Time for another installment of My Favourite Things. As per a request after my last post, this one is devoted to some of my favourite meals/cooking tips for one person. I lived on my own for three years during university, and I am alone for meals a lot of the time now, so cooking, shopping and eating for one have become second nature to me. I really didn’t even realize that cooking for one is a challenge for some people until my sister mentioned it to me. So here are a few of my best tricks/favourite meals.
A nice big pasta supper. See my basic recipe for pasta with meat and veggies. Then you can change up the veggies and meat (or go meatless, use cheese or beans) and play with it until you have the flavours you like. Pasta is a fairly inexpensive meal that comes together quickly, which is great after the end of a long day.
The nice thing about eating alone is that you have no one to answer to. If you just feel like a soup and sandwich, you can go for it! The sandwich can be whatever you like – grilled cheese, meat, both, veggie. You can use any kind of bread – make a quesadilla with a tortilla (or roll it into a wrap), use normal bread, a bagel, pita or English muffin. I really love sandwiches made with grilled or roasted veggies (and you can make these ahead – use them in salads or soups too) and goat cheese. Sandwich these between bread, grill it in a panini press/grill pan/frying pan and enjoy cheesy deliciousness. 🙂 Grilled portabello mushrooms also make FABULOUS vegetarian sandwiches. Grilled cheese sandwiches with a little bit of fruit (sliced apples are great) are another favourite of mine. If you want a meatier option, sandwich meat is always a quick option, or you can use up your leftovers to make another meal. And if all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with a good old peanut butter sandwich for supper.
As for soup? Mmmm…love it, especially this time of year! Here are a few of my favourite soup tips:
Veggie puree – I love vegetable cream soups…with just about any veggie. Broccoli; cauliflower; squash and apple is a great combo; zucchini…the list goes on.Basically, you just cook the veggies (I usually saute in a bit of olive oil), puree with a bit of liquid (you can just use water and salt or use broth), add milk (or fat free cream cheese or laughing cow cheese are really great), season and heat through. Nutmeg is always good in veggie cream soups. Squash soups taste great with a bit of cinnamon mixed in, or curry is good if you like it (I am not a huge curry person myself though). I love using my immersion blender to make soups (LOVE this gadget, one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received…seriously).
A lot of canned goods are inexpensive and great for adding to soups. Canned beans make a great healthy, tasty and cheap addition to soups for protein. Canned tomatoes are excellent for adding volume/liquid to soups, particularly veggie ones. You can add the trinity of southwestern flavour (as I like to call them) – paprika, chilli powder and cumin – and do a yummy southwestern veggie soup. Tomatoes, corn and black beans work well together.
I love a nice pot of chili. I never use a recipe – like many other things I make, it depends on my mood/what’s on hand. Quite often, I make vegetarian chili using just beans, or sometimes add soy crumbles. You can use whatever meat (or not) is your preference. Two of my favourite “secret” ingredients are a pinch of cocoa powder and coffee (either add liquid or even some dried instant coffee). Both add a nice depth of flavour to chili – try it sometime! Even if you’re only cooking for one, make a big batch. Chili freezes well and is GREAT for leftovers. You can use leftover chili to: top a baked (or “microwave-baked”) potato, put on a taco salad, top chili fries (either make homemade regular or sweet potato fries, or use frozen ones) or nachos (and of course, don’t forget the cheese!) and to make a dip – nothing like a good old Mexican layered dip with chili – you can do one layer of taco seasoning mixed with cream cheese/sour cream, a chili layer, then cheese over all, microwave and enjoy (ok, I know that last one is not a traditional “meal,” but it sure is a tasty way to use up chili). You know what’s great about all of these recipes? If you don’t feel like/don’t have time to make chili, they all work with canned chili (such as my FAVOURITE one).
Stir fry is a healthy, quick meal that can be easily reduced or expanded depending on how many people you are serving. Again, you can use whatever protein (chicken, pork, beef, tofu, shrimp) and veggies you have on hand. For me, garlic is a must for seasoning. Fresh ginger adds a nice Asian flair. And, if you’re like me and can take the heat, dried chili flakes are great too. I start by having my ingredients all chopped and ready to go. The basic method is to heat a pan (non-stick is best) till it’s nice and hot over medium-high heat, add a pit of oil (or use PAM), then add your meat and garlic (and ginger and chili flakes if using), cook until the meat is almost done, stirring occasionally but not too often (or the meat won’t brown). Then add all your veggies, cooking and stirring until crisp-tender. Near the end comes the fun part – seasoning! Now, if you’ve used ginger, garlic or chili flakes, you can just add salt and pepper and call it a day. But in the last few years I’ve discovered some Asian sauces that make your stir-fry taste decidedly more “restaurant-y.” Try any of these on their own, or mix and match to create your own “secret sauce.” Soy sauce is a classic, Teryaki is great, but my three new favourites are black bean sauce, oyster-flavoured sauce (doesn’t taste fishy, trust me, I HATE all fish/seafood) and chili garlic sauce. I bought these because I was making recipes that called for them, and now I love them on their own. They are available in the Asian section of most grocery stores (even here in Simcoe!). Once you’ve sauced and seasoned your stir-fry, cook and stir a few minutes more. You can serve your stir fry over rice, pasta, bulgur, couscous or quinoa (all of which are pretty cheap and easy to make).
I have more ideas, but this is a long enough post already. These are just some of the classic single stand-bys. It looks like I’ll have to do a Part II of favourite meals for one.
Let me know if you have any great single meal ideas or if you have any requests for favourite things posts.