And don’t be tempted down the ready-meals path. Why not? Well, we did an experiment and bought a supermarket spag bol. We also made one from fresh ingredients. Not only did our testers say the home-made one tasted fresher and so much better, but it also cost less than half the price. A question I get asked often is: “How long can I keep this food before it kills me?” Have a look at the table (below) to avoid an upset stomach. You can contact me any time via my website. Ask any question you like, however silly it may seem, and I’ll get back to you. My youngest son, Tim, learnt from his elder brother’s mistakes and was a competent cook by the time he left for uni. For him, cooking is not just a means to an end, or about nutrition, but very much a comfort thing. He always felt less homesick, and happier, when he was eating well. Cooking something warming and hearty, like chicken hot pot makes you feel at home, wherever you are. So be prepared, gather the basics together and start cooking simple things now. Later on you might even find that your mango chicken has what it takes to impress a fellow student on that all-important first date. For more information about Joy’s Nosh books, see here.Salmon PastaYou can sometimes buy packs of small pieces of salmon and freeze them. They are much cheaper and would be excellent for this dish. 2 small handfuls of tagliatelle pasta 1 small piece of salmon 1 tablespoon olive oil to fry 3 spring onions, chopped 2 tablespoons of double cream 1 teaspoon freeze-dried chives Salt and pepper 1. Cook the tagliatelle (3–4 minutes). Leave to drain. 2. Fry the salmon in a little olive oil (if you have a small piece it should only take 2–3 minutes each side). Add the spring onions to the pan towards the end of the cooking time, mix them in and allow them to brown a little. 3. Remove the pan from the heat and gently break up the salmon. Add the cream and the chives and return to the heat. As soon as the cream begins to bubble, add the pasta and stir everything together. Allow the pasta to heat through. This should take around 1 minute. 4. Season well with salt and pepper. Quick Shepherd’s PieAn easy way to make shepherd’s pie minus the fuss of mashed potatoes (we’re so nice to you). 250g pack of lamb, beef or Quorn mince ½ mug water 1 dessertspoon gravy granules 6 medium potatoes, cut into 1.5cm cubes 2 teaspoons butter Salt and pepper 1 mug grated cheese 1. Preheat oven to 180C fan oven /200C/gas 6. 2. Put the mince into a pan with ½ mug water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10–15 minutes. Add the gravy granules and stir. Season with salt and pepper. 3. Put the potatoes in a separate pan, with enough water to cover them, boil for 10 minutes and then drain. Add the butter and mix. 4. Pour the mince into the bottom of a casserole dish. 5. Carefully spoon the potatoes onto the top and sprinkle with the cheese. 6. Cook for 20–25 minutes until the top is browned. Roast ChickenIf you just cook for yourself, use fewer vegetables and the leftover chicken can be used up the next day, either in sandwiches or a pasta dish. 1 small chicken (approximately 1.5kg) 4 large potatoes, cut into large pieces 2 onions, red or white, each cut into 6 wedges Oil 1. Preheat oven to 180C fan oven/200C/gas 6. 2. Place the chicken in an oiled, flat, roasting dish or a casserole dish. Add the potatoes and the onion and brush with oil. Sprinkle a little salt over and, if you wish, add some rosemary. Cover with a lid or foil. 3. Cook for 1 hour (longer with a larger chicken). 4. Take the lid or foil from the chicken and cook for a further 25–45 minutes, to allow everything to brown. 5. Serve with vegetables. Spicy PrawnsIt is not recommended that you reheat prawns, so if you make enough for two people, share this dish with a friend. 1 mug basmati rice 2 mugs water 1 tablespoon oil to fry ½ onion, chopped finely 1 clove garlic, chopped very finely 200g tin of chopped tomatoes 1 dessertspoon tomato purée 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon curry paste 200g pack of peeled prawns, drained of water ¼ teaspoon freeze-dried basil Salt and pepper 1. Put the rice on to cook I (see “Perfect rice” tip, below left) 2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and garlic in the oil, until the onions begin to brown. 3. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, sugar and curry paste and bring to the boil. Let the mixture cook for 2–3 minutes. 4. Add the prawns, basil and salt and pepper. Cook for 1–2 minutes. If you cook the prawns for too long, they will become rubbery. 5. Serve with the rice and if you are feeling adventurous sprinkle with chopped coriander. Tortilla WrapsTraditionally Mexican, tortillas are very versatile so you can fill them with an innumerable variety of ingredients. This recipe includes a few suggestions for hot fillings. 1 chicken breast, cut into strips 1 tablespoon oil to fry 1 onion, sliced thinly 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 red or green pepper, sliced thinly 4 mushrooms, sliced thinly 1 tablespoon tomato purée 4 tablespoons water ½ teaspoon chilli flakes or chilli powder, add more or less according to your taste 4 tortilla wraps 1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Fry for 3–4 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and fry until cooked through. Then add the peppers and the mushrooms. Instead of chicken, you could use lean steak cut into strips (approx 200g), tofu or Quorn. 2. Add the tomato purée, water and the chilli, stir well and cook for a further 2 minutes to allow the flavours to mix. 3. Divide among the 4 wraps. Optional toppings include grated cheese, feta, refried beans (spread over tortilla before the rest of the filling), sour cream and salsa. Tim’s Special Mango ChickenMango pulp is a bit unusual, but is usually available at supermarkets (I can usually find it in Sainsbury’s). If you can’t find it, simply buy a medium-sized mango, peel and slice it and mash the flesh together with a little water. 1 tablespoon oil to fry 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces 4-5 spring onions, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped finely 1 mug mango pulp 2 teaspoons curry paste 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard 1 tablespoon soured cream Rice to serve 1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the chicken for 2 minutes, then add the onions and garlic. Fry for another 1 minute, stirring continuously. 2. Add the mango pulp, curry paste and mustard. Simmer for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat. 3. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the soured cream. 4. Serve with rice (see “Perfect rice” tip, left) and vegetables.