Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the society.

Photo

Cooking for One


  • Please log in to reply
109 replies to this topic

#1 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 08:38 AM

I'm surprised this hasn't come up before, but I searched and found nothing.


I live alone. Not my choice, just the way it worked out. It has its advantages; but more disadvantages.

Sometimes I cook for friends and that is a lot of fun, but most of the time it's just me and my knives and pans (mainly wok).

And I get bored. Some things are just too much trouble for one portion. I waste a lot of food. I cook for more than one, but then only eat for one. People tell me to freeze stuff, but most of the time I don't want to live on frozen food. I want to cook.

I know I'm not the only one here. And even those in couples or extended families must have the occasional cooking for one experience.

Anything to share? Dishes, techniques, sob stories?

Edited by liuzhou, 19 December 2012 - 08:40 AM.


#2 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 08:57 AM

Make more soups and braises. (I do) Many of them taste better the next day and voilà! you have yummy stuff for breakfast and/or lunch. Oh, I leave them on the stovetop at room temp overnight, not in the fridge. :-) Covered, of course.

#3 Mjx

Mjx
  • manager
  • 6,480 posts

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:08 AM

I've always liked cooking just for myself! The food I prefer tends to lend itself well to small batches (or large batches that hold well), so I never gave much thought to the fact that I was cooking for one. The usual strategy was to make biggish batches of soup/beans, which would be my go-to when I didn't feel like bothering to stir-fry some meat and vegetables. I always stir-fried small amounts (I have a regrettably efficient metabolism) in a small suace pan, and tended to experiment quite a bit, since I tended to do this for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I seldom baked, because I've always tended to eat the whole [insert baked item name here] in one go, which is not great. Occasionally I'd break out and make something completely different, and just scale it down; if I couldn't scale, I'd skip it, or share it with friends.

Best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had was just me, some fantastic venison, baby greens, and some sort of winter squash thing... can't remember what, it's a while ago now :)

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org


#4 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:15 AM

I leave them on the stovetop at room temp overnight, not in the fridge. :-) Covered, of course.


What is room temperature? Here it can be anything between 10ºC and 40ºC. I don't really want to be eating braises in the heights of summer and the braises I make in winter, I don't eat all. Back to where we started.

I certainly don't want to live on soup and beans. l want the full range of dishes. I may live alone. I am not an invalid.

#5 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:16 AM

The food I prefer tends to lend itself well to small batches


eg?

#6 heidih

heidih
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 10,839 posts
  • Location:Los Angeles

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:19 AM

We discussed a few cookbooks on the subject here

#7 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:24 AM

Yes. I've seen the cookbooks. I was hoping for more personal experiences.

#8 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:31 AM

I leave them on the stovetop at room temp overnight, not in the fridge. :-) Covered, of course.


What is room temperature? Here it can be anything between 10ºC and 40ºC. I don't really want to be eating braises in the heights of summer and the braises I make in winter, I don't eat all. Back to where we started.

I certainly don't want to live on soup and beans. l want the full range of dishes. I may live alone. I am not an invalid.


My room temp? Ranges from around 60ºF or below in winter to the mid/high seventies in summer. (Central heating/air-con). Yes, Leaving stuff out at 40ºC (104ºF) for long periods might not be a great idea, I'll agree.

Well, "soup and beans" - Western format - is not a particularly inviting thing to have all the time, true - but there are so many substantial and tasty Chinese-type soups and braises. I've illustrated several of them here recently. ;-) I don't eat everything I cook either, and do throw out a fair bit of food too. I do make small-ish batches without too much effort although I often tend to make batches that are equivalent to at least two meals worth; with some braises and certain soups I do end up with, say, three meals worth (or more) and those I might chuck out the "last portion". I like soups and braises year-round, even when the temperature outside may be hot, hot, hot - in accordance with my Cantonese background. :-)

#9 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:34 AM

I often tend to make batches that are equivalent to at least two meals worth; with some braises and certain soups I do end up with, say, three meals worth (or more) and those I might chuck out the "last portion"

.
Exactly what I am trying to avoid.

