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I need Level 2 Recipes...

Recently, I've been discussing my cooking and eating habits with a nutritionist, and we've come to the conclusion that one of the issues with how I cook and eat is that my recipe repertoire consists of either:

"Let me take this frozen dinner out of a box."


"Let me take these two things out of boxes and cook them together."


"Okay, lasagna. Where did I leave the type 00 flour to make the pasta?"

We described it as Level 0, Level 1 and Level 47. And nothing in between. Either I'm just throwing crap together from packaged goods with no real expectation that it will be tasty or nutritious, or I'm doing this: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/720049

I'm trying to find dishes -- not necessarily even complete recipes, but techniques and concepts -- that are relatively fast, use ingredients that I'm likely to own or can easily acquire and that seem like cooking and result in things that are tasty, but which require slightly less than an entire weekend to prepare. Slightly less than an entire hour would be best.

I'm only one person, so things that can be made a couple of portions at a time, or which freeze well would be best. I don't eat a ton of vegetables since I find them annoying to prepare and don't tend to like them anyway, but recipes that include some super-easy inclusion of vegetables within the main dish would be good.

Most of the 'easy weeknight dinner' types of recipes I find are geared towards working moms feeding an entire family, and some of them can be cut down to fit a single person, but not all of them can.

I'm sure I'm not the only hound who mostly cooks for one person, so I'm curious what other hounds are doing just to get themselves fed every night. Apparently 'maintain a well curated set of take-out menus' is not the only possible answer to that question. But when it's half an hour past dinnertime, and all I'm doing is standing in front of my fridge thinking 'I wonder what I should have for dinner?' take-out or frozen dinners end up seeming like the only viable option.

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  1. Though there have been many posts over the years like yours, my personal favorite is here:

    This thread is filled with strategies that others have used and some wonderful compassion to boot. Perhaps you can get some ideas.

    p.s. If there were no frozen "meals" in the freezer, it would not be an option. ;-)

    1. I usually try to have a protein, at least one vegetable and one starch. If i don't have a starch, I will remain hungry and snack. I found having a rice cooker made making rice so easy, I can just turn it on, go do other stuff and not have to worry about it at all.

      Once a week I try to have fish. I will sometimes change the fish, but I usually get a filet of what looks fresh and yet not too expensive. I almost always just pan sear it as I love a nice crust on my fish. I will try various things such as throwing a few cherry tomatoes in one week, some olives the next, maybe a little panko crust one week, just lemon juice and butter, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, etc. If I am feeling lazy, I will just do a simple pan seared fish which takes 30 seconds to prep, 3-5 minutes to cook, and I'll throw together a salad, and maybe throw some rice in the rice cooker before hand. If I am more adventurous, I will do the same fish, maybe sautee some green beans or spinach or chard or anything in the same fish pan after its cooked, that way I don't create many dishes. Or I will just use a new pot or whatever and cook any number of vegetables I want, whatever looks fresh and inexpensive. I will boil potatoes, roast potatoes, steam potatoes, anything with potatoes or sweet potatoes or squash or any starch. Or as I said before, just rice. I feel eating fish once a week has made me healthier, its pretty inexpensive, and I can make it very fresh and delicious and its extremely fast to cook.

      I always have pasta on hand as well. I will create many different sauces based on whats in the fridge, be it just tomatoes and basil, mushrooms, spinach/chard and olives, leeks and radicchio, the possibilities are endless.

      As I have a Japanese fiancee, I find myself eating rice much much more now. As I said, it is so easy, and I always have it on hand now in the cupboard. I can throw it in the rice cooker, it usually takes 15-20 minutes, in that time I can get whatever vegetables out of the fridge, cut them, sautee them and have a nice stir fry and rice in 20-30 minutes. I usually always use pork, just a thin asian style sliced pork belly, I will start by sauteeing carrots, then onions, and then the pork, then I will throw in any asian green, and then finish with a splash of soy sauce and lemon, or could use ponzu, if I am feeling especially fancy I'll top with some sesame oil.

      My go to meals are whatever is in the fridge either in the form of pasta or stir fry on rice. And once a week I make the effort to have a fish dish.

      Another convenient thing is I will cook a full bowl of rice in my rice cooker, and then I can freeze individual portions of rice, that way if I am very lazy, I can throw a portion of rice in the microwave and it is ready in 5 minutes, then I can either pan sear a fish, or make a quick stir fry of mushrooms or spinach or anything for on the rice.

      All the rice cookers I used in Canada and Australia cost between $11-15, so it was a very worthwhile investment for me. The rice cooker I am using in Japan is significantly more advanced.

      11 Replies
      1. re: TeRReT

        Interesting that you mentioned rice cookers specifically. I've been contemplating getting one. I like rice, but don't eat a lot of it right now, just because it takes so much longer to cook than pasta and I almost inevitably burn half of it to the bottom of the pot, because I lack the attention span to spend half an hour in my kitchen actually attending to a boiling pot.

