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Cooking For One... After 25+ Years

Headline says it all. Not used to this, am looking forward to finding recipes here that'll keep my belly full and happy.

But! I'm living in a converted basement, with limited cooking facilities. Am planning on buying a toaster oven, a double burner and possibly a small electric griddle. Just got a two-person crockpot, a mini Foreman grill and a small coffee maker. What other appliances/tools would most people consider essential? (I have my can opener and measuring cups, and some good knives, FWIW.)

My space is limited, so I don't want tons of things. Do I really want or need a rice cooker, for example?

With a small fridge, how easy will it be to keep my menus healthy and fresh? I imagine the turnaround will be fast, but obviously I'm looking forward to having more than sandwiches and salads, ramen and Lean Cuisine.

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  1. I'd get an electric skillet rather than a griddle. So much you can do in the skillet. Cooking-wise, I'd do stews, soups, small casseroles (once you get toaster oven). I love leftovers for a least one more dinner. Nice to just warm up when you get home from work and appropriate for winter.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gail

      I felt the same - a friend insists she can't live without her electric griddle, but I can make pancakes in a skillet - try making a casserole on a griddle, right?!?! She makes me laugh. I'm really excited at getting to cook small, it's just not wanting to overkill on those adorable little appliances. :)

    2. Do you have any freezer space? That affects a lot of other choices. If you have a freezer and a microwave, you can make batches of all kinds of things and then freeze in single-serve containers.

      Lacking the freezer, my next step would be to think of good recipes deriving in part from pantry items. Can you suggest any type of cuisine that you like (standard American, Asian, Mexi, etc.)?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bada Bing

        I have very minimal freezer space at this point, and as a student, am not big on having a zillion containers of stuff to fix. I love standard American, Asian, Mexican (have you been peeking?), Italian and exploring other cuisines. Being an improv chef (living off of what's in the pantry) has fed my former family of five, but when space is limited, I don't wan the drag of eating the same thing five times a week, just because I'm used to cooking that big, y'knowwhatImean?

      2. I would suggest a portable burner that runs on Butane canisters instead of electric burners.
        just check the BTUs-closest thing to a stovetop gas burner.
        Either that or spring for an induction, like the Iportable viking $$$$$

        Do you eat a lot of rice? We have a fancy Japanese rice cooker that is great because it keeps rice warm for 2-3 days (before it eventually dries out)-basically warm rice on call. They also work as steamers which might be a bonus for you.
        Good luck!

        9 Replies
        1. re: AdamD

          Until I worked at a homeless shelter over a decade ago, I'd never even heard of rice cookers - and I was never sure just what they were needed for. I do love rice, oh yeah, but I wasn't sure if one would really be a good idea. Might be worth the effort, so I can make stuff to put on top of it in the crockpot... ;) Om nom nom...

          1. re: Kezzabou

            You can also use your rice cooker to cook oatmeal, lentils, barley, quinoa, and other grains. There are whole cookbooks out there devoted to cooking in a rice cooker. They are very cheap to run and will turn themselves off rather than burn food... great for the not totally attentive cook. Cay you tell I really love mine?

            1. re: Ferdzy

              Thanks for letting me know - my mom was a WW2 cook, we just did it in a pan like everybody else we knew. I'm getting hungry!

          2. re: AdamD

            You can get a basic induction burner for $100 or less, including on Target's web site. Not high powered as induction goes, but considerably better than those cheap coil burners. I can do anything on it I can on my stove, essentially. It is exactly what I'd recommend to someone in the OP's position.

            1. re: AdamD

              I would not use a portable butane burner. Much better would be to buy a portable induction cooker. I bought a Salton one from Costco. It's much more powerful when you need power, doesn't kick out any heat itself and on low, it can simmer really low. Added to that no need to buy butane. No fire and it has a failsafe if it ever overheats, it turns itself off. Even if you remove the pot, it turns itself off.

              Another great purchase would be a stainless steel pressure cooker (make sure the bottom is usable on induction. You can use this as a large pot and or a pressure cooker for speed cooking.

                1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                  Totall agree with LUV_TO_EAT regarding hte induction burner. You can also find good ones on eBay. The induction is not hot to the touch either.

