Fake it! Even if you can’t boil the proverbial egg, preparing a meal is pretty simple if you know which ingredients can be purchased ready made and which to avoid. For instance, canned beans, tomatoes and tuna are tasty and good value for money. Instant mashed potato should be avoided like the plague because it tastes terrible, costs a lot of money and, quite honestly, it doesn’t take much skill to make good mashed potato, once has got over the initial hurdle of peeling the potatoes, which in itself is not a big deal, taking no more than a few minutes to do.
Equipment can be tricky as non-cooks would rather spend money on non-cooking pleasures but you will need a few basics. If a stove is beyond your means an electric frying pan, that old stalwart of the 70s, is a practical solution but, if you have the space a two-burner hot plate is a far better idea, giving more scope. Buy good, heavy pots at charity shops and boot sales. Thin, puny saucepans are no good whatsoever. A colander, a whisk, a couple of good knives and a mortar and pestle are more or less all you need and as your skill grows, so will your equipment.
Buy a cookbook, called something like Fast and Easy, or Quick and Simple. There is no need to buy the biggest and shiniest book on the shelves – again, charity shops and flea markets will come to your rescue here. In fact, buy two – you need one that will explain the mysteries of saute and julienne.
Learn to cook either a good casserole or stew. This will be the mainstay of your meal. Remember that less is often more – some of the best recipes call for no more than four or five ingredients plus salt and pepper. Two ingredients that can always be added are a glass of wine and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. If using dried herbs, keep the quantities tiny – the flavour is much more concentrated than in fresh herbs.
Keep your starter simple. If your budget runs to smoked salmon, by all means serve this with thin-sliced brown bread and butter. However, sliced hard-boiled eggs, served with a few chunks of tomato and black olives are a reasonable and attractive alternative. If avocadoes are in season, they need no more than a dash of vinaigrette to provide a simple and delicious starter.
For your main course, serve either a stew, casserole or roast. Roasting a chicken is a simple task, which can be undertaken by a seven-year-old. A few new potatoes served with butter and a sprinkling of fresh mint or parsley completes the main course.
Buy the dessert. You can’t turn out a creme brulee when your equipment consists of a colander and a whisk.
Finish with Irish coffee, or Dom Pedro, and send your guests away, replete and happy.