Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cooking for One: Part One

Living alone means cooking many meals a week for one person. And let’s face it: (a) most recipes are designed for huge proportions in the first place, and (b) most of us tire of a dish for six to 12 people long before we can eat the entire dish.
While it may seem strange, I choose the week of Valentine’s Day, a special day set aside each year just for lovers, to begin a series of devoted to cooking meals for just one or two people. In response to many requests from my readership, that is precisely what I am going to do.
Every time I see someone at the grocery store stocking up on television dinners, frozen meals made for one and any number of other pre-prepared foods, I conclude that person is either raising a family on pre-cooked and fast foods (how sad) or lives alone. There is a third possibility—that soul simply doesn’t know how to cook, such as the assistant Rick hired to help me when I was catering. Why would someone apply for a job as an assistant cook while not knowing even how to turn on the oven? Beats me, but that is another bag of worms to be opened another day.
Now, let’s talk about the subject at hand—downsizing recipes to feed just one or two people. I know how I would teach someone to plan and cook small meals, but I thought I would do a little web surfing to see what others had to say. As a casual observer, I would say these folks are married to someone exactly like Rick or perhaps personally have Rick’s appetite. Who in their right mind publishes a single serving recipe that calls for two and a half pounds of chicken or two and a half pounds of hamburger meat? I closed the Internet tab and decided to share with you what I would teach my students.
For me, cooking just for little old me required a little more thought and discipline. I found that I tended to over buy, leading to lots of good food going bad and having to be thrown out. Although purchasing larger sizes may seem to be more economical per unit as we have always been lead to think, if you use only half the amount you initially bought, the expense factor goes way up not to mention being extremely wasteful.
Before we get into a discussion about the nuts and bolts of which types of foods actually lend themselves to smaller portions, proper portion sizes and just how to divide a recipe, I am going to begin with helping you understand a little about your preferences.
Let’s begin with a look at your palate. What do you like to eat? Pure and simple! Do you prefer southern country cooking, Mexican, Italian or a combination of all kinds of cuisines? Do you enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables or are you a meat and potatoes kind of person? Do you generally tend to crave the same thing over and over, or do you enjoy trying new and different foods that just may be somewhat out of your comfort zone?
Once you have given thought to and gained a pretty good understanding of your food preferences, how comfortable are you in the kitchen? Have you always enjoyed piddling in the kitchen perhaps helping your mother when you were growing up, but find yourself struggling with preparing smaller meals appropriate for one? Or, is cooking a new, somewhat daunting experience for you?
A good example is my grandfather. He had never cooked anything and my grandmother never really encouraged him to hang out in the kitchen prior to her massive stroke that left her completely paralyzed. Knowing he had to fill her tiny shoes, he bought a couple of general cookbooks, and you know what? By the end of that first year, he was cooking fabulous family meals, including the best homemade biscuits anyone had ever tasted plus cakes, pies and more. He was not only a natural in the kitchen, but thoroughly enjoyed experimenting. I have heard similar stories from many of you. As one of my readers said, and I am paraphrasing, “I am now a producer, no longer a consumer.”
Reflecting on my grandfather’s experience reminded me of another area to explore—cooking style. Do you prefer to cook on the top of the stove or in the oven? Then again, you may be like me and prefer a combination.
To be perfectly honest, most casseroles (along with many, many other dishes) simply make more than the two us can eat before tiring of the dish. When this is the case, I prepare the entire recipe up to the point of cooking, but separate and freeze one-half to three-fourths for later use. Be sure to label, date and write the instructions for how to prepare on the lid or cover. I typically divide say a dish that serves 12 into thirds, giving us four servings in each dish. These make me good to go when I need something quick. Another thought is that mini dishes that serve two to four also make welcome gifts for loved ones and friends.
This topic is too complex to cover in one piece. Next, we will how explore how to go about downsizing most recipes, some ingredients that are red flags when it comes to downsizing recipes and the types of foods that easily lend themselves to small portions. We will also talk about baking options, which are a little more sporty when preparing recipes just for one. The real bonus I think is going to be talking about reasonably stocking a pantry when you are the primary consumer in your kitchen.

For a couple of easy entrees for one, go to:
Italian Chicken for One
Shrimp and Rice for One
Author: Dr. Jacquelyn P. Horne
Copyright: 2013

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