Another cookbook for single-serving cooking

Cover of Serve YourselfI’m always browsing cookbooks–especially those that appear to deal with single-serving cooking.  A friend recently mentioned Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One to me. True to form, I immediately went in search of it–and was pleased to find it available in Kindle format.

I really identified with a statement made in this book: “…we solo artists deserve just as varied a diet as anyone.  While I love having some leftovers around that can morph into new dishes, I also appreciate the beauty of starting and finishing a single cooking project on a given night.” (Kindle location 173)

One of the things that I find delightful is that there are suggestions and recipes that are incredibly helpful in allowing morphing leftovers.  These include condiments (to use not only on leftovers) but suggestions on using those extra ingredients that seem to be the bane of single-serving cooking–such as what’s left of that bottle of wine that you opened to go with dinner yesterday evening.  Personally I think that this is a book worth having in your library if you cook for one, but I suggest that, at least, you check the local library and peruse this one.

I’d also recommend his website for fun reading of his “Cooking for One” column for more thoughts on cooking for one, and more recipes.  Even cooking for one it can still be a son goût!  

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Pot roast with brown gravy

You’ll notice that I said “gravy”–this is too much of a comfort food to use “sauce” because what you’re getting is plain, down-home gravy that needs bread or potatoes to complement it.

After I got my Christmas present (See The Petit Brasier) I had to give it an immediate test run.  What better to test than a favorite braised dish:  pot roast.  This was nothing fancy at all.  You’ll note that I’m not even saying it had a sauce–I really did mean good, old-fashioned, down-home, satisfying brown gravy, lots of onions, and good tender beef.

Even though I say I dislike leftovers, there are some exceptions and pot roast is one of the exceptions.  Sometimes I get the great big chuck roast and make a lot of it and put it in the freezer in single-serving packages, right with the chili, the stock, and some soups so that I can have an “instant” meal–the microwave is great for defrosting and individual portion.  I don’t always want to have to pack and freeze leftovers, so with the small braiser, and a cooperative butcher or meat department at the supermarket, I can make a small pot roast that’s good for two, or maybe three meals since there are some very easy ways to kind of spiff it up for the reruns.

This is really not a recipe–it’s a happening–quantities are approximate as the amount of oil you need will vary with the size of you pan, the amount of mushrooms and onions you are going to sauté–just use what you need.  (Improvise! Wing it!  Just do it–it will work.)

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pound piece of chuck roast
  • 4 or 5 small onions (or 3 medium to large ones) sliced moderately thinly
  • 2 teaspoons flour, plus flour for dredging the beef
  • about 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided as needed for  sautéing mushrooms and onions.
  • 8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced (more if you really like mushrooms)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups of water or stock
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • about 8-10 medium garlic cloves.

Preparation

  1. Pat the pot roast dry with paper towels and dredge in a flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Let it stand while you cook the onions and mushrooms.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and sauté in a little of the olive oil until they release their liquid and brown.  When brown and liquid has evaporated, remove to a bowl.
  3. Add a bit more olive oil, and sauté the sliced onions until they start to brown and caramelize.  When partly browned, remove to a bowl with the mushrooms.
  4. Add the additional olive oil, as needed, and brown the beef well on both sides. Put it to the side for final assembly.
  5. Take the rest of the olive oil, and the 2 teaspoons of flour, and brown the flour in the oil until it turns a nice golden brown and smells toasty.  Turn the heat down, add the stock or water to the browned flour.
  6. Add the sautéd onions and mushrooms, and return the browned roast to the pan, with the onion/mushroom mixture around the sides, sprinkle the garlic cloves over the top.
  7. Bring to a simmer on the stove top, cover and place in a 295-300 ° F oven and cook until fork tender–about 2-3 hours (unattended).  Check periodically to see if you need to add more liquid.  You need just enough to make nice thick gravy, and the onions are going to cook down to help thicken the gravy.

