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Singles' cooking

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Perhaps we can share some strategies for interesting cooking for one.

Easy solutions: invite someone to dinner - particularly if you have a yen for a roast; give some away. But that won't do for every night.

I'm looking forward to hearing what others do for varied and interesting solo meals.

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  1. z
    Zach Georgopoulos

    I find that cooking every night just leads to too many dirty pots/pans/dishes and too many leftovers. Cooking for the week always seems like a good idea, but my chowhound instincts get the better of me and I end up eating some place on my way home, so things might have to last more than a week. In any event, you mentioned roasts, and that's not a bad way to cook for the week (or more) -- I roasted a 2.5 pound pork roast last Sunday (inserted slivers of garlic and rubbed with salt, pepper and rosemary), and it's made for good sandwiches for several days, no need to even heat it up. Other favorites are chili and beef stew -- they just keep getting better and better, and can be nuked in portions. You can always serve them over rice for variety when you get bored of it (though I rarely get bored of chili). Also, for non-messy, no fuss, single servings that aren't typical frozen meals, try Tasty Bite vacuum packed Indian entrees (I get them at Trader Joes) -- throw the foil bag in boiling water for 3 minutes, and you've got a damned good meal! If you're not lazy, you can cook up some rice to pour it over...

    If I haven't thought far enough ahead to cook en masse, and I'm out of Tasty Bites, I boil up some pasta, heat up some olive oil, butter, chopped garlic and pepper flakes in a skillet, then sautee the cooked pasta in it briefly and sprikle with grated parmesan and fresh parsley. If you absolutely must have vegetable matter, sautee some broccoli in the oil/butter before adding the pasta. Takes minutes, but leads to dirty pots and pans (sigh)...

    1. There's the good ole San Francisco staple -- "Joe's Special". Start sauteeing some sliced onion. Add some burger and keep stirring. Add some drained blanched spinach, and do some chopping and flipping. Break one or two eggs over this and sprinkle liberally with garlic powder, salt & pepper. Stir til done. Good with toasted sourdough French roll. BTW you can contribute sliced mushrooms somewhere along the line for "Joe's Special Deluxe".

      In Hawaii they do something in the same spirit, it's called "Loco Moko" I think. Put a pile of rice on your plate, add sauteed onions (optional), top with a burger patty cooked to your liking, pour brown gravy over all and crown with a fried egg. A musician friend says this is his staple meal when he gets off gigs. You probably need to keep some packets of gravy powder on hand for this.

      1. c
        Caitlin Wheeler

        Nigella Lawson's cookbook How to Eat has a section devoted to cooking for 1 and 2, and also her low fat section has recipes for quantities of 1. It's a great cookbook by the way -- the recipes are fairly easy and taste great. I tend to cook individual cuts of meat -- small steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts. A good roast idea is roast chicken -- you can have hot chicken, cold chicken, salads and sandwiches, curry and make stock with the carcase, for later risotto consumption!

        6 Replies
        1. re: Caitlin Wheeler
          c
          Caitlin Wheeler

          I forgot my favorite cooking for one -- mussels! Buy a pound of mussels. Heat some shallots in a teensy bit of butter, add a bit of white wine, dump in mussels, cover and cook for a few minutes! Voila -- dinner! (The aforementioned cookbook also has this fabulous recipe for THai flavored mussels.

          1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

            Thanks Caitlin, Sharuf, and Zach.

            Yes, mussels are my favorite, too. I sometimes finish it off with some heavy cream, reduced. My daugher-in-law can't believe I make this for solo dining. She doesn't know how easy it is.

            This hits the goal of my inquiry. I'm interested in out of the way kinds of cooking for singles that will allow me to explore either more complex cooking or unusual foods.

            I'll check out the Lawson book. I've just recently explored the Kunz book and tried his marinated pork tenderloin accompanied by pears cooked in sugar and vinegar. I served it for a family dinner, but the recipe could easily be cut for 1 or 2 servings. I recommend it (be careful about the salt in the marinade, cut it down a bit) - the pears were superb and the technique would probably work with other fruits as well. I plan to try a few others.

            One of the problems with cooking for one is the temptation to "eat it up" and then live with it on the hips. I used to make lasagna, then freeze it (scored for portions), but found one piece led to two...That's why I prefer having meals that are finished the day they're made. And besides, I like variety.

            Of course there are always little meals out of some combination of good bread, cheese, raw fruit, veggies (including salads), hard sausages, wine, nuts, etc., that one can buy ready made (I'm not wild about most store bought pates and am interested in any that can be made at home in small amounts or that keep very well).

            I, too, do small cuts of meat and sometimes small roasts such as chicken (or other small birds), pork tenderloins, that won't hang around too long.

