As students return to college, Joe McNamee turns to chef Ali Honour for her failsafe recipes for beginners in the kitchen.
It is that time of year once more when a brand new cohort of Irish mammies commences an age-old ritual, that perilous teetering around the edge of a nervous breakdown that comes with sending progeny off to college, to live away from home for the first time.
And, to further compound this great anxiety is the dawning realisation that a lifetime spent dancing attendance, catering for every whim and fancy, has actually been their greatest folly, that these near-adult offspring have no more ability to look after themselves than the average toddler, able to wipe their own bums but rather vague as to which plant toilet paper comes from.
And, when it comes to cooking for themselves, well, the first lesson might well be, how not to burn water.
Actually, it may not be as bad as all that.
Most campuses have restaurants and cafes offering some reasonable form of sustenance and, providing you’ve trained him or her to open a box and make a microwave go bing, Precious won’t starve.
However, convenience food comes at a price, quite literally.
While a jar of pasta sauce or a frozen pizza may appear a quick and painless means of compensating for a lack of culinary skills, convenience food is far dearer than, and also nutritionally inferior to, home-cooked food.
The latter will mean diddly squat to a young student in the prime of life but the possibility of reducing the housekeeping budget in favour of increasing the ‘social’ budget will cause most young ears to prick up.
Cooking isn’t actually that hard and learning to cook well eventually comes with practice — all you have to do is make a start.
We’ve asked, Ali Honour, chef and proprietor of the very popular Ali’s Kitchen café and restaurant in Cork city and herself a recovering student, for some recipes that are flexible and easy to get the ball rolling.
“I went to university in Newcastle to do law. The plan was to become a barrister but I had been working in professional kitchens since the age of 13 so while all the other students were scrambling for bits of part- time jobs, I was almost immediately offered a part-time commis chef position in a lovely restaurant in Newcastle,” says Ali.
“At the end of first year, I switched from Law to Arts and also went to catering college and earned my paperwork.
“My first year had been typical student life but after that it was just hard graft for the next four years until I got my degree.
“I was fairly unusual in that I was well able to fend for myself whereas all the people I lived with were a disaster.
“I did a lot of cooking for people and as long as they did the wash-up, I was happy.
“There was six of us in a shared house and most people fended for themselves eating very basic stuff, usually pasta with cheap cheese or with a jar of sauce.
“Most people seemed to have one substantial main meal a day rather than three but we would pull together at least twice a week for a shared meal which made us a right little family sitting around the table.
“Obviously, students are going to do their own thing but if they have a bit of sense they will try to eat something healthy every day.
“Student shopping is usually random and unplanned.
“But if they work off a planned budget and list they will do much better than buying cheap, processed foods on a whim.
“Having a basic stock cupboard of essentials means you can at least turn some rice or pasta into a cheap and nutritious meal.
“In the house I was in, everybody would give me something from their cupboard and ask me to work it into a meal.
“I’ve always loved that. It was like Ready, Steady, Cook—and it was a good way of getting a drink off everybody as well!”
Ali’s Essentials for the store cupboard: Flour, eggs, salt, pepper, milk, chilli sauce, soy and some frozen veggies will save time & money!
‘Oops, I Missed-My-Morning-Lecture’ Pancakes
Can be supplemented with any additional ingredients you may have to hand. In Ali’s Kitchen, we are currently obsessed with avocado and bacon but use whatever you like best.
Add the flour, salt, egg and milk to large bowl and whisk to a smooth batter.
Add the sweetcorn and chilli and crumble/small pieces of cheese. Set aside.
Fry bacon until crispy and cut in half. Reserve bacon fat in the pan. Destone and peel avocado and slice. Grate lime zest and then squeeze out juice and pour both over avocado along with a good pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Fry pancakes
Reheat pan to medium-hot and cook pancakes, two at a time, two minutes either side or until done.
To serve: Two pancakes per person on each plate. First add avocado, then two or three rashers, tomato slices, dollop of yoghurt and drizzle with chilli sauce.
Noodle ‘Cure For The Morning After’
Noodles are so cheap and versatile. This recipe is a great pick-me-up if you’ve slightly overdone it the night before.
Peel ginger and garlic, grate into large bowl, add soy, sesame oil, vinegar. Shred cabbage and blanch in boiling salted water with the frozen veg and noodles for few minutes. Drain well then add to bowl and mix well.
Fry eggs. Divide noodles and veg mix into serving bowls, top with fried egg and a good lash of chilli sauce!
‘More Money-For-Beer’ Flatbread Pizza
Quick, easy and so much better than any cheap frozen pizza. Depending on toppings, you can serve as pizza, garlic bread, an open sandwich or even just with a bowl of soup.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl, mix with hands and bring together to form a rough ball.
Dust work surface with a little flour and knead for just two minutes to bring dough together. Dust a clean bowl with a little flour, place dough in bowl and cover with a plate. Set aside for 35 minutes.
Divide dough into eight to 12 balls, flatten with hands first then, using rolling pin (or wine bottle if rolling pin isn’t available!) and roll into 10-12in rounds.
Heat frying pan to medium-hot, drizzle teaspoon of olive oil over each round and cook for two minutes on each side. Transfer to plate to cool or baking tray if progressing to pizza.
To make pizza, add your choice of toppings and bake in heated oven (200C) until cheese is melted and base is crispy. To make garlic bread, top with garlic butter.
Some chopped fresh parsley/ tarragon, if available or sprinkle of dried mixed herbs.
Mix together and add to flatbread or even cooked pizza for extra flavour.
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