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Cooking for yourself

This is an exercise in knitting several threads together: What You Wouldn't Serve To Anyone Else, Favorite School Cafeteria Food, Things That Don't Quite Make Me Puke...

I read many times over the assertion that people don't really COOK if it's just for them. I do not understand that at all. I am one of my favorite chefs and my own best customer. I know what I like and don't, how much of what I can or will eat, which culinary rules can be glossed over or forgotten completely. Mrs. O, even as we speak, is off in Grand Rapids enjoying the company of her fellow button collectors, and do I languish here in sorrow? No; though it's certainly true that I'd rather she be here than not, I do like the fact that I can fry eggplant, cook sweet peppers, boil up a mess of greens, and do a whole lot of other culinary exercises that produce foods which she does not enjoy. And I can share these things with a man who truly loves them: me.

Just this past half-hour, for instance, I assembled two gratin dishes. One was simply leftover steamed broccoli with a cheese sauce and crumbs. The other combined a range of leftovers: first a bed of mashed potato, then a layer of a skillet dish I made a few months back and froze, consisting of macaroni, canned beans, shredded pork, tomatoes, onion and some powdered chile. Yes, macaroni over potatoes. Got a problem with that? The chef doesn't, nor does his customer. And if it turns out to be crap, the chef will not take the criticism personally.

I think of it as a sort of audition...

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  1. I'm not quite sure what your post/rant is, but I agree that the "let's gross each other out" posts are redundant. I posted "what you eat yourself" with a lettuce sandwich as an example, it was silly but I wasn't trying to find out about gross food. I think we've had plenty of it already --"what your family made" "weirdest food" "what everyone likes" -- all great posts but now we know a lot of us like cream of mushroom soup. great.
    I personally don't "cook" (meaning elaborately) for myself much because I don't have time and I can make something healthy with lots of flavor without much effort. If I were having someone over though, I would be more likely to choose one of my risotto or pasta dishes over an improvisational three spice shrimp curry with heavy cream and jasmine rice, the latter being much less refined but very fast. I also have spent periods of time cooking for others, but am now cooking just for myself--which is not as fun for me. That was sort of the point, how do we extract maximum enjoyment if we don't like to cook for ourselves.

    4 Replies
    1. re: fara

      My point, if I had one, is that I *DO* cook elaborately for myself, mostly because I'm in a better position to appreciate it than just about anyone else.

      I am also more likely to take a dangerous shortcut, just to see if it works...and because if it doesn't, then I'm the one to blame.

      1. re: Will Owen

        I'm definitely with you on the "no one appreciates me like I do" front. I love cooking for people so that they'll try and enjoy new things, but often I do feel like it's a lot of trouble for not much response. I can slave away for hours creating the perfect paella, but no one in the room other than me and my SO will truly appreciate how long it took to gather the perfect spices, source out the freshest seafood, find the best sausage, wash out the giant Le Creuset, put it all together, and time the finish of the dish to perfectly match the arrival of the guests. Which is nothing against them; I don't expect everyone to share my obsession with food, but sometimes knowing that they won't know any better makes me willing to just serve some spaghetti and meatballs instead of kicking it up a few degrees of difficulty.

        It's still fun to cook for people, but there's more adventure and thrill when it's just me and my guy. And so I'll save my wackiest cooking projects for when it's just the two of us, or even for when it's just me and I have all the time in the world to putter around and do things my way.

        1. re: Pei

          Now you're getting on my wavelength. The best reason - maybe the ONLY reason - I have for wanting to retire is that now I can do exactly that: putter around and do things my way. Go to the Asian and Latino markets, the farmer's markets; find the butchers and fishmongers and greengrocers who have stuff I'm looking for, or often stuff I had never even heard of before; put things on to simmer or stew in the crockpot or the double boiler or a slow oven while I'm upstairs online talking to the likes of you, and maybe doing a little graphic work to pay for the groceries. There are worse ways of passing the time, for sure.

          1. re: Will Owen

            Yup. Not to mention it's cheaper to buy grassfed beef, fresh seasonal local produce, a solid bottle of wine, and gourmet chocolate to use in the dessert for one than for six.

