‘I’m Nickie Baker and currently in my 3rd year at Swansea University studying Law and Business. I have always loved to cook; throughout my childhood I would often cook with my mother and grandmother at weekends and on my own whenever possible. I always dreamt of being a chef, but I decided to keep cooking as my hobby! It’s my way of winding down and taking my mind off my university work.
A passion for food and cooking
I love trying new foods and new ways of cooking food you eat every day, and to me appearance of food is as important as the taste. I love cooking foods from various cuisines and am always keen to experiment.
Food is essential to survival so why not enjoy it? It’s a great contribution to any social event, I’m sure you’ve all seen the TV show ‘Come Dine With Me?’ Why not replicate such an event within your flat or friendship group? To me and my family food is essential to socialising, and trying new foods with people is something I enjoy; I love to cook for people and see them enjoy my food :)
Baked beans are out!
When I came to uni I was surprised at how many students couldn’t cook the basic foods, and I was even more surprised that you couldn’t get a student cookbook which wasn’t focused on baked beans and noodles. I feel that by forcing the idea into people that students can’t afford to eat and cook nice food they must eat cheap pre-made meals, deters people from the truth that cooking doesn’t have to be expensive.
I’m a strong believer in that anybody can cook. You don’t have to think of recipes from scratch, there are plenty of places online where you can get recipes and cooking tips. There are especially some great sites *cough* studentcooking.tv *cough* ;) which have loads of advice for students.
I and many other people on this blog/site are living proof that you can produce deliciously tasty and looking foods from within your student accommodation, and within your student budget!
FANCY DUCK, MASH & BERRY SAUCE
• 2 x duck breasts with skins on
• 4 medium sized potatoes of your choice, peeled and cubed
• 1 medium onion
• 4 garlic cloves
• 1 handful of fresh green beans (or frozen)
• 200ml water
• 1 dash of olive oil
• 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons of dried thyme)
• 1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
• 1 egg yolk
• Splash of milk
• Knob of butter
• A couple of tablespoons of Blackcurrant jelly
• Salt and Pepper
1. For the Duck…
Duck can be quite expensive, but keep a look out in the supermarkets as they often have deals on uncommon meats with the aim to encourage people to try new foods! On a student budget don’t forget to keep your eye on the reduced isles, when these come to the end of the sell by date some of the markdowns are insane. If you’re not ready to cook it then just pop it in the freezer until you are (defrost thoroughly in the fridge overnight). In my opinion duck is totally underrated, when cooked correctly the flavour and the mixture of textures is unbelievable!
Take your duck breast (with skin on) and score the skin side in a diagonal direction both ways so that you’re left with what looks like diamonds, use a sharp knife and try to only penetrate the skin and not the meat itself, if you do don’t worry too much but just be cautions as it will affect the cooking time, especially if you want a crispy skin and pink centre. Remove any sinew (white bits underneath) as these will contract and squeeze your duck affecting its tenderness.
When you’ve scored the duck breast season both sides with salt and pepper. I’m fond of Maldon sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper but the ordinary stuff does the trick too!
I like my duck to be quite rare, I always make sure it’s at room temperature before cooking it so that it isn’t cold in the middle. Place your prepared duck breast skin side down into a cold (not heated) pan and turn on the cooker, as with the majority of student accommodation the hobs are not the greatest and are the electric type and tend to take a long time to heat up so I turn the hob on about 4-5 minutes before I’m ready to start cooking.
It’s important to note that you don’t need any oil in the pan: by cooking the duck a little slower it helps to release the fat and give a crispy skin. Gradually turn up the heat so that it is very hot, once the skin is a nice golden colour turn it over to sear the other side (takes no more than 30 seconds), then place your duck skin side down into a pre heated oven (200c).
If you’re using a frying pan with a metal handle place this directly into your oven, if not then make sure you pre heat your baking tray first (if it’s cool it’ll affect the cooking time), the duck will take about 4-5 minutes for rare about 8 minutes for a bit firmer and 10 minutes if you like it to be well done. The duck fat that’s left in the frying pan is amazing with roast potatoes so rather than through it away keep it in a small pot in the fridge.
Remove the duck and place it to rest skin side up. Resting the duck is really important, as with other meats when its cooked it tenses up in the heat and if it’s not left to rest it can be quite tough. When the meat rests it relaxes and becomes really tender and releases some really tasty juices too which can be used in various sauces to accompany the meat. I let my duck rest for about 4-5 minutes, slightly longer if you’ve cooked it medium to well done.
When your duck has rested cut it into quite thick slices (this way it doesn’t lose too much heat) by turning the duck skin side down and slice at an angle – it’s easier to slice through the crispy skin when it’s in contact with the hard surface.
2. For the Mashed Potatoes…
Place the potatoes in salted water, bring them to the boil and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes until cooked (pierce them with a fork/knife and if they’re soft and fall off your utensil they’re done!).
While the potatoes are cooking soften the onions and garlic in a frying pan with a little olive oil and then remove from the heat.
Drain your potatoes put them back into your hot saucepan add salt, pepper, a dash of milk, a knob of butter and your onions and garlic. A tip I got from Heston Blumenthal on his show ‘How to Cook Like Heston‘ is to put an egg yolk in and mash it all together – it helps to make the mash creamy without needing cream. Check your seasoning.
3. For the Green Beans…
Simply put them in a pan of salted boiling water and simmer until cooked to your liking. As students cash can be extremely limited: buy frozen ones and do exactly the same, or put them in the microwave if you’re stuck for pans or time, place them in a bowl with about two teaspoons of water cover with clingfilm, pierce and cook on full power for about 2 minutes, remove, stir, and then back in for another 2 minutes.
4. The Sauce…
Bring about 200ml of water to the boil add one chicken/vegetable stock cube, your thyme, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a crushed clove of garlic, allow to simmer for about 5 – 10 minutes to infuse the flavours. I like my sauce to be really smooth so I take out the thyme and pass it through a sieve to remove the ‘bits’, then add about 1 ½ tablespoons of blackcurrant jelly to the mixture and stir until it melts. Check the seasoning of your sauce and enjoy. If you prefer a thicker sauce add a little corn starch to the boiling water. This can be done in advance and left in the fridge and reheated when you wish to use it, although I wouldn’t leave it for longer than 2 days.
I chose a blackcurrant flavours for my duck but you can make several variations of this sauce using different fruits, fruit juices and jams/jellies. Duck is complemented really well with sweet and fruity flavours, so why not try using some orange juice and orange marmalade? Or cranberry jelly and red wine?
Finally place your mash on the plate, add your slices of duck, spoon over your sauce, add your green beans, and enjoy your dish!