Trip to the Gyp: the “I-can’t-cook” edition

Eating out thrice a day is pricey. If you (like me) can’t cook, here are some easy recipes you could try.

Up until the last week of September, I didn’t know I had to put oil on my non-stick pan before cooking with it. In fact, if my housemates hadn’t come in to have a hearty laugh at my terribly burnt eggs (bless them), I wouldn’t have known to this day.

But, to my surprise, I’ve discovered that even if you’re as talented a cook as I am, cooking is by no means an impossible chore. You don’t need obscene amounts of time, effort, or money to come up with a half-decent meal. You don’t need to spend hours at the shops looking for the right ingredients. You don’t even need a hob.

What you do need is a guide that spells everything out for you – even the stuff people assume you already know.

1. Macaroni cheese in a bowl: 15 minutes

This hobless recipe is what you make of it. If you’re feeling lazy, it’s a meal that requires close to zero personal input. If you’re willing to put in a little extra effort while shopping and preparing it, it becomes a little bit more tasty and a lot more healthy.

You will need:

– Macaroni/fusilli/penne (other pasta varieties will work just fine)
– Slices of cheddar/mozzarella (any cheese but parmesan, which is more difficult to melt)
– Unflavoured Greek yogurt (if all you have is the flavoured varieties, your mileage may vary)
– Salt & pepper

You can add:

– Olives
– Sundried tomatoes
– Jalapeño peppers
– Broccoli
– Soft-boiled carrots
– Oregano/chilli flakes

First, get a large microwaveable bowl (not metal) and fill it with however much macaroni you want. For me, this is usually about a third of the bowl, but your serving sizes are likely to be different, depending on your appetite and the bowl you use.

Next, fill the bowl with water so that the macaroni is entirely submerged. If you have access to a kettle, boiling hot water may save you a couple of minutes. This step-by-step operates under the assumption that you do not.

Once you’ve submerged the macaroni, add a couple pinches of salt and stir well. Again, this will vary based on the size of your serving, so make a conservative guesstimate. Adding too little salt is better than adding too much, because you’ll have opportunities down the line to add more if necessary.

Big up rigatoni – it’s an underrated pasta variety

After that, take your bowl, cover it with a microwaveable plate, and put it in the microwave for seven minutes (six minutes if you added boiling hot water). DO NOT use foil or cling film instead of the microwaveable plate. Steam is released as water boils. With foil or cling film, it may not be able to escape, leading to an increase in pressure that could end in a messy explosion within your microwave.

While waiting for your pasta to boil, grab your cheese and tear it into tiny pieces with your hands. We recommend cheddar or mozzarella, but, in a pinch, any cheese you have in your fridge will get the job done (except parmesan, which does not melt).

After your macaroni is done, take it out of the microwave and taste a bit.  If prepared properly, it will be firm when bitten into but not chewy (al dente is what this is formally known as, if you’re feeling fancy).

If the macaroni is too chewy or hard, stir it well and then put it in the microwave for another couple of minutes.

If it tastes about right, remove the water from your bowl and add the cheese and one tablespoon of Greek yogurt. Add salt and pepper and mix well. Again, I like to be conservative here because you can always add some salt on later if it tastes bland.

Once you’ve done that, put the bowl back in the microwave until the cheese has melted entirely. This took about two minutes in my microwave, but trial and error will work here because there really isn’t much you can do wrong.

Take it out after the cheese has completely melted. Add oregano or chilli flakes if you want, and then take a careful bite (so as not to burn your tongue). You’ve just made macaroni cheese in a microwave. Well done.

I ran out of cheese so I had to suffice with this low-cheese version 🙂

If you’re worried about this being an unhealthy meal, you can always cut down on the cheese and add vegetables now. Olives, sundried tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, broccoli, even soft-boiled carrots (providing they’re finely diced) – go ham.

2. Two different quinoa salads: 5-10 minutes

The ingredients for this recipe are a little less variable, but it is MUCH easier to make (messing this up requires effort). You will need:

  • Microwaveable quinoa (stocked in both Aldi and Mainsbury’s)
  • Two cups of fresh spinach leaves
  • Up to two red apples
  • 1/3 of a cup of crumbled feta/goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup of crushed walnuts/almonds
  • Salt and pepper

Optional additions include cranberries or blueberries. They definitely add flavour, but they are on the pricier side and they aren’t vital to this meal.

