Eating alone is OK

9780451493606As a single person who cooks, I often find myself eating alone–and I don’t find that to be a problem.  Eating alone doesn’t mean that you are lonely.  It simply means you can please yourself as to what you cook and eat.  Many seem to think that it’s a barren occasion and one that does not deserve much attention to the food.  I disagree.  It’s when there can be the most attention to food.

What Do You Cook When No One Is Watching? from Taste magazine sums it up nicely.  True it’s promoting a cookbook (SOLO by Anita Lo) which I suspect I will buy after I’ve seen the sample on my Kindle.  There are not many cookbooks addressed to cooking for one so it’s delightful to think there is another to peruse.

A son gôut!

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Grocery shopping for one

Do you think about advertising while you’re grocery shopping?  Most likely not! I know that I don’t–but I try to do “perimeter” shopping, making a foray into the center of the store only for specific items–like drain cleaner, paper towels, or dish detergent.  Where I shop, the immediate thing from the entrance is produce (with a big display of locally grown goods), which leads to the meat and fish/seafood counters; a left turn there takes me past the dairy, and refrigerated juices; another left leads me to frozen goods. If I take a right turn at the butcher/fish/seafood counter, I find myself at a counter of prepared fruits and melons (usually in big quantities that are too much for one).  Next in line is the bakery and then the delicatessen.  Continuing through those, I end up at the Asian food bar,  the rotisserie chickens and other prepared meats, and the salad bar.  My usual trek through the grocery store most often involves only a quick dash to the dairy case, then meat and deli. I don’t see a lot of processed food on this circuit. I’d never really given much thought to whether or not my shopping was being manipulated by sales-motivated display methods.  The links below contain some information about store layout and methods used to induce us to buy “stuff”–things that we did not come into the store to purchase: impulse purchases.

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links of hot Italian sausageMeat purchases are pretty easy–thanks to chops, steaks, and a butcher/fish counter that will cut to order; packages of  chicken parts, rather than whole birds, and house-made sausages that I can buy one or two at a time. Careful consideration of the dish that I want to make can allow alternative cuts of meet: beef shank instead of large chuck roast for post roast.

The real difficulties come in produce where things are sold bunched, bagged, or otherwise in quantities that don’t fit single-serving cooking. Some produce just grows in too large a quantity–heads of cauliflower, heads of cabbage or lettuce, a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts…waste just waiting to happen unless we make a serious effort to prevent it.

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One of the difficulties of cooking for one (or even two) is the produce that goes bad while waiting quietly in the refrigerator for you to do something with it.  I love peppers–and I like variety, but I simply cannot use a whole red and orange or yellow bell pepper before they begin to get a little mushy around the edges, no matter how carefully I store them.  So do I do without them?  Even  some ready-to-use packages that are available in the produce department are still more than I want. Buying more than I can use is like throwing money away–and it gets worse if you consider the amount of food waste by consumers after purchase, let alone the waste between harvest and the appearance in the supermarket.

My supermarket likely has something that will help with this dilemma:  a salad bar.

green on the salad barIf you’ve always thought of it as a place to make a salad with all sorts of veggies and trimmings, and pour salad dressing on it, top it with some croutons, and take it back to the office to eat  you need to look at the salad bar from a different perspective. Take a closer look at what’s available there to purchase by the pound–thinking about what you need for a meal, rather than making a salad.

As much as I love salads, packaged greens often go bad before I use all of them. My other objection to big prepared baby spinach on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)packages of greens is the lack of variety–I simply don’t want spinach as my greens for a whole week.  If your market has a salad bar, you can get single-servings of mesclun, spinach, and other greens from the salad bar. I can also get some that loose greens in the produce department–I’ll purchase that either place, depending on what my schedule is and how salad-crazy I am at the time. Since the salad bar usually has several kinds of greens out, I can have mixed salad greens without buying lots of each kind.

salad bar-broccoli-cauliflower IMG_6051I like cauliflower and broccoli too, but again a head of cauliflower is a bit much, so even at $3.99 a pound it is less wasteful and probably cheaper in the long run for me to buy what I need for a single meal from the salad bar–and I avoid having to do the prep myself–added benefit.

My most frequent purchase from the salad bar is bell pepper strips, for salads, and sometimes for seasonings.  If I need a lot, for example making the dandelion greens and sausages or  chicken with sweet peppers, I will either buy whole peppers, or use frozen ones since they are to be cooked.  The salad bar that I frequent usually has a variety of colors, so I can have that without red, yellow, orange, and green going bad in the fridge. (I prepared bell peppers on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I’m one of the people who will stand there and pick out the red, orange, and yellow and leave the green ones behind.)

