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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Monkfish sous vide

I’ve been thinking about sous vide cooking, reading about it, and I’m finally going to try it, especially since it CAN be done without any fancy equipment–except a beer cooler. That I can handle–in fact, I already have one–I just had not thought of it as a kitchen appliance.

I’ve been wanting to try sous vide cooking, especially reading about it Stefan’s Gourmet Blog posts. Being somewhat budget conscious, I’ve explored alternatives to the water ovens and circulators usually used in sous-vide cooking. I’ve looked at articles on how to turn your slow cooker into a sous-vide machine and discovered that requires some additional equipment and “hacking” to work; that’s also not for me.

There seem to be a lot of reasons for using this technique, not the least of which is to avoid heating up the kitchen and overworking the A/C! There’s also the appeal of the evenness of cooking and not being able to overcook unless you give a lot of attention to the actual cooking. All those advantages and some alternatives to expensive equipment or ones that require engineering know-how at least let me try it. One alternative I discovered was a big pot of water, low oven temperature–not an option in summer for me.  I found references on adding external temperature controls to rice cookers and multifunction pots, using the oven, and, of course, lots of ads for sous vide tools.

So what has precipitated this sudden fit of actually doing it? It’s the hot, muggy, humid, steamy weather we have here in the summer and the fact that I’m a serious fresh-air freak. If it’s at all possible I’ll have the doors and windows open–Frankie especially appreciates this. I want to cook without having all the extra heat–so I’m exploring all possible alternatives, including adapting recipes that normally involve using the oven for the slow cooker–looking for ways to beat the heat.

Krups rice cooker IMG_3796

For food safety temperature is important so I looked at lots of articles giving temperatures for various meats and fish, including on that considered using the keep-warm function on the rice cooker or multifunction pot. Next to the beer cooler method this looked like a possible one for me since I do own a Krups multifunction pot. To check that out I filled the pot with and checked the temperature on the slow-cooking setting–the temperature held at 185 ºF which looks as if it might work for some veggies and, perhaps, for tough cuts of meat. Switching to the keep-warm function and doing a temperature check two hours after I had switched to keep-warm function–but the water started at 185 ºF and I had absolutely no information on what the rate of cooling in the closed multifunction pot was. So–more data, please! I started with water at 110 ºF on keep-warm setting to see what happened. What happened was 165ºF.

So the multifunction pot (Krups) is out for just using the warm function, but I’ve discovered that if the pot is hot and then turned off, it hold a steady temperature for about two hours. Since I’m only doing sous vide for one and quick things, I don’t need a huge pot. This is going to take a bit more tending, but it would certainly be easier for quick things than a beer cooler (my laziness is showing, I know).

Searching for the best temperature to use for monkfish sous-vide produced an interesting array of suggestion. Always preferring data, I was glad to see Monkfish sous vide temperature experiment which tested throughout the range of temperatures that I found and gave a description of the fish texture at each.

From ChefSteps I also found the following temperature guide for fish and from Amazing Food Made easy temperatures and times in the range of 10 to 30 minutes:

  • Tender  40ºC/104ºF
  • Tender and flaky 50ºC/122ºF
  • Well done 60ºC/140ºF

For my monkfish, I think tender and flaky is a good option; for tuna, I might go for just tender–or even rare, depending on the grade. Now for time specifically for monkfish to be medium the general consensus seemed to be “medium” at 140ºF for 10 to 30 minutes. Since my tap water is at 140ºF with the beer cooler I should be good to go–though it seems strange to not have to be concerned about time but since it won’t go above the water temperature anything in that range should work.

For seasoning? Well, simple seemed good for my first try so I went with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and butter. I used the rice-cooking mode to bring the water up to 140ºF, put the monkfish in, closed the lid and crossed my fingers. It just seems too simple even though I’ve cooked other things by putting them in liquid and then turning off the heat and letting the residual do the cooking.

The results? The best monkfish I’ve ever eaten. Okay, so I’ve not had anyone else’s monkfish cooked sous vide, but it’s the best monkfish I’ve ever cooked. I cooked it at 140ºF for 30 minutes. Temperature check at the end of the cooking was still at 140ºF. The fish was tender and just starting to flake. I’m still trying to find some adjectives for it. If i have to pick one I think it will be just plain luscious!

Now that I’ve done all the temperature experiments on the Krups multifunction cooker (in slow-cooking mode and keep-warm mode), and on how it holds temperature, I see more sous vide in my future.