        1. re: Jacquilynne

          I never ate rice at home before my fiancee, and a rice cooker came as a package deal with her. Its beyond convenient for me. When we traveled Australia, we had a small 4 cup one, it cost $11 and did its job well. It couldn't make too much rice, just enough for the two of us, and maybe a little more, but was perfect. Even in that situation, being able to put the rice in, and have it cooking while I prep the rest of the meal, or if I wanted to take a shower or watch tv while it cooked it was convenient enough not having to touch the rice (aside from rinsing it before cooking, but that doesn't take long). Now that I am in Japan, the rice cooker we have is more like an 8 cup rice cooker, which means I can cook so many portions of rice. And freezing the rice has no noticeable effect on it. It still tastes delicious after being in the microwave for 5 minutes.

          The ricer cooker itself was beyond convenient *for me*, but having 6 portions of rice frozen at any given time is crazy. Dinner I don't mind cooking rice and taking 30 minutes to make, but lunch I want immediately. Being able to have rice ready fast makes me so happy.

          I stress this works well for me and my fiancee, but I have seen people that say they don't use their rice cookers. For us, I couldn't live without it now.

          1. re: Jacquilynne

            Perhaps you spending 30 minutes "attending to a boiling pot" is your downfall. For rice, rinse it with cool water, add it to boiling water, stir once and cover, turn the heat down immediately to simmer. Check for doneness in 15 minutes. Should not take more than 20 minutes for white rice. Do NOT stir until it is done.

            1. re: Jacquilynne

              I too cook for one. Do you have a pressure-cooker? If not, I think this would be a better investment than a rice cooker. It will speed your meal-prep time for a wider range of foods than a rice cooker. For rice, I put a rack (an arrangement of jar lids would suffice) in the bottom, with a half inch of water. Atop that, a pyrex or metal bowl/dish containing rice and the amount of water/broth it needs. That will halve the cooking time to 20 minutes and there is NO clean-up. Just dump the still-clean water in the bottom of the pressure cooker. Serve the rice from the bowl.

              I do the same with dry beans, soaked or un. You'll get slow cooker recommendations too, I'm sure. Before I retired, I usually cooked a lot on weekends, froze meals in single portions.
              Then I could reheat something quickly for a workday dinner. AFTER that dinner, I might cook a few portions of something else. Dinner for the following day, and more for the freezer or following days. I don't mind having the same thing for dinner 2-3 days in a row, if it's something I really like.

              1. re: greygarious

                I agree 100% about the pressure cooker. A 6 qt. would be a good size for 1-2 people. You never fill them more than 2/3's full. Get a copy of Lorna Sass' Pressure Perfect. You will be putting risottos on your table in no time. It takes 7.5 mins (not counting a little prep), soups even things like split pea take about 15 mins. You will be amazed at the variety of good foods you can turn out in no time at all. Last night I made a lamb tagine from Paula Wolfort's new book, The Foods of Morocco. The recipe called for cooking the lamb for 3 hours. Out came the pressure cooker and a half hour that dish was ready.

                Once you get some experience under your belt with a PC you will be able to convert many regular recipes to pressure cooker cooking. Beef Burgundy is another that is almost mindless to do. And BTW, they are safe. They cannot blow up as earlier versions did. If you opt for an electric, Fagor makes one that is a PC, Slow Cooker, and Rice cooker. It costs around $100. The only drawback on it is that the PC only gets up to 8PSI where a cooktop model will get up to 15 PSI. And yes, you can cook rice in a PC and lots of other good for you grains.

              2. re: Jacquilynne

                Even though I'm cooking more rice these days, I can't justify a fancy rice cooker.
                I'm sticking with my easy-to-use, easy-to-clean and cheap microwave cooker.
                Basically just a plastic bowl with a vented lid - pretty much foolproof. I haven't used it on brown rice due to the extended cooking time.

                I'm with the other posters who can't go carb-less. In smaller percentages, rice adds a uniquely satifying texture combined with meat, beans and/or veggies.
                For example, try a Costco-chicken + rice + salsa bowl.

                1. re: DiveFan

                  I can cook a small portion of rice so easily in my little Le Creuset sauce pot that I don't really feel the need for a rice cooker. What I think it would be good for is cooking brown rice--that can be challenging on the stovetop in my experience. So much better at a restaurant, and I put that down to their commercial rice cooker.

                2. re: Jacquilynne

                  If you use converted rice (aka Uncle Ben's or parboiled or "golden rice") you can cook a large potful in the rice cooker then package it in plastic sandwich bags and freeze individual portions to be zapped when needed. I haven't found that other types of rice freeze well---they clump and smoosh---but the converted rice grains keep to themselves. This is a very great convenience for the solo cook.

                  1. re: Querencia

                    Japanese short grain rice freezes fine, thats all I use and it freezes as well as when eaten fresh

                    1. re: Querencia

                      Great suggestion! Is there a brown rice version of Uncle Ben's parboiled or Japanese short grain rice that freezes well?

                      Wild rice also freezes well, though it's not technically a rice. (It's a grass). It's also high in protein and fiber, so, super healthful.

                      Also, to the OP, if you finding that freezing food in individual portions works for you, a foodsaver is a pretty nifty machine.

                      Finally, this might not be very chowhoundy, but we like to fry up a big batch of ground beef or bison (lower in fat!) with garlic and chopped onion (you can buy frozen chopped onion and even chopped garlic if you want) and then freeze it in small quantities. It's easy later to pull out and add to marinara sauce for a quick pasta, make tacos, whateever. You can also make soup, make chili and so on, though those are things you might just bake in big batches and freeze anyway. Martha Stewart has a "taco filling" version of this. We like to keep the flavors more generic though for better versatility http://www.marthastewart.com/portal/s...

                      These mini meatballs are freezer friendly and cook quickly (without needing to be pre-thawed) http://www.marthastewart.com/portal/s...


                    2. re: Jacquilynne

                      We live near quite a few universities and this is the time, April and May, when graduate students move on and sell things like high end rice cookers cheap. I got my neuro fuzzy rice cooker for less than1/2 the retail price a few years ago from Craig's list and we use it a lot- it makes foolproof rice in no time and keeps it warm until you're ready to eat.

                  2. Jacquilynne, I hear ya on the veg. If the budget allows, the pre-cut stuff on the friendly local grocery salad bar (or produce section) can be your best friend, if turnover is high. You can make some rice in advance, and re-steam in the microwave, and do the world's fastest stir-frying stint; just cut up your chicken or peel a few prawns, good to go.
                    One thing I want to mention is that it would be a great idea for you to slice some cheeses and veg. in advance of need, and have a plateful in the fridge. That'll forestall your need to get something into you immediately. Walk in the door, pour a glass of wine and have a few crackers and cheese.
                    Chicken cutlets, pounded and floured in advance, can be stored in the fridge for several days and then sauteed as needed with a squeeze of lemon and a tot of butter to finish. Maybe a splash of wine in there.
                    Lasagna freezes beautifully. Can you make some and portion it out to freeze?
                    A pot of "pasta sauce base" has been a real friend to me.....thawed, you've got spaghetti with meat sauce (or any other pasta, for that matter) and a base for delicious minestrone soup: add tinned or boxed decent broth, cooked beans (canned are fine, of course), some cooked pasta that was just sitting and waiting for this, some shredded spinach and Parmesan.
                    Myself, I'm eating a LOT of cutlets, lotta chops, lotta small steaks. But I'm a serious carnivore at the end of the day and I MUST have MEATY goodness.
                    Nothing wrong with a great grilled tuna and cheese, either.....
                    And when I get busy cleaning out the fridge, I make a HUGE wokful of fried rice, using every odd/end I can find. Somehow it all works out. Great with a fried egg on top.

                    1. Jacquilynne, check out recent threads on planning and meal prep (on general topics board, I think). I cook for just two people, and for the last decade or so have been conscientious about avoiding frozen and processed foods. It is a challenge, and it is really more a lifestyle change than a mere cooking challenge. It is necessary to commit to planning ahead and staying motivated and disciplined to avoid falling into the frozen box of dinner/take-out trap.

                      I know the feeling of standing in front of the fridge wondering what to have for dinner, and I try very hard to avoid that by planning ahead. I plan out dinners for a number of days, grocery shop with those dinner plans in mind, and make sure I always have salad greens, dressings, eggs, cheeses, fruit and yogurt on hand. We stick with a meat and veg, meat and green salad, or meat/veg/salad meal plan. That may mean grilled or sauteed steak, chicken or fish, or omelettes, always served with something green and fresh, or a "keeping" salad made ahead, like a lentil salad. Roasted asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower are easy to prepare and while they're in the oven or on the grill you can saute a fish fillet or grill a steak or chicken breast. My local market has great frozen fish, packaged with two individually sealed fish cuts to a bag. I have lately discovered trimmed and washed green beans in a bag (can't recall the brand) that you just pop into the microwave for four to five minutes - they were very good and sure beat doing the washing and trimming yourself.

                      Broccoli and cauliflower keeps for a long time once washed and separated into florets and stored in a glass container in the fridge. Clean a head all at once and it will be ready for your come meal time. Asparagus when in season is so simple to prepare, and you can oven roast for 15 minutes or pan roast in even less time. Carrots can be peeled ahead and stored ready for boiling or roasting. All these vegetables cook well and quickly in the microwave with no loss of quality.

                      In summary, it takes a bit of effort and the motivation to change but it can be done.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: janniecooks

                        Meal planning is definitely a problem for me, for sure. I sometimes buy groceries with good intentions and then they rot in my fridge because they aren't what I feel like eating (or, more likely, seem like too much effort to cook). And other times, there's just not much there.

                      2. I've been into roasting things lately, specifically chicken. One package of boneless skinless chicken thighs (8-9 pieces at WF), a can of artichoke hearts in water (drained), and potatoes can take you a long way. Put them all in a foil-lined baking pan (less to wash!), toss with a little olive oil (or vinaigrette etc), lemon slices (or oranges or not at all), salt and pepper, and garlic cloves (can leave them whole or leave them out). Roast at 400 for 45 min. or so. The nice thing about this is that you can vary it in all different directions, with different vegetables (roasted red pepers work well, for ex.) and flavors (smoked paprika ... yum). Or you can leave out the potoatoes and serve it over rice or pasta. And you can relax, w/or w/o a glass of wine, while it's cooking.

                        1. You don't have to make this conversion overnight. Start with 2 or 3 nights a week. I would highly recommend soups. Make a quart or so. It keeps. A bowl and 2 - 3 slices of french bread is hard to beat. If you have to, the higher end canned soups would be a level 1.5.

                          Rice is an excellent idea. It holds in the fridge for at least a few days. The cooked rice is great for stirfrys or good to just throw a few spoonfuls into soup.

                          Risottos and pilafs are great 1 pot meals. You can use a canned broth and veggies and some chicken or sausage or even ham. 30 minutes later, you have a meal. Make enough for 2 - 3 meals. It keeps in the fridge.

                          Lastly, chicken leg quarters are a Godsend. Sprinkle some rub on them or just salt and pepper and roast them in the oven for about an hour. You can't get any easier than that. If you roast some extras, you can take most of the meat off and store it in a plastic container for other meals like that pilaf I was talking about. Throw the bones and some of the meat and skin into the crock pot for stock.
                          Going by the store on the way home and picking up a fish filet or even one of those stuffed filets the meat department sells works well. You can do that with a steak or rotisserie chicken. Rotisserie chicken gets expensive quick. I consider a steak and a baked potato the ultimate fast food.

                          A baked potato with whatever topping you can think of is a good meal. Creamed mushrooms, pulled pork, chili, or broccoli and cheese make great toppings. A baked potato and a can of soup
                          or stew poured over it is one of those 1.5 meals.

                          Breakfast makes a wonderful dinner and is quick. Carbanera is good, cheap and fast....win win win!

                          1. I think it's pretty easy to cook for one because you get to eat when you like and not compromise. If you like to cook complicated, do that over the weekend. Pot of minestrone, casserole of lasagna, etc. Then, all you need is to clean and dress some salad greens, heat up your dinner of choice and you're done. Also consider omelets, panini, and my new favorite a yam cooked in 4 minutes in the microwave (wash, wrap in paper towel and zap, turning at 2)--good as a side and very good for you.

                            1. There were a lot of "level 2" type recipes that people suggested in my "stove top chicken recipes" thread that might appeal to you: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7984...

                              as well as in my "so many cookbooks and nothing to cook" thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8285...

                              Also, I recently discovered this chicken, prosciutto and zucchini recipe from Real Simple: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe... And it really is simple!

                              Good luck!


                              1. When I'm cooking for 1, I make a lot of frittatas and stratas. I often only use 2 or 3 eggs, and a smaller pyrex dish, and use a lot of veggies, so I won't feel guilty if I eat the whole thing. I'll use leftover roasted veggies in the stratas and frittatas, if I have them.

                                Other times, I'll saute tomatoes and/or spinach in evoo, then add a couple eggs, and cook until done.

                                I've found that if I cook pasta for more than 1 or 2 servings when I'm cooking for 1, I'll eat more than I should, so I now measure the pasta, and don't tend to cook more than enough for 2 servings. My moderation skills aren't strong enough for me to cook big batches when I'll be dining alone.

                                I tend to use a lot of rice and angel hair pasta as my sides, mostly because I can cook them fairly quickly and effortlessly, so I can focus a little more on prepping my veggies and proteins.

                                Shrimp scampi also works for me- I just defrost the number of shrimp I need, then cook them in a skillet with butter, garlic and chillies.

                                Another quick meal for me is cheater Thai curry, using prepared curry paste, coconut milk, some shrimp or chicken, and veggies. I use only a partial can of coconut milk when I'm cooking for 1, and freeze the rest in 1/4 cup containers for future use.

                                I also take take-out or leftovers, and turn them into other dishes later. Leftover rotisserie chicken, or leftover roasted chicken, is great for chicken salads, soups, enchiladas, etc..

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: prima

                                  Shrimp is a wise choice. Cooks fast, and I don't have to defrost it well in advance which is one of the troubles I run into with most proteins.

                                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                                    Shrimp is super fast! When Grace Young's wok books were Cookbook of the Month, she also had us soak shrimp in salt water to make them extra juicy and plump. I now defrost all my shrimp in cold salt water!

                                    Another quick protein is tofu because it's shelf-stable. Here's the best ever tofu recipe, from Flexitarian Table, a former COTM: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4341...

