Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cooking for one

With winter, season of breads, stews, casseroles, and other heavy fare, upon us, I've been feeling the need to eat a little less. Cooking something new each day is all very well, but cooking dishes intended to serve four and eating them over one or two meals isn't ideal! I've been trying to work out some tips and tricks for shopping, cooking, and eating for the single cook. Here are a few that I've already fully mastered:

1. Buy pantry items such as pasta, flour, beans, and canned goods in bulk.

2. Have a deep freezer if you can afford it (I bought mine when I was 26 and had almost no money but it was worth the sacrifice and has served me well for…uh, let's just say many years) in which to keep frozen ingredients and partially completed dishes, such as pierogi, "meatballs," dumplings, and soup stock.

3. Of course, you can make big batches of things like chili and soup and freeze those in meal-sized portions, which I do sometimes, though pulling a completed dish out of the freezer and reheating it is, for me, usually just depressing. Still, as with chili, it's certainly convenient and often really useful to have some of this stuff around, as long as the volume of it doesn't get out of hand.

Here are a few that I'll be working on in the next while, I hope:

4. Cook in small saucepans, casserole dishes, etc. so you're not tempted to fill larger ones all the way to the top.

5. Pack up the leftovers immediately, even before you start to eat, if that's feasible. If you're planning on taking some of them for lunch, put them in your lunchbox. I at least have never yet violated a packed lunchbox!

6. And the number one piece of advice I personally need to practice: When buying fresh produce, just buy what you'll realistically use before it has a chance to go off. No matter how good the price is, or how beautiful and delicious the items look, unless you can preserve them some way it's no use buying something that will spoil before you can eat it all, or that you'll have to eat more than you want of just because it's there.

7. Oh, and bring a list to the grocery store and try to stick to it, and never, ever, shop when you're hungry!

Many of the recipes I made in October during my VeganMoFo Japanese challenge were dishes easily adapted to one serving that were also satisfyingly engrossing to prepare. This is similar to one of those, only it was inspired by one of the Rebar recipes, Udon & ginger squash with miso-shiitake broth. Indeed, it created one bowl. Here's what I did:

Udon & ginger squash with mushrooms and greens
adapted from the Rebar ModernFoodCookbook
serves 1

2 cups mushroom dashi
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sake

1/2 small kabocha squash or other yellow-fleshed winter squash
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp grated ginger
dash sea salt

fresh mushrooms (I used enoki and shimeji but any tasty mushroom would do)
fresh or dried udon noodles for one serving
2 heads baby bok choy, leaves separated
2 scallions, cut on the diagonal

sesame oil, for drizzling

Peel the squash and cut into approximately 3/4 inch wedges, and toss these with the oil and grated ginger; sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 375 for approximately 20 minutes, until the squash is tender and beginning to brown. This tasted wonderful in the soup and is also a very nice way to dress squash just on its own, by the way.

Meanwhile, add the broth seasonings to the dashi and keep warm.

Lightly fry the mushrooms, then set aside. If you're being economical with pots, you may want to do this in the same saucepan you'll cook the noodles in.

Boil water for the noodles in a saucepan, and, when it is boiling, toss in the baby bok choy leaves and cook just until bright and slightly wilted. Remove and set aside. Now cook your noodles according to the package directions.

Drain the cooked noodles and place them in a bowl. Arrange the mushrooms, bok choy leaves, and a few wedges of roasted squash over them (I also added a bit of cubed firm tofu). Carefully pour in some of the hot broth, top with the chopped scallions, drizzle with sesame oil, and serve immediately.

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