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The kitchen can be an intimidating place. There’s heat, strange words (macerate, emulsify and render, anyone?) and inevitably far more washing-up than expected. But it’s worth it when you can tuck into a delicious plate of nourishing food that you cooked yourself. Co-op Food editor Linzi Pucino explains how to get into the kitchen with confidence.
Healthy and affordable
If you’re just making dinner for yourself, it can be tempting to open a tin of baked beans or order a takeaway. As tasty as beans on toast is, no one wants to eat it every night, and both your wallet and your waistline will suffer if you’re constantly getting food delivered.
While a lot of recipes serve multiple people, I’ve put together a selection of recipes for the solo diner. I’m here to show you that cooking doesn’t need to be complicated – and lockdown is the perfect time to master dishes that you’ll make for years to come. We all have more time at home than usual, and it’s good for body and soul to learn new skills – as well as feeding yourself properly, of course.
Mastering the basics
If your idea of cooking is pressing “start” on the microwave, basic techniques such as poaching eggs or melting chocolate can seem daunting. But once you’ve grasped them, you can build your new skills into many other recipes.
I’ve broken down three tempting recipes by explaining the techniques behind each element. When you’ve mastered those, there’ll be no stopping you!
How to poach an egg
It’s time to learn how to make everyone’s favourite brunch dish…
Poached eggs are cooked in just-boiling water. To start, heat a medium-sized pan of water until it’s just below boiling. For each egg, crack it into a small cup or glass first – this makes it easier to add it to the water. Add a dash of vinegar to the water, if you like, as this can help keep the egg intact when you add it to the pan.
Slowly pour the eggs into the water, one by one. Some parts of the white will detach, but that’s OK. Leave them to cook on a gentle heat for around 3 minutes, until the white is set but the yolk is not yet solid. Using a slotted spoon, remove them, then set to drain on a cloth or piece of kitchen towel. Congratulations! You’ve just poached your first egg.
How to melt chocolate
These simple truffles are a delicious sweet treat that make a great gift, too – if you can bear to give them away, of course. I’d be thrilled if a kind neighbour left a parcel of these outside my door!
The most important thing to remember when melting chocolate is to go slowly – if you heat things up too fast, the chocolate could seize, which means it goes grainy and stiff.
Set a small pan of water to boil at a gentle simmer, and place a large heatproof bowl on top, ensuring the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.
Add chocolate, broken into squares, to the bowl and watch it turn to liquid. With nothing more strenuous than an occasional stir from you, the chocolate will melt beautifully, ready for you to transform into truffles.
How to cook pasta
This flavourful dish serves two, so you can make it for dinner and then enjoy for lunch the next day.
If you can boil water, you can boil pasta. Bring a large pan of water to the boil – you’ll need more than you think, as the pasta absorbs water while it cooks – and season generously.
Once the water is boiling, pour in the pasta, bring the water back to the boil and cook according to the time given on the packet; cooking times can vary slightly, depending on the pasta shape.
You can start testing the pasta when there are a couple of minutes left on the timer. Bite into a piece – be careful, as it’ll be hot! – and see if it’s done. You want it to be soft but not floppy, still with a bit of bite to it. This is called al dente in Italian, which means “to the tooth”.
Now all that’s left is to make your shopping list! Happy cooking.
Co-op Food editor