                                    Also, as others have mentioned, eggs.

                                    ETA: in terms of starches, quinoa is fast cooking. Also, pearl barley. Also, I don't know if it counts as "stage 2", but I like those polenta logs they sell in the grocery store. You can slice and griddle that up to make a base for either an Italianesque meal or a Mexican'ish meal. You can also add water and mash it and have it be more creamy.

                                    In terms of vegetables, I used to like to keep hijiki on hand. You can rehydrate it pretty quickly. Dried mushrooms are good on this front, too. That way, they don't go bad in your fridge.


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      I buy certain dried diced vegetables from www.barryfarm.com. Initially I ordered from them because I knew that because of a medical situation I would not be able to grocery shop often for a few months. But I discovered that when used in most soups, tomato sauce, stews, you'd never know I used dehydrated. Cuts way down on storage space, eliminates spoilage, less groceries to lug, etc. When you compare in terms of dry weight, the price of fresh produce compared to dry + shipping is pretty much a wash.

                                      In the quick chicken department - a streamlined version of stuffed breasts using the same ingredients: Cut bacon into half-inch or narrower strips, saute it and remove, then saute skinless tenders or pounded skinless breasts. Stir in some garden vegetable or chive/onion cream cheese and the cooked bacon, which makes for a yummy sauce, and serve over rice. It's dead simple and super-quick, though the initial dish was a bit better because since it was baked, there was a wonderful Maillard reaction at the edges as the cream cheese filling ran out and combined with the fat that rendered from the strip of bacon that was wrapped over the skin of the rolled pounded breast.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        So interesting about the dried veggies!

                                        Delicious sounding chicken dish, too!

                                        Here's an old thread. "Hot Pantry Dinners that Aren't Pasta" http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6804...

                                        Lots of great ideas for weeknight meals that you can make from your pantry.


                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          I'd NEVER thought about dried vegetables..... that would be a GREAT pantry item for me! Due to my transportation situation, I'm only able to get to the store every couple weeks, and that would be a wonderful solution. That and low refrigerator space... I'm going to have to give it a try! Thank you GG for the idea

                                      2. re: Jacquilynne

                                        There was a thread here recently on hot thawing proteins:


                                        In my freezer, I keep a bag of 8 oz. b/s chicken breasts individually frozen in freezer bags at the ready, and rarely find it taking more time than shrimp to defrost. Same deal for pork chops and portions of good beef that may be sliced up for stir-frys.

                                        1. re: RelishPDX

                                          Turkey and veal scallopine also defrost quickly.

                                        2. re: Jacquilynne

                                          Another thing I keep in the freezer for quick meals are Italian sausages (both pork and turkey versions). A pack of 3 defrosts in 12 minutes in the microwave. Last night, I made something inspired by this recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gi... using less sausage and shrimp, subbing some on-hand cauliflower florets for the fennel, fresh tomatoes for tomato paste, and sherry for the wine. I served it with some pasta.

                                      3. 1) If I put a lot of salad things in the refrigerator, already open and ready to go (canned kidney beans, canned beets, canned hearts of palm, marinated artichoke hearts, lettuce, tomatoes, green pepper, red onion, celery, grated cheese, fresh mushrooms etc etc) that sets me up for a week of dinner-type salads like the Garbage Salad sold in restaurants. A bag of cooked shrimp in the freezer allows just a few shrimp to exit to the salad. 2) A bag of the shredded cabbage sold for coleslaw makes a good stir fry for one---add anything you have that seems appropriate.3) A boneless pork loin, roasted, is available all week for hot pork sandwiches with barbecue sauce. 4) An egg or two and some pre-grated Cheddar cheese makes a quick cheese omelet. 5) For loners who like Southern cuisine, a big bag of frozen greens can cook for a few hours in the small crock-pot with a chunk of ham---lasts for several meals---goes well with a baked sweet potato and a baked piece of chicken (or a supermarket rotisseried chicken).

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Querencia

                                          In addition to your 2) I do the same with bagged broccoli slaw (made from the stems). I don't care for it raw, but it's great for a quick stir-fry or saute with whatever's on hand, or I sometimes just stir a couple of beaten eggs into it in the skillet.

                                        2. While there are quite a few good threads already, I'll toss out a few suggestions here as well.

                                          Egg white omelette with whatever vegs i have on hand is one of my favorite and easiest things to make. i like to add a pinch of cream of tartar to my egg whites when i beat them with a little salt and pepper. makes them puff up really nicely. so many different spice/herb combos, as the eggs are a nice simple palate from which to begin... (i love curry powder, or cumin/oregano/paprika, or thyme/parsley, etc)

                                          i like making a big pot of ratatouille, which i then use as i want/need... sometimes just with chicken/fish; sometimes in an omelette, sometimes straight out of the tupperware...