Related links:

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?

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!

Cooking for one

I’m on my soapbox! Just need to vent!  Maybe I’m even being a bit paranoid, but….

At times I feel there is an attitude problem about cooking for one–even more than cooking for  just two! Sometimes while perusing recipes I find  myself getting irritated by  comments on the fact that one didn’t want to put (too)  much effort into cooking for two! If not for two, then surely we wouldn’t put much effort into cooking for one?  Duh!?!

Table for six

Occasionally more than one dines here

Why is it that  people think that cooking for one or even two people shouldn’t take much effort?  OK–it takes more effort to cook for thirteen  than for one  or two,  just in terms of quantity and size of pots. Admittedly some dishes do not lend themselves to making for one or two–so invite the neighbors; roast goose is not something that works well for one or two.  But…

No matter how many you’re cooking for there are times when you need quick, easy recipes–any cook who works outside the home knows that. But that doesn’t mean that there are not times when you want something special without having to invite the neighbors, or eating the same thing for umpteen meals.

Waiting for the roast goose....

Waiting for the roast goose….

I’m all for improvisation and cooking as an ongoing process of tasting and seasoning, but sometimes I do want a tested recipe so I’m always on the lookout for cookbooks for one or two. It can be difficult to take a recipe that serves six or eight and cut it down for one or two servings; you have to make allowances especially for the seasoning and you cannot necessarily do that “on the fly”.

I’ve commented on some of my favorite books by Judith JonesJoe Yonan and Nigel Slater where you do find recipes (and not necessarily “quick” ones) for one or two–these are single people who really like their food and are not bound by how much effort it takes to prepare the dish.

From Amazon.com

from Amazon.com

When I saw that the editors from America’s Test Kitchen had put out  “for two” cookbook, I  was excited because I like the way they explain the recipes, and how well they work.  I have tried some of the recipes and am glad to have them.  One bonus of their cooking-for-two approach is a section that cross-references recipes, e.g. all that use cauliflower or bell peppers, so that you can deal with what isn’t used in a single recipe.  Another benefit is that the seasonings are also adjusted. (Personally for my taste, I find many of the recipes a bit under-seasoned–but that’s taste, and no reflection of the worth of the recipes–after all, they have to please many people–and I know that I may need to increase seasonings.)

Many of the recipes involve chops, and/or pre-portioned meats which do play huge role in single-serving-cooking. There are recipes, e.g. for beef stew, where ingredients are modified or cooking methods changed (e.g. beef stew).    Recipes designed for two  are much easier to adapt to cooking for one (without necessarily having extra portions) than recipes for six or so.  If you’re hesitant about improvisation or about how to adjust recipes, then the Cook’s Illustrated  books on cooking for two would be a good investment–as you use the recipes, you learn why they work, and get a feel for how to change or reduce ingredients.

These, as well as books by Jones,  Yonan and Slater (see bibliography), give an excellent jumping-off point for single-serving  cooking.

A son goût.

Cleaning out the fridge….

cropped-img_2208.jpgOne of the things that I particularly “hate” having to do is to “clean out” the refrigerator.  That’s not just because it means that I am going to find some very revolting, icky, slimy celery in the crisper or that I’m composting food, which is, admittedly wasteful.  It’s the fact that refrigerator seems to be a good reflection of life in general around this household.

When the refrigerator needs a major clean-out, it also likely means that there are dust bunnies that are likely bigger than the cat, stacks of laundry, and other chores that desperately need attention as well, because I’ve not found the time to do them–even a few minutes a day. (I could do with a house elf!)

Since I consider myself a foodie, it’s a pretty sad commentary when I’ve let the refrigerator get to the major clean-out state–it means that I’ve been too dependent on those one-a-day multivitamins and sandwiches rather that cooking quick but healthy meals for myself or even popping something into the slow-cooker! It means that I’ve let other things take over–more than I should.  After all, 30 minutes to cook a meal would really be well spent–and I would probably be more efficient at other tasks after the break.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t realized how much a major indexing project (the book was over 1000 pages–and the deadline was moved to a sooner-rather-than-later date after I started the project) was going to affect my daily routine.  I hope that I’ve learned something, and the next one won’t require cleaning out the refrigerator because I’ll have done a little advance planning or used my software-mandated breaks from the computer more wisely.

