Tidewater Kitchen - May 2007

Cooking Solo


Pamela Meredith Doyle

     It’s dinnertime and you’re hungry, but the idea of cooking just for you leaves you less than enthused. Sick of spaghetti? Tired of doing higher math to figure out how to scale down recipes for four? Before you pick up the phone to order take-out or search the freezer for a frozen dinner entree, read this. You can make yourself a flavorful meal quickly and easily.
      Just because you are cooking for yourself don’t mean you shouldn’t eat well. Some might say you have all the luck. You can eat what you want, when you want and indulge yourself. And, you only have to shell out cash for one steak – not four.
      These tips and techniques make cooking for one a snap.

     Some helpful shopping tips for the solo cook
• Make the most of the supermarket salad bar. Buy pre-cut veggies for an easy side dish.
• Resist the urge to buy large cans of beans or vegetables just because they are cheaper. You’ll never use them.
• Ask the supermarket butcher to break down chickens or cut smaller pork roasts for you and have them wrapped individually.
• Take advantage of the rotisserie chickens. They are hot, ready to eat and perfect for leftovers.
• Buy the herbs that come in small plastic packages. Although they cost more, you’ll waste less.
• Buy salad greens in the plastic clamshell packaging. Again, they can be a bit more expensive but they will last longer.
• Be creative with the deli counter. They are very willing to give you just a few slices of prosciutto or an extra thick slice of turkey or ham or roast beef that can be heated at home.
• Make a shopping list and stick to it. Be careful of overbuying perishable produce.
• Buy canned or pre-made soups and customize with your own additions of veggies, meats and herbs.
• Always remember that just because you’re cooking for one, your meal is no less important.

Top tips to create ease in the kitchen
• Grocery shop for your pantry, not the recipe.
• Prepare for meals to come.
• Make the most of the time that you spend in the kitchen.
• Include pre-made foods in your freezer pantry.
• When a vegetable is inexpensive and abundant – freeze it.
• Don’t overcook!
• Freeze cooked meats that have been cubed or shredded.

      Learn to love your sauté pan. It’s perfect for cooking individual portion meals like a single steak, fish filet or chicken breast. Make a zesty sauce, steam some asparagus or green beans and dinner is served. You can also sauté the veggies in the pan for a one-pan meal that is tasty and easy to clean up.
     These sauté recipes make one or two servings, so you won’t be awash in leftovers.

Salmon with a Pepper Crust
2 T. soy sauce
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced and mashed into a paste
2 t. fresh lemon juice
1 t. sugar
¾ pound center-cut salmon filet, skinned and halved
4 t. coarsely ground black pepper
2 T. olive oil

     In a sealable plastic bag combine the soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice and sugar. Add the salmon, coating it well, and let it marinate, sealed and chilled, for 30 minutes.
      Remove the salmon from the bag, discarding the marinade. Pat it dry and press 2 t. of the pepper onto the salmon, coating it thoroughly.
      In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Sauté the salmon for 2 minutes on each side, or until it just flakes.
      Transfer the salmon with a slotted spatula to paper towels and let it drain for 30 seconds.

Chicken and Marsala
(Serves 1 large portion or 2 smaller)

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut crosswise into 3 pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
3 T. butter, divided (2 T. with sauté, 1 T. with pasta)
1/3 cup onion, chopped
½ pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 T. minced garlic
1/3 cup dry Marsala wine
2 T. mascarpone cheese
½ T. Dijon mustard
½ T. chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus whole sprigs for garnish
6 ounces dried fettucine

     Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and cook just until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cool slightly.
      While the chicken cools, melt 2 T. butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.
      Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 12 minutes.
      Add the wine and simmer until it is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Stir in the mascarpone and mustard.
      Cut the chicken breast into slices. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.
      Stir in the chopped parsley. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
      Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettucine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain.
      Toss the fettucine with 1 T. butter and season with salt and pepper. Swirl the fettucine onto serving plates and spoon the chicken mixture over it. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve.