#10 Carlovski

Carlovski
  • participating member
  • 1,547 posts
  • Location:Hampshire, UK

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:47 AM

I live in a house share, but we mainly cook for ourselves, so I am in a similar position, but with added complications of limited storage, and shared use of the kithen.
Most of my meals tend to be one pot kind of affairs, or one pot plus some pasta/rice - cooking separate vegetables/sides for one is a bit of a pain, plus it hogs all the burners.
Stir fries, obviously are well suited to the solo diner - cooking for any more without a high powered restaurant style burner is difficult anyway.
It's the shopping I find tricker than the cooking itself - it's fine when I have had time to do a proper shop, somewhere where I can get things loose, so can get just what I need, but I often end up relying on trips to small supermarkets or convenience stores, where veg is pre-packed, and fish/meats always seem to come in packs of two.
The best thing about cooking for yourself is that you can make things as spicy, weird and experimental as you like!
I love animals.
They are delicious.

#11 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:48 AM

I often tend to make batches that are equivalent to at least two meals worth; with some braises and certain soups I do end up with, say, three meals worth (or more) and those I might chuck out the "last portion"

.
Exactly what I am trying to avoid.


I think it's unavoidable to a certain extent if one cooks decent meals (as I would like to think all of us here do) rather than subsistence-level meals. Surely two-meal portions, which are quite doable, are acceptable? As I mentioned above, I do manage to cook single-portion meals too...but perhaps the fact that I have a healthy appetite also helps in that regard.

#12 Baselerd

Baselerd
  • participating member
  • 463 posts
  • Location:Texas

Posted 19 December 2012 - 09:51 AM

My significant other isn't a huge fan of seafood. Thus, when I cook fish on the off occasion, I usually am cooking only for myself. I usually prepare side components in advance, and then pick up a fresh filet for the night on my way home from work. That way I cut down on waste and get a fresh/different fish each night.

For example, I recently had cooked some poached fish with citrus beurre blanc, pickled daikon, dehydrated citrus, and daikon vinaigrette (Eleven Madison Park Cookbook). I prepared the pickles, vinaigrette, buerre blanc, and dehydrated citrus a day or two in advance, then each night would just cook a new filet sous vide and serve with the sides (and fresh scallions & tarragon). Obviously more work than simply reheating previously cooked fish, but much better too.

#13 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 10:00 AM

Maybe I just worded the introduction to the thread wrongly. I wasn't looking for well thought out expositions on the nature of cooking for one - especially when they get a bit judgemental.

I was kind of more looking for cut down recipes, tips etc. Practical stuff.

I have no objection to reasonably complicated recipes provided they are "single suitable". I often cook fish for myself. Sometimes in complicated ways.

But I absolutely refuse to live on soup and braises only.

#14 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 10:02 AM

Something else I learned to do on eG was to freeze small portions of cooked white rice.


I hate frozen rice. Ditto refrigerated rice. It never quite regains the texture it had before freezing/chilling when reheated. For my taste, anyway. With me, cooked rice is left out at room temp - annnddd I have "proper" rice for that stir-fry the next day. :-) In fact, I've left out cooked rice (covered, of course) for 2 days or so.

#15 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 19 December 2012 - 10:04 AM

When I lived alone, I quickly discovered that the freezer was my friend


I have already pointed out that I do not want to live on frozen food.

Lay in a supply of smoked pork chops.


Can you tell me where to buy these in SW China?

#16 Jaymes

Jaymes
  • participating member
  • 7,438 posts
  • Location:Houston, Texas

Posted 19 December 2012 - 10:24 AM

When I lived alone, I quickly discovered that the freezer was my friend


I have already pointed out that I do not want to live on frozen food.

Lay in a supply of smoked pork chops.


Can you tell me where to buy these in SW China?


Not right off-hand. But my next trip through there, I'll be sure to source some.

And I will say that although I clearly didn't realize that's where you are, I have actually lived in Asia (Hong Kong and the Philippines) and done a lot of traveling there, and after wandering through those markets, it seems to me as though, while you had some disadvantages, you also have a lot of last-minute, sling-together options that I can only dream about.
"And you, you're just a stinker."

#17 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 10:54 AM

Maybe I just worded the introduction to the thread wrongly. I wasn't looking for well thought out expositions on the nature of cooking for one - especially when they get a bit judgemental.

