular cheese you use for blue cheese.

Blue Cheese and Crackers– Cheese with crackers is the perfect snacks when you are in the house alone and haven’t got the time to make a large meal. This is also delicious with a glass of red wine in the evenings.

Blue Cheese Dip– A perfect addition to a simple lunch and great to use on a buffet. Blending some blue cheese into mayonnaise with a little black pepper is delicious. Serve it with breadsticks, crudités or any other dipping foods. This is also good for serving with a salad.

Potato Leek and Blue Cheese Soup– A soup is a warming dish that is perfect for the colder months. Potato and leek is one of the simplest soups to make and adding blue cheese gives it an extra depth of flavour. Add either croutons, cream or crispy bacon to the top.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad– Crumbling blue cheese and walnuts over a basic salad makes an otherwise boring dish more interesting. The cheese adds a creamy texture and flavour to complement the crisp textures and flavours of the salad ingredients. The walnuts add crunch and a flavour that works well with the cheese. You can use any salad ingredients you like. I usually use salad leaves, chopped cucumber, sliced red onion, and cherry tomatoes.

Do you have any favourite dishes that use blue cheese?

How to Make Pizza Bases

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I love pizza, but my pet hate is frozen pizzas. The base always tastes like cardboard and the cheese topping usually resembles melted plastic. My children also love pizza but were only usually treated to it if we are eating out as I hated keeping pizzas in the freezer.

Instead, I decided to learn how to make delicious homemade pizza bases just like the Italians. There were many fantastic recipes and guides online with great tips on how to make the perfect pizza base.

The children loved it when I started making homemade pizza bases as it meant they could choose their own toppings and decorate the pizza themselves. My kids love getting involved in the kitchen and are more likely to eat all their meals when they have contributed to the preparation. Cooking is an important life skill to learn, a fun way to spend time with children and a great way to teach them about science and maths.

If you want to learn how to make pizza bases so you can make them yourself at home and get the kids involved in cooking, then this is a great video to watch: