What to cook if you're home alone
Charcuterie, cheesy frico tacos, bowl of creamy risotto are easy single-serving meals
I am engrossed in one of my summer reads — Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, a collection of essays — and it got me thinking about how our eating habits change when we are alone.
It raises the question of why we cook: do we enjoy it?
Or do we reluctantly assemble and consume food in order to stay alive?
For many, the joy of cooking is in feeding people. It's a nurturing process, a way of showing love and support. So the question becomes: Do you take the time and put in the effort to nurture yourself? Or do you take advantage of the situation and eat Cheezies and wine in the bathtub without judgment?
Living alone and feeding oneself daily allows the home cook to develop useful habits and cooking skills.
With so many recipes orchestrated to feed four to six, cooking for one seems more intuitive, less reliant on following precise instructions, and guided more by personal tastes and the seasons.
Those of us who are typically charged with the care and feeding of others might find freedom in the rare occasion of being alone at dinnertime. Relieved of the pressure to cook, some choose not to. We who live with others might jump on the opportunity to eat the things our partners have aversions to, or the secret things we crave.
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There are zero-cook dinners: a sleeve of saltines with butter, popcorn and wine, toasted anything with anything (toast is the answer to so many of life's questions, including what's for dinner).
And then there's a step up: Ichiban noodles, personal charcuterie boards (crackers and cheese), all manner of salads, grilled cheese or naturally-portioned-for-one eggs.
At this time of year, I'm happy to boil a few potatoes or ears of corn and eat them with butter and salt, or slice ripe tomatoes on toast.
If you want to extend a bit of effort toward feeding yourself, a small saucepan of risotto might be just the thing — you rely more on feel than precise measurements to make it anyway. You can toss in just about anything: peas or greens from the garden, beets, bits of cheese, mushrooms, sausage.
Aim for about a 1:4 ratio of short-grained rice to stock, stir regularly (it doesn't have to be constant), and start tasting after about 20 minutes. It's the perfect dish to get the hang of.
Basic Risotto for One
I went with ½ cup rice to 2 cups stock for the sake of simplicity. This will make a generous portion, or provide leftovers to reheat or fry in a skillet with butter the next morning. Feel free to sauté some mushrooms at the start, or add garden peas along with the stock (they'll cook as the rice does), or fresh greens or leafy herbs, like basil, at the end.
canola, olive or other vegetable oil, for cooking
a bit of onion (a shallot is perfect), finely chopped
salt, to taste
½ cup short grained rice, such as Arborio
a splash of white wine or vermouth (optional)
2 cups stock, warmed (plus extra if needed)
grated Parmesan cheese
Set a small-medium saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat, add a drizzle of oil (and a bit of butter, if you like), and sauté the onion, with a pinch of salt, for a few minutes, or until soft. Typically you don't want it to brown, but mine always does. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat the grains with oil.
Add a splash of wine, if you like, and wait until it cooks off. Then start adding the stock a bit at a time. I often use a ladle, or free pour from the room-temperature carton, cooking and stirring (not constantly, but often), until the liquid is more or less absorbed and your spoon leaves a trail through the bottom. Keep adding stock until the rice is just tender, and the mixture is loose.
Stir in a knob or two of butter, a handful of chopped or torn greens, if you like, and a handful of grated Parmesan. Taste and adjust the salt, if it needs it, and serve right away.
Grilled cheese is another cooking-for-one classic, and quesadillas are along the same vein. Made with flour tortillas (or other similar flatbread), you can add bits from the fridge, canned beans, use up cheese ends or leftover roasted veggies.
Grating some cheese into the skillet first creates a crusty exterior that contrasts with the soft, cheesy insides. And salsa totally counts as a vegetable on the side.
canola or other vegetable oil, for cooking
flour or corn tortillas (as many as you want to eat)
queso fresco, cheddar, Monterey Jack or other melty cheese
green onions, bits of chicken, sausage or shrimp, black beans, or anything else you can think of that goes well in a quesadilla or taco
Set a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of oil; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.
Grate some cheese directly into the skillet, over an area slightly larger than your tortilla; place the tortilla on top of it.
Grate more cheese on the tortilla, and pile on any fillings you like: meat, veg, beans, shrimp.
Fold it over and cook until the exterior is crusty and the insides are gooey. Serve as is, or with salsa, sour cream or guacamole (or all of the above).
Listen to Julie's full segment here:
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.