                                          also, fish... i either pepper coat it (with ahi) and pan-sear quickly. or do in papillote (or foil) in the oven, in a bed of lemon slices, onions, veg of choice, drizzled with a little broth, white wine, salt and pepper. sometimes i'll spray the skin with spray oil before sprinkling on salt and pepper, or blackening seasoning, or whatever other spices i'm in the mood for.

                                          also, will do a miso broth with a ton of greens (collards, mustard, bok choy, spinach), chopped wild mushrooms, asparagus with crushed garlic; simmered til all is tender. i'll add in some lemon juice, bragg's amino acids / soy sauce, then either drizzle in egg whites (a la egg drop soup) while the broth simmers, or serve with chicken or fish (or tofu or tempeh or seitan).

                                          lastly, i'll make enchiladas... totally easy to control the portion made. i make my sauce from scratch, saute some shredded roast chicken with diced green chiles and diced onions. dip tortillas in sauce, fill w/ chicken mixture and any other vegs i feel like. i can't eat cheese, so mine stop here, but feel free to fill and roll. drizzle with more sauce and shredded cheese... bake til bubbly.

                                          1. One of my standard techniques is the basic stew/soup/pasta sauce routine. The technique is essentially the same but it produces wildly different dishes depending on what ingredients you use, and you can adjust the quantity. However, it usually works best with a couple of servings worth - you can freeze most variations for leftovers.


                                            1) Saute diced or sliced onions/celery/carrots/peppers/garlic/mushrooms.

                                            2) Add meat and brown (optional).

                                            3) Add liquidy ingredient and seasonings. Simmer.

                                            4) Add vegetables that don't need to be cooked for too long (beans, peas, corn, potatoes, spinach, broccoli, etc). Simmer until done, adjust seasoning.

                                            So if your ingredients are onions, mushrooms, garlic for step 1, ground beef for step 2, and canned tomato and basil for step three, you've got tomato sauce. Add in peppers and beans and swap chili powder for the basil, and you've got a chili like dish. Start with onions, celery, mushrooms and carrots, stewing beef for step 2, a bit of red wine and a bay leaf for step three, and potatoes for step 4 and you've got a beef stew. Use onions, garlic, ginger (1) chicken (2), yoghurt and curry powder (3) and you've got curry.

                                            Do the same basic thing, but in (3) add a lot of chicken stock, and you've got homemade soup.

                                            When I was cooking just for myself, I tended to either eat the same thing two nights in a row, or freeze leftovers for later, if the recipe naturally made more than one serving.

                                            Try keeping a bin in the fridge with salad veggies. When you go shopping, come home and wash the lettuce, and wash and trim some cucumbers/celery/carrots/radish/peppers. That way you can very quickly assemble a side salad to go with your main dish.

                                            Eggs are great for single serving meals. Cook some brown rice or soba, toss with chopped cilantro and lime juice, top with two poached eggs and drizzle with hot sauce.

                                            Toss a seasoned chicken breast or other simple meat, and a whole potato into the oven. Cut a tomato in half, season, and bake along side. Make a salad while it bakes.

                                            Eat rice as a side one night, and make extra to do fried rice the second night, as your main course.

                                            Frozen vegetables are a boon to single people. Frozen green beans, corn, peas, edamame, etc, can be cooked quickly and in small portions without worrying about spoilage.

                                            1. J - you? say it ain't so..

                                              around 1991 I withdrew from going out socially for about a year and started cooking, that was gonna be my fun. I ate a lot of the same stuff, but I used the repetition to perfect bechamel carbonara, and rouxs (what is the proper plural of roux?). all easy to make for one or twelve. took a while to master and I still grabbed a burrito from a taqueria on the way home sometimes. but given that we are coming up on fresh vegetable season, I suggest exploring the most interesting variation on pasta primavera you can. it's a base you can build on w/o relying on prepackaged or shooting up to #47 as dried noodles are fine, yeah fresh and homemade are indeed better, but dried are fine. toss in a little prosciutto or something. let a few things roast while you catch up on some trash TV. put your feet up. the only stress time is during the sauce (and that can be set aside for a while after the thickening)

                                              1. Jacquilynne, how is this going for you?


                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  The reason I ask is (because of my miserable lack of participation in COTM recently) that I've been thinking about following Real Simple's "A Month of Dinners" for a month (it's 20 recipes, so "A Month of Weeknight Dinners" would be more accurate) and I wondered if you'd want to cook along with me. I figured we could do it almost COTM style where I would post a thread and we'd report back on what we tried and liked and didn't etc. And, of course, others could join in if they wished.

                                                  I notice most of the recipes have vegetables built in as you request. MOst of the recipes require only 20 minutes or so. And they have a built-in shopping list (with quanties) to streamline that part of it. I notice you mentioned you aren't great at the planning part, so I thought this might be helpful to you.

                                                  The one thing that might not work for you based on your OP is that most of these recipes seem to serve 4. But, since there are 30 days in a month and there are only 20 recipes I figured that would give you leftovers for the weekend and for lunches. I suppose you might be able to freeze some and/or cut the shopping list and recipes in half...


