Cooking Catastrophe to Chef (sort of)

Coming to university all the way back in September 2017, I was aware of my strengths. Cooking was not one of them. So I applied for catered accommodation, and enjoyed the Derwent catering team’s efforts to keep me healthy and well fed. This worked very well for my first year. Then came the second year.

I lived in a house of four people in my second year. One of my housemates was a very good cook. She was capable of cooking healthy, warming meals without thinking about it very much. While she was stir-frying vegetables and experimenting with frying chicken covered with crushed Doritos, I was forgetting to turn on the hob and wondering why the water for my pasta wasn’t boiling. However, she inspired me to try and learn to cook “real food”.

Trying to cook for myself

After some research, I decided that I would attempt egg-fried rice. It is one of those comfort meals that I think just about everyone enjoys. It’s supposedly quite simple. Plus you can add a bunch of vegetables to it and send a photo to your parents to prove you are indeed eating something besides chips and cheerios. I found a BBC Goodfoods recipe that looked simple enough. The website seemed to hint at it being a fool-proof (ie me proof) meal, so I was ready to begin.

I was meant to prepare some rice, and drain it, before adding it to a pan filled with a few vegetables already frying. This was simple enough, especially as I cheated and used ‘boil in a bag rice’. While it was boiling, I over-dramatically sobbed while chopping up an onion to add, and started chucking things into my housemate’s nice, expensive wok. I was slowly starting to feel more confident. When the rice and a few more pieces of vegetables went in and it smelled nice, I was borderline arrogant.

So obviously, that wasn’t going to last.

Where it all went wrong

Cooking fail

The recipe told me to push the rice to the side, add some more oil and then add the eggs into the space created on the side, before mixing it in. I spent a childish amount of time piling the rice up on the side and added some more oil. I turned my back on the wok as I went to get the eggs ready (something I should have done already!) and disaster struck.

Piping hot grains of rice started leaping out of the wok and flying around the kitchen. My kitchen was tiny with not much space for me to escape, and I had no idea what to do. While dodging the projectile rice, I turned off the hob to no effect. Eventually, screaming the entire time, I ran to find my keys and opened the kitchen door. After kicking it open, I grabbed the wok and held it out in the rain (still screaming, sorry neighbours!). Rice had been flying around the entire time and I had spatters of oil landing on my arms too. It also looked like some strange form of snow had blown into the kitchen.

Eventually, the oil cooled down and the rice stopped attempting to murder me. I stopped screaming and brought the wok back inside to see my kitchen-competent housemate standing in the doorway, staring at me. She thought someone had broken into the house based on my screaming and the clattering, but wasn’t surprised it was just me overreacting to cooking. I tried to claim I was learning how to make Rice Krispies, but she knew I was just a tragedy in the kitchen.

Getting better…

However, with her help and some slightly less oil-based recipes, I’ve become quite a decent cook. I can make a mean pasta bake (recipe in the link below), as well as a few potato-based casserole dishes. Learning to cook has actually been enjoyable (minus the egg-fried rice incident). Stood over the hob is a nice place to be when winter gets really chilly. I’ve cooked for my family at home, and although they joked about needing a doctor on-call for food poisoning, they all admitted they enjoyed what I cooked.

Learning to cook is all about confidence and catastrophes. One tends to the follow the other.

Beefy Mince and Pasta Bake


My suggestions for the pasta bake

Just buy a packet of grated cheese and dump the whole thing on top if you want to make it really cheesy. Works just as well with Quorn mince (that’s what I prefer!) and feeds several people. (My photo doesn’t do it justice!)

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I'm Eloise, a third-year English literature student working as a Department rep alongside playing and coaching volleyball.

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