For that first meal, all you really need is a salad, maybe a baked potato….or some noodles.For the second serving, stir a tiny dollop of sour cream into the portion of brown gravy for this serving to add some tang and be a bit “stroganoff-ish”, add some steam-sautéd (See Cooking Vegetables Quickly) carrots, or spinach as a side.   What about the third?  As you reheat, add some tomato paste, or some tomato sauce to the last bit for a different taste.

It’s pure unadulterated comfort food.  Even if it’s not a single serving, it’s an appropriate quantity for small-time cooking, but it sure has big-time taste.  It’s great what having the right size pan does for cooking for one.

A son goût!

Making stock quickly.

Despite occasionally using the microwave to make stock or broth quickly or in hot weather, I’m a fan of the long, slow, stove-top or oven method so that I can luxuriate in the wonderful smells when it’s cold and/or rainy outside.  It’s such a comforting activity and, though it takes time, it does not require a lot of close attention.  However, there are times when I need stock or broth and I need it quickly.  I gave the basic recipe for chicken broth in an earlier post (See The Microwave in my Kitchen), but I want to show you it can be used for other stock, not chicken.

Cooking some chicken give enough good strong broth for a bowl or two of soup.  There are times when I need more than that because I’ve run out of what I had stashed in the freezer.  That’s likely to happen in the winter when I’m a real soup-hound.

I was happy to find a quick method that does produce good stock–using the microwave.  This might also be a reasonable solution for those of you who don’t have the chest freezer on the back porch or a good-size freezer with the fridge.

I own only one microwave cookbook:  Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet. She was a reluctant convert to the microwave–as well as a traditionally trained chef.  I read her introduction to the book while standing in the Regulator Bookshop; her initial reluctance to hop on the microwave bandwagon made me thing that this might be a different kind of microwave cookbook; I was right.  I still do not cook a lot of things in the microwave, but I have found some very useful things in this book.  I like the fact that she gives single-serving amounts for some of the recipes–as well as doubling some.

Getting bones for making stock is getting harder, with so much meat coming into the store already cut and boned,  but if you can find a butcher shop, it’s well worth exploring the possibility of having them save bones for you.  You should check your farmers’ market as you might be able to get “stewing” hens there, or if there is a vendor selling beef, they might have soup bones (necks, tails, etc.) and that is a real delight.  I’ve found “marrow bones” in the freezer case at the supermarket, but they were so clean that they really did not make good stock (the marrow was excellent spread on toast, though).  For chicken broth, you can always buy a whole bird, and take off the breast and leg/thigh meat and use the rest of the carcass for making broth.

I want to give you an adaptation of her stock/broth recipe (p.314):

Meat Broths

  • 2 pounds meat (chicken, duck, veal, beef marrow, or other beef or lamb bones cut into small pieces–maybe by the butcher)
  • 4 cups water
  1. Place the bones and water in a 2-quart microwave-safe container.  (Personally, I have a large 2-quart Pyrex measuring “cup” that I use for this; it has pouring spout and a handle which I like when working with this much liquid.)  Cook at 100% for 30 minutes, or 40 minutes for a broth that will jell.
  2. Remove from the microwave oven and let stand until it stops bubbling. Strain the broth through a fine sieve.  If you want it clear, you need to do the clarifying procedure, which I’m not including here.  You can find that in her book (p.314).
  3. Cool and refrigerate, tightly covered (See Storage Containers) if not using immediately. (Usually don’t store it–my reason for making it in the microwave was either that it was sweltering summer weather, or I needed it NOW!)

If you have “soup bones” that include lots of meat, as do the ones that I get at the Durham Farmers’ market, then you have a hearty meal that’s beyond just soup. The beef can taken off the bones and added to some of the broth with vegetables for a really hearty meal of serious comfort food.  That’s a bonus.

That’s it!  As is mentioned in another post, I have not  done a side-by-side taste test of the broth make the traditional (long, slow way) with that made this quick way,  I am pleased with the results of  this method.  I will freely admit to keeping canned broth and stock on my pantry shelf, but these are usually a last resort, or to be used when the broth will be a background flavor as in chili con carne–not when it up front really good soup like a winter favorite, beef-barley-mushroom soup.