Sautéed Pineapple
1 cup cubed pineapple, fresh or canned
1 T. butter
2 T. honey
2 T. pine nuts, toasted
1 t. rum
2 T. mascarpone cheese

     Drain the pineapple cubes in a strainer. Lay the pineapple cubes on a paper towel and pat dry.
      Put the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Make brown butter by heating the butter until melted and just starting to brown around the edges.
      Add the pineapple and toss to coat. Add the honey and toss to coat. Cook until the pineapple is golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.
      Turn off the heat and stir in the pine nuts.
      Mix together the rum and mascarpone in a small bowl. Place the pineapple mixture in a serving dish and top with a dollop of the cheese mixture. Serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers. This makes 2 servings.

Grilling, Broiling and Roasting
      Quick-cook methods like grilling, broiling and high-heat roasting are perfect for solo cooks because they deliver fantastic flavor – fast. Try these recipes for an easy dinner:

Filet with Gorgonzola and Mushroom Sauce
2 (8-ounce) filet mignon steaks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bacon strips
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, stem-med and halved
1 T. finely chopped garlic
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1½ cups Pinot Noir
1 T. prepared demi-glace
2 T. unsalted butter

     Preheat oven to 375°.
      Season both sides of the filet mignon generously with salt and pepper. Wrap a piece of bacon around the sides of each steak and secure with butcher’s twine.
      In a large heavy ovenproof skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Place the steaks in the hot pan and cook until well seared on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the steaks over - there should be a nice crust on top.
      Add the mushrooms, garlic and rosemary and give it a good stir. Transfer the pan to the oven. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until the steaks are cooked medium-rare.
      Remove the steaks, mushrooms and rosemary to a platter. Cover to keep warm.
      Return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Deglaze with the wine, scraping up the yummy bits in the bottom of the pan.
      Mix in the demi-glace, stirring to combine. Put the steaks and mushrooms back in the pan and coat in the pan sauce. Finish with a couple of tablespoons of butter to make a rich sauce. Put the steak and mushrooms on 2 serving plates and cut off the butcher’s twine. Pour the wine sauce on top and garnish each plate with a roasted rosemary sprig.

Roasted Salmon
1 (5-ounce) salmon filet with skin
1 t. extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
½ T. chopped fresh chives
½ T. fresh tarragon leaves, optional

     Preheat oven to 425°.
      Rub salmon all over with 1 t. oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast, skin side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet in upper third of oven until fish is just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Cut salmon in half crosswise, then lift flesh from skin with a metal spatula and transfer to a plate. Discard the skin, and then drizzle salmon with oil and sprinkle with chives and tarragon.

Grilled Pork with Onion Jam
Pork Chops:
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
½ t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
2 pork chops
2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Onion Jam:
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 T. orange marmalade
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
½ t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 t. sugar

     Combine the rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Using your fingers, work all the ingredients together until well combined. Rub the herb mixture over the pork chops. Cover with plastic wrap a put in the refrigerator while you start the onion jam.
      For the onion jam, place a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the onions. Stir to combine and cook until starting to sizzle, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 20-25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to scrape up any brown bits. The onions should be a soft, jam-like consistency and a deep mahogany color.
      About 20 minutes before the onions are finished, remove the pork chops from the refrigerator. Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Grill the pork chops to medium, about 7 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.
      To serve, spoon the onion jam over the pork chops. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Roasted Fruit with Sauce and Ice Cream
1/3 cup apple juice
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 T. unsalted butter
1 Bosc pear, peeled, halved and cored
2 plums, peeled, halved and cored
1 nectarine, peeled, halved and cored
1 peach, peeled, halved and cored
Vanilla ice cream

     Preheat oven to 400.
      Arrange the fruit, cut side up, in an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
      Whisk the apple juice and sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the butter. Pour the sauce over the fruit and bake until the fruit is tender-crisp and beginning to brown, basting occasionally with the juices, about 35 minutes.
      Spoon the fruit onto plates. Top with a scoop of ice cream and drizzle with warm juices and serve.

