How to Eat Well: A Beginners Guide

How to Eat Well: A Beginners Guide

Lately, a few people have started asking me how to cook. To be honest I find that question difficult to answer. I think that’s because, in most cases, what they’re really asking me is how to eat.

First things first, you need the basic equipment. I have a friend who requested a post like this who, 6 months into her tenancy, didn’t own a kettle or a toaster. Kitchen fail. That kind of behaviour won’t get you anywhere. You don’t need to spend the earth to eat well, and you don’t need every gadget under the sun to prepare decent meals. Just a few items will suffice and they’ll pay you back in spades. I’m going to do a full post on my own kitchen essentials in the next week or so, but a good knife, a decent sized sauce and frying pan, a wooden spoon and a baking sheet should get you going. Get thee to Wilko*.

For me, good food is about the ingredients you use. You can have all the skill and equipment on offer, but you’ll only ever be as good as the ingredients you use. Knowing which flavours work together is a big plus, and is a knack you’ll no doubt pick up on the more recipes you read and the more time you spend at the hob. For a foolproof guide, I think The Flavour Thesaurus is a resource well worth its salt. Priceless for beginners and experienced cooks alike, it lists herbs, vegetables, meats and more alongside their perfect pairings. Great if you find yourself in a pickle or if you’re just trying something new in the kitchen.

Again on the ingredients kick, find shops and stalls you trust. It may sound silly to the tech-savvy youth of 2014 but your local butcher, baker or greengrocer will look after you. Get to know them and you’ll benefit from their experience and they may even do you a favour every now and again. Few home cooks become great by staring woefully at Co-op’s withered spinach offering. Having said that, I have nothing against supermarkets. If that’s where you shop, no worries. The man on the meat counter at Morrison’s should know his saddle from his rump so use that knowledge. Just think ahead – 7pm on a Friday night might not be the right time to buy your veg for the week. Time it right and buy the good stuff.

Nigel Slater (no big deal but he’s my hero) has a food philosophy that works well for me. He buys local, he buys day by day and he eats what’s in his fridge and what’s in season. The weekly shop is no doubt inevitable, especially for those of us with tight work schedules or kids, but try to use it mainly for cupboard staples and dried goods. Weekly shops make it easy to fall into ruts. Getting home late after work is the ultimate recipe for a fall-back spaghetti dish or, god forbid**, a take-away. That’s fine every now and again, but cooking the same dishes week on week can soon have you feeling frustrated. Buy a little of the fresh stuff everyday and you can have a little of what you fancy when you fancy it. Even if it’s just some plump little tomatoes to go with your pasta, or a sprig of tarragon for a béarnaise sauce. The Kitchen Diaries is the best example of eating this way and it changed the way I think about food. It’s proper food writing, not just a list of ingredients plus a method, and it taught me that eating ingredients when they’re fresh and ripe leads to a varied and exciting diet. Sure you can get strawberries in December, but for me, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat them. At the very least, it’s nice to have something to look forward to eating in the summer sunshine. Buy this book and Nigel will walk you through his everyday meals. They’re simple, they’re delicious. Sometimes he even eats a take-away pizza.

I’d also suggest getting it wrong every now and again. I like cooking, I like trying new things, that’s why some of my meals are fails of epic proportion. If none of your meals come out looking like a brown splodge splattered inelegantly onto a plate, I think you’re probably doing it wrong. Too many nervous cooks in my everyday life think that if they mess something up then it’s because they don’t know what they’re doing. Very few of us do. Just give something a go. If it’s gross, don’t worry about it. Try something different. Expand your palate, go on. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up, and at the very worst, you’ll know what not to do in the future.

Over the next couple of months I’ll have a few more posts for you on similar topics, including my must-have kitchen equipment, what I consider to be the best books for your kitchen library and lots more. If you like these kind of posts please do let me know. Please leave any thoughts or feedback in the comments below or head over to Twitter for a chat @whipuntifluffy.

* Not for the knife. Splash out, it’s worth it.
** Sarcasm.

  • Love this post, the flavour thesaurus is one of my go to books too!

    Although I am not sure I agree with the buying fresh stuff daily, financially I just couldn’t.
    Looking forward to seeing your kitchen essentials post too. 🙂

    • Lil

      Hi Nelly, glad you liked the post and yep, Flavour Thesaurus is a must! Know exactly what you mean about finances. When I was earning a bit more I used to cook fresh everyday and now I shudder at the thought of how much I was spending. I’ve got extremely well packed cupboards and I’ve become queen of the reduced section! Got a packet of thyme for 19p in Co-op today – score! But I understand, buying fresh is almost impossible when you don’t have access to a good market. Thanks for reading xx

  • Raz

    Hi Lil! Loved the old blog but this is SO 2013!

    This post is fantastic. It’s great to read about how you look at food and its quite inspiring. I really need to use the butcher but its so scaryyyy! Reminds me of shopping trips with my nan. I’m looking forward to learning about seasonality – I don’t know anything about this and don’t even know where I’d start looking! Its great to read a bil more thoughtful posts about food rather than just recipes.

    Raz xx

    • Lil

      Hi Raz, thanks for the feedback! Glad you enjoyed this post, I loved writing it. Hopefully this kind of writing is a trend on WUF that will continue long into the future. Looking forward to sharing my thoughts on seasonality, make sure you let me know what you think! 🙂

  • Maria Fallon

    Flavour Thesaurus sounds amazing! I am determined to cook more this year and I am already off to a fairly good start 🙂

    Maria xxx

    • Lil

      Saw your vietnamese on Facebook! Looked amazing 😀

      • Maria Fallon

        Unfortunately that was a Tesco meal but I am planning to make my own version this week!

        • Lil

          Aha! Haha… let me know how your version goes 🙂

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  • I love this post! I am terible at following recipes, so the flavour thesaurus sounds like a great idea! Sometimes my ‘bit of this, bit of that’ approach works amazingly well, and sometimes not so well at all, so a few guidelines sound like a good idea!

    • Lil

      Hi Harriet, glad you like the post 🙂 Know what you mean, freestylin’ can really pay off sometimes but sometimes it’s a massive fail! The Flavour Thesaurus definitely helped me xx

  • Lyzi

    Great post 🙂 I’ve always been a keen cook & love to buy seasonally and locally (when I can!) and always look forward to the first juicy, ripe strawberry of the year. They’re just not the same in winter. Hopefully people will see this and feel more encouraged to cook, as it’s so fun and better for you, as well as cheaper than readymeals & takeaways!

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