A selection of hints and tips (in no particular order) which have served me well in the kitchen over the years. I make no claim for originality about these observations, and I would certainly agree that most of them probably count as simple common sense. But worth noting down, I think.

You might also like my advice and notes on what makes for a great dinner party.


Heavy-duty cooking pots and pans. Buy a few good-quality cooking pots and frying pans. Don't be afraid to get heavyweight ones, either - throwing around a two-pound frying pan with one hand counts as light exercise for big strong men!

Boil a Kettle. It is amazing how often hot water is required in a kitchen, whether to thin down a soup, stew, sauce or gravy; to top up boiling potatoes, rice or vegetables; or to warm up the washing-up water. When entering the kitchen, make it a habit to fill (at least half-full) the kettle and set it on to boil.

Tidy up as you go. Cooking should be a continuous process - with care and good planning, it should be possible to cook all day without running out of utensils. This means washing up frequently - much easier if you have a dishwasher - and tidying away packets and jars that you have finished using. Throw out (or recycle) the rubbish regularly, too.

Cooking should be fun. Cooking for yourself - or friends and family - should be relaxing, fun in itself, not a chore. If you're not enjoying it, don't do it - buy ready meals or go out for dinner. But if you are in the kitchen, then enjoy the experience. A little light music, and perhaps a glass of wine or beer to hand, too?

Quantities. It's far too easy to cook too much, particularly if you are only catering for one or two people. This is just wasteful, and there's also the danger of eating too much and putting on weight. So, consider cooking quantities which err on the small side and, if you are really still hungry afterwards, enjoy a second course - a dessert, fresh fruit, or even just some cheese and biscuits.

Thicken with Cornflour. Sometimes sauces, stews and cassaroles are not as thick as you want. Stir a heaped teaspoon or two of cornflour (cornstarch) in a little cold water to dissolve - use a cup or mug - then stir into the errant dish as quickly as possible.

Manage your store cupboard and your fridge as well. Tins and packets may keep for ages, but do pay attention to the use by dates. And you really don't want a 'blown' or leaky tin of jar in your cupboards - think of the smell!

Be sparing with the salt. These days, the danger of too much salt in one's diet is increasingly well understood, and it seems to be good advice to keep down the amount of salt wherever possible. Of course, this can mean that the food tastes rather bland, so try using more herbs and spices, or even freshly-ground black pepper, to zing things up instead.

Herbs and Spices. Commercial dried herbs and spices, ready-ground, are pretty good, but don't expect them to last for ever. They do lose their pungency after a while. Buy in small quantities and keep in sealed jars.

Grow your own Herbs. You can grow a wide selection of herbs in even the smallest garden - even a large pot on a sunny balcony works well. Buy established plants and peat-free compost, and water frequently.

Fit an extractor fan. It's definitely worth having a good extractor fan over the cooker to remove steam and smoke which would otherwise get everywhere in the house. And remember to switch it on as soon as you start cooking.

Cooking Pasta. It really is very easy to cook spagetti or other pasta. You need the biggest pan you can find - huge! - and half-fill it with water. Add lots of salt (most of the salt stays in the water) and a tablespoon of cheap olive oil (which stops the pasta from sticking). Make sure it is thoroughly boiling before you add the pasta. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally as the pasta cooks.

The best way to find out if the pasta is ready is to fish out a bit and taste it - don't bother with all this "throwing a piece of pasta at a cold plate" malarky. When cooked to your taste, remove the pan from the heat, top up by a third again with cold water from the tap, then immediately drain by pouring into a collander. Eat as soon as possible.

Make Stock. Consider making stock from offcuts and bones from meat, especially chicken and other poultry. Put the bits and bones in a large pan with enough cold water to cover everything. Bring to the boil and simmer for at least an hour and twenty minutes - longer if you like. Let the bones cool in the stock, then sieve to remove the bits. Stock can be kept in the fridge for a few days, or can be frozen. Before use, bring to the boil and reduce a little.

Cooking with Eggs. Eggs are quite delicate things - apart from the shells, I mean! - and are worth treating with respect. Buy the best-quality eggs you can afford - you really can taste the difference. Make sure you take the eggs out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before you want to cook them.

The white and egg-yolk parts cook at slightly different temperatures - that's how you can get soft-boiled eggs - so eggs should always be cooked slowly and gently. Most egg recipes reply on getting plenty of air mixed in with the eggs - beating and so on - so don't stint on this. Using a mixing machine (boy's toys!) saves your effort.