Foil or Parchment Packets
      Another great method for solo chefs is cooking en papillote. The technique has a fancy French name, but it’s simple. Wrap a bunch of food in aluminum foil or parchment paper and pop it in the oven. You can make fish or chicken together with veggies in a single-serving sized packet. When you’re done you don’t have any pots to scrub – you just throw out the paper or foil.
       The idea of en papillote is to steam food in its own juices. Wrap the meat or veggies tightly, forming a seal that locks in moisture and flavor, and then bake it. You can even do this in the toaster oven.
      You can use different combinations of meats, vegetables and herbs, and even add some wine or lemon juice for more flavor.
      Here are some recipes to get you started. Some serve more than one but can easily be modified (or you can savor the leftovers the next day).

Shrimp Pouch
1 pkg. Ramen noodles
10 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup finely chopped onions
1/3 cup sliced scallions
½ t. red pepper flakes
½ t. kosher salt
1 cup vegetable broth
¼ cup soy sauce
2 t. sesame oil
4 (18-inch) squares aluminum foil

      Preheat oven to 400°.
      Divide ramen noodles evenly in center of each of the 4 pieces of aluminum foil. Stack the following ingredients on top of noodles, in this order: shrimp, onions, scallions, red pepper flakes and salt. Pull sides and corners of pouch up to form a small basket shape, leaving an opening at the top to pour in liquid.
      In a small bowl combine the vegetable broth, soy sauce and sesame oil. Distribute the liquid evenly among the packs. Press the foil together, leaving a small opening to allow steam to escape. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
      Serve immediately.

Sea Bass over Wilted Spinach
3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
2 (5-ounce) sea bass fillets
2 t. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 t. minced garlic
4 T. dry Marsala wine
4 t. soy sauce
1 t. sesame oil
1 lime, quartered
1 T. thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
2 (12-inch-square) pieces of aluminum foil

      Preheat oven to 400°.
      Working with one foil sheet at a time, place foil on work surface. Place 1½ cup of spinach in the center of the sheet. Top with a sea bass fillet.    Sprinkle with 1 t. ginger and ½ t. of garlic, the drizzle with 2 T. of Marsala, 2 t. of soy sauce and ½ t. of sesame oil. Repeat with the other packet. Gather the foil sheets over the fish and fold the edges, pinching tightly to seal. Place the foil packets on a large heavy baking sheet.
       Bake until the spinach wilts and the fish is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer the packets to wide shallow bowls. Cool for about 5 minutes. Open packets and fold down to reveal the fish, being careful of the hot steam. Squeeze the lime juice over the fish and sprinkle with the basil. Makes 2 servings.

Fruit Pouches
2 cups crushed gingersnaps
4 apricots, pit removed and cut into eighths
4 plums, pit removed and cut into fourths
4 T. unsalted butter
2 T. plus 2 t. sugar
Pinch of salt
4 t. lime zest
2 limes, juiced
4 t. brandy

     Heat coals of grill or fire pit or preheat oven to 425°.
      Cut 8 (18x18-inch) squares of aluminum foil. Lay down a double-thickness of foil and divide gingersnaps evenly among the 4 squares. Divide the fruit evenly and place on top of the gingersnaps. Dot each with butter.
      In a small bowl mix the sugar, salt and lime zest. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the fruit and drizzle with the juice and brandy. Seal the packets tightly.
      Once the coals are ash-covered, lay the packets over them and close the grill. If you are cooking these in a fire pit, carefully try to partially bury the packets in the hot coals.
      Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and open carefully as the steam inside is very hot. Serve on plates as is or spoon into shallow bowls and top with whipped cream or ice cream.