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Cooking for one.

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Since the Furmeister left for PNG, I've resisted the siren song of easy crap for dinner. I've cooked a"normal" amount and frozen curries/chillies/risottos in single serve containers.

I've bought single steaks and felt so holier-than-thou when I make poached eggs on toast for my dinner.

I roasted a chicken over the weekend, and quaintly plated it up, complete with roasted veggies (pumpkin, sweet potato, capsicum and gravy) and frozen it.

The thing though, is that no matter how made-of-awesome my chicken dinner is, 3 out of 4 servers are going to taste like microwaved re-heats. **sigh**

Sometime soon, I KNOW that I am going to get sick of the effort of cooking great grub, only to have most portions nuked.

And that's when I fear that I will be unable to resist the insidious come-hither call of dim sims. And McCain's lasagne.

I mean, if it's going to taste like micro-nuked food, why go to all the bother of cooking in the first place?

So, any tips for a first-time-in-a-long-time solo cook?

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  1. Make stuff in a sauce that you can reheat over a stove top....meatballs come to mind. You can also do ribs that way.

    Leftover rice can be used in fried rice...in fact is should be leftover and not freshly-made. You can throw in some of that leftover chicken

    1. Judith Jones of Julia Child fame, has a book coming out in a couple of weeks that looks interesting. "The Pleasures of Cooking for One"

      http://www.amazon.com/Pleasures-Cooki...

      1. marinate thinly sliced tenderloin (pork or beef)- you can flash-fry these really quickly. my favorite marinades are"

        -pesto (sprinkle with parmesan after flash-frying).
        -honey, soy sauce, sesame seeds.
        -barbecue sauce and garlic.

        these go really well with pita bread and hummous or sour dough and your favorite horseradish.

        1. What season is it in Australia? I can come up with some ideas from there.

          IMO, the cooking is not any different. The difference is in the shopping.

          Go to a good butcher and buy a single, chop or sausage. Get individual serving sizes at the fishmonger. If you enjoy cooking, then just downsize the recipes.

          This is also a good time to experiment, cooking things your SO might not like but you've always wanted to try.

          I spent most of my life cooking for one and even now my SO is so busy we rarely eat together. The thing for me is that I hate cooking, so it doesn't matter if I'm cooking for one or a crowd, I don't enjoy it.

          Of course, one can't entirely eat in restaurants. My strategy is buying top quality stuff and something I've never tried before and learn how to cook it. So I frequent a lot of farmers markets and snap up anything that is new and different. By shopping the farms and farmers markets I can buy small quantities and just what I want.

          1. hmmmmm... I'm trying to figure out if there's something wrong with my taste buds or your microwave? I cook large quantities and freeze what I don't eat and have never once throught, "This food tastes nuked." Is it because I have unlimited control over how fast or slow I nuke things? Maybe you're just bored with food?

            I'm really not trying to make light of your problem, but it does sound a bit "unusual" to me. I've tossed food becase it tasted off after nuking, probably from being in the freezer too long, but never because it tasted like it had been heated in the microwave. Well, unless it was bread that was rubbery from being nuked too long. Would it taste better if you were sharing it with someone? Could that be the problem instead of the microwave?

            4 Replies
            1. re: Caroline1

              Caroline, I've had the same problem with food in the mickey. Certain things heat up beautifully, but chicken for instance I find rubbery no matter how carefully I reheat.

              P_G: I cook for just myself 95% of the time, and I find that things like soup, risotto, gravy-based curries, and the like reheat very well. I don't think meat reheats well in general unless it's in a soup or gravy, which is one of the reasons I don't eat much meat! Steaks and chops, if you're craving meat, are the same price generally whether you buy one or ten.

              Dishes based on pasta and dishes based on eggs are a go-to for busy nights -- and I'd say that a perfectly-poached egg quivering atop toasty homemade bread is awfully close to the perfect meal. I definitely don't feel deprived when I eat stuff like that!

              1. re: LauraGrace

                Can't help you much on the chicken. For me, "Chicken" and "unappetizing" have pretty much become synonyms. Not to mention that the cholesterol in duck is MUCH healthier for you than chicken. I just can't figure out why I can buy a whole cooked duck cheaper in a Chinese restaurant than I can buy a whole raw duck in a supermarket. Doesn't seem logical to me, but it's a fact.

                Now, for warming up meats (and yes, it works with chicken too, if you must) set the meat on top of a leaf of iceberg lettuce and then put another leaf on top when reheating. Or even wrap it in iceberg leaves and reheat. You'll get moist, delicious meat. A trick I've been using for about a half a century and I have no recollection where I learned about it, but it works. And for that I'm grateful. '-)

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Caroline, I have to say I always enjoy reading your posts. They are amusing, informed, etc.

                  1. re: souschef

                    Bless your heart. Thank you!