If you want a “brown” broth, you can always roast the bones in the oven before putting them into the microwave to cook.  The recipe in the book gives lots of variations that are useful, including adjustments for more meat, adding vegetables, clarifying, and making fish broth as well.  If you’re a microwave user, you might find this a great book to have on your shelf, or you might want to check it out of the library and see what else is in it.  There is a large “dictionary” in which she lists lots of different ingredients and gives cooking times, or sometimes recommends not cooking that in the microwave.  I do refer to the dictionary frequently.  If you are a novice with the microwave (think it’s for popping popcorn, or heating water) she does a good review of the types and the shapes of containers that work best for cooking in the microwave and the information on cooking times is useful.

Storage containers

One of the perennial problems with liking to improvise, and wanting to have a well-stocked pantry is that one person uses things more slowly than you would cooking for a family of four.  I think that it’s important to store supplies carefully in closed containers rather than bags or boxes which can let some interesting beasties into your staple supplies.  For years, I carefully cleaned and saved glass jars and their lids.  Great solution?  Well–until the lid loses its seal.

Then what do you do?  My solution was to buy some Mason  canning jars (Ball or Kerr) with wide mouths, in the pint and quart sizes.  They are inexpensive, and lids are  no longer a problem.  The same lids fit all the jars, so I’m not standing around with a jar full of something and trying to find a lid to fit.  The rings last, and last–a bit like the Energizer bunny–and you can replace the seals as needed!  I think that my kitchen shelves even look rather nice…but then I kind of like a homey look.

If your pantry space is cramped,  the wide-mouth jars stack well!  Another advantage of the wide-mouth jars is that a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup will fit through the mouth of the jar easily–so you can dip and measure from the easily. Got to store that 10-pounds of rice that was such a great price?  Well the same lids will fit the half-gallon jars.

With some minimal additional equipment you can even put food by in these same jars–just be sure that you have new lids  if you’re going to use them for long-term preserving of foods.

Cannellini & Italian sausage supper

One Italian sausage provides seasoning and a bit of meat for two meals.  The starting point gives enough for two servings.  When I’m using the Italian sausage for two separate meals like this, I usually buy sweet instead of hot, since I can readily add the heat I’d like with crushed red pepper flakes at the time I’m preparing the meal.

  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet Italian sausage, meat removed from the casing and crumbled
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups cooked, drained white beans (cannellini or great northern) or 15-ounce can rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoon water

In a 12 inch skillet with a tight-fitting cover, add the olive oil; when the skillet is heated add the sliced onion, and cook until it is beginning to brown. Add the sausage and brown.  Add minced garlic and cook about 2 minutes.  Add the rinsed beans, and cook covered about 5 minutes.

Remove half the bean/onion/sausage mixture to be used for a second meal.  Cool and refrigerate.

Meal 1:

  • Half the bean/onion/sausage mixture
  • about 15 grape/cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup antipasto salad mix (pitted olives, peppers, carrots) from the salad bar, chopped finely.
  • several sprinkles of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 teaspoons chopped fresh sweet marjoram or Turkish/Greek oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs.
  • a single-serving size handful of haricots verts
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste (the antipasto salad is salty so taste before you add additional salt.

Add the herbs, the chopped antipasto salad, crushed red pepper flakes and mix well.  Over medium low heat, add the tomatoes, lay the haricots verts on top of the cannellini beans, add the water, cover tightly and continue to cook until  the haricots verts are tender.  Serve with shavings of Pecorino Romano over the canellinni beans, and the haricots verts on the side, drizzled with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil.

Meal 2:

  • the reserved cannellini bean/onion/sausage mixture
  • about 15 grape/cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 generous handfuls baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Place the cannellini bean/onion/sausage in sauté pan, add the water, halved tomatoes, and cover.  Heat gently for about 5 minutes (until starts to steam).  Add the spinach, cover, and allow spinach to wilt.  Toss to combine with the bean mixture.

I had this with some steam-sautéed carrots as an additional vegetable.  Add a glass of good friendly red wine and its a very satisfying meal that’s easy and economical.

That fourth chicken thigh…

As I mentioned in my previous post regarding what to do with a package of four chicken thighs when you are cooking for one (and the cat) and don’t do leftovers, chicken soup was in the making with some leftovers (rice, garbanzo beans) as a start.

The broth from cooking those four chicken thighs was so intense that I was able to add a bit of water to it, so I have two servings of chicken soup.  (Soup being a leftover that I tolerate better than other leftovers.)  To keep the time invested to a minimum, I did use a convenience product:  frozen soup mix vegetables .   I do use those for winter use since it lets me have a lot of variety without purchasing all the individual vegetables;  I can throw a handful or so into something for quick soup.  As you can see there was okra, peas, corn , celery, potatoes, green beans, and onion.Not having any canned tomatoes open, I used some of the grape cherry tomatoes, halved and tossed into the mix.

I boned the chicken thigh and added it to the broth and veggies, popped the whole thing into the microwave for six minutes to cook the veggies.  The broth from cooking the thighs had been seasoned only with a bit  of salt to allow for maximum flexibility in what I could do with the meat, so it was a tad bland. I supplemented the previous seasoning with a dash of herbes de Provence, and some crushed red pepper flakes to add a bit of zing.  Made and great bowl of soup

chicken soupGiven lots of veggies, the rice, and beans, and the very flavorful broth, the fourth chicken thigh provided reasonable portion f meat for the two servings of soup.  When we consider that most of us eat much more meat than we  need nutritionally, I was very pleased with the flavor of this quick meal.   All I added was a green salad with cucumbers, radishes, grape tomatoes, black grapes, fresh herb leaves, with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.   With the addition of a glass of red wine (from a box) it was a very satisfying meal.  I have no idea of a calorie count–but I do think it was a healthy meal, particularly for evening when I know I’m going to be very sedentary.

Admittedly, there is a snack for later in the evening: some black grapes, grape tomatoes, and a few nuts, maybe pistachio, or Brazil nuts, or hazel nuts, or a mixture (only a tablespoon or two, though).

Lots of flexibility in terms of what you can do when you’re making a small quantity.   I suspect that the remaining serving, which will be used in a day or two, will get some additional “perking” before it becomes a meal, but I know I’m starting with a good base of tasty broth and a bit of meat.  In looking over what’s likely to be available , I suspect that I’ll add a bit of cabbage, and maybe some chile pepper to that last batch–but who knows.

Even though I bought the more expensive, free-range, organic chicken I think it was economical:  essentially five meals from that one package of chicken.  The extra flavor from the chicken paid off.

A son goût!

A sweet treat

Holiday time is coming up so I want to introduce you to something special that you can do, even for one:  brioche filled with chocolate ganache.  While it’s baking, you home will smell like a bit of heaven.  I’m going to share with you a recipe that I will abridge and paraphrase from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois to demonstrate the range of recipes available in their books, and how adaptable they are to cooking for one. The full recipe (well worth having) is found on page 189 of the book. It’s a recipe that is easily doubled or halved.

Brioche (unfilled)

Ingredients: Makes four 1-pound loaves.

  • 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons (kosher) salt
  • 8 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • additional butter for greasing the pan
  • 7-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)

Assembling the dough:

  1. Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl (or lidded, but not air-tight) food-grade container. (You will store the dough in the refrigerator in this.)
  2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon. You may need to use wet hands to fully incorporate the last bit of flour.  The dough is loose but will become firm when chilled.  You should not try to work with it until it has chilled for 24 hours.  There may be lumps in the dough, but they will (mine did though I was uneasy about this on the first batch).
  3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or at least flattens on top.  This takes about 2 hours.
  4. Refrigerate in the container; it can be used over the next 5 days; for longer, you should portion and freeze the dough.