                                                  They actually have (I think) two other "a month of recipes" articles in their archices that we could continue on with if this seemed to be working for us. By the end of three months, or even one month, we'd have a pretty good list of quick easy recipes that we (hopefully) liked. But, first things first... I've tried a couple of their recipes and they are actually pretty good for the minimal effort required.

                                                  Whaddya think? Would you be interested in joining me for the experiment?


                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    I'm a big fan of Real Simple and their recipes. I find many recipes are easy to scale to one or two. With summer coming up the 101 Bittman list is another I want to run through.

                                                    1. re: melpy

                                                      That's great feedback about the scalability of the R.S. recipes, thank you!

                                                      Funny! I almost added a comment about BIttman's summer list in my post above and then backspaced over it.

                                                      I'm thinking about cooking my way through the Bittman summer list, too, but it doesn't have the advantage of the shopping list and I think what I personally need right now (can't speak for the OP of course) is a little bit of structure, with a week's menu and shopping list planned out... So, I'd figure I'd start with the Real Simple article and see how that goes... But the timing of Bitt'man's list would be very appealing say, for July and August...

                                                      Would you be interested in joining in?


                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        I'll try to pop in now and then. It because we get our meat from a CSA, I'm at the mercy of the frm for both my protein and my produce. Hate to see it all go to waste when it is fresh but I'll try to join as much as possible. Am so tempted by CotM each month and never get my act together to join. This might be a more manageable way to get started.

                                                        1. re: melpy

                                                          Ah, yes, I agree that this wouldn't mesh well with a CSA when you just have no idea what to expect in your weekly box of produce...


                                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                          i would like to do the Bittman list...

                                                          1. re: Emme

                                                            Maybe we could cook from the Bittman summer list for July and August? June's not quite summer yet in Minnesota... http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/din...


                                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      To be honest, very poorly. I cooked a couple of meals, but then I got a dog, and she sucked up a lot of my free time as I tried to work her needs into my schedule, and I am now back to basically take-out and things from boxes, unfortunately. I would, perhaps, be interested in trying this, though I probably wouldn't be able to start for at least a couple of weeks, just because of some ongoing doggie related issues.

                                                      1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                        Take care of your doggie issues. There will be plenty of time for cooking later!


                                                        1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                          Without knowing specfically what your dietary needs (diabetic? weight loss? low carb?) are, I can say that I think it's perfectly okay to have frozen single ingredients in the freezer, rather than prepackaged meals, that you then use to make a healthy dinner. This is especially easy if you have a Trader Joe's, where you can get two-serving packages of frozen fish, bags of grilled chicken, frozen tri-colored peppers, frozen chopped basil, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, shallots, etc. But I know other grocery stores carry stuff like this, just not as cheaply.

                                                          I know you don't want to use prechopped ingredients every day, but it's a good halfway point between all boxed meals and no boxed meals. For example, on busy days, I make fajitas from TJ's grilled chicken, canned refried beans, frozen or fresh peppers and onions, tortillas, and pre-shredded cheese. They are relatively healthy, esp. with whole wheat tortillas, and they taste fine. On days when I have a bit more time, I make and freeze individually wrapped sweet potato and black bean burritos. These take about 3 minutes to defrost and cook in the microwave.

                                                          I love Dairy Queen's idea about browning meat and then freezing it. I sometimes do this as well, labeling the containers with whatever seasoning I've used "vaguely Mexican," "sort of Moroccan" or whatever. In a worst case scenario, I'll just defrost a package and serve it over some nuked precooked brown rice (also available at most markets.)

                                                      2. i know you're not so into vegetables, but my go-to easy dish is roasted asparagus topped with a soft boiled or poached egg. 10 minutes max to prep and cook.

                                                        1. So, as is oft recommended, I recently bought a slow-cooker (Also, a rice cooker and a blender. What can I say? A friend was moving and selling off her kitchen cheap), and my first recipe was Pulled Pork: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30356-eas...

                                                          I've been adding BBQ sauce and making pulled pork sandwiches, but there's a crapload of pulled pork here (about 8lbs before cooking). I'm going to freeze it in single serving packages, but anyone have ideas on how to use it aside from sandwiches? (And aside from pinching a finger full out of the pot every time I open the fridge for any reason because even cold, it's really good.)

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                            Funny, I'm making slow-cooker pulled pork tonight using Homesick Texan's rub: http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/201...

                                                            I never really know anything chowish to do with it aside from sandwiches, either, but sometimes use tortillas instead of bread and do a taco/burrito/or enchilada thing, or just serve the pork over a grain such as quinoa or something. My husband puts it in omelets. http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/12...

                                                            I'd love to hear what other people do with it.

                                                            A rice cooker is a great idea! Super easy to make grains in, such as Quinoa, which is the August "DIsh of the Month". We often cook our grains with chicken stock instead of water for a little more flavor. DO you have a copy of the Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook? I recommend it for ideas of what you can do with your rice-cooker, if nothing else. MIght be a good book to check out of the library while your slow-cooker is new.