            2. i cook for one a lot, and i do not have a microwave. i reheat nearly everything in a skillet.

              maybe the problem is cooking things like the chicken/gravy/squash plate which kinda look like a tv dinner? if it's plated that way, the items don't reheat evenly either. i'll cook a batch of chicken thighs, but then use the meat for all different things. stir-fried with veg, in burritos, or cold with mayo, and won't have it 3 nights in a row. experiment with different salsas, learn sauces (if you don't know them) like hollandaise or bearnaise.

              personally, chilli and risotto aren't main courses for me, but sides -- so add a protein or a bunch of veggies to switch those up.

              cook stuff your s/o doesn't like or something new.

              and i know dim sum and dining out aren't the most frugal meal options, but sometimes you want to be around people. :)

              2 Replies
              1. re: hotoynoodle

                That's the key when I'm cooking for just me for an extended amount of time. If I'm having chicken and gravy the first nite, it's probably going to be chicken pot pie the next.

                I made BBQ pork ribs yesterday. I'll shred the meat and have it on an onion roll later today. Later on in the week, any leftovers will probably end up in a burrito w/ beans and veggies.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  I cook just about all my leftovers in a skillet as well and I've only really had dry chicken problems when I've forgotten to pay attention to the pan. I also almost always do the first part of the heating moist (stock cubes or water). This way, I can add items to the pan even if they need to cook for different lengths.

                2. I don't know if this will make any difference, but, try reducing the power on the microwave when heating - maybe try 50% and maybe the taste will improve to you?

                  You could also try reheating in the oven. I have oven safe plates.

                  You can also try thawing things during the daytime in the fridge and then heating - microwaving from frozen will certainly cooks some foods a bit more in spots than in others depending on type of food.

                  1. PG, this is a VERY interesting thread for me as I will be alone for the first time in 27 years in a few days. Got divorced this year and my youngest is leaving for college on Friday. Where are you located? We could eat together - LOL!

                    Have stocked the freezer with veal chops, lamb chops, b/s chicken breasts, small steaks, shrimp, etc. that can be quickly cooked. Also have on hand couscous (takes 10 min), rice, noodles, etc. Have put away several big pots of soup (chicken matzo ball, mush/barley, leek/potato) in pint size containers in freezer.

                    My game plan is to "cook from scratch" 3-4 times weekly and recycle leftovers. I have sauteed in quntityt onions, peppers and mushrooms that I can use in orzo, rice or with chops. I have bought bags of frozen veggies - green beans, spinach, peas, that will be easier to use for one person.

                    I like an occasional green salad and haven't quite figured out variety lettuce for one. Perhaps you have suggestions? Also I like "breakfast for dinner" once in a while as I never have time during the week for a proper eggs, bacon & pancake breakfast. Will be curious to see the suggestions you get.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                      I cook for two- but salads only for myself. On Sundays I buy a head of red leaf lettuce, wash it all, dry it, and wrap it in damp paper towels. If I know I want something added to it, on my way home from work, I'll buy a handful of arugula or mesculun or a small head of radicchio. That way my 'base' lettuce is always ready to go... and I just need to wash a little bit of something extra.

                    2. I cook for jus tmyself and have more trouble reheating chicken than most things. I've learned to enjoy the first meal of roasted chicken and then plan on chicken salad, pot pie, soup, etc. for the rest. I've found things in sauces reheat best.

                      I don't have a lot of time to cook during the week, so I'll make a braise, stew, etc. on the weekend and freeze some and eat on some throughout the week. Variety comes with the easy add ins and sides. (And desserts of course.)

                      If I'm fixing any kind of "single item" food like chops, chicken breasts, steaks, etc. I will always undercook all but what I plan to eat that meal. The others will cook more as they reheat.

                      Some things I simply will not reheat in the microwave as I always ruin it.

                      1. I recommend you buy a chicken breast rather than a chicken, and bake a potato, yam etc. You can serve peas and chutney if you want to dress it up - and that way you are not left with a great deal of leftovers. I know what you meant about not wanting grade B microwaved leftovers...for me the only thing that works with that I will eat is usually Lasagna or something that freezes well.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: SamuelAt

                          i'm a dark meat gal, so buy thighs. but i agree "parts" is a better way to go.

                        2. As others have said, the key is to ring changes on your leftovers. Roast chicken hot the first night and then made into something different the other nights. Chicken is the hardest thing to reheat, I usually don't except maybe in sauce as in pot pie or tetrazzini. Cold next to some fabulous hot veggie dish is my normal method -- a gratin, braised endive or whatever. Other roasts get the same treatment chez moi: never served the same way twice. Single sized steaks or chops = no leftovers. I buy good sausages and freeze individually, then thaw one at a time and serve with varied side dishes. Frozen homemade fish cakes are a staple, I never tire of them and cooked from frozen with a salad they have replaced takeout for me. Generally, my rule of thumb is if the protein can be prepared simply (steak on the grill, sausage in the oven) then I make a more complicated veg to go with it, or the reverse, complicated protein with simple veg or starch. Making two or three more complicated dishes when cooking for one becomes overwhelming unless that is your entertainment for the evening. And I agree, you should take the opportunity to try things Mr PG might not like. Am breathlessly awaiting your posts from PNG!!

