Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Trials of Cooking for One

Not long ago, I was walking through a bookstore and my twin pointed out The Pleasures of Cooking for One, a small cookbook on the shelf. “Maybe I will get this for you,” she joked, and I looked at her, offended at the insinuation – that I would be alone, cooking for myself sometime in the future. Alas, my dear aunt destroyed any trace of self-righteous indignation when she presented me with the cookbook during the next holiday season. I realized rather quickly that instead of suggesting I was doomed to a lifetime of solitude and Boeuf Bourginon (serving: 1), the gift was merely a recognition of the fact that at college, one often cooks for herself.

Being the chef of my family, I will be honest – this is a struggle for me. When I buy ingredients at the Fresh Grocer, I think in portion sizes of 5 or more, rather than the one that is all I really require. It got to the point last year where friends knew to call me just shortly after dinner time and ask if I had plans, expecting an invite to dig into my generous amount of “leftovers.” In short, I had a problem. How do you cook chili or quiche for just one person? And is one serving really worth the dishes and effort it takes to make a full meal? I was unwilling to give up my balanced dinners (meat, vegetable, starch) just because I was now a solitary diner.

Ah, the challenges of cooking for one. I'd realized I had a problem (the first step in fixing it) and after looking through my new cookbook, I went about trying to solve it. Through trial and error, I've come up with some pretty good steps to making delicious, healthy and balanced food just for one.

1) Buy meat in portions that you can eat one at a time – individually wrapped chicken breasts (freeze the rest); pre-cooked chicken sausage and eggs are my favorite.
2) Purchase vegetables that are either frozen and can be used a little at a time, or that you really like so that you can eat them consecutively for a few days. Edamame and carrots are good for this. Another point – if you use half of a pepper in a recipe, slice up the rest for a good snack or addition to your lunch the next day.
3) For starch – quinoa, pasta, rice, lentils and other grains can be cooked in batches of 3 or 4 servings and spread out through the week. This saves you time and effort later when you want to quickly add a starch to your dinner, and you can dress them differently.
4) Have a few delicious dressings/sauces on hand (Newman’s Sesame Ginger Dressing, ingredients for Balsamic vinaigrette, and teriyaki are some of my favorites) to add flavor to your meats, veggies and starches without having to go to extreme lengths.

I still end up with leftovers (which I have gotten a lot better about eating) and of course still love sharing food with good friends. But these steps have helped me cut down on a lot of waste (both monetarily and food-wise).

Here are some easy ideas for some simple dinners for one:

2 pre-cooked Trader Joe’s chicken sausages
1 pepper (color your choice)
½ yellow onion
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
soft roll OR salad greens

Slice pepper and onions and sautée over medium heat until soft and slightly browned, set aside and season to taste. Cut sausage into ½ inch pieces and sautée in remaining oil until crispy and heated through. Place on roll or salad greens and serve warm.

3 eggs
¼ c grated cheese
1 tbsp milk
½ c sautéed or steamed vegetables (of your choice)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat eggs, cheese, milk, salt and pepper together. Lay out vegetables on bottom of baking dish 5” or less in diameter. Bake until cooked through and beginning to brown on the top (about 25 minutes). Let cool slightly and serve.

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