                  Test your cookware on the bottom with a magnet to determine if it is induction ready. If the magnet sticks, it is a go for induction cooking.

                  1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                    I was only suggesting the portable butane burner because of the cost. They are cheap and work great.

                    1. re: AdamD

                      And you don't need a plug to use it. I love my butane burner..tabletop seared steak bites...straight into my mouth while it's burning hot! Mmm. In the summer I can also take it outside for a fry party.

                2. You don't need a rice cooker. Just cook the rice (or oatmeal, lentils, barley, quinoa, and other grains) in a saucepan.

                  Do you have a good chopping board? You're going to need that.

                  You don't need an electric griddle. A frying pan (skillet) can do the same jobs and many more, and since you'll have the two burners it doesn't need to be electric. With limited space you want your tools to be versatile as possible.

                  My advice is to get as few appliances as possible and live with them for a little while. If you need anything else you'll figure it out pretty soon.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Euonymous

                    The lady I'm renting from isn't totally sure I'll be able to have the burners; if not, I'll be considering the rice cooker. Definitely looking at the chopping boards this coming week and figure I'll fill out the kitchen as I go along. Thanks for the advice!

                    1. re: Euonymous

                      >Do you have a good chopping board? You're going to need that.<

                      It would be nice if you had a chopping board that's big enough to fit over your sink in one direction or the other. Like having another counter.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        That is an excellent suggestion, one that many can make use of.

                    2. As far as hardware, a small electric non stick skillet will be great. a 10 inch stainless steel pan would be nice. A 1 qt saucepan will be needed. A microwave would be nice for thawing and heating up left overs.

                      As I suspect you are aware by now, the biggest problem is wanting to bother to cook... just for yourself. When you do cook, cook enough for leftovers so you only have to heat it up the second and third time. With that in mind a few plastic containers with lids would be good. A cupboard to act as a pantry would be very nice.

                      In a small space things will have to do double and triple duty. That cupboard I was talking about should have wheels and a counter top to put the microwave on a drawer in the top... maybe some knife slots....

                      You are living in a basement, so somebody must live upstairs. If you are or can become a decent cook, you might be able to make some arrangements where you cook for them occasionally...in their kitchen... with their food.... with a seat at the table for you...Yay!

                      Oh... try to buy most of this stuff at garage sales. There is no need in buying a new microwave when every garage sale has one. The electric skillet... buy it new.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                        Oh, I tend to love cooking for myself - I've had over a decade of cooking for picky eaters, so exploration is going to be very enjoyable. I'm fortunate that I have lots of space in my cupboards for appliances, food and the like. Considering getting a magnetic strip for the wall for my knives. Got a great shelved microwave cart (one that folds up like a TV tray) that also has a towel rack. It's got a butcher block top, which I don't plan on scuffing up.

                        I like your idea of cooking for my neighbor a lot - hmmm! And yeah, I'm a pretty decent cook. :) Already get my lunches for free at the care center where I volunteer, so more free food is always a plus.

                      2. Count me as an advocate of a rice cooker in your circumstance. It's something I'd recommend to anyone who likes rice, actually, but especially in your case it might help not to tie up your limited burners. Much better to make some rice on the side while you tend to more active needs, like a stir fry or a steak, on the burner.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          Exactly what I was thinking.

                          I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting adventure!

                        2. Pdk's idea is awesome!!
                          And I don't have much to weigh in on, re: cooking for one, because I never, ever lost the habit of big cooking, except:
                          I applaud your courage
                          And you should treat yourself as a guest.
                          Bravo, honey. I really mean that.

                          1 Reply
                          1. From reading what you've written here, including your responses and your profile page, I gather you're male, recently divorced (or in the process), find yourself in that wonderful position of being an older student (GREAT fun!), and living in what I can only hope for your sake is a temporary situation. That said, here are a few thoughts from someone who has been there and done that, except (I presume the exception) I'm female.

