Ex MasterChef contestant Justine Schofield shares her favourite cooking tips for beginners and advice on how to throw a stress-free dinner party!
Q. For someone who is new to cooking, what do you recommend as the first step to take to get into the swing of it?
Start basic don’t overwhelmed yourself and think that everything’s too hard. Nail the basic things like making a great mash, a great salad dressing and marinades and then slowly work your way up doing something a little bit more exciting with the sauces and things like that. Q. Do you recommend visiting markets to learn about fresh produce?
Absolutely! One of my favourite things to do is to go to the farmers markets on a Saturday morning. When you go to a market, you can actually see what fruit and veggies are at their best [during a particular season] and therefore make a better meal for your friends and family.
Q. Do you have one or two simple dishes that you always recommend to friends to try and make?
Pastas – especially because it’s cold and we’re in the cooler months at the moment, pastas are great to do because you can mix and match and do whatever you like. If you can nail a really good bolognaise or a meat ball dish – [they will become a party favourite].
You can also try making beautiful schnitzels, stews – like stroganoff for example. It doesn’t take long to do, and all you need is some sour cream, paprika and some beef and you’ve got this beautiful, beautiful dish.
Q. Any tips for throwing a dinner party?
I always tell people who haven’t had many dinner parties to do things in advance where possible. You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen the whole time and miss out on the all the fun!
I suggest doing things that you can put in the fridge and not worry about during the party. Cold seafood platters are a great idea, as are antipasto plates. For something with a little bit more finesse, try making old school prawn cocktails.
Cold entrees are great because you can prepare them two hours in advance, put them in the fridge and just take them out when guests arrive and they’re ready to go on the table.
I’d pair a beautiful potato salad with barbequed meats. Ribs can be done completely in advance – after you’ve marinated them, just put them in the oven and you can finish them off on the barbeque.
With my French background I also like to do stews for people. Try things like boeuf bourguignon (Beef Burgundy stew). If you get a good recipe for it and you’ve got a pot that can go on the oven, all you have to do is marinate your meat with some red wine the night before, stew it off and put some aromats in there and cook for about 3 hours – it’ll turn out to be amazing. You can have it with beautiful mash potato and a salad on the side.
For those who are worried about overcooking a roast, try doing a slow-cooked lamb shoulder. You can cook it for 3 hours [on a low heat] and it’s ready and bullet-proof!
I recommend learning to do one dessert really well and just change the garnishes depending on what’s in season.
For example, once you’ve mastered something like a chocolate fondant, you can make poached pear with it in winter. In summer, you can pair it with things like berries and roasted hazelnuts on top.