I’m back from the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market–with blackberries, blueberries, sweet corn and other goodies. One of the things I enjoy about selling at that market is the people I’m meeting. In chatting with one of my customers today, a Health Coach, I discovered a website that has some good health and nutrition information. Recipes here are simple, healthy and focus on good ingredients.
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.
If you are going to cook for one, you need to get away from recipes that specify exact quantities–it’s a step toward learning to improvise as you cook. I’d urge you to take a look at Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman–you don’t have to buy it, thought it’s a great book to have; go to the library and check it out. (It’s also available for Kindle, too) Other simple, and simply good recipes can be found at The New York Times, and at Mark Bittman.com. You will find recipes that are easy to do for one because they are “quantity-less” in the sense of the typical recipes. They don’t call him “minimalist” without a reason–a very few ingredients can make some wonderful eating.
Now for those four chicken thighs, cooked as described in “The Microwave in my Kitchen”, here’s what has been done with some, and what is intended for that fourth one:
1. Chicken salad for a sandwich, quickly made by adding some minced red onion, a bit of cutting celery (See Herbs page) leaves and stems, salt, fresh-ground black pepper, a squeeze of lime juice (or lemon juice), and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
2. A warm meal of chicken with part of a can of chickpeas left from a previous use. Sautéed a handful of onion in olive oil until softened, added a big clove of garlic, the chicken cut into bite-sized pieces, added some halved grape tomatoes, about a tablespoon of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, a dash of Syrian oregano (still growing on my deck); finish with salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste. Add a single-serving salad of mixed greens and had a quick, satisfying meal.
3. The third piece went to make some quick chicken hash for Sunday breakfast as follows: In a 12-inch nonstick skillet sauté a handful of diced onion in olive oil until just starting to brown. Add two minced garlic cloves (I like lots of garlic), and cook for two or three minutes. Meanwhile, open a can of diced potatoes (I told you this was quick–obviously you can start with raw potatoes and sauté them until tender) and brown them lightly. Rinse and drain the potatoes, add to the skillet and sauté until they start to brown.
Remove half the potato mixture–this is destined for another use. Remove the meat from the chicken thigh if it was bone-in and dice the meat. Add this to the potato mixture in the skillet, along with some (about 1/2 teaspoon) fresh thyme (again still growing on my deck) and continue to sauté. When the potatoes and chicken are slightly browned, remove to a plate and keep warm. Cook one egg (or two if you are really hungry) to medium, and serve over the chicken hash.
The portion of potatoes that you removed from the skillet can be used in different ways: the are likely to become a kind of quick version of a Spanish tortilla by just warming and adding a couple of eggs and serving with a salad or vegetable.
4. With the broth obtained from cooking the thighs in the microwave, I plan make a meaty chicken soup using that fourth chicken thigh, using that bit of rice left from another meal. I’ll add more veggies, perhaps a bay leaf, and some of my “lazy” favorite (and only) herb mix, herbs de Provence. I’ll see when the time comes–since I don’t do leftovers, I probably shouldn’t do predictions either.
There will be a follow-up on that fourth piece of chicken to let you know where my improvisation lead me. I’ll give you another example, using a recipe from Kitchen Express for a lentil soup that just blew my mind (See An Awesome Lentil Soup). It was such an unexpected combination of flavors, and it is one that I keep using to improvise with other ingredients, as well as coming back to the original. It’s a recipe where I could also make use of the last piece of chicken.