When I cook, I am almost always cooking for more than one person. With an active family of growing teens, or cooking extra food whenever I can for leftovers, as well as cooking for other people (sometimes planned and sometimes spur of the moment), that all adds up to more than one.
But, I have many friends and family who regularly cook for one, and a lot of them are great cooks. When I asked around if they had any tips, it was interesting to find a variety of reasons for solo cooking. Even with other people in your household, having special diets, tricky work schedules or favourite foods can mean solo cooking is the way to go.
There are lots of practical ideas out there to help make things work, including cooking in larger quantities and storing leftovers for later convenience.
If you are looking for something more than practical tips, if you are looking for some inspiration for cooking special meals just for you, you might like this lovely book, published in the UK in 2015: Solo – inspirational cooking for one by Linda Tubby.
The author starts with this: “cooking for yourself is a most satisfying part of self-nurture; when thought and care are given to the process, from shopping for ingredients to preparing a meal, you can take great pleasure in eating the results.”
Linda Tubby begins her book with a useful introductory chapter full of ideas on how to make solo cooking work, including tips such as “don’t ever feel bad about licking your plate”. This chapter ends with the best piece of advice she was given to save time: “when you get home tired and ready to cook, boil a kettle of water. Not just by way of a swift cuppa but to have the water ready to steam your vegetables or boil those potatoes.”
The book ends with some great sides and sauces, and a few sweet things.
In the middle, there are a lot of lovely recipes, most of them a little bit fancy. For example, would you like to cook this:
“Black pudding, caramelised persimmon & freekeh with raspberry salad cream”
“Quail stuffed with maftoul & roasted in vine leaves”
The book does include some simpler quick dishes and ideas to pull meals together easily.
Solo isn’t really a practical, everyday cooking book. Instead, it is inspiring, and is just right for the person who enjoys the process of preparing food and doesn’t want to wait for other people to be around to make healthy, delicious and special food, just for you.
If “inspiring” cooking isn’t really your thing, I came up with a few of my own ideas for simple, everyday cooking for one.
How about some poached salmon or chicken with vegies and quinoa or couscous? You can then turn the leftover poached chicken or salmon into a risotto the following meal.
I have tried not to use many pots or pans in preparing these recipes. Something I notice when I am cooking for myself is that I am very reluctant to use more utensils or equipment than necessary. I want the washing up to be in small portions as well as the food.
For the salmon, I use Aldi frozen natural salmon fillets which come in convenient portions. If you prefer chicken, you can find more detailed instructions about poaching chicken here. Note that the equivalent metric temperature for the safe internal temperature of chicken is 74⁰C (read more here). Also, cooking a larger batch of grains such as rice or quinoa and freezing individual portions is a great time saver.
Poached salmon or chicken with vegetables
- one portion of salmon fillet (or chicken breast fillet)
- 50ml white wine (optional)
- 250ml stock (optional)
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 clove garlic, finely diced or minced
- chopped green shallots
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried (use other herbs if you prefer)
- salt and pepper
- Cooked quinoa or brown rice (either will freeze well in small, cling wrapped portions), or couscous which will be ready in minutes if you add boiling water, cover and let it sit
- a handful of chopped vegetables such as broccoli, beans and baby spinach. Add carrot made into ribbons with a vegetable peeler or other vegetables of your choice
- approximately 1 tablespoon of nuts or seeds
Add 3 cups of liquid to a saucepan, made up of water, stock and wine, or water only if you don’t have stock or wine. Add the lemon juice, garlic, shallots and herbs. Bring the liquid to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
Gently lower the salmon or chicken into the saucepan and cover with a lid. Cook on a low heat for approximately 6-7 minutes.
Add the vegetables to the saucepan with the salmon or chicken and continue cooking, covered, on a low heat for a few more minutes, or until cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Just before the fish or meat is ready to serve, heat the quinoa or brown rice (or couscous) in a heat proof serving bowl. Carefully remove the salmon or chicken and the vegetables from the saucepan (keeping the poaching liquid in the pan) and add to the bowl with the quinoa etc. Sprinkle with nuts or seeds to serve.
Cook twice as much salmon or chicken as you need for one meal and save the leftovers, perhaps to use in the oven baked risotto below or the microwave pie in another one of my posts.
Return the saucepan of poaching liquid to the stove and bring to a simmer. Keep simmering and allow the liquid to reduce until you have at least 200ml of liquid remaining. Allow to cool then refrigerate or freeze. This will be a flavoursome broth you can use for another meal, such as the risotto below.
This risotto is a variation on my earlier post on an oven baked risotto for 5 or 6 people.
Oven baked risotto
Makes two serves (enough for dinner, then lunch the next day)
- 100ml (approx ⅓ cup) arborio rice
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup chopped vegetables of your choice
- small piece of cooked salmon or chicken, shredded or flaked
- 40ml white wine
- 200ml stock (or use the leftover reduced poaching broth from the poached salmon or chicken recipe)
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- parsley (optional)
Use a 2 or 3 cup capacity oven proof dish for this recipe.
Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.
Add the rice and oil to the dish and stir until all rice grains are covered with the oil. Add the vegetables and salmon or chicken and stir through. Add the wine and stock and carefully stir through.
Place the dish in the oven and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, slide the dish out and gently stir through the parmesan cheese.
Return to the oven and continue cooking, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
Sprinkle with parsley if you like, to serve.
Looking for more ideas? Check out this entire blog of solo cooking recipes by another local food blogger, Shrinking Single.
Whatever you cook when you cook solo, I hope you keep doing it, remembering that feeding yourself properly is worth it. Your future self in ten years’ time will thank you for the good eating habits you have now.