The Delicate Art of Cooking For One

JUNE 4, 2012
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(Photo Credit: Rachel Greenspan)

Let’s start off with introductions.  Hello, my name is Elana, I’m single and 27 years old.  I live in a lovely East Village apartment (which, if you know anything about New York real estate, is of miniature proportions) and I work as a Civil Engineer.

I have always suffered from an obsession with food and all things delicious, and in recent years I have found that my favorite form of procrastinating while at the office is to peruse a few of my favorite foodie websites.

It all started some time ago when I was surviving off of deli-bought egg and cheese sandwiches with the occasional scallion cream cheese smothered bagel from my favorite local joint (David’s bagels on 1st and 18th).  One day, I stumbled across a recipe for “golden crusted Brussels sprouts” while avoiding a particularly ugly Excel file at work.  Well, I wasn’t particularly fond of Brussels sprouts, but at the time I couldn’t remember the last green vegetable I had eaten (besides something that had been deep fried and possibly covered in cheese).  So, I decided that this recipe would be the way I would learn to start loving vegetables and cooking again.

I remember reading a description resembling an interesting pornographic novel on how one selects (small, firm, and symmetrical), prepares (strip the leaves of each sprout until the bright green layers of fresh nubile leaves are exposed) and then sears (sear to a golden crusted brown) and thinking to myself…. YES.  And so my obsession with cooking found a new home in my then 6th street studio apartment.  I sliced, I basted, and I pureed.  Each experiment was just that, an experiment.  Some were wild successes and others catastrophic failures.  But soon I found myself looking forward to each wacky concoction that the faceless chefs of the Internet had to offer and secretly printing pages and pages of recipes to my office’s mailroom.

Almost immediately, I noticed a problem with these recipes: many required fancy tools and a multitude of ingredients not found in your average 20-something’s refrigerator. I don’t own an emulsifier, pastry blender, ramekins or –gasp- even an apple peeler.  I don’t have a readily available stock of turmeric, beef consume, cream of tartar (which, FYI, is a powder, not a cream), or tarragon.  Not even hidden behind the pickle jar or under the bag of lettuce I never opened.

I found over my first few weeks of experimenting that purchasing things for one recipe often left me with large quantities of obscure ingredients and NO IDEA how to use them again!  What’s worse, it often took me a whole week to finish off all the leftovers leaving me with no option but to only cook once a week or stand by and watch all of my hard work rot as the days passed.  That or eat it all and never fit into another pair of my jeans.

Bags of half used cornmeal and large supplies of spices sat abandoned and lonely in my cabinets.  Scallions rotted and turned to mush.  And then, the worse happened:  I got my credit card bill.  OH WHOLE FOODS!!! HOW YOU HAVE RUINED ME!!!!  Finally it hit me…. I need to learn to adapt to cooking for one.  And now, three apartments, four roommates, and any number of rotten veggies and wasted proteins later, I have begun to decipher the delicate art of cooking for one.

The key to this art:  planning ahead.

There are certain things a person can and cannot do when cooking for one.  You can buy fresh veggies and herbs but you cannot buy jalapeños and eggplant.  In other words, all the food you purchase for the week should have the same theme and be part of the same family of flavors.  You should plan to have Mexican week, Italian week, Asian food week, but you shouldn’t be out there buying fresh cilantro and fresh basil in the same week.

Speaking of cilantro… here are the key ingredients for a Mexican week (one of my favorites)!

-2 small lean pork chops (I like mine on the bone, but boneless is good too!)

-½ dozen eggs (you will only be using 2 of these, but eggs stay fresh for 10-14 days or longer)

-1 package of Mexican cheese

-1 package of all corn tortillas (serving size is 2 tortilla’s per person, the rest can go right into your freezer for the next time Mexican week comes around)

-1 bunch of cilantro

-1 small onion (I prefer red, but any onion will do)

-1 lime (a must!)

-1 garlic clove (garlic powder is not recommended for this recipe, but you can use that pre-chopped garlic that comes in small jars if you are feeling lazy!)

-1 small can of black beans

-1 small can of corn

-1 small jar of salsa

-Salt and pepper to taste

(Optional items: 1 jalapeño, bottle of dry white wine, 1 avocado, sriracha – which for any of you that don’t know, is a Japanese hot sauce available at most super markets.  It’s spicy and amazing and adds heat without greatly altering the flavor of your favorite dishes!)

Check back everyday this week for new recipes!

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