                            The butane burners are good, and here's one a bit more than the ten or fifteen buck models, but it kicks out 15,000 BTUs per hour. Not a bad price for that kind of power.
                            Pros and cons of it, it's kind of an expensive way to cook because you have to constantly replace the canisters, which are about the size of a can of PAM. That's the con, the pro is that for the future when you once again live in a whole house (or condo, apartment, whatever) it will be very handy for fondue, sukiyaki and crepes suzette at the table!

                            A smarter alternative may well be to spring for an induction table top "stove" if you can swing it. Go for the best you can afford. If you stay in your unenviable living conditions for a long time (hey, for all I know you're starting out as an undergrad and shooting for a Ph.D. without moving?), the unit will pay for itself in what you save on butane! If you're not familiar with induction, it is more responsive than even gas and is the cheapest way to cook from a utilities standpoint. Here's the one I would go with. It will ensure that you can cook steak AND potatoes at the same time!
                            CAVEAT: Make certain any and all pots, pans, roasters, etc., that you buy are induction friendly. Induction only works with ferrous metals.

                            You say space is limited, but then there is "limited," and then there is "LIMITED!" Depending on which you have, you might consider foregoing the George Forman grill and going with these:
                            PROS: You can do everything with these a Forman grill does (except plug them into an electric outlet) plus make stews, gravies and soups in them. And they will last you and your children the rest of your lives.

                            As far as actual pots and pans, the only things I would add to the above for the immediate future are maybe a couple of saucepans and a tea kettle.

                            For the rest, you probably have it already. I'd make sure they include 1 Microplane zester, 1 French whisk, spatula, pancake turner, wooden spoons, cheap plastic measuring cups and spoons, 1 Pyrex 32 ounce measuring cup, 1 paring knife, 1 six or eight inch chef's knife with steel, tongs, a colander and a strainer.

                            In time, if you can toss in a mini-microwave, a mini-refrigerator and maybe a blender, you're snug! Happy new life to you!

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Grinning.... I'm actually female, moved 2400 miles away from my lifelong region of origin to continue my studies on the opposite coast, and my three kids and grandson are all on the west side of the continent. I've been separated for the last couple of years, but living in houseshares - so ever since I married at 19, life has been cooking for more than one. Feeding just me is a totally new experience!

                              Actually enjoying the small digs - I come from a long line of packrats, so moving cross country and downsizing has become the perfect way to break the cycle.

                              Mini-nukerowave and mini-fridge are included in the unit; everything else is up to me. As stated somewhere in that mess up yonder, I may or may not have burners, depending on how she feels once I move in (it's technically illegal to have burners in basement units where I'm at, she says, but has had people use them safely there, so I dunno)...

                              1. re: Kezzabou

                                If safety is a concern for your landlady, you definitely should look into tabletop induction burners. They're great for cooking, and are no more a fire hazard than a microwave (and possibly less). Do a little reading about induction, and you can let her know how little hazard it would be for you to have one there.

                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                  You took the words right out of my mouth. Having had induction for a year, I can vouch for what you say. If OP takes landlady to a store where it can be demonstrated, I can't imagine an objection.

                              2. re: Caroline1

                                Oh, and my "unenviable living conditions" aren't so bad. I actually LIKE where I am moving to, or I wouldn't be going there. :)

                                1. re: Kezzabou

                                  Good for you! Even as I was assuming you to be male, I kept thinking, "This person is awful gregarious for a guy." Shoulda listened to my instincts. I've been a pack rat all of my life and find it all but an impossible (so far) habit to break. <sigh> You've turned me a paler shade of green. On the other hand, just think of the antiques my kids will inherit!

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    My kids inherited the antiques when I moved - and over 30 years of my genealogical records. Now THEY get to deal with it all - mwahahahaha!

                                1. Kezzabou,

                                  In a basement I'd be leery of butane or propane. Propane for sure and I think butane are heavier than air. I've never used an induction "burner" but I've heard they are really nice. I wouldn't use "burner" talking to your landlord- hot plate might sound more acceptable.

                                  You can make very good rice in the microwave so the rice cooker isn't really needed. A toaster (or toaster oven) on the other hand can't really be subbed. The suggestion about second hand stores is great. On a student's budget they're lifesavers.

