Bridget Fitzsimons rolls up her sleeves and whisks her way to a healthier homemade diet
My first forays into cooking and baking came at a very early age, when my parents encouraged my sister and I to get involved in helping with a variety of small jobs to help them make dinners and desserts. I’ve always been able to cook, but recently a variety of reasons have encouraged me to start thinking about food and the way in which it is produced.
Students hardly have a reputation for being wonderful chefs at the best of times. Though I suffer from some food intolerances, college has made me incredibly lazy when it comes to cooking and baking. Along with my intolerances, my father was recently diagnosed with coeliac disease, an intolerance to a protein called gluten which is found in numerous grains. Hearing his comments on how his change in diet had made a world of a difference to his general wellbeing, I decided to change my ways.
Cooking things from scratch is one of the best ways to make sure that you decide what’s going into your body – you can control the levels of bad foods, artificial additives and other junk entering your bloodstream and try and live that bit healthier. My first attempt at doing this involved my baking a ham for sandwiches for the week, instead of buying pre-packed sliced ham from the supermarket. Armed with a small ham, some mustard and sugar for the glaze and a hot oven, I was ready to go. I’ll admit I rang my mother several times for detailed instructions and panicked a lot. But, when I was finished, the feeling of achievement and satisfaction – while seeming sad and pathetic – was really quite calming. I had spent a lazy Sunday making sure that fewer chemicals were entering my body, and had given myself a tastier alternative to the plastic meat that comes in a packet.
The next step was to try a dinner. Instead of buying a mechanically reconstructed chicken kiev filled with overly greasy butter sauce, I attempted to make my own, this time with the help of my boyfriend. While it wasn’t a total success, we had a lot of fun breading and frying the chicken, and attempting to taste the garlic sauce that had leaked out during cooking. Not only did we have fun making his kitchen messy, but the food was delicious – and cheaper than if we had bought the processed version.
The reality is that cooking your own food is really quite fun. Yes, it’s time consuming, but the modern world means that you don’t have to drag your mother’s copy of Delia Smith’s Guide to Cooking around with you anymore. Websites like videojug.com and Channel 4’s streaming service on YouTube mean that recipes are everywhere and begging to be tried out all over the internet. The latter service, in particular, means you can watch any of their cookery shows for free online at your own pace – so you can benefit from the expertise of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Heston Blumenthal from the comfort of your kitchen. Videojug’s encyclopaedia of video recipes mean that you need only type what you’re looking for into its search engine and it’ll tell you exactly what to do, step by step. Be prepared for failures, as no one is perfect, but learn to laugh them off. Cooking is a creative process that you can use to relieve stress and have fun with. There’s nothing quite like beating cupcake batter to get your aggression out.
Learning is a slow process: I’ve been doing ham and chicken, but hope to get back into baking soon. This will begin with prettily iced cupcakes, again, which will not be pumped full of additives, and I’m hoping to progress onto bread once I master cupcakes. In a world where fast food is king, there’s really no satisfaction like eating something that you’ve made yourself. Of course it’s important to remember basic kitchen tidiness and hygiene and to use the proper materials – but after that, it’s incredibly easy.
Amazon is great for cooking materials, as is your local hardware shop. You can buy basic utensils and mixing bowls in a hardware shop for less than €3 each, and Amazon’s selection of cake tins and prettily coloured muffin moulds is unparalleled.
The beauty of cooking your own food is that it is completely down to your personal taste and any recipe can be altered slightly to suit your choices and moods. There really is no excuse for not donning the chef’s hat: your body will be grateful and you’ll have endless amounts of fun. Once you start, you’ll never look back.
Channel 4’s online streaming service can be found at youtube.com/4oDfood.