I was kind of more looking for cut down recipes, tips etc. Practical stuff.

I have no objection to reasonably complicated recipes provided they are "single suitable". I often cook fish for myself. Sometimes in complicated ways.

But I absolutely refuse to live on soup and braises only.


Liuzhou, were you addressing this to me? If so, I certainly didn't mean to be judgemental. I was expressing my opinions as it concerned me. Let me reword that sentence about two-meal portions to say that it is acceptable for me, I wonder if it may be for you too?

As for soups and braises, I don't live on only these either. I don't think it is expected of anyone that they do, really. :-)

One way I create single-portion meals in my personal case is to portion out what I *think* I would need in a dish, then cut everything in half and put that half back in the fridge or cupboard. That doesn't work with everything, of course!

I also do use "convenience foods" (horrors! :-D) such as ramen packs, certain canned foodstuffs - and these are "automatic" one-portion meals. Instant ramen (don't laugh!) packs are very useful - I doctor them up with whatever I feel like, fresh veggies, an egg or two, sausages/sundry meats either fresh or leftover...and it's hard to arrive at a portion that is more than one serving for myself in my case. Not gourmet food, but I personally find it decent enough for casual meals now and then, here and there, and in the US there are so many types of such ramen/noodle packs from SE Asia to Japan and even India, ranging from bad to very good. I don't know what you would have available in your case, however.

Edited by huiray, 19 December 2012 - 10:56 AM.


#18 patrickamory

patrickamory
  • participating member
  • 1,606 posts
  • Location:New York

Posted 19 December 2012 - 11:13 AM

My partner travels a lot, so I end up cooking for one frequently.

I mainly do:

- pasta - 1/2 lb works for one person, there are rarely leftovers
- beans, soups, stews and similar items that refrigerate well
- experimental dishes (new to me, complex and/or very spicy ones) that my partner might not want to eat

I do enjoy the zen of cooking for myself.

What I enjoy less is eating by myself. I end up consuming everything too fast and not enjoying it nearly as much. I think I enjoy dining most as a shared experience. It's just not always an option.

#19 HungryC

HungryC
  • participating member
  • 1,503 posts
  • Location:greater New Orleans

Posted 19 December 2012 - 11:21 AM

I routinely cook for two, and I dislike eating leftovers in the same state as the original dish. So with a little planning, you can cook something substantial and recycle it through various editions later in the week. I frequently cook a main protein (say, a roasted or poached chicken) on Sunday nights, then use the leftover chicken to make soft tacos on Monday, diced small for a chicken salad on Tuesday, and then turn the remains of the carcass into chicken & veggie soup on Wednesday. The same applies to braised beef: pot roast on the first night...second night, shred some of the beef and veg and reduce the broth with wine & additional aromatics for a quick pasta sauce. Third night, shepherd's pie with the leftover beef as a filling w/mushrooms and tiny peas. Or use it as a ravioli or dumpling filling if you like to make fresh pasta. Black beans: over rice, then as a burrito filling, then pureed into a soup, then in a chili. Multi dishes along a theme keep you from getting bored and from throwing out the last bit of anything--you get good at turning it into something new.

I was raised by two working parents who did cook from scratch, so thinking like this is ingrained in me. I also freeze things in smaller containers for later use.

#20 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 11:37 AM

...you can cook something substantial and recycle it through various editions later in the week. I frequently cook a main protein (say, a roasted or poached chicken)...


True.
One example in my case is when I sometimes make Hainanese chicken rice, with say a 4 lb chicken poached in the usual way (or a variant if I feel like mixing it up), eat my fill of the chicken (and rice and soup), then shred the remains of the chicken flesh and turn it into a chicken-in-aspic using the remaining stock (adding gelatin powder to it) and stuff like sliced hard-boiled eggs (layered in) and chopped scallions and cilantro (mixed in). That provides for a couple meals more or "snacks" for a few days.

#21 Mjx

Mjx
  • manager
  • 6,480 posts

Posted 19 December 2012 - 12:17 PM

The food I prefer tends to lend itself well to small batches


eg?


