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Q&A -- Cooking for One

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Mottmott   

Ya-Roo, thank you for sharing your strategies for cooking for one. Much of this will be useful for couples, too. It's helpful information that will inspire people who live alone to be more adventurous in the kitchen. Too many people who live alone do take-out, dine out all the time, or eat boxed dinners. I think we should all dine as well when we dine alone as when in company. I hope many of us will share what we do to dine well alone.

My personal take on cooking for one is somewhat different from yours. Firstly, I'm way less organized than you on a day by day basis. I seldom plan meals until I see what looks good at the market the day I shop. And I seldom make a meal with thought of recycling it into another meal beyond a salad or omelet or fittata. Secondly I probably have more time and space for storage. Lastly I feel that few fresh foods improve by resting in the fridge, though it's great for keeping a wide assortment of condiments and the freezer is good for keeping some things you've cooked in advance. So my advance planning is of a muchy more general sort than yours. Instead of laying out a sequence of meals, I cook ahead and freeze many things that become the mis en place for undetermined future meals rather than a meal by itself.

As I’m not wild about leftovers, I found your advice on how to deal with them particularly good, Perhaps I’ll try it: “My advice in reinventing old excess supply is to look for recipes from tropical places, where food spoils faster than in cooler climates. Leftover chicken cutlets may be turned into Jerk Chicken. Fish and shrimp can be tossed into a seafood gumbo. Vegetables can be tossed into chili or made into a vindaloo.” When they become part of another dish they’re no longer leftovers. :) I often turn leftover meat or chicken into such things as empanadas or pot pies that call for precooked meat . Otherwise my strategy has been to avoid having leftovers.

Your advice to use weekends for cooking is great and need not be just for next week's meals. I use the freezer mostly for time consuming elements of more complex dishes, preparing them ahead to use later. For example, I make stocks and basic tomato sauce ahead, ziplocking and freezing them in 1-2 cup amounts (packed thin, you can break off a Tbs or so and/or defrost quickly). This makes needed elements for many different dishes. A butter/flour roux can be mixed ahead and stored to make a bechamel or veloute. Pate Brisee or other dough can be made ahead, packaged as desired and frozen for future use right next to a box of Dufour puff pastry. Mirpoix and caramelized onions can be made ahead and frozen in serving sizes (love onion tarts!).

Soups and stews freeze well for future use, though I find that even those lose some oomph pretty quickly and will often add fresh elements when heating them up and serving them. A tub of miso can be kept in the fridge almost indefinitely and used for a quick soup (for example: simmer some seaweed, a couple veggies, a shrimp or two, etc. for 20-30 minutes, adding the miso at the end just before eating). And as Fat Guy so beautifully showed, a demi-glace made over the weekend takes up little storage space and is versatile.

Phyllo and other dough can be used to make sweet or savory empanadas, turnovers, logs, etc. that can either be frozen raw or partially baked before freezing. I do the same thing with scones, logs of refrigerator cookies, and other baked goods. When finished off just before serving, they still have a fresh, just baked quality. Fortunately some cakes freeze well, pound cake in particular, and can be elements in many desserts. In fact, individual slices can be cut off still frozen loaf cakes that are then returned to the freezer. If you’re into making pasta, it (including ravioli) can be frozen ahead, and stored bagged. For such things I spread them out on a sheet pan to freeze them, then put them in ziplock bags.

Most of all, though, I like to shop for foods as close to consumption as possible. It’s okay to store them, but most things taste best when the food is at its freshest. And even those soups and stews that need a day or two to marry can’t hang around very long without deteriorating somewhat. Of course, there are some things designed for storage: confit, some pates, pickles, etc. that can hang out for awhile and still be as enjoyable.

Mostly, though with fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, etc., I try to buy just enough for 1-2 days (unless they need longer to ripen). Steaks, chops, chicken, fish can be bought in 1 serving sizes. Even though supermarkets may package them in multiples, they will break a package for you in most places. (I don’t really like them frozen before cooking, though I may keep one or two pieces for emergencies.) Farmers’ and ethnic markets, coops, and even many supermarkets sell fruits and vegetables that are not prepackaged and you can buy exactly what you want.

One thing I did that was helpful was to buy a bunch of small casseroles, gratin dishes, heat proof bowls, etc. That allows me to make a small gratins, puddings (sweet & savory), or scalloped potatoes, lasagnas, etc. for just one meal (one potato makes a great single serving of it).

Also, buy a scale. Using weight measurement makes it MUCH easier to scale ingredients down to a 1 or 2 servings, even such things as eggs and pieces of fruit or vegetables. Many recipes are now using weights. The BBC website for example has an extensive set of recipes that are in weight and volume.