Wooden Spoons: I prefer to use wooden sppons and spatulas for most cooking purposes. These tend not to damage the inner surfaces of the pots and pans, and they seem to clean up well enough in the dishwasher.

Be careful not to leave the utensil in the food while it is cooking, however, since it will tend to taste the food. I also like to use a wooden fork for making scrambled eggs.

Pre-heating Ovens. We mean this. When a recipe speaks of "putting something in a pre-heated oven", it really means "turn on the oven and set the temperature at least five minutes before you need it". This is an example of kitchen timing at work. If you fail to do this, then the cooking times will be wrong and (with a gas oven) you risk burning the back edge of your dish.

Collection of kitchen knives Good Quality Kitchen Knives. Cooking for Men requires large, sharp knives! Buy a good quality chef's knive - long and strong, with a wide blade for squashing garlic and scooping up chopped vegetables to transfer them to the pan. Get a sharpening steel and learn how to use it. A smaller knive for fiddly jobs is handy; get a serrated bread knife (good for hard cheese, too); strong kitchen scissors are worth having too.

Re-use Jars. Jars which used to contain jam, or instant coffee, or pickles can all be re-used in the kitchen. Make sure they are thoroughly washed before re-use - you don't want everything tasting of vinegar, do you! Running the jar (and lid!) through the dishwasher a couple of time works well - this also tends to remove the labels, too.

Once a packet or rice - or pasta, or sugar, or nuts, or whatever - has been opened, transfer the remainder to a clean jar. Use a marker pen to label it - so you can tell what's inside easily!

Jars like this are also good for making up Salad Dressing or marinades (for Duck Legs with Cherries, for example).

Preparing Garlic. Don't attempt to peel garlic with your fingers - unless the garlic is very old, this does not work well. Instead, cut off the base of each clove, then lightly squash each one with the side of the kitchen knife - a large strong knife. This can look very impressive, too: thumping the knife with the heel of the hand. Anyway, the skin will just fall off and the cloves will be ready for chopping and cooking.

Timing. This is one of the skills of cooking and worth practicing. The objective is to get several things - a main dish, vegetables and a sauce, perhaps - to be all ready at the same time. Of course, you can keep things warm in a low oven, for example, but most food is best when served as soon as it is cooked. Timers which go buzz or feep at the set time help a lot, too.

Bring food to room temperature before cooking. Modern refridgerators are excellent at keeping food fresh for a long time, but of course the food is very cold when you remove it ready to cook. Certain raw foods - meat (especially steak) and eggs, for example - are much tastier if they have been allowed to warm up for a time - at least 10 minutes, half-an-hour is better.

Serving Dishes. Many recipes cooked in the oven and microwave can sensibly be presented at the table in the dish they were cooked in - so it is worth investing in a few high-quality microwave-safe oven-to-table dishes. Besides, it saves in the washing-up! Otherwise, have serving dishes ready to hand (and warmed!) for things cooked on the stove - like my Saffron Potatoes, for example.

Warm plates and bowls before serving. Tepid food is generally horrid - it should be either as hot as Hell, or as cold as Charity - a saying I attribute to my Mother. So warming the plates and serving dishes keeps the food hotter for longer. A plate-warmer as part of the oven is great - or you can just position the dishes on top of the cooker, or in the grill area, where the heat from the oven and rings will warm them gently. Don't get them too hot, though, or they might break.

Chopping Boards. Buying a couple of good-quality, heavyweight wooden chopping boards is a good investment. (You're a man - you're not worried about lifting a few heavy weights, are you?) These will last forever with a little care - just wipe them down after use (never put them in the dishwasher). Use one for uncooked meat, and everything else on the other, to avoid any unpleasant incidents with bacteria.

Cooling wine. To cool wine, or beer, or even bottled water quickly, quarter-fill an icebucket (or similar-sized container - even a large saucepan will do) with ice, then sprinkle heavily with salt and top up to half-full with cold water from the sink. Dunk in the bottles to be cooled. The salt will reduce the temperature of the ice/water well below freezing - perhaps as much as five or six degrees - while the water allows close thermal contact with the glass/plastic/metal of the bottles or cans.

Olive Oil. I tend to use Olive Oil in lots of ways that, traditionally, butter would have used, on the grounds that olive oil is probably better for you. It can be used as a dressing for potatoes or vegetables, for example.

Try to get at least two grades of oil - a cheap one (used to prevent pasta from sticking, for example) and a much better grade for salad dressings and the like.

Don't be tempted to use olive oil instead of vegetable oil for frying, though. Olive oil has a low boiling point - so the food will not cook properly - and tends to burn if heated too much. Chips just won't cook properly in olive oil!