While one of the secrets of cooking for one easily is learning to improvise, I can understand some hesitancy to throw thing into the pot without some guidance–it is a learned skill. If you are not one of us who avidly reads cookbooks, and owns a few dozen or more, and you are not up to just improvising, where do you find recipes to start with? I’ve mentioned a few cookbooks that I think are good to get you started on improvising dishes and meals, but I can understand that you might not want to go out and buy cookbooks, so I’m going to suggest some places where you can find recipes.
First, check some of the blogs that I have listed on my blog roll: Former Chef and Closet Cooking both have some delightful recipes. Another source that I recommend is Mark Bittman’s column The Minimalist in the New York Times. The author stresses a few good ingredients for great flavor rather than complicated dishes, so that makes it particularly good if you are trying to work into improvisations of your own.
A neighbor and friend just introduced me to another website that might well be worth exploring: All Recipes.com. A neighbor (who also cooks for one) has shared some of the dishes that she has made following recipes from this site, and they have been excellent: a braised cabbage with keilbasa, and a chicken soup using adzuki beans and kale. This website does require registration, but it is free. A feature of this website that might be most useful to you if you are just starting with improvisations and changing recipe sizes is a calculator that will do this for you–you do not even have to do the math. This should help you get a feel for doing this with other recipes. There are lots of recipes here, ranging from some that use canned ingredients (for example, condensed soup and mixed vegetables) to those using fresh ingredients–you get to choose.
Since I’m a soup lover, and soup usually keeps well, and lends itself to “re-seasoning” and adding additional ingredients to change it, I have found the Swanson Broth website to be useful. Obviously, I prefer homemade stocks and broths, but there are times when it just isn’t possible; you need some “convenience” ingredients like canned broth in the pantry. I’ve found Swanson broth to be acceptable. They have some great, quick recipes which, while they tout Swanson broth and stocks, are very usually use no other processed/prepared ingredients, and can be flexible in quantity. One of my favorites is the corn and red pepper chowder. This is quick, easy, and very easy to “refresh” for a different taste from the leftovers. You might want to change the seasoning: add one of those chipotle peppers that you froze after you opened the last can. I particularly like to drop in a few shrimp to poach while I gently reheat the left over soup. A really quick make-over can be done with a favorite seasoning such as Penzeys Southwest Seasoning.
Other places to look for recipes are purveyors of specialty foods (doesn’t mean you have to buy anything) or cookware. Cooking.com, Williams-Sonoma, and Penzeys Spices all have recipes on their websites. Sure, they are touting their wares, but the recipes are good and reliable.
Other sources of recipes are from websites of cooking magazines (and the magazines, too) like Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, Fine Cooking, and America’s Test Kitchen. Another worthwhile site for those of use looking for single-serving meals is Judith Jones’ Meals for One (at Ophra.com). Her cookbook, The Joys of Cooking for One, is one that’s great for promoting improvisation while cooking for one and eating well. You’ll find recipes for one on that website.
As you cook more, you’ll find that there are particular chefs whose recipes just seem to click with your style and flavors that you like. Always check for blogs by these chefs. One of the latest that I’ve added is Jamie Oliver’s website. His recipes just “click” for me. Many websites and/or blogs allow you to register (free) for newsletters or e-mail updates. If you really like the style of that particular chef, that is a good thing to do. If there are several, you might consider Google Alerts, or other tools like that.
There are lots of recipes out there–they may not be single-serving recipes, but they will give you ideas for things to try as you learn to improvise.