In restaurants, many of dishes you eat are assembled from stores of pre-made stocks and sauces, mis en place of cooked and uncooked vegetables, fruits, condiments that are used to saute up (etc) that piece of meat or fish that appears in front of you. There’s no reason the home cook cannot apply that principle if s/he wishes.

I’d be interested to hear what you and others keep on hand in pantry and freezer to assemble meals impromptu with what they find at the market that looks good that day.


"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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MM,

Those are great suggestions. The best part about being in a forum like this is what you can learn from others! I used to have a scale when I was living in a bigger apartment with roommates, now I barely have the counterspace to cook in. Most of what I keep in the freezer is a lot of pre-cooked sides that can be assembled into a dish a second. I usually cooked the main meat, fish or poutry when I want to serve them and plate them with what I already have in the fridge. I also spend a lot of time on the weekends making sauces and condiments like jams and chutneys (that is until my friends told me to get out of the house :wacko: )


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Mottmott   

I'm curious. What kind of sides do you make that you freeze them? Mostly I just steam up, roast, or saute my vegetable sides, which doesn't take very long. Or just have a salad. Are they more complex and interesting than mine? Or is it that your work schedule is too arduous to shop during the week. I know not everyone has the luxury of food shopping several times a week.

BTW: for those with microwaves, I've found that putting veggies in a plastic wrap covered bowl in the mw can give very good and easy results. It makes the best, sweetest cabbage I've ever had. I have no idea why it turns out better than steaming over water.???


"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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I am lucky if I get out of work before the food market closes, and in NYC that says a lot. But having said that Iike to play with sides. Things like basmati rice with raisins and almonds,spicy risotto, saute cabbage with bacon, and citrus slaw. In the summer I like minted peas and sweet lemon glazed carrots. Now with lima beans coming in, I like to make a salad of arugula fava beans and shaved pecorino cheese. With sides, you can really cook according to season and have a lot of fun with it.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Janice   

Re the scales issue - I live in the UK so cooking with scales is standard for me, but it definitely does make scaling down much easier.

My tip to save on space and for added accuracy for small quantities, is to get a scale designed for dieters - the one I have is tiny, weighs up to 8oz and was very cheap (about £5). They make things like desserts for one or two possible and help make sure you get good, predictable results.

I cook a lot for myself but usually keep it very simple. One of the things you don't mention but that I couldn't live without, is canned and frozen vegetables - small cans of beans and tomatoes are great for simple meals and frozen peas, spinach and broad beans mean you can have a single portion of something green whenever you want with no risk of wastage.

Thanks for a great lesson and some good tips.

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Janice, frozen and canned vegetables are options but here in the US, I find the store canned sauces metallic and briny tasting, and frozen veggies tend to be watery and tasteless. Having said that, I frequently freeze my own vegetables when I find them in season at the market. I par-boil them and put them in double ziploc bags, but even then they lose flavors after a while. Sauce is the only thing I keep in the freezer for an extended amount of time (having just lugged 10 pounds of tomatoes from the greenmarket to roast them for canned tomato sauces :biggrin: ).

Thanks for the tip in the scale.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Can one not cook for two and then eat for two (too)?  :raz:

Worked very well for me at university, ESPECIALLY during finals when quite stressed...

J

Works for me too! I frequently cook for two and bring one for lunch a day later. Or, I cook for 10 and invite 9 of my neighbors over for dinner.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Some frozen vegetables are fine (IMHO). They go from ground to freezer quicker than you can do it, and get frozen faster too. On saying that, the varieties are often dull and tasteless, so there may be something to say for freezing your own vegetables.

Frozen peas are the perfect solo diner emergency standby. Although I do not often eat them as a straight vegetable, they are great for putting into risottos (Frozen broad beans are handy here too), keema dishes, pasta sauces and you can whip up a quick 'Petit pois a la francais'. Frozen spinach, while not being much good for serving as a vegetable (tends to go to sludge!) is fine for adding to a lamb sag for instance.

Tinned pulses are my other essential. Chick peas, especially if you can get a decent brand are almost as good as dried, and a lot quicker! Also, a tinful is a handy amount, who can be bothered soaking and boiling up a handful of pulses(Ok, me if I am making chickpea and pasta soup!) They are great for adding to couscous, making a quick hummous, veggie currys and are surprisingly good mashed with a bit of lemon juice, olive oil and an optional bit of spice as a change from potatoes. You can do a similar thing with tinned cannelini beans as well.

Some people swear by the french tins of petit pois, but I still prefer frozen.


I love animals.

They are delicious.

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I don't know. May be it's my own stigma, but I just don't like cans, the bizzare liquid that these vegetables or beans have been sitting in, makes me a little nervous too. It always makes me wonder about the additives in it. I like to shop at the local greenmarket and cook seasonally, so I don't use a lot of tinned or frozen food. I think there was a thread not too long ago comparing canned beans with dried beans, and several people sweared that they can tell the difference. I don't fool myself into thinking that I have such a fine palate, but then again I've never had the blind taste test either.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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You can tell the difference, but it's more of a texture thing I find.

