Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On Cooking For One


Cooking for one is a pain. It seems like you're either trying to measure out 1/6 of 1/4 of a cup of something, or you have so many servings of leftovers that having to eat that dish one more time feels like torture. In nearly a decade of cooking for mostly one and sometimes two, I've learned a few tricks:


  • Use a recipe template instead of a recipe. If you know some seasonings that nicely complement a favorite veggie or proportions of ingredients to whip up a marinade, you can cook a single serving size.
  • Cook recipes you LOVE, but only seasonally, so you still have a bit of the novelty factor on serving six.
  • I'd say, "freeze extra servings," but I don't think anything ever tastes as good defrosted from the freezer as it did when it was fresh. (But maybe I'm just bad at freezing stuff.)
  • Give your taste buds a break. You might be happier about eating the same dinner two or three nights in a row than eating the same for dinner then lunch then dinner then lunch.
  • Learn to transform your leftovers into something else. This topic is very popular this time of year, as home cooks try to figure out what to do with All. That. Turkey.


How can you transform one meal into the next?


  • Plan ahead. Do you want to try a new recipe for mushrooms, but you also love them tossed in with pasta sauce? Great! Make this week 'The Week of the Mushroom,' but keep your taste buds interested by varying the mushrooms' presentation.
  • Figure out if you can go ahead and cook the whole package, or if you need to reserve some uncooked in the fridge. Think outside the (recipe) box--if the mushrooms will be cooked in both recipes, could you cook them separately in a small skillet and toss them in at the end to let the flavors marry? Uncooked foods are more likely to languish in my fridge than cooked foods, possibly because feeling like I'm one step closer to a prepared dish can override end-of-the-work-day lethargy.
  • Commit to actually using up your foods. You did all that planning and prep work, so make it happen! I tend to have increased cooking inertia as the week rolls on, so, if I have set the stage for easy weeknight cooking by meal planning, grocery shopping, prepping veggies in advance, etc., I tend to keep cooking through the week. If I haven't down any of the ground work, I tend to turn to peanut butter and jelly or prepared foods.

Case in point:
This weekend I tried a new recipe: Curry Chicken Apples. As I am wont to do, I considered the recipe more of a suggestion than a directive, and I cooked the chicken on the stove instead of stuffing raw chicken into the apples. (I have a thing about touching raw meat, and that thing is that I avoid touching raw meat at all costs. Part of why I am mostly-vegetarian.) While I was cooking the chicken, I thought, 'Y'know what I haven't had in awhile that could use raw chicken? Sloppy Joe's. Hm... I'm going to have a lot of leftover curry chicken... I bet this would make a tasty take on a Sloppy Joe if I added tomato paste!' Then I started wondering which names are most common for males in India.

I'm not following my own guidelines, because I didn't plan ahead, but it's good to always be open to a lightning bolt of inspiration. If you keep a pantry stocked with cooking essentials, inspiration might not even require a trip to the store.

What are your pantry staples? How do you get excited about leftovers?

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