Baking the brioche:

  1. Grease a 9 x 4 x 3-inch nonstick loaf pan.
  2. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough.  Dust this piece with more flour and quickly shape (see link to videos demonstrating this in my post “Smell the fresh bread”.)
  3. Elongate into an oval and place in the prepared pan and allow it to rest for 1 hour and 20 minutes, covered lightly with a cloth or plastic wrap if it is dry in your home.
  4. About 5 to 10 minutes before baking time preheat the oven to 350 ° F.  If you are using a stone in the oven then you will need to preheat the oven for about 20 minutes.
  5. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash.
  6. Place the bread near the center of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.  It should be a lovely medium golden brown.  It does not form a hard crust because of the fat in the dough.
  7. Allow to cool before slicing and eating.  (I can tell you this part is really hard!)

Brioche

Brioche Filled with Chocolate Ganache (page 195)

This calls for good quality chocolate.  I have always used Valrhona chocolate for this.  It’s worth the splurge to have very good chocolate–after all, you are not likely to be eating this every day.

Note:  This dough can become very soft in hot weather or in a very warm room.  To keep the dough cool while rolling it out, fill two or three zipper lock bags with water and lay them flat in the freezer until frozen solid; use these under an upside-down lipped baking sheet to roll out the dough.  This will keep it cool and easier to work with, but you still need to work quickly.

Ingredients:

  • A 1-pound portion of the brioche dough above.
  • 1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona or equivalent)finely chopped.
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus more for greasing the pan)
  • 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Valrhona or equivalent here too).
  • 1 tablespoon of rum or Chambord (optional).
  • 5 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling on top.

Making the ganache:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth; be careful not to burn it.
  2. Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the butter thoroughly.
  3. Stir in the cocoa powder into the rum or liqueur if using.  Otherwise, stir in the corn syrup and mix until smooth.
  4. Add to the chocolate.

Assembling the brioche:

  1. Lightly butter a nonstick 9 x 4 x 3-inch pan.  Take a 1-pound piece of dough as described above, and shape it into a ball, as above.
  2. Using a rolling-pin, roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle; dust with flour as needed.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup of ganache evenly over the dough, keeping a 1-inch border all around the edge.
  4. Starting at the short end, roll up the dough, sealing the bare edges.  Tuck loose ends underneath and place in the prepared pan.
  5. Allow it to rest for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Baking the brioche:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 ° F at least 5-10 minutes.
  2. Using a pastry brush, apply the egg white wash to the top of the loaf.  Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.
  3. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown and the sugar on top has caramelized.  (The loaf will likely split in places during baking and some of the ganache will show through, but it just looks so good with the chocolate peeking out!)
  4. Remove it from the pan and let the brioche cool slightly.
  5. Drizzle the rest of the ganache (1/4 cup) over the top crust.  Cool completely and slice.  (This really does need to cool completely before slicing–don’t be tempted to cut it while warm.

There you have it–a serious treat.  It’s very easy to make smaller filled brioches in small “mini” pans, but I’ve found you need to roll out the brioche dough more thinly for the “mini” loaves–otherwise the filling and the brioche are out of balance.  Of course this will take a smaller amount of ganache per loaf.  I have to confess to making more of the smaller loaves, and NOT drizzling the ganache on top, but just letting the sugar and the ganache peeking out from inside  be the finish on the top.

Now you want to know, what else can you do with this dough?  There are recipes in the book for filled breads, pastry, rolls, and other treats that you can make so easily.   You can vary the filling–I’ve done it with good ginger preserves, and orange marmalade too.  Lots of room to please your palate.

The basic brioche is wonderful toasted, makes a great grilled ham and  cheese sandwich (croque monsieur, if you wish, to be in keeping with the brioche).

Think what a great gift a loaf of plain brioche or the filled brioche would make.  Though I don’t make it often (diet!) I like to have friends in for a mid-morning slice of the filled brioche and hot chocolate to give us a wonderful chocolate fix!

Remember that you can halve the recipe easily so it’s very adaptable for almost single-serving cooking, but there really is some big-time taste here.  If you appreciate  breads, this book gives recipes for a huge variety that are all easy to portion  as appropriate for one person.