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5 basic steps to cooking on your own

Students living alone need not fear the knife and cutting board. University Post cooking consultant Alenka Gajšek takes you through the five basic stages of cooking for one

Whether living in a dormitory, sharing an apartment or living with a host-family, the cheapest way of keeping your belly and your wallet full is home cooking. You might be lucky enough to carry out this act of ultimate independency with your roommates, or significant other, but what if all of a sudden you are on your own? This might be a challenge to face, especially for internationals and their unfamiliarity with the practice of cooking for one itself and mostly, with the supplying element of it – grocery shopping.

Let us go step by step in this short guide of healthy, time-efficient, low-cost and mostly fun process of cooking for yourself.

1. Navigating your mind set – changing views on the practice of cooking

The first and crucial thing to do is to take your current mind set on cooking into consideration.

You may ask yourself, »Is it worth all the effort if it is only for me? A sandwich or some pasta will fill me up just fine!«

Not really. Let’s see things from a different point of view.

Get into the mindset of, »I am worth it! Finally I have a chance to cook the things that I really like and especially the way I like them! I am worth it!«

Now that we’ve switched to the positive cooking discourse, we are ready to deal with the practical considerations of how to put these words into action.

2. Planning the weekly menu

The next big question that arises is the dilemma of what to buy and when so you don’t end up throwing away the food, especially those expensive fruits and vegetables.

We will shed some light on the above mentioned planning at this point. It is a good idea to have at least a vague weekly cooking plan. This way, you will always have enough supplies to cook something nice and healthy and it will prevent your food from making its way into the garbage.

Write down a list of dishes you want to prepare for yourself in the following week with the amount of ingredients you need to prepare them. You can either split up written recipes, which are usually written for four people, or if you already have a basic cooking background, calculate on the basis of that knowledge. And don’t worry, knowing how much food to make will come with regular practice. Most importantly – keep it fun and engage yourself in the exploration of different cuisines and flavour combinations – discovered and prepared by you!

3. What to buy and how to use it

These two questions just cannot be separated and it is precisely why planning is so important.

Keep several big ingredients close by – such as meat, which must be used within days after buying – so that you can combine them with individual dishes. With meat, you can either use it in pasta, rice or later in sandwiches (especially if we’re talking about turkey or chicken). The same goes for fish.

Therefore you briefly decide your »meat or fish days« and then you have vegetable days the rest of the week. In those days you can expect all sorts of vegetable soups, which you can combine with side dishes such as pancakes or brownies. Remember, you can make soups in large quantities and refrigerate them for later meals. But if you do this, avoid soups with potatoes in them and try rice instead.

4. More tips on grocery shopping

If we return back to the topic of grocery shopping, mind the expiration dates of milk products and avoid buying large packages of them, since it is difficult to use all that on your own. Supplying yourself with some good cheese and cream would be my advice here, since just a touch of those in several dishes improves the taste a lot.

In buying vegetables, if you have the chance, stop by a smaller fruit and vegetable stands around the city – there are plenty! There. You can buy fruits and vegetables in pieces, not packed. Having three different kinds of vegetables and fruits is ideal for a week of cooking.

Oils of good quality are a cooking essential – olive and sunflower would suffice. Supply yourself with a range of different spices, including curry, chilli, oregano, basil and cinnamon – they make such a difference!

5. The grand finale – cooking

Congratulations, you’ve made it! Now you just have to make it. That easy? Yes. The important part about cooking is the preparation for it. First, make sure you have enough space in the kitchen – your counter must be as clear as possible. Second, cooking takes time, so make sure you won’t be rushing – it could damage you, the kitchen and your food!

When you have all necessary ingredients, you need to create the right atmosphere as well. Put on some energetic music and let the party begin! Once you’ve washed and chopped all that you need for your crazy yummy dish, you must consider the issue of timing. When should you put something on the cooker or in the oven and for how long? Familiarize yourself with cooking times whether from cooking books, recipes from the internet, cooking forums or from the great chefs in your social network. The rest is magic: a bit of this, a bit of that. Keep in mind the wise words of the Spice Girls – »Spice up your life!«

I would like to invite all of you ‘single’ cooks out there to contribute to this introductory article with the big theme of home cooking for one. What do you like to cook for yourself? How do you organize your meals during the busy week? If you have any suggestions, comments please feel free to share them here.
Lots of cooking joys!

Ready to cook for more? Read about cooking with locals in Copenhagen