Always best to give 'em a good wash though (One exception, I often only briefly drain cannelini beans if I am adding to a braise or stew, the thick mixture of the canning liqour, and semi mushed beans at the bottom is a great thickener!)

Fresh is best, but Canned(y) is Dandy!


I love animals.

They are delicious.

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fifi   

About beans... I am a big fan of Goya brand. They seem to do it right. They have decent flavor and the texture is also good. They have figured out how to can beans without turning them to mush. They are my only option for my bean salsas and salads.

I do have one problem in cooking for one that I am just resigned to. I don't like it, I am just resigned. That is the problem of having to eventually throw out some food. There are some recipes that don't scale down well, don't freeze well, whatever. But I just don't want to give them up. In that case, I just resign myself that after I get my fill, they will go in the back of the fridge (just in case), become a science experiment and have to be thrown out.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Mottmott   

I'm kinda disappointed in this thread. :sad: Ya-Roo got us off to a great start, but so few are sharing their cook for one "trucs."

So I'll share one: mussels. They're a great special everyday meal for one. Simple, quick, and even cheap (sometimes less than $1/lb). I don't have a particular recipe as they lend themselves to both improvisation and experimentation with the recipes of others (many on google and in books).

The basics:

-- buy at least a pound (cooked extras are great for using in salads the next day). Most of the farm raised are beardless, so they only need washing off. I believe they are pretty much purged already, so the cornmeal supper often suggested in recipes is usually unnecessary. (Of course if they are picked from the wild by you or others, then debeard them and give them a cornmeal treat before using.) Store them in the fridge (not in water) til ready to use, but I frankly never buy them before the day I plan to use them.

Before steaming, go over them. Any that are open, tap against another mussel. If they do not close, throw them out Important, repeat, throw them out.

For those that pass inspection. Pour a small amount of liquid of your choice into a pan. There are variations: you can first saute some shallots, garlic, etc., then pour in the liquid which can range from water or wine to stock or tomatoes with liquid). You can add all sorts of herbs, spices (don't forget to consider saffron), aromatics, etc. (even Suvir's tomato chutney, I'll bet) to flavor the resultant broth. The only thing that counts is to have some sort of liquid in there to create a little steam and broth/sauce to dunk your bread into.

I prefer using a wide deep saute pan or an enameled casserole of at least 12" width (works up a speedy steam and you can see most of the mussels). Steam the mussels for only a minute or two and start checking. The instant they open up, pull them out with tongs. If you leave them in past that that they start to toughen.

When most of the mussels are open, they're probably done and the remaining ones are probably not edible. You can give them another minute or two to be sure, but if they don't open, throw them out.

The leftover broth should be delicious. You can use it straight or doctor it by adding stuff, cream to a shallot wine based broth, olives, capers, raisins to a tomato based sauce or whatever your fancy suggests (there's a passel of curry recipes out there).

The important thing to remember is that any mussels that do not close before you cook them and any mussels that do not open when you cook them MUST be thrown away on pain of food poisoning. Beyond that, they're dead easy to make and delicious no matter what you do.

I've had woodfire roasted mussels in Maine and highly recommend them to anyone with a woodfire handy. I've also seen recipes, though not yet tried them, for pan roasted mussels as oppossed to the steamed.

Oh, and it's also very easy to scale up for any number of people, experimenting on yourself til you find the perfect way to make them. Talk about lovin' labor.


"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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I'm kinda disappointed in this thread.  Ya-Roo got us off to a great start, but so few are sharing their cook for one "trucs."

Okay, here is one. I love mako sharks in the summer so I make it as opften as I can. This one can be doubled or tripled but I usually make it ultra spicy for myself.

Baked mako shark in chili lime sauce and cilantro rice. Get a 1/2 lb of Mako shark from the fish monger. stir some onions and garlic in EVOO add some thai chili and cook until you sneeze, pour in some tomato puree, and add borwn sugar, lime juice and some orange marmalade to taste. Pour that over mako shark and let in marinade in the fridge. Meanwhile boil water and blanche cilantro briefly, and shock in cold water. Puree in blender and set aside. Cook some onions in another pot, add 1/2 cup of rice make sure each grain is coated and put in the water. While the rice is cooking, bake the fish in the oven at 350 until done. Mixed the cilanto puree into the rice, and top with mako shark.

The same recipe can be made with chilean sea bass as well.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Mottmott   

That recipe for Mako shark sounds good. And I suspect it can accomodate other fish as well.

As it's tomato season now: How do you store your roasted tomatoes? I think I might try that this year. Suvir's tomato chutney canned in 1/2 pint jars sounds like something we could add to our singles' fare repetoire.