                          1. I'm afraid I don't understand the first clause of your first sentence, but I'm assuming that's not essential to understanding your question.

                            The Washington Post has a column called "Cooking for One" that might be useful. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

                            In addition, here's a link to a similar query from (FREAKISHLY!) almost exactly a year ago that might be helpful. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5574...

                            ~TDQ

                            1. Yes! For chicken, buy just the breast or roast two bone in breasts. Its not so much meat but you can then use the chicken in burritos, make chicken salad for lunch, throw in a pasta, etc. I am also a big fan of making sauces/stews like bolognese, beef bourginon, etc. I make it on a weekend, have it again in the week and freeze in single portions (I use ziploc freezer bags as they take up less room) to have later. I do the same thing with turkey burgers. I also make a basic marinara sauce that I can then use with raviolis, as a base for chicken parmesan or to pep up some plain pasta with some added sauteed veggies. A small pork tenderloin can be used for dinner, then in a warm salad with veggies too. Mussels are great and quick for one (you need just under a pound) and super cheap. I buy fish in fillets or seafood like scallops (sadly quite expensive in New York) along with boneless pork chops. The other thing to do is to freeze meet like pork chops and chicken breasts individually so you always have meat to hand and can defrost ahead of time. I try to plan the week ahead of time so I can make sure to use things and then pick up veggies as needed. So, with your big roast chicken and veggies, just spin it off into something different like chop or shred some of the chicken and plop the veggies in a big green salad with some crumbled cheese like goat , feta or blue cheese, with some nuts. Also, soup is a good make ahead thing, or chili. Not sure where you are in the world so if you are heading towards summer, or just want easy things, check out mark bittman's post on the new york times website. This summer he did 101 easy salads and its all ingredient based so very easy to adapt for one. I don't have the link handy but if you go on their website, go to the food/dining and search under mark bittman. HAPPY DINING!! (and don't forget the wine!)

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: preppie foodie

                                That column of Bittman's, together with several others like it, fueled the creation of his book Kitchen Express. Here's a thread where I linked all of those "101" lists of Bittman's. (Sad to say, after posting that thread about kitchen express, I only managed to cook one thing from the book, that I didn't post about, before I returned it to the library. I can't remember which recipe I tried, but I do remember liking it. I haven't had time to revisit that book, sadly.)

                                EDIT: whoops, link http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6452...

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: preppie foodie

                                  Great ideas Preppie Food. I agree - mussels are a real deal and so easy to do. Plus, leftovers are amazing served cold with a simple dip (dijonaisse for example.)

                                2. I cook for two and SO is a light eater so it is often a lot like cooking for one, but I have my workarounds. I grill or roast a whole chicken, slab of ribs, pork roast or a big steak and keep doing different things with it. I make sandwiches with it or use the meat in salads. Fancy salads can be a little time consuming. Keep them simple. If I get bored of the meat or a dish I put it in the freezer and keep going.
                                  I usually have rice laying around or whip up some potatoes or pasta. With some basic building blocks I am able to do stir-fry, curries, soups, stews, tacos, roll-ups or burritos, etc. relatively quickly. Pasta dishes are easy and tasty. The main thing is the freezer and the microwave come in very handy. Keep a few cans of veggies or frozen veggies handy so you can be a little lazier.
                                  It helps to microwave properly. This means keeping things covered, using lowered power, stirring and not overcooking. I also use a toaster oven a lot and wrap things in foil, to make it faster and easier to clean up later. Last night I sliced and put barely cooked pork back on the grill and livened it up.

                                  1. I think that 1/2 the problem is that I have been used to buying/cooking for up to 10 people at a time, and now, it's pretty much only me at least 4 times a week.

                                    My portion sizing is ATROCIOUS. On Monday I cooked whjat I thought was a small amount of pasta and sauce, only to realise that it could have still fed 4 adults.

                                    So I had it for dinner on Mon, lunch on Tues and thought about it for dinner on Wed, couldn't face it, so froze the leftovers. (precooked pasta is another thing that doesn't nuke will IMHO).

                                    I am going to get into some serious menu planning, and cook roasts and stir fires and pasta dishes (all the other stuff that doesn't reheat well) on the days when the kids come over. That way I can indulge in my over-catering whims. Other than that, I will be buying one of everything.. one chicken breast, one steak.. and cooking fresh as much as possible.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: purple goddess

                                      For me, the biggest drag cooking for one is that sometimes you want to make a lasagna, beef stew, enchiladas, etc. and all the recipes for those feed 4 or more. Sure, you can quarter the recipe, but what fun is that?