    2. For me, cooking for myself involves things the bf doesn't like. So when he's out of town, i go to town. Liver and onions. Salmon, trout, smoked fish. It's a guilty pleasure thing for me. Like playing BeeGees or ABBA. But I do have friends that have similar tastes - one orders an extra anchovy pizza when her partner is out of town. And I used to know a guy who would only cook veal when his veggie bf was out of town.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bryan

        Me too. When the SO's away, I take the opportunity to cook the stuff he's not wild about: dishes with lots of hot chili, the Nigella watermelon salad (ok so that's not really cooking). It's definitely a pleasure, though not necessarily guilty!

        Also, it's a great time to experiment and take risks that I wouldn't take when cooking for others. If something turns out bad, I can just dump it and nobody's the wiser.

      2. I never cook for myself, unless you count a grilled cheese sandwich. I don't like to cook. It's a burden (for me).

        My brother, who has been single all of his 54 year-old life, loves to cook, for himself and for others. I always get a spectacular birthday dinner from him. For his birthday, I take him out <g>.

        On any given day, I can call Bill and ask him what he's having for dinner and he will tell me a long loving tale that involves something terrific like pork roast, or a whole chicken, etc. He gets real joy from it.

        1. If my husband is away I live on leftovers or foods I've made and frozen. If there are none (pretty unlikely) I'll probably throw together some pasta and vegetables. I love cooking for just the two of us. DH will try anything once, even foods he thinks he hates. He enjoys all aspects of cooking - selecting the dishes, shopping for strange ingredients, trying exotic combinations - and he cleans up. It's a pleasure cooking for someone who appreciates what you do.

          But cooking for other people is a whole other issue. We have friends who are vegetarian or vegan, don't eat a whole host of things we love (eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, chiles, fish, seafood, curry) so dinners are dumbed down to a level of blandness which I find boring.

          1. Completely agree. I live alone, no significant other, and friends with varying degrees of interest in food. As much as I like to cook for other people, I often cook three-course meals for myself, just so I can try out new recipes without the pressure of pleasing anybody else. Example of a recent dinner: bulgur salad with pomegranate molasses and pinenuts, chicken legs braised in figs and honey, and roasted green beans. I'm generally happy to eat leftovers for lunch, but I'm starting to realize, as I age and my metabolism slows down, that cooking a whole pie, or making a quart of ice cream to eat all by my lonesome, is not such a good idea :)

            I had a roommate for awhile, a good friend who I love, and I enjoyed cooking for both of us, but I did get annoyed when she asked if I could roast chicken without the skin on!

            1 Reply
            1. re: AppleSister

              Ditto. Live alone, no SO, and I at least once a week make full-blown meals for myself, eating leftovers for lunch at work (although I often try and cut down on quantities of the original menu, so I'm not eating the same leftovers for a full week!).

              Pot roasts, stews, whole roasting chickens, pork loins, etc. all get made in my house. And enjoyed. And experimented on, since I'm the only one who will say "Ewwwww! Whadjya go and make something with THAT ingredient? That's gross!" I just tell myself to shut up and eat what I put in front of me. :-) And then don't make that recipe again.

            2. Ah, Will Owen, you've tweaked another hot button. Do you suppose the world is divided into two camps: those who love to cook for themselves and those who do not?

              I will admit to straddling the line; sometimes I make an elaborate meal for myself (scratch butternut squash ravioli w/ sage creme and toasted hazlenuts, sauteed soft shell crab atop field greens w/ goat cheese croutons, etc.) and other times I'll have a bowl of popcorn and call it dinner when alone.

              I spent four years widowed and, although much of it passed in a blur, must have eaten something right because I'm hale, hearty and healthy.

              Today, my husband does not eat really spicy food while I consider chiles a major food group. When he is away, I feast on chile-stuffed chiles or red pepper spiked broccoli rabe because these are not things he likes to eat. Will I also put together clean-out-the-refrigerator meals? Youbetcha! Sometimes the odd-sounding combos are winners and other times they fall flat - and I'm very glad that I'm the solo diner. There is room for both, it depends on moods & whims whether there are elaborate interesting meals or plebian fare.

              I guess the answer is the same as the much-ballyhooed Air Force Sex Study: "Some do and some don't".

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sherri

                I straddle the line also... sometimes an elaborate meal, sometimes a bowl of ice cream! When I'm alone, it's all about what I'm in the mood for.

