Adding to panzanella….

dark purple eggplant

Black beauty eggplant fruits

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about one or two of the prominent summer vegetables–eggplant and summer squash. Well, here’s something that looks like it would be a good use of the ubiquitous eggplant that I’ve ignored except for baba ganoush and caponata. I no quarrel that eggplant nutritious, inexpensive, and the like.

I’ve already posted about another summer favorite of mine–bread salad or panzanella so I was pleased to see this recipe for a bread salad using grilled eggplant.  This kind of salad is so easy to fix single-serving amounts that I wanted to pass this along as another way to make use of a summer vegetable.  The image below was included with the recipe on the website Chow.com.

bread salad with grilled eggplant closeup

Storing things….

One of the problems that single-serving cooks continually face is things that change texture and colors as they languish in the refrigerator.  These are not always leftovers from the meal you cooked a week ago, or the little box you brought home from the restaurant when you couldn’t clean your plate (even though you knew then it was unlikely that you’d actually eat what was inside).  Having things “go bad” is a perpetual problem for those of us cooking for one…that head of celery, that whole head of romaine lettuce….

There are lots of tips, tricks, and suggestions that I’ve found about how to store things that plague the single-serving cooks but I’m always looking for better ways to store those bits and pieces until I can use them.   I’m always on the lookout for things that actually do work.

Ball-Mason jars for storageOne of my favorite sources for information like this is Cook’s Illustrated because they actually do experiments to find out what works and what does not.  This doesn’t seem to lend itself well to a post for each suggestion, so I thought I’d add a reference page on Storing Stuff as a place to collect information about storage methods for the things that you are likely to use as a single-serving cook.   If you have a successful method that you use as a solo cook, please post it.

House cleaning–a digression.

My apologies for the rather large hiatus between posts.  End of the year got a little hectic and some things just kind of got put off–among them cleaning and writing.

While taking a break from working on my ASI indexing examination, tax preparation, and course-preparation for the up-coming term,  and contemplating the need to get out the vacuum cleaner, it occurred to me that if you’re cooking for one, you are most likely cleaning for one, too.  Now house-cleaning is not one of my preferred activities–I’d rather be watching birds (Project Feeder Watch count), or cooking, or reading one of my favorite British or Alaska mysteries, or just having quality time with the cat.

I think that solo dwellers who need to do single-serving cooking, probably also have some issues with cleaning.  I’m a renter, which means that I don’t have lots of space, so my wine collection shares my living-room with me and with the cat.  Now dusty wine bottles may be perfectly suited to the wine cellar in a fine old family manor  in the latest British mystery, but they don’t do a lot for decor in my living room.

Predictably, I have to dust them–and   that is certainly a house-cleaning activity.  As much as I love wine, I don’t love keeping the bottles somewhat dust-free.  To add to the issue, I’m allergic to house dust so stirring the stuff up makes my eyes itch, and my face break out–a sure sign that serious cleaning must happen.  Needless to say, I’m looking for an “easy” way to address this problem, as well as the blades of the ceiling fans and other high places that are generally out of my reach without a ladder.

The vacuum cleaner was not the solution.  As you can see, each bottle has its own little cubby-hole, and in order to use the vacuum cleaner, I’d have to lift each bottle out individually, or remove all from one row so that I could vacuum the next row….et cetera.  Not a viable solution to someone who does not have the support staff of  Martha Stewart, and who does not have a frank OCD. I’ve used torn-up T-shirts for dust clothes–maybe rags is a more suitable term–but again, each bottle had to come out individually, and I’d rough up the corners of the labels.

I’ve pondered the cleaning products in the supermarket aisle  often, and not given in to the lure of the latest product because I have to wonder what chemicals are added to get all this super-duper dust attraction or magnetism.  My better sense tells me that I’d likely be helping the environment and my budget if I did not use some of these products, but  stuck with  things like white vinegar and the like that my grandmother used.  Then a little voice says “but your grandmother was not dusting wine bottles, was not working outside the home….well, you can work through that rationalization for yourself.

I succumbed to trying a Swiffer Duster.  It took seeing the one with the handle that extends, meaning that I could reach all the window tops, the ceiling fan blades and not have to tote out the stepladder.  I discovered that this nice fluffy thing did a great job at getting down the cobwebs, and dusting the ceiling fans, lamp shades, picture frames, and even the fake sunflowers in that huge vase sitting on the floor.  Here was a product that made my cleaning easier (not that I’m always “swiffering” around the house–don’t get me wrong).

The dusters did not turn me into someone who would rather clean than do all the other things mentioned above.  It did make cleaning easier.  I might not have kept buying the dusters, but I discovered that the duster was just the right width to slip into each little wine-bottle cubbyhole and at least remove a lot of dust without having to do a bottle-by-bottle dusting, and the fluffy duster did not catch on the wine labels!  Now  I don’t procrastinate so long between dustings.   I still wonder about what chemicals are used, and consider that while I’m using  the dusters, but I’m in love with the fluffy little blue thingy that fits onto that extend-able handle.  So the barrier was broken–a new cleaning product entered my house.  I find I’m much more likely to pick up that duster and use it than I was to even contemplate dusting each bottle the other way.

Well, sharing my domicile with a cat is another “problem”–the beast (an affectionately used term) sheds.  So there is cat hair in the corners.  Yes–you say that the vacuum cleaner takes care of that.  Very true–but I have to get it out and use it.  I’m willing to do that about every ten days, but what about in between those times? The cat does not shed on my schedule.

Well, I discovered the Swiffer Sweeper (while contemplating the price of a new traditional dust mop).  Does a great job on cat hair, dust bunnies and other household things on the floor.  It also goes under the bottom row of wine bottles without jostling them around!  So, despite my thoughts about the chemicals, et cetera, I have “dust mop” and  dusters in the house.  It is much easier to toss that little square of stuff with all the dust attached, rather than having to wash the  traditional dust mop every once in a while. It’s one of the “perks” of an allergy to house dust that you have to clean the cleaning equipment every so often.

So, I’ve given in to the lure of easy cleaning and chemical assistance with something as mundane as dusting–what next? Enough with the cleaning–time to get back to cooking for myself and the cat!

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.

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!