Being a singleton who likes to spend a good deal of her time in the kitchen is, quite frankly, a problem.
Its not a weighty* issue though I will address that in the near future. This is more of a consumption concern and while this too could refer to a well rounded issue**, its not where I am going.
No, I am delving into the major problem that 99.9% of the best reviewed cookbooks; the old standards, tried and true, splattered and well thumbed cookbooks that have been loved for generations, focus on feeding a family of 4. Most of the time they even include enough for leftovers or have terrifying numbers next to them. Worse than 4 is 6. 8 is enough to make me groan and heaven help me when I see 12. I don’t touch those ’12’ recipes with a 10′ pole. Those numbers refer to servings and sadly, have very little to do with sane portion sizes either so it is easy to double those numbers with the use of a measuring cup, spoon or a scale. I have a large-ish chest freezer (hey, when you have to order all your frozen (and all other groceries) for a 9 month period of time, you need such things) and while its moving closer towards emptying, the idea of making even one meal a week that would feed 4-6 people would mean that it would NEVER be empty and I would always be eating leftovers. Not that I have anything against leftovers. In fact, I usually make a large pot of soup on Saturday and then eat it for lunch or dinner through the week, adding little bits every day because soup/stew is always better as flavors meld. Pease Porridge hot, Pease Porridge cold, Pease Porridge in the pot, 9 days old and all that. Don’t worry, I always put it in the fridge right after dinner, always bring it to a boil before eating and it never lasts 9 days. Its usually a stretch to have any left by Friday lunch and by that point, I am so ready for a fresh start that its a joy to add that handful of noodles or rice that signal the end of the batch (anyone who has ever had re-heated noodle/rice soup knows about the sticky, icky mass that it can be). No, I really like leftovers but I like cooking more and the heating of dinner, even a good one, 3 times to the cooking of it once just isn’t my idea of a good time in the kitchen. A good time is playing with pots and pans and oven, chopping, mixing, shredding, braising, baking, broiling and seasoning to taste. The hard part comes with learning how to do it on a small scale.
So what is a singleton or even a couple to do? Cooking for 1 or 2 is really a skill, one that comes easiest if a person is A) willing to be creative, B) knows what flavours they like C) uses smaller pots and pans, D) doesnt think that cooking on a small scale is a waste of time and E) has a few good references to help along the way. Lets take this alphabetically, shall we?
A) Creativity. If you want to try cooking that lobster, as long as you arn’t allergic to or have religious injunctions against eating of shellfish, GO AHEAD! Its much cheaper to create a lobster dinner for 1 than for 4. Want to try philo wrapped chicken? Cinnamon in chocolate cookies? A new spice? Chicken gizzards? DO IT! You are the master/mistress of your own kitchen and there is nothing that you cant try. Its only your taste buds that need to be appeased and really, a mistake over dinner for 1 or 2 is no where near as dramatic as a dinner fail for your family. Besides, there is always peanut butter and jelly. Be Fearless. After all, its just food. Unless you are trying your hand at puffer fish sushi or are adding arsenic to taste as called for in Lord Downey’s Mint Humbugs. Then you can be scared.
B) What you like. You know what you like and what you don’t. What tastes go together and what doesnt is very much a personal variable and in cooking for 1 or 2, this is a good thing. In the case of the couple, you know what you both like and its easy to just make one or two small changes in a meal to then have something totally different. For me, garlic, lemon juice, coarse sea salt, a pepper mill (filled, of course) and basil pesto are staples. I know that I can use these things, alone or in concert, with ANYTHING I enjoy eating and come up with a brilliant meal. There are more days that I would like to admit where they are the only things that I use and I could honestly find them all blindfolded because they are so readily to hand. My point is, if you know the spices and flavors you like, it is very hard to make a meal of any size that isnt to taste. If you cook large, family sized dishes of pesto pasta with grilled chicken, you can make a small one because you know what it is supposed to taste like and how you like it.
