Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Art of Cooking for One

Sarah had a terrific blog post this week about her adventures in cooking for one.  I think that cooking for one, as an everyday and unfancy task, is not discussed nearly enough.  I know that there have been books written on the subject, but I think I’m more interested in how non-chefs and non-food writers manage to make cooking for one a reality.  Those of us who are not food professionals are likely to have a lower threshold for throwing in the towel (literally), picking up our wallets, and walking over to Blue Baker for dinner.  For us, cooking is harder—it feels more like work than pleasure.  I say that as someone who enjoys cooking.  But honestly, I have days when all I want to do is plop on the couch with a glass of wine and some cheese and pretzels and call it dinner.

(Wait.  Wine, cheese, pretzels.  Sounds good to me!  I don’t see the problem.)

I cook at home for two main reasons.  The first is that I am a food snob.  I use higher quality ingredients than most places around here in College Station, Texas.  I like fresh produce, organic food, and nutrient-dense meals.  I also like variety in my meals, which can be hard to find as a vegetarian in Texas.  The second reason is that in order to afford my food snobbery, I can’t afford to eat out too often.  The places where I like to eat around town are too pricy for everyday lunches or dinners.  As a side note, I’ll also mention that when I go out for dinner, it’s hard to resist ordering something boozy to drink, and alcohol is expensive.  Eating at home means I can either mix my own drinks or I can abstain.  For some reason, at home I’m not quite as tempted to drink, though I am becoming quite fond of the after-work glass of wine.

I have two strategies to manage my cooking life.  One is to cook in batches so I have good food for my deskbound lunches.  The other is a selection of single-serving recipes that I rotate when I want dinner at home with no leftovers.

When I cook in batches, I usually make soup.  Soup is, hands down, the best lunch.  Assuming you have access to a microwave or even a stove, soup is a warm, comforting, nutritious, and tasty lunch.  I usually eat soup with cheese and crackers or bread.  To round out my lunches, I add a piece of fruit, and a little sweet, like a cookie.  I love soup, and the number of soup and stew recipes in my recipe index is a reflection of my passion for soup. 

Salad Prep

Other decent options for cooking in batches are casseroles like lasagna, grain-based salads (like this rice salad), and tofu scrambles.  I love a good tofu scramble.

My collection of single-serving recipes is something of which I am very proud.  It’s also something upon which I am very reliant.  While I enjoy the feeling of cooking in batches—it makes me feel secure and centered, well-stocked for future good eating—I’m not always looking for leftovers.  Sometimes I just want dinner.  Here are a few of my best tricks for cooking for one and only one:

* Eggs.  Eggs!  What other natural food comes in its own single-serving package?  I like to make baked eggs, little savory bread puddings, scrambled eggs, and heavenly eggs.  (Okay, on that last one I usually make two servings, but it’s so delicious that I would be depriving you if I didn’t mention it.)

* A good supply of vegetables.  I like to have on hand carrots, celery, kale, and onions.  I can do so much with just those four vegetables: crunchy raw vegetables as a side dish, a simple soup, braised kale, steamed kale…and as a bonus, all of those vegetables are reasonably good keepers, which is a relief for the solitary cook.

Baby Kale

* Fancy sandwiches.  Don’t roll your eyes!  There are so many delicious things you can do with the sandwich genre: gourmet grilled cheese (don’t forget the mustard!), open-faced sandwiches, quesadillas with a myriad of fillings and salsas, burritos (great for using up leftovers like tofu scrambles or vegetable halvies).  I would even put pizza for one in this category.  I’m such a big fan of bread+cheese+vegetables that this category alone could feed me happily for months.

Finally, I want to say a word about kitchen gear.  I adore beautiful cookware.  Yes, it can be expensive, but my feeling is that once you own nice kitchen equipment, it is likely to last the rest of your life.  I’ve been blessed with generous family members and friends who have given me kitchenware for birthday and Christmas presents.  But I’ve also splurged because to me, an investment in my kitchen is an investment in my health and happiness.

Many single people put off buying nice kitchen gear because they figure they’ll put it  on their bridal registry when they get married.  My opinion is that unless your wedding is imminent, this is a bad idea.  You deserve to have nice cooking tools.  Yes, even if you only cook for yourself, you are worth it.  Invest in your cooking.  Buy a nice set of knives, a nice cutting board, and a few good pots and pans.  It makes a difference.  I know that it can be expensive to equip your kitchen with high-quality gear, so take your time.  You don’t have to replace everything all at once.  It’s taken me several years to accumulate the stuff I currently use.  Be thoughtful and deliberate.

PS  In this post, I’ve focused on the idea of cooking for one, but certainly the ideas here are not limited to solo cooking.  The techniques and strategies I use when I cook alone are applicable to larger crowds too, but my main point is that I don’t want anyone to feel that cooking is inaccessible to them because they aren’t cooking for other people.  We all deserve to eat well.  Knowing your way around a kitchen is a reliable way to make that happen on a regular basis.  So happy cooking and happy eating to all of you!

PPS  Have any kitchen tips to add?  Leave a comment!  I love comments.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Such great tips! I do alot of the same, and sometimes, it's ok to eat wine-bread-cheese for dinner :)