I don’t buy tomatoes off the salad bar–I think that the refrigeration changes the texture of them, so I usually get grape/cherry tomatoes from the produce section. They seem to be one thing that I use easily before they get funky.

Onions and whole carrots keep well julienned carrots on the salad barenough that I buy those in the produce department most of the time and keep them in the fridge; but if I want  julienned carrots to make a quick serving for a meal or for a salad–I may just take the lazy way out and use the salad bar rather than the packaged ones in the produce department. That’s my idea of convenience food.

I don’t often by cucumbers from the salad bar since I prefer the English ones–and the salad bar usually features the American slicers so they are not worth the per pound price. Other things that may be purchased from the salad bar include sliced mushrooms, julienned radishes, or fresh mozzarella when you want just enough for one serving.

Another frustration of buying produce for one is fruit. As much as I like cantaloupe, honeydew, berries and other fruit, getting variety leads me to use the fruit side of the salad bar often. I can usually find assorted berries, mangoes, pineapple, and melons there.

Most of the items on the salad bar really aren’t that heavy–and considering that you have avoided the waste of unused produce, it seems to be a reasonable price.  Even some of the heavier items like melons, broccoli and cauliflower, are a bargain for me since it allows me to have variety in my meals and minimizes waste.

Not everything I want is on the salad bar, so the solo cook has to deal with more produce than you’re going to use quickly. What are the options?

What I learned in the kitchen

Source: What I learned in the kitchen

I found this while perusing the blogs that I follow (Cooking without Limits). If we were to follow these in the kitchen, cooking might cease to be frustrating, and something that we don’t want to do.

 

Make ratios work for you

It’s unfortunate that we’ve learned to view recipes as something to be followed rather slavishly.  That’s not the way cooking works since there are so many variables in ingredients available.  If we can get out of that habit, then we’ve made a huge stride in cooking for one.

I’ve talked about Pam Andersen’s How to Cook without a Book-which is based on using ratios in recipes.  Even more liberating from the slavish following of recipes are a number of books which really don’t give specific quantities at all or just suggest approximations of ingredients.  These can be easily adjusted if you pay attention to the proportions of the main ingredients or the ratios.

Cover of cookbook, I just purchased Michael Ruhlman‘s Twenty.  I found it a fascinating approach to cooking–it introduces you to the really important ingredients that you work with so often that you almost do not think about them–you take them for granted: like salt, eggs, water (yes, water!) and onions, to mention a few.  He presents recipes that will make you aware of how these ingredients actually work in the process of cooking–to help you understand them so that you can improvise!

Another great thing about this book is that even though the recipes may be for more servings than you want, ratios are given for important ingredients.  For example, in a recipe for “Traditional French Onion Soup”, he give a and “onion-to-liquid” ratio that he prefers for the main ingredients–7 or 8 pounds onions (which really cook down) to 6 cups of water.  That gives you the information you need to downsize the recipe.  Other ingredients are mostly “to taste” although quantities are suggested in the base recipe.  It’s wonderful when the recipes give you this kind of information; however, you can always look at the major ingredients in a recipe and come up with your own ratio.

This book stresses “thinking about food”–and that does not mean looking at the recipe that has 20 ingredients, and dreaming about how nice it would be to make that, but it serves 16, and….  Techniques that are basic to many recipes are presented–some of them are basic ingredients–to help you understand the why and the wherefore of the ingredients.  That is the key to improvising.  The other important thing stressed: think!  Once you understand ingredients, you can adjust the recipe, you can improvise.

This is a book that I’d recommend highly–at least check it out of the library and read it–it just might give some food for though, and open some doors to make single-serving cooking easier for you.  I’d also suggest checking out Michael Ruhlman’s website for other good information for the home cook.

Hard-copy or digital?

Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single CookI’m a sucker for cookbooks–especially by an author that I know has great recipes and knows about cooking for one!  I have Joe Yonan’s book Serve Yourself and love it–now I find that he’s got another that I want–Eat Your Vegetables.  Now comes the debate–do I do hard-copy or digital?

I do love books–and I’m sure that I’ll never be without some of the “hard copy” in my possession. But–there are advantages to the digital, especially as e-readers improve. But there are several attractions of digital versions–given my aversion of house cleaning it’s certainly much easier to dust the e-reader than a shelf of books. And, I love being able to have a selection of books no matter where I am.  There’s the price, too–since the e-edition is usually less expensive (though I can’t use the word “cheaper” here). Then there are some of the downsides….

Right now I’ve got reading material in several different e-readers: Kindle (just the third generation, not the Kindle Fire), Google,and  Kobo account.  That is frustrating.  I have the Kindle app installed on laptop, notebook, droid….you should see me trying to figure out where to look for Nigel Slater’s Ripe! Is it in Google, or Kobo–I am sure it’s not the Kindle–since there are color photographs, but….