            Fish is often amenable to single servings: Steamed salmon with a yogurt/cucmber/dill or garlic/herb sauce is a particular favorite; poached (try cod steaks); and sauted (a small stuffed bass or nut crusted or shad roe in butter).

            We have a couple good artisan sausage makers locally and I'll often get enough for one meal and have it with polenta or mashed potatoes. (Yesterday I waited while they made the sage sausage I was getting. Talk about fresh.) I make a wide variety of pasta dishes, though the simple one Zach suggests is one of my favorites. I love garlic and insert it in roasts, too. I've recently bought some bottarga to grate over pasta (never used it before), but am waiting to make some pasta to use it instead of using the dried.

            I do small braises and stews: oxtail, lamb shanks, short ribs. I try to keep it down to a 2 day amount unless I'm going to give some away or entertain. Leftovers in my freezer (as opposed to building block "staples" such as stock or sauce) tend to be there as a prelude to being tossed - a personal glitch, no doubt.

            Mostly I use my freezer for staples and building blocks. Some exceptions for quick meals/treats kept in the freezer: I will occasionally make a batch of empanadas (good for using leftover meat) and freeze either unbaked or lightly baked. Another freezer staple is pastry which can be frozen in the right amount for a small tart. (I make small pissaladieres using a pate brisee rather than puff paste or yeast dough and also small rustic fruit tarts or tart tatins.) And the White Dog Cafe has a good drop currant scone recipe (only 1 Tbs butter per scone!) that freezes well before baking that I like to make and keep on hand.

            For desserts, I find I can make small bread puddings or rice puddings. It's also possible to make small tarte tatins. I eat a lot of raw fruit, but also like compotes, pears poached in wine. Also biscotti and small loaf cakes, which are simple to make, keep very well or freeze well (I never forget cake in the freezer).

            What I'm hoping this tread will bring up are really out-of-the way meals that needn't be made large scale. Or cookbooks that have many recipes that can be adjusted for solo cooking. I crave variety and don't mind expending extra effort a couple times a week. And while I do experiment on my own, it's helpful to have specific suggestions that are tried and true from others.

            1. re: saucyknave

              How does someone who loves to cook and is obviously good at it, stay single? If it is not by choice, perhaps you have been hiding your cooking-light under a bushel.

              1. re: zora

                No, I'm single from a surfeit of marriage, but I still cook for others.

                Do you know the story of King George III? At his wife's deathbed, he sobbingly declared, No more wives...[only mistresses]

                1. re: saucyknav e
                  q
                  Queenofquality

                  I collect cook books and the best little one that I have for cooking for one is called "Cooking for One is Fun" by Henry Lewis Creel. The foreward is by Craig Claiborne. I sometimes double of triple the recipes because of the great taste1
                  Now the 5th printing was in 1977; it is published by The New York Times Book Co and the library of Congress Catalogue number is ISBN 0-8129-0632-2; to help you locate it. No lasagna for one but a real tasty Hungarian Goulash!
                  Enjoy the hunt and the sweet taste of success!

                  1. re: Queenofquality

                    When I first moved to NYC in 1977, I bought this cookbook and loved it. Somewhere along the way, over the course of many moves, I lost it. But it introduced a new world to me! Thanks for bringing it up.

        2. Good thread...Really it applies to both cooking for just yourself or cooking for two small appetites.
          How many times have I prepared a dinner "for 2" and then realized I was cooking enough food for 6!
          There are some dishes, thai curries, fresh pasta sauces, stirfrys that really are BETTER cooked in small 1-2 serving portions. I am someone who hates packaged food, there are nothing but staples in my cupboards. I keep BIG variety of best quality, organic if possible rices, grains, pastas, + nuts on hand, a good variety of spices, thai prepared curry paste, etc. a block of good parmesan,and can shop at least once a week for fresh vegies fish etc. Items like coconut milk, good canned tomatoes, stocks, what you dont use can be frozen. If you have things like this on hand it is pretty easy to whip up a wonderful meal.
          Examples would be a spicy pasta sauce of muir glen tomatoes, GARLIC, olive oil, oregano, red pepper flakes capers, and anchovies or good tinned tuna. Yum over good linguini + some greens.
          Or a stir fry of vegies, rabe,carrots, scallions, mushrooms,sliced chicken breast, curry paste, ginger, basil,cococonut milk.Yum with basmati or jasmine rice.
          Also in the winter I slow braise meats in a small heavy lidded cassarole with wine, herbs and root vegies, simple, good with crusty bread.
          If you cook simply , it is worth the investment in best quality staples, and on a per meal cost basis you are still way ahead of restaurant meals $.
          mmm...whats for dinner..?