Start by putting the quinoa in the microwave for however long it says on the packet. While that’s being prepared, find a flat, hard surface (or better yet, grab a chopping board) and cut your apple into fine slices. The finer the better.

I absolutely love apples, so I usually cut two apples. If you’re not as much of a fan of an apple-dominated salad, one apple will do.

This may have taken my clumsy fingers slightly more than two minutes.

The quinoa is usually ready in the time it takes me to cut my apples into fine slices. Take it from its packet and add it to a large bowl.

Add your apples, spinach leaves, walnuts, and cheese to the bowl, and mix well. Grab your spoon and take a small bite. If you think it needs more flavouring, sprinkle on some salt and pepper. If not – you’re done! It’s as easy as that.

This is quite heavy. Makes for a great 4-o-clock snack.

I have a variation of this recipe that I use to change things up from time to time. All you need to do is replace the apple with 1 cup of strawberries, add three to four tablespoons of Greek yogurt, and remove the cheese. It’s definitely more breakfasty, but it tastes fantastic – especially when you add in other berries.

3. Stir fry with noodles: 20 minutes

This is definitely the recipe that needs the most work and resources to create – but I would argue that it is also the most nutritious. It also needs a hob.

You will need:

  • Noodles
  • Dark soy sauce (light gets the job done, but dark is preferable)
  • Peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Noodles
  • Salt and pepper
  • A stir fry mix (which you can pick up from Aldi)
  • Oil

If you don’t live near an Aldi, you can use a combination of carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, sprouts, and onions. I recommend at least using the first four – but if you can, try and include the others.

First, take a large pot, put it on the hob, and fill it with water. Turn on the hob and wait till the water starts to boil (which is when it starts bubbling). Gently, gently put in your noodles (if you aren’t careful, you may scald yourself!) and make sure the noodles are submerged.

If they aren’t, add water until the noodles are completely underwater. Once they’re entirely submerged, add a tablespoon of oil to ensure the noodles don’t stick together. Stir well using a spoon (wooden, if possible, because metal spoons heat up fast and are liable to burn you) and add salt.

The duration for which you leave the noodles to boil depends on the instructions provided on the packet the noodles came in. I usually buy egg noodles, which take about ten and a half minutes to prepare in boiling water, but your mileage entirely depends on the type of noodle you buy.

Like with the pasta from recipe 1, taste a bit of the noodles once they’ve finished. If they taste too chewy, top up the water and boil them for another couple of minutes before taking them out. If they are soft and not too chewy to eat, they’re ready – in which case you take them out of the pan and place them in a plate.

While your noodles are boiling, grab a non-stick frying pan and put it on the hob. Put three tablespoons of oil or butter on the pan and spread it all over the surface. Once the pan is hot (which you can test by placing your hand near – not on – the pan), add your stir fry mix. If the pan is hot enough, you will hear a very loud sizzling sound.

Excuse the abysmal photo – steam kept fogging up my camera.

Set a two-minute timer on your phone.

During that time, you’ve got to to create a decent homemade stir fry sauce (which is surprisingly easy).

I enjoy a peanut sauce myself. To create the peanut sauce, take a spoonful of peanut butter and place it in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of honey and three tablespoons of soy sauce. Add another three tablespoons of water and mix well. If you can get the mixture to be of uniform consistency, you’ve done a great job!

If you get bored of a peanut-sauce-based stir fry, it’s relatively easy to find alternative sauces (or even pre-prepared stir fry sauces at Sainsbury’s and Aldi).

As soon as it’s ready, pour the peanut sauce into the pan. Cover the vegetables in the sauce by moving them around using a spatula or wooden spoon. This is important to ensure that the vegetables do not burn or end up stuck to the pan. In the latter case, quite a bit of effort is required to remove them, which can damage your pan.

Set another timer on your phone – this one for three minutes. This time, make sure you’re constantly moving the vegetables AND the sauce so that neither burns or gets stuck to the pan.

Once that three minutes is up, you’ve succeeded! Place the vegetables on top of the plate filled with noodles and mix well. You can always garnish the meal with condiments (pepper, chilli flakes/chilli oil, peanuts) – but that is optional.

This is easily the best picture of food that I have taken in my life.

And there you have it – three meals that even the worst cooks (including yours truly) could prepare! Hopefully, these help you stave off the Week 6 blues!

All image credits: Akrit Agarwal

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