Regrettably, meal-planning is not the answer here–I don’t do well with the if-it’s-chicken-it-must-be-Tuesday sort of thing. Perusing what was in the freezer didn’t do me much good either–mostly food that will be great in cooler weather, but totally unappealing in hot weather, or else things like stock, or soup base which wouldn’t be fast to make right then.

Each time I have to clean out the fridge, it’s a bit like making New Year’s resolutions–I solemnly vow to not let this happen again–but then most of us know what happens to New Year’s resolutions.

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The fridge is now tidy–the slimy celery and other small pieces of residual vegetables have gone to the compost bin (that stuff had a real head start on breaking down!) so I’m ready to start again, though  I haven’t gotten to the laundry or to chasing out the dust bunnies (at least those are not going to get slimy) this afternoon.

Trying to keep the New Year’s resolutions…

I’m really trying to keep my New Year’s resolutions, though sometimes I think that I should simply resolve each year to try to do better on keeping LAST year’s resolutions.  But it’s a new year, new start, so here goes!

I’ve just gotten back from the grocery store–with only one thing that wasn’t planned–That was a veggie that I’ve never seen in this Harris Teeter before–a Boniato (Cuban sweet potato). While I gripe loudly and constantly about how crowded the grocery store always is on Sundays, it’s what seems to work for me–so I gripe and still shop on Sundays–unless I ran out of milk on Saturday!

The grocery shopping took a bit longer than usual, but I went with the idea of doing some meal planning on the hoof.  (I like to shop by what looks good and what’s on special, so meal planning at home doesn’t necessarily work for me.) I went with a set number of meals in mind–and the meat (at least vaguely) in mind, then walked around looking to see what was on special, and what looked good–in other words,  produce and meat.

Knowing that we can expect some cooler weather over the next week did influence my shopping, and so did the fact that I’m still knee deep in course prep for the medical terminology courses that I’m teaching.  I need cool-weather dishes that I can pop into the oven (Römertopf is out on the counter–and I can scarcely believe that I’ve not posted about cooking something in them before this.)

The result of my meal planning on the fly was this and I’m going to keep you posted on how well I succeed with this–hoping for some peer-pressure here:

  • It’s really too-warm-for-the-season weather here today, so I’m having something light (and “leftover”)–cod re-warmed with the tomato sauce that I brought home from the Italian restaurant, and cauliflower and black olive gratin (had all the ingredients in the fridge except the cauliflower.  I purchased enough for one good-size serving from the salad bar–cheaper than a whole head of cauliflower when I know part will likely go to waste.)
  • Lamb (shoulder chops to be cut up) braised with veggies–in the Römertopf–with an under-appreciated vegetable–turnips.  Personally I love them raw too, and like the sweetness that they add to soups, so they get used a lot.  Doesn’t hurt that they store so well either.
  • Chicken thighs to roast (most likely Römertopf  again) with some root vegetables (have carrots, turnips, parsnips, and some cabbage).  There will be at least two meals from the chicken thighs.
  • Since I have some lovely ham stock (courtesy of a friend sharing ham and the ham bone with me) I’m going to make some bean and kale soup for one warm cozy supper.
  • While I was perusing the New York Times Health section and stumbled onto a recipe for a turnip gratin that is a possible for a side dish with some of the chicken.
  • Then last, but not least, is a fresh black pepper and onion sausage that most likely headed into the Römertopf with some potatoes, to be accompanied by some cabbage that’s been quickly microwaved with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil.

After my meal planning, I’ve got a couple servings of meat (chicken thighs and pepper-onions sausages) that are flexible and should lend themselves to other things if my appetite doesn’t fit my plans.  The sausages could always end up in another “one-pot” dish.  There are also some salad makings in the fridge, and some fruit (Fuyu persimmons, apples, and oranges) for dessert.

One of the things that I like about recipes like those for the cauliflower-black olive gratin and the turnip gratin, is that even though they say “serves 6” they are SO easy to cut down to size for single-serving cooking.

So that’s my plan for this week–regular cooking that is healthy, and doesn’t promote waste from things that just don’t get used.  There are some lunches to be made during the week since most of my courses are online this term–meaning I’m home to fix brunch or lunch for myself.  Maybe that Boniato will fit there.

I’ll be posting more about these meals, but, please, wish me luck with the New Year’s resolution!  Now, off to the kitchen to do the cauliflower-black olive gratin to go with my cod in tomato sauce!