I'm afraid it was mostly stir fries, which I realize sounds dull, but for speed, flavour, variety, and freshness, it's really hard to beat. Plus, as I said, I do like to experiment, and if an experiment was a disaster, I wasn't stuck with a large quantity of awful or inedible food. I grew up in Italy, so pasta was a go to for quite a while, but an aggravated carbohydrate intolerance took that off the table for most days, leaving it as a treat for when I could afford to be comatose the next day. But it also scales well, and leaves a lot of room for experimenting.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org


#22 hongda

hongda
  • participating member
  • 113 posts

Posted 19 December 2012 - 12:25 PM

Eggs. Already individually portioned.

Baked eggs, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, sunny side up over some salad greens, steamed/baked egg custard (vietnamese, japanese or chinese salted egg style).

#23 huiray

huiray
  • society donor
  • 2,229 posts
  • Location:Indiana, USA

Posted 19 December 2012 - 12:54 PM


The food I prefer tends to lend itself well to small batches


eg?


I'm afraid it was mostly stir fries, which I realize sounds dull, but for speed, flavour, variety, and freshness, it's really hard to beat. Plus, as I said, I do like to experiment, and if an experiment was a disaster, I wasn't stuck with a large quantity of awful or inedible food. I grew up in Italy, so pasta was a go to for quite a while, but an aggravated carbohydrate intolerance took that off the table for most days, leaving it as a treat for when I could afford to be comatose the next day. But it also scales well, and leaves a lot of room for experimenting.


I personally also find stir-fries to be easily scalable. I just use less stuff if I consciously want to cook a single portion, although I do also have a healthy appetite as I've mentioned previously. :-)

I also find pasta-with-a-sauce to be also easy in many cases for me. Pasta Carbonara is particularly amenable to single-portion control, at least for myself, as I lay out however much guanciale or pancetta I need for a single serving, then portion out the egg yolks/eggs I need [hongda mentioned the "individually portioned" aspect of eggs :-) ] and the rest follows. The rest of the guanciale/pancetta simply stays in the fridge/freezer. :-)

#24 Jaymes

Jaymes
  • participating member
  • 7,438 posts
  • Location:Houston, Texas

Posted 19 December 2012 - 03:47 PM

I also freeze things in smaller containers for later use.


Well, I for one, certainly think you're wise to use the freezer as one of many tools to make your workday mealtime quicker and easier. I don't think that means you have "to live on frozen food."

For example, you could easily take a few hours on your day off and prepare & cook some meatballs, freeze them, and then later cook up some broth, fresh vegetables and noodles, and slip in a few of your meatballs to make a tasty, nutritious and speedy meal.


.

Edited by Jaymes, 19 December 2012 - 03:57 PM.

"And you, you're just a stinker."

#25 hsm

hsm
  • participating member
  • 315 posts

Posted 19 December 2012 - 04:17 PM

I make batches of meatballs Italian-style, Greek-style, Asian-style, Middle-Eastern style and freeze them--carefully marking the bags. It makes for a nice variety of time savers and food mood matchers.

#26 teagal

teagal
  • participating member
  • 199 posts
  • Location:Missouri

Posted 19 December 2012 - 04:46 PM

Do you like breakfast foods for dinner? Someone already mentioned eggs, but an omelet, french toast and pancakes are all easy to make a single portion. I usually make pasta or couscous for myself if eating alone. The addins can be whatever is handy.
Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

#27 nibor

nibor
  • participating member
  • 534 posts

Posted 19 December 2012 - 06:01 PM

When my husband is out of town I indulge myself by cooking dishes I know he won't eat. Lately that has meant cooking from Alain Passard's "The Art of Cooking with Vegetables". Each recipe is a strange combination of a few ingredients - like poaching pears and radishes in butter. The instructions are quite minimal, sometimes to the point of not making sense, which makes it especially fun. No beans, braises, leftovers or freezing involved.

#28 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 2,222 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 20 December 2012 - 12:17 AM

Thanks for suggestions so far.

I'm afraid it was mostly stir fries, which I realize sounds dull, but for speed, flavour, variety, and freshness, it's really hard to beat.


Yes, I do tend to eat a lot of stir fries. Partly because they are more 'single friendly' and even more so because I'm in China. Experiments can be fun , too, but are only occasional.

