Sunday, 27 March 2011

From Books to Bourguignon...

Like all teenagers finally unleashed into their first student residence, my expectations of food at University were not great. Abandoned in my room, armed only with a box of second-hand pans and a bag full of tins as compensation for the delicious home-cooked food that I was leaving behind, I was scared. Little did I know that the next four years were going to be some of the best of my life, ruined only by the forced demise of my one true love, cooking.

For most, being a student means boozing, books and baked beans, not slaving over a pot of Beef Bourguignon or delicately icing a batch of butterfly buns. The lack of money, time and Mum’s reassuring and all-knowing presence at your side often means that we students survive on alternating meals of pesto pasta and Pot Noodle. For me, with food never far from my mind, this was simply not an option.

After the best part of a year eating and sleeping in Halls that did not even boast a fridge as a luxury, I was begging for Christmas to come around so that I could be in a kitchen stocked full of every ingredient, utensil and appliance possible. And believe me, I did dream of picking jars and pots from jam-packed cupboards, and, even if only in my wildest fantasies, actually being able to cook in something other than a microwave or toaster.

Sadly (if not for the dismal eating arrangements), the residence with no fridge was swiftly bulldozed halfway through my second semester in Sheffield, and with it the dark days of powdered milk and grim canteen food were demolished. Thankfully we were shipped out of the building before it was flattened, and as my second year as a student dawned, I finally moved into a house with a positively palatial kitchen. It was here that I began to rediscover my passion for food.

Now, in my fourth year of University and after a year experiencing the tastes of Provence in France and discovering the world of tapas in Spain (more about that later...) my desire to cook has reached boiling point. It is the time that I look forward to the most. Stirring a big pot of steaming stew or creamy risotto is the ideal way of unwinding after a long day spent lost under piles of books. Lovingly baking cupcakes for my sisters or a huge dish of enchiladas for my housemates is the best way to bring everyone I care about together. Food is the way to the heart and it has taken mine firmly into its grip, irrespective of the very few pennies that jingle in the bottom of my purse, or the endless essay deadlines that loom over my shoulder.

The first meal I remember making at University was true comfort food. Neither complicated nor expensive, it is rather a student classic; which, like many student meals, sounds a lot less appetising than it really is. Corned-Beef hash is like a retro shepherd’s pie, minus the effort, time and cost. And don’t be put off by the concept of beef that can be kept for years in a tin at the back of your cupboard, this really is yummy. Perfect for those days when you can’t be bothered to get out of your pyjamas to nip to the shops for ingredients, it is a real lazy-day dinner that only involves the opening of tins and peeling of potatoes as far as exertion goes. Hangover food it really is, and I love it...

Corned-Beef Hash (Serves 3-4)

1 onion (chopped)
1 tin of corned-beef (chopped)
1 tin of baked beans
5 medium potatoes (peeled and quartered)
Knob of butter

So easy; first, put the potatoes into salted water to boil and preheat the oven to 170oC.

Fry the onion until soft in a little olive oil.

Scatter the corned beef into an ovenproof dish, followed by the cooked onion and then the baked beans. Season with black pepper.

When the potato is soft, mash with the butter and season well.

Spoon onto the beef and beans and spread roughly with a fork. Dot the top with little pieces of butter and then bake for around 25 minutes or until golden. EAT!

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