                                                            Here's an easy chowish chicken recipe for your slow-cooker, from Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday. I've used canned tomatillos and have been pleased...



                                                            1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                              Since it sounds like it's not all flavored with BBQ sauce, you can take individual servings of it in all different directions with various types of sauce/seasoning. Use it to fill quesadillas, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, omelets, crepes, etc. Think outside the box as far as sandwiches go and layer it with hummus in a pita or toum and pickled vegetables in a flatbread for a very non-traditional shawarma. Add it to various types of pasta sauces or mix it into potato salad. Make your own version of shepherd's pie, tourtiere, quiches, strudel or stuffed cabbage. Throw it into quinoa salad, use it to flavor soups, posole or "ham" and beans. The possibilities are really endless!

                                                              1. re: biondanonima

                                                                Right -- I've been adding BBQ sauce when I reheat it for sandwiches, but I didn't sauce the whole pot because I figured I wouldn't want all of it BBQ flavored. I like BBQ sauce, but only occasionally.

                                                                I like the idea of layering with hummus in a pita for a different direction of sandwich. I think that sounds particularly tasty.

                                                              2. re: Jacquilynne

                                                                8#!!! Madwoman. ;)

                                                                I made a 4# crockpot pulled pork last week just for the two of us. Five meals (10 indiv servings) in all; froze 4 meals worth. Was delicious, despite the pulled-pork-smoker-naysayers. Serve over chopped lettuce and cilantro with sauce on top, add peanuts or sunflower seeds, maybe sliced radish, or rolled into romaine leaf tacos with similar. I added some pulled pork to a peasant soup today w/turnip, celery, carrots, leeks, chix broth. Can add to ramen noodles w/fresh veggies; add to curry w/sauteed veg (dirty pantry secret: S&B Golden Curry, Japanese-style prefab bricks, lovely). Pulled pork simple tacos w/salsa and cilantro, onion.

                                                                Sounds like a large crockpot; I encourage you to look at smaller ones for eventual purchase (my 1.5-qt and 2-cup get high rotation). These allow for just a couple of servings of dinner or beans and don't involves the "freeze the other 20 servings" mandate that I don't enjoy.

                                                                P.S. -- re: veggies: one way to get yourself to eat more is to have them ready to roll. Requires a couple of larger plastic containers (lettuce clamshells are useful) and maybe 45 min after shopping. Get a # of carrots, small head celery, small bag sugar snap or snow peas, container of grape toms. Wash everyone; slice carrots and celery into crudite size, trim ends of peas if desired, wash toms. Place paper towel in bottom of container and place veggies in. Now ready for pre-dinner crudites (dip in hummus or ranch) and to chop quickly for salads, soups, and stir-fries. A large head of broccoli gets prechopped and ready to steam or stirfry. Same w/greens: bok choy, swiss chard.

                                                                (Lazy? My favorite microwave steamer:

                                                              3. High-quality dried pasta (e.g., Rustichella) plus a sauce du jour is a great bet. Lots of variety. Quick and simple. Potentially delicious. And few perishable ingredients.

                                                                For ideas, I recommend Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking and Giuliano Hazan's 30 Minute Pastas.

                                                                1. First of all, you have to plan for fresh food, so I make sure I always have at least 2 options at all times. Some of my favorite fast options involve pasta, such as ...

                                                                  * Cavatappi with broccoli florets tossed in for last 3 minutes, uncured Black Forest ham from the deli (sliced thin by them and then chopped again by me), tossed with a little butter, freshly grated parmesan, and lemon squeezed on top

                                                                  * Spaghetti tossed with butter and parmesan with a) halved raw grape tomatoes, diced sweet onion, chopped basil from the garden (I use scissors) b) asparagus sliced on the bias 1.5" and steamed

                                                                  * Cavatappi tossed with torn smoked chicken from the grocery store and half carrot coins browned in butter

                                                                  I eat home-cooked food for almost every meal, and spend an average of 15 min or so doing it. Make a big pot of spaghetti sauce, or taco meat, or chili, or soup ... when I do a 'big cook' that may take me 45 min to an hour, but then I get to reap the benefits for at least several more meals.

                                                                  1. I just used some of the pulled pork I mentioned previously with some other random things from my kitchen (fresh tomatoes, tinned pesto, canned stock, rice from the pantry) in my rice cooker, and it turned out pretty well. Needed more salt, but that's obviously not the rice cooker's fault.

                                                                    I really liked how hands off it was. One of the issues I have with cooking is that I don't want to be in my kitchen while things are cooking if they only require occasional attention, but if I leave, I forget about them and burn them or forget to stir them often enough. Spending a few active cooking minutes throwing stuff in a pot and then ignoring it for half an hour is very much in line with the sort of thing I'd like for Level 2 Cooking, so I think the rice cooker is something I'll really like.