                                  Oh, I've just moved into a 27' Class C motor home so I'm very cramped on kitchen space and have really been considering how to do more with less space. I have the advantage of a cooktop/oven and a reasonable sized electric/propane refrigerator. "Uni-taskers" are pretty much out for me- except the toaster.

                                  Good Luck,
                                  Friend of Bill W.

                                  14 Replies
                                  1. re: Friend of Bill W.

                                    Ha, you caught me checking the Net this morning, FoBW!

                                    I agree completely about being leery of butane or propane. How do you microwave rice? This is something I would have loved to know when I was feeding kids!

                                    Thrift store junkie all the way here - the appliances I've gotten so far (with the exception of one) are second hand, in fact. As are my dishes.

                                    1. re: Kezzabou

                                      Actually, when we were doing our kitchen renovation, we found microwavable rice sold in bags. I believe they were frozen, but I'm not sure. However, if you are that into rice, I would also recommend a rice cooker. We would never have considered one in the past, but after my husband received one as a birthday gift from a Chinese friend, we wondered how we ever lived without it!

                                      1. re: roxlet

                                        There are "microwave rice cookers" all over amazon.com, not to mention at Walmart and such. Around ten bucks, which is a lot cheaper than a fuzzy logic rice cooker. I've never used one, but I have used microwave egg poachers and bacon friers and they did the job pretty well!

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          Have never seen 'em in the stores, they must be popular! :)

                                          1. re: Kezzabou

                                            I don't microwave rice but my mother does this all the time. You don't need a special "microwave rice cooker" just a large microwaveable container with cover. Lots of recipes incl this one: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ka...

                                            1. re: Kezzabou

                                              The microwave rice cooker I use and recommend is the Progressive International brand: http://www.amazon.com/Progressive-Int... Great consistency comes from venting just enough steam during the cooking process. Check the vertical dimension for compatibility with your microwave - mine is 6 1/2 inches tall. I would not use it on brown or wild rice that requires very long cook times. It is very easy to clean, but to avoid cleaning issues I never put anything in the cooker except rice, water, salt. DO NOT use tasteless, overpriced 'instant' / microwave / Uncle Bens type rice or other grains; look for regular or 'quick' cooking types.

                                              Return the mini crock pot and get a larger one - you will want to make stock in decent batches and occasionally cook a small boneless pork butt or beef brisket (they both shrink considerably during cooking).

                                              1. re: DiveFan

                                                Small crockpots are plenty big enough to cook a small roast or some stock. I had a big one for a while and never used it.

                                                1. re: DiveFan

                                                  Mini crock is here to stay. I don't want a bunch of leftovers, they'd just fill minifridge space.

                                          2. re: Kezzabou


                                            I just use a regular bowl for making rice. I start with 1 cup of white rice and 2 cups of boiling water with salt and /or butter as desired. Boil the water however you find convenient. Mix the ingredients in a microwave proof bowl large enough plus a little room for expansion. Cover the bowl with a paper plate and microwave for about 5 minutes. Let rest for 3-4 minutes and stir a little. Microwave 3 or 4 minutes then let rest. Repeat. After about 15- 20 minutes of actual cooking time the rice is about ready. Stir (or "fluff" <grin>)and taste. Microwave uncovered to dry a little or add some water and cook a little more covered if its a bit "crunchy". After a try or two its easy. The times vary with your microwave and the bag of rice you have. Sometimes a different package of the same brand will require a sizable difference in cooking times. Cleanup is easy. I've never tried brown rice this way but probably should.

                                            You can do pasta using the same general method, start with approximately 1 to 1 by volume. It is starchy this way or as someone called it "risotto-ish".

                                            I started making rice this way because the commercial microwave cookers and normal instructions produced boil overs and I've better things to do than scrub a pan. I just tried the "Egg Wave" microwave egg cooker- 1/2 off of $1.91 at a second hand store. I couldn't resist. After a couple of unimpressive but very messy explosions, I have the cleanest microwave around! Pass on that one unless you need an excuse to clean yours.

