We here at The Siren thought we’d spread our branches to the wonderful world of student cooking and with our new contributor Roisin O’Connor on board we’ll see how she gets on with her attempts to make freshly cooked food without having to resort to the classic ready meal. Read on and find out if she can manage!

I decided to write a blog about what I make at home because I thought it might motivate me to cook more, which it has, and also because of how renowned we students are for pot noodles and microwave meals. I’ve found that you can cook some pretty decent stuff on a budget of £20 a week as long as you’re careful with what you buy. I’m not going to fib either, so if I’m having one of those days where all I want is a cheap frozen pizza or fish and chips then I’ll tell you! My housemates noticed this before I did, but there’s a way to see if I have any work for university because I tend to cook more and put off whatever it is I should actually be doing, so cooking is both a blessing and a curse.

This week has been pretty good. I bought some cubed steak from the market (amazingly cheap and far better quality than Tesco), and made a beef stew. If you ask for enough for two people at the market it turns out to be enough for three meals if you’re cooking for yourself. First you start by tossing the meat in some flour and fry it in a fairly large pan with chopped onions, then add boiled potatoes, carrots, fried leeks, chopped garlic, mushrooms and whatever else you fancy. A couple of sage leaves and some rosemary will give it a really nice flavour but it’s not essential. I made half a litre of stock using a beef stock cube and a tablespoon of gravy granules, add a dash of red wine as well if there’s any in the house- I really like wine so there usually is, you can get two bottles for a fiver in the shop near my place. Once it’s all bubbling in the pan then put it in the oven at gas mark 5 for 3 ½ or 4 hours, making sure you check it every hour and stir it well. The good thing about stew is the more you cook it, the more tender the meat gets, so just leave the leftovers in the pan and cook it again for an hour the next day!

Something I’ve been making a lot more of recently is cake, which is a great way of making your own snacks, and is generally cheaper and healthier than buying a pack of Maryland cookies and polishing them off in an afternoon. Tarte aux myrtilles is my favourite, basically a souped-up French version of a blueberry tart. You can buy a small punnet of berries from the market for about £1.50, but if you’d rather raspberries they’re only about 40p more. I think the hardest part is the pastry because making the dough itself and the mixing does tend to get tedious. To make your dough you mix together 175g of butter with 250g of flour and rub the butter into it using your fingers until you are left with a nice “breadcrumb” effect. I find that this works best when I’ve cut the butter in to smaller cubes and when my hands aren’t too warm. If you’re living in a house like me where heating is used at the bare minimum you should be fine. Once this is done just add one egg (£1 from the market for 6) and two tablespoons of water and bring the mixture together to form the dough.  If you find it going too sticky it’s ok to add in a tiny bit of flour and then continue to knead. Leave it to chill in the fridge for half an hour.  In this time you can make a start on your filling, which is two eggs, 200 ml of double cream, a tablespoon of flour and 150 grams of caster sugar mixed gently together with a fork.  After taking your dough out of the fridge, after taking your dough out of the fridge, roll it out (about the thickness of a £1 coin) and line it in to a pastry dish, scatter the berries on the bottom and pour the filling on top. The blueberries will float to the top so don’t panic too much about that!  This needs to be cooked for 35 minutes at gas mark 6.  When it’s done, take it out of the oven and leave to cool for a bit and then store in the fridge… or if you really can’t wait, eat it whilst it’s hot! Voila.

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