[Hiatus here…skulking on the internet for availability in various e-readers,  and discovering eBook management and  converter software]

I’m back–just finished reading the introductory material to Eat Your Vegetables, and quickly perusing some of the recipes. It’s another winner for cooking for one–in digital format!

Love digital, but I still do  buy hard-copy when a book that  I want to read is not available electronically!  For example, Nigel Slater’s cookbooks, when they aren’t available on Oyster, either–tough to be an addict!

Eating for one….

I think that an increasing number of use are eating alone, at least part of the time…that’s not a bad thing, even though there are some problems with it.  I’m always on the lookout for suggestions for cooking and eating for one.

I thought I’d pass along this link to The Kitchn where you’ll find some comments on single-serving cooking and eating.

Fast food: basic omelette

Whether you choose to spell it omelette or omelet, it’s still a god-send when cooking for one,  when you need fast food (even for several), or when you just want to make a meal without going to the grocery store.

Omelettes come in several styles–thin and rolled or folded, or thick and puffy; usually with filling or other added ingredients.  It’s the filling/topping possibilities that make this a meal in itself–these can range from a simple cheese filling to mixtures of vegetables, and even jam or jelly for a sweet treat.

My favorite style is the thin, folded (not puffy) with a filling of some sort–even “leftover” caprese salad in the summer time, or cheese, mushrooms, onions, and spinach–there are lots of “classic” fillings for omelettes that you see on restaurant menus–Denver, Spanish, Mexican, Greek, et cetera but there are virtually endless possibilities.

First, choose the appropriately sized pan:  I use an 6- to 8-inch skillet (All-Clad) when cooking a 2- or 3-egg omelette just for me (and the cat).  Too small and All-Clad stainless steel skilletthe omelette will be too thick to fold and too large, the omelette is too thin.  Just like other cooking for one, the size of the pan is important.

An omelette is most easily made in a skillet or frying pan because the slanted sides allow you to roll or fold the omelette easily.  You may see ads for “omelette pans” but the plain skillet or frying pan is the only thing that you need so long as it is of good quality and heat is conducted evenly.  Nonstick is not necessary–any good skillet, if preheated and oil added appropriately works fine.

If your filling needs cooking, e.g. mushrooms, onions, peppers, or the like, prepare that by sautéing the ingredients and setting them aside. You should allow about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of filling for each two eggs.  Your imagination and your taste are the only limitations on what can be used as a filling for your omelette.  Cheese of your choice is always good–add a salad and you’ve a meal right there.  Fresh herbs with tender greens such as spinach can be quickly sautéed with a little butter and/or olive oil and used as a filling.  In the summer, tomatoes, summer squash are possibilities.  Leftover boiled or roasted potatoes or roasted root veggies–certainly.  Even “tough” greens such as kale or chard can be used if precooked. Leftover fish or smoked salmon works well.  Even creamed spinach from the freezer, or just some of the salsa from a jar.  Recycle some of the sausage-potato casserole as omelette filling….

For a flat, folded (or rolled) omelette, I start with two large eggs, add a splash of milk or cream, a pinch of salt, and beat the eggs until yolks and whites are well blended.  I like to beat them with chopsticks or a fork since I don’t want the omelette to puff.

From Cook's Illustrated

French omelette

Using a whisk will incorporate air and those bubbles will expand and give you a somewhat puffy omelette, which I don’t like as well as the thinner, folded or rolled style.  I also prefer not to have my omelettes browned–I want that nice cooked, but still moist style.

For an evenly cooked omelette without spotty browning, you need to preheat your pan thoroughly (5 or 6 minutes) before adding the eggs so that they will cook evenly.

Over medium-high heat, add some butter (about 1-1/2 teaspoons).  When the foam subsides, pour in the beaten eggs, and pull the edges as they set toward the center of the pan, allowing unset egg to run to the edge–maybe 30 rule out 45 seconds.

Spread your filling over the surface of the omelette, cover (foil or a plate if you don’t have a lid that fits your frying pan) and remove from the heat for about 60 to 90 seconds to allow the residual heat to finish setting the eggs on the top of the omelette; it should appear moist, but not runny.  If it’s not set enough, return to the heat briefly with the cover still in place.

When cooked to your taste, use the chopsticks or fork to roll or fold the omelette.  I usually simply fold it into thirds, or even in half, rather than rolling it up. Turn out on a plate, and it’s ready to eat.

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Omelettes are ubiquitous…for an interesting survey of variations (including some seen on restaurant menus) see the Wikipedia article on omelettes.  Your taste is your guide to making this a quick, delectable meal.

A son goût!