Do you like breakfast foods for dinner? Someone already mentioned eggs, but an omelet, french toast and pancakes are all easy to make a single portion. I usually make pasta or couscous for myself if eating alone. The addins can be whatever is handy.


I'm sorry but I want a proper dinner. I wouldn't serve just an omelet or French toast or pancakes for a family dinner or to guests for dinner, so I don't see why I should be restricted just because I live alone. It isn't a crime.

No beans, braises, leftovers or freezing involved.


:rolleyes:

Edited by liuzhou, 20 December 2012 - 12:40 AM.


#29 JAZ

JAZ
  • manager
  • 4,902 posts
  • Location:Atlanta

Posted 20 December 2012 - 10:30 AM

. . .
Some things are just too much trouble for one portion. I waste a lot of food. I cook for more than one, but then only eat for one. People tell me to freeze stuff, but most of the time I don't want to live on frozen food. I want to cook.


What is it that makes cooking one portion "too much trouble"? I lived alone for most of my adult life. Granted, I love to cook and I teach classes on cooking for one, so I have double motivation, but I've cooked many dinners for just myself with no leftovers. I've made single portions of (among other dishes) sherry braised chicken, beef stroganoff, quiche Lorraine (with homemade crust), braised short ribs, stuffed bell peppers, macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings, enchiladas, salmon and vegetables in parchment paper, risotto, pot pies, Thai curry, and any number of pasta dishes (usually with one portion of fresh made pasta). For side dishes, I've made single portions of rice; grits; mashed potatoes; roasted or steamed green beans, asparagus or broccoli; spinach, broccoli or potato gratins; all kinds of salads from potato salad to coleslaw to grain salads. Baking can be a bit tricker, but I often made 2 biscuits or a single serving of fruit crisp, and I came up with a successful recipe for enough pastry dough for a 4-inch pie tin. Sauces can also be difficult to make in very small quantities, but many of those are possible too -- Hollandaise or lemon curd (with one egg yolk) or bechamel with (3 ounces of milk).

In most of those cases, it's no more difficult to make one serving than four. In many cases, it's much easier. It does help to have the right cookware: for the sauces and grains, it's essential to have a very small saucepan. I have a .75-qt. copper saucepan that I use for sauces and 1-qt. saucier with a lid for rice and grits. If you want to braise small amounts of meat, a 2-qt. cast iron pot with a lid is nice.

It's true that there are a few dishes that aren't possible to make for one without having leftovers. Roasts fall into that category and whole roasted birds can too, unless you can find poussins or Cornish hens (although a Cornish hen is still two dinners for me, it's much more manageable than a regular chicken). Most other dishes can be made for one. That doesn't mean you won't have leftover raw ingredients -- if you make one serving of braised cabbage, you'll still have the rest of the cabbage in the fridge. In those cases, I plan on other meals within the next week or 10 days that use cabbage -- coleslaw, a stir fry dish, etc.

You've already said you don't like the casual approach suggested by some -- you want a "proper" dinner. You don't like cooking extra food and freezing. So what's left besides learning how to make small amounts of what you do like? What is it that's problematic about that for you? Is it that you don't know how to reduce recipes? You don't know how much to make? That takes practice, but it's pretty easy once you get the hang of it. (I've written articles on both those topics which, unfortunately, I can't repost here, but if you're interested, I can post links to them). If it's motivation, that's another problem entirely.

#30 SobaAddict70

SobaAddict70
  • legacy participant
  • 7,609 posts
  • Location:Hobbiton, the Shire

Posted 20 December 2012 - 12:52 PM

as many of you know, I cook for one 100% of the time.

I rarely freeze stuff. if I do have leftovers, those get consumed within 2-3 days (for example, the minestrone invernale that I just posted to the Dinner! thread).

I guess the best I can offer is reduce the total amount of food made, then it may not be a problem.

BTW -- I cook 2-4 course dinners from scratch at least three days a week, and have been doing that for the better part of the last year. at this point, I have things down to a science. It's kinda scary.

JAZ's last paragraph is pretty key here. All you need is practice and time, so it seems to me.