C) Smaller for smaller. This is quite a “duh” statement but because of its simplicity, it must be stated. If you use large pots and pans you will make larger meals. It never fails. There is something ingrained in the mind of anyone who has cooked for more than themselves and a partner that makes us all look into a pan with more than enough for 1 and a bit leftover and say, “Oh, I need to add more of X”. No matter what you are making, no matter how often you try, it is nearly an impossible habit to break while using large pots and pans and if you are one of the few who can cook for one in big pans, please let me know so I can venerate you. The simple matter is that if you switch to using a smaller fry pan, a smaller pot for soup or veggies, use small loaf pans or 6 muffin tins, you will instinctively make less. You have no idea how many huge pots of soup went into the freezer after a weekday dinner where I used the big pot. When I switched to the smaller one, it was amazing! I could actually eat it all in a few days and not get sick of it! Wonder of wonders*****
D) Making a mess. Another hurdle of singles cooking is breaking the mindset of making “all that mess just for me”. I really think that this is why microwave dinners and take-away are most often associated with singles. Its not a mess, its DINNER and really, if you think its messy to cook for one, try it on a large scale. The peel from one potato is nothing compared with 20. Sure you have to wash the cutting board whether you cut one or 5 but what does that matter? Its faster to chop one of anything anyway so then you are left with plenty of time for the washing while pots/pans burble away on the range. If you feel so very strongly about not wanting to make a mess for only one or two things, why not prep a bunch at a time? Since I have to buy in bulk, it is very hard to get onsey-twosey of anything and it mostly comes to me frozen solid so my only way of dealing is to thaw in the fridge and then do the weeks prep work while one part becomes that nights dinner. Example? Chicken thighs come in 4’s. I thaw, usually leave 2 whole for oven roasting, de-bone one and leave it as whole as possible and cut the other into strips. The two to be roasted will become anything from Shake N Baked to 2 separate marinades and then baked that night. One for dinner, one for lunch or dinner the next night. 4 days later, all the chicken is gone. For me, this method is a titch more difficult with larger cuts of anything but thats why I only have roast over at other peoples houses. I dislike thawing and re-freezing anything and for me to cook less than a whole 5lbs of pork/beef roast it would be a requirement. While freezing cooked roast is always an option, I have not had the gnawing****** desire to roast anything larger than a Cornish Game Hen and I figure that I’ll cross that epicurean bridge when I come to it. Many people do cook larger pieces, cut leftovers how they want to eat them later and freeze so it is a very viable option. Think of the “mess” this way: You always get it your way. No explanations needed, deletions and substitutions are always allowed and you know exactly what it looked like before it became dinner. And this always makes washing a board and knife OK in my book.
E) And speaking of books…I will admit that I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. More of guidelines rather than rules in my book with only one exception: Baking. In my mind, the one book every single or couple cook needs is Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. This amazing book gives perfect instruction for making small cakes, one or two muffins, 4 cookies, small loaves of sweet bread, batches of icing for one cake and the list goes on and on. Everything that I have tried has been scrumptious, flavorful and, best yet, the perfect size. There is something to be said about making a huge batch of cookies but I would rather leave that endeavor to Christmas time and enjoy just one or two right now most of the time. I made her almond pound cake while writing this post and it is calling to me from the stove-top. There. Better now that it has less of a voice to call with and is muffled behind plastic.
The other book that I use weekly is Going Solo in the Kitchen by Jane Doerfer. This book has been with me since early 2007 and it has one claim to fame that had me from the first: After nearly every recipe she gives uses for leftovers and /or variations on the theme. Simple, quick meals that still can be elegant and reminds the single/couple cook that there are many special ingredients that are closer to fiscal reach when you are cooking for one or two versus four (like the lobster from A).
These books are my well-thumbed, splattered and dog-eared cooking tomes that have not only served me well as a single but also when cooking for a family of 6. Its easier to increase a recipe than to divide it and I can see both of these being with me into whatever my future holds, be it meals for my 1 or, heaven forbid, 12.
*I truly hope you laughed at that pun. I so rarely get to use them in daily conversations it means that you, my dear readers, bear the brunt of my witticisms.
** Sorry, I had to continue the thread***.
***This is what comes from an unravelling mind****
****Does this mean my mind is frogging?
*****Miracle of miracles. Sometimes you just have to break into song. No apologies.
******More eating puns…