                                            I've started boiling water in the microwave because is puts less water vapor in the air- important in a small motorhome in the winter. When it warms up I'll go back to a small electric pot when I have the power or propane if I don't.. Those little electric "teapots" pots are very useful. You can heat water for instant soups, coffee in a French press or 1 cup drip thingy, or just oatmeal. Starting with boiling water makes regular oatmeal almost as fast as instant.

                                            I forgot to congratulate you on your return to college. However you got to where you are now, I hope you are following your dreams. After my divorce (married for over 25 years) I waited way too long to really move on to what I wanted to do. But I'm here now and loving it. I wish the same for you.

                                            Friend of Bill W.

                                            1. re: Friend of Bill W.

                                              Which is exactly why I never do more than (maybe) heat left over rice in the microwave! I don't have to interrupt the 20 minutes of cooking time to prevent boil over when I make rice stove top. Stove top is cook it for twenty (usually) minutes, let it rest. FAR less hassle than nuking. IMO

                                              1. re: Friend of Bill W.

                                                That 'pre boiling' process sounds awfully involved and takes a suspiciously long time.
                                                For long grain white rice I never need over 13 minutes in the microwave cooker from a dead start with cold water. I live in SoCal so excess humidity isn't an issue :-). BTW less water is needed than stovetop - more than 1 3/4x rice volume will get you mush for sure.

                                                Kezzabou, my crock pot is a 4 qt cylindrical model. The smaller ones didn't work consistently enough for me.

                                                I'm able to judge recipes for 'leftover fraction' much better than I used to, but my biggest appliance regret in 30+ years is buying too small (18 cu ft) a refrigerator. It is always stuffed with items (cooking oil, brown rice, etc) that otherwise would go rancid in this climate, cold beverages, bread and the rest of the usual suspects.

                                                I have recently been using my small electric coffee maker for heating small quantities of water - very fast and efficient. Recommend the DeLonghi Twenty Four Seven: http://www.amazon.com/DeLonghi-DC50W-...

                                                Agree with the reco below on the immersion blender, much more convenient than a regular one: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/764633

                                                1. re: DiveFan


                                                  DiveFan wrote: "That 'pre boiling' process sounds awfully involved and takes a suspiciously long time."

                                                  Mike, just how involved is it for you to boil water? And just what is it that you suspect me of doing? <wink> Lighten up. I'm teasing.

                                                  Seriously, I normally boil water in a electric teapot/ kettle. By the time I get the rice in the bowl with some salt, maybe some butter, and get out the other ingredients to prep, the water is boiling. Add the boiling water, stir, cover with a paper plate and microwave. While it cooks, I do the rest of the prep and cooking. Seems pretty straightforward to me- particularly if you're cooking for one. Oh well, different strokes...

                                                  My microwaves (yes, only 2 and one is in storage; and no, I won't tell you how small my refrigerator is) are 850 and 1000 watt input. Cooking times will vary. I am very happy you're satisfied with your method. I've tried it and your proportions with a store bought rice cooker (they were in the instructions) and I didn't like it- neither the cleanup nor the end product. The cooker went to Good Will.

                                                  I am also very happy with my method and recommend people give it a try.

                                                  Caroline, super easy clean up is the big (and maybe only) advantage of microwaving rice. No scrubbing- period. You just wash the bowl like a plate. I realize some like that "rind" that forms on the bottom if the pan, but I throw it out. My method avoids it entirely.

                                                  I have had and used dedicated rice cookers. They work fine. I simply don't have the room. My choice. Everyone has different priorities. And there is no way I'm giving up my kitchen Aid mixer!

                                                  Friend of Bill W.

                                            2. re: Friend of Bill W.

                                              A microwave will use anywhere from 3-6 times the electricity of a typical rice maker. Not that you're likely to go broke with the difference, but....

                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                If you do decide you want a rice cooker, try an Asian grocery. They have tiny little ones a lot of times.

                                            3. Kezzabou - I am in sort of the same position with a newly empty nest and a small kitchen. I would say an electric kettle is cheap and efficient for boiling water and heating other liquids. The one applicance I use a lot is my wand blender. The one I have comes with a small container that acts like a mini food processor. I use this a lot to turn left overs into various kinds of soup - with one person I find I have a LOT of leftovers.
                                              Good Luck!