              2. You've inspired me, Will Owen! My husband is out of town several weeks a year. Normally I will make simple things, such as the salads I've been doing this week. But after reading your post I decided to use this opportunity to attempt the sorts of dishes that I wouldn't want to serve company without a trial run.

                With that in mind, tonight I think I'll do a test version of the gratin of sweet peas, tarragon and pistachios from Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky's "The Elements of Taste."

                And as far as serving macaroni and cheese over mashed potatoes, my mother used to make beef and noodles and serve them over mashed potatoes, and that's a major Midwest comfort food. If she ever opened a restaurant, she'd probably call it The House of Starch.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jillp

                  Ha! Midwestern is the key. Where "al dente" is thought to be an Italian phrase meaning "the noodles ain't done yet," and gravy (as Erma Bombeck noted) is considered a beverage. I don't remember anyone in my family doing noodles over potatoes, but you never know what people do when they don't have company...

                  I should note, however, that the Japanese make their version of curry with potatoes, and serve it over rice!

                2. I live alone and cook for myself, running the gamut from simple to more elaborate food. I have a weekly "new recipe night" on the weekend when I have more time, so I get the chance to play with food more (and have some interesting leftovers). I do fantasize, though, that, when I retire, it would be great to hire myself out to make dinner for a fairly adventurous and non-picky family.

                  1. I'm one that doesn't cook elaborately for himself, but I will for my wife & family. On the rare occasions that I'm alone, it's leftover time, or something in the microwave.

                    A very kind person told me that cooking must be one way I express my love for my family and loved ones...I was flattered, but I secretly wonder if it's really my way of showing off. Is it about them, or is it about me? I don't know.

                    1. Ricepad, I think you nailed it ... some of this is about showing off/winning approval ;)

                      I do cook for myself and find doing so an essential joy and pleasure ... but I find simple cooking to be just as legitimate as elaborate cooking. Even just shopping for simple things to put together I find legitimate and creative--after all, a lot of knowledge, experience, and effort went into buying the ingredients of the meal, even if I didn't officially cook them before serving. Not sure if I'm making sense? :)

                      1. I'm usually not in the mood for cooking for just myself at the end of the workday but, when my husband's out of town, I'll sometimes prepare meals for which he doesn't share my enthusiasm. I don't like it much when he's away, but it gives me some consolation to broil a couple of rib lamb chops or throw together some salmon patties. (Actually, he's come to like both...) I'll often put together a casserole (usually tuna-noodle) and live off that for a couple of dinners, 'cause that's something he detests so I don't get to have it often. Or I'll make a pot of chili on the first night so that all I have to do for the next night or two is boil some macaroni or make some rice. And I'll make enough to freeze a couple meals' worth - we both love it. Then again, sometimes I'll simply eat a bowl of cereal or have some scrambled eggs.

                        No philosophy behind my decision to cook for myself or not - just a matter of how ambitious I'm feeling at any given moment. All the above-mentioned dishes are not exactly what I'd call complex or elaborate - just simple stuff I can prepare relatively quickly and eat at the coffee table, in front of the TV. Well, maybe I do eat the lamb chops at the dining table...

                        1. Like others I love to cook and do so for my DW and children (when they are around). Usually I think about what to cook each evening on the 20 minute drive from my office to the market. We're lucky to have a great market a mile from the house so it's an easy venture. I love to see what I can give them that is healthy, within the guidelines they tell me on fats, carbs, veggies, etc. and no easy feat. There are times when there are four separate dishes with four different entree/side combos.

                          When company comes and I put together "company food" and sometimes I just nibble but enjoy watching the others enjoy. I am also my harshest critic. Trying to figure out how to do it better the next time.

                          When I am by myself, i usually go one of two routes. First is make something fattening that i would get that "look" from DW or just order in something from one of the local restaurants. The worst part of cooking when I am alone is scrubbing dishes when I'm done. Hate it.

                          1. Hmm, I'm off and on with this. I've made absolutely scrumptious dishes for myself, both planned and unplanned.
                            A recent heatwave, a lack of propane for the BBQ, and pure laziness has reduces me to cereal and/or sandwiches for dinner. Shameful, for me at least! (of course I never omit a glass or three of wine).