I do a variation of your tartlets but instead of making a final recipe I make up and freeze more basic elements such as the pate brisee, frangipane, caramelized onions (for pissaladiere), etc. Sometimes I will cut out the dough in rounds the sizes I think I will want, freeze them flat on a sheet pan, then store them in a zip lock separated with parchment or plasticwrap (like the flour tortillas I sometimes keep on hand) so I can access them one by one. Just be sure to put something firm on the top and bottom to protect them from breaking. (A piece of cardboard will do, or if you're compulsive about where things came from you can use the rounds made for cake bottoms.) That way you can whip up one little tart at a time. Also, when making a dessert just for myself, I'm likely to dispense with a tart pan, just fluting the edge of the dough to form a rim, then slicing up an apple (such as a Granny Smith which isn't too juciy), pear, etc. sprinkling with sugar, honey, grated lemon rind, a few nuts, and a pat of butter - whatever's about - or make a tart tatin. And if you keep some cake in the freezer, it can easily serve as the base for a quick trifle, drizzled with some sherry or liqueur, with a little fresh fruit, nuts, and creme fraiche.

As you pointed out, making and storing elements that can be incorporated into various dishes later is a great strategy. For example, I never buy that (shudder) premade tomato sauce. Instead I make up a large batch and ziplock/freezer it flat. Even if I only need a few Tbs of it I can break it off. Another "ingredient" I tend to keep on hand is caramelized onions. Love em, love em, love em. They take more than an hour to make, so I do 2-4 or more lbs at a time and freeze what I don't use immediately - and I can give impromptu dinner guests an onion tart right out of my pantry and freezer, all homemade. Having a little store of frozen prerolled dough allows for whipping up a mini-quiche, etc. without any planning or last minute shopping. As I said earlier, I'm not at all organized enough to plan out menus in advance, though I'm capable of keeping things on hand that I use often by making up batches even when I haven't a specific menu in mind.

It occurs to me that the Thai rice paper for rolling up all sorts of goodies might be a good area to explore. Do you do much of that? I'm not strong in Asian cooking beyond a stir fry or a spicy tofu dish I like. Perhaps I should start a thread requesting people's favorites.

OTOH, when I go through the aisles at TJ, I begin to get the feeling that we may be in a minority of people who do a lot of scratch cooking for one. And have you noticed how few cookbooks there are for people cooking for one? Despite the large number of people who live alone!


"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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I think I might also try Suvir's tomato chutney as a variation. I tend to store my tomatoes in the most basic ways, roasted in EVOO with sea salt, peel off the skin, then puree them and put them in ziplock bags. It also helps to let them sit in a cheese clothes for a while to separate the tomato water. The water can be used in other dishes. The chili lime mako shark works for me because you can make up batches of the sauce and use them to prepare ribs, chicken or shrimps. The rice goes well with barbecue beef. The cilantro puree can be made and stored in ziploc bags in the freezer. Really, if you keep these things around assembling dinner is quite easy.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Although most meals I cook are for at least 5, many of the hints here apply just as well for families of more, epecially those in which all of the parent(s) in the household work.

Part of it about being able to look in the fridge, freezer and/or cupboard and imagine a good, nourishing meal out of what is in said places.

My daughter Diana is a marvel at looking in these places and coming up with something. She also knows that just because pasta tends to come in 1 lb. packages doesn't mean one has to cook and serve the entire pound.

Even when one is cooking for more than 1 (5 is also an odd number), recipes are rarely scaled to the number one is cooking for. I abhor waste.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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fifi   

Whoo Hoo! I have a cooking-for-one discovery.

I am sure you have all heard that I am in love with gratins. I am in love with my LeCreuset gratin pan, the enameled cast iron one as recommended by Steingarten. I have perfected his potatoes dauphinoise (sp?) and gone on to gratin everything else in site. The problem is, the large gratin is required to make anything for 4 or more because the secret to the technique is a shallow layer of whatever in the pan. But that is still a lot for one to deal with and I only did it when I was having company. Then some friends found the individual size pans at the LeCreuset outlet in San Marcos, TX. I ordered four.

Well, today I put one of them to the test. I figured that the potatoes would be the hardest to scale down. I used one medium sized potato and it fit perfectly. Then I scaled down the cresm. Now the biggest departure... I put it in the DeLonghi convection oven. 1 hour 15 minutes later at 325 on convection, I had a perfect miniature gratin. The crustiness was the same as in the larger pan and longer cooking time.

Now I can gratin to my heart's content without throwing out leftovers. I think I will go get an eggplant.

Whoo Hoo!


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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May I also suggest the addition of a little smoked mackerel (Idea nicked from Nigel Slater). Complete meal with a green salad. Might need to make a bigger one though!


I love animals.

They are delicious.

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