Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mini-meal in the oven

Over the last year or so I've been half-intentionally assembling a collection of miniature casserole dishes, frying pans, and miscellaneous mini-cookware.  I live by myself, and dislike the thought of eating leftover casserole for a week (unless it's something really stupendous like lasagne, in which case I like the thought very much but will probably eat the whole thing all in one day...).  They're fun to buy, and my family has caught on now, so my Christmas stocking this year was bulging with adorable little ceramic pieces...

It's like a 7-year-old's dream!  But since unfortunately I don't have any 7-year-old girlfriends to ask over for supper, I use them myself.

Another sometimes problematic aspect of cooking for one is the use of the oven.  Putting a single 1-cup casserole dish into the middle of a great big oven all by itself not only looks utterly pathetic but is a colossal waste of energy, so when I use the oven, I tend to multi-task.

For instance, my lunches these days consist of a grain salad with beans, the dressing of the day, usually a few cooked beets and a bit of spaghetti squash, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and whatever other vegetables I can cram into a container.  I love this salad, but have to say that the beets and spaghetti squash just make it.  For some reason, they're magic.  So every week I bake a spaghetti squash and roast beets (just peel and chop the beets, put them into a ceramic container with a lid, and bake them at 350F for 40 minutes or so to get full flavour, no added calories from oil, and just generally maximize your beet-y goodness).  The point is, all this takes up about half my oven space.  So half of it remains in a state of empty, echoing potentiality. 

This is where all those little dishes really shine!

Remember the super-easy, super-fast filo pie?  You can make this really big, medium-sized, or really little.  Here it is in a 1-cup container:

I'm using fairly old scraps of filo that I've been keeping in the fridge and that have begun to stick together a bit.  One of the joys of this recipe is that you just need to line the bottom, the sides, and the top, with 4-6 layers of filo, and it doesn't matter if it's messy.  The filling is chopped onions, garlic, mushrooms, and eggplant, sauteed with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, adding lots of minced parsley at the end, and all mixed with some of the Vegan Brunch omelet mix from the fridge.  That would be 1/4 of an onion, one garlic clove, 4 mushrooms, 1/4 medium-sized eggplant, and 1/2 cup minced parsley.  Fold over the top and brush with olive oil:

And cook it at anywhere from 350-375F for about 25 minutes.  Generally I start with a piece of tinfoil laid lightly on top to prevent the filo from burning, then take it off about 5 minutes before the dish is done:

...and, if there's time, let it cool to room temperature before eating.

Also in the oven I made a dish inspired by one of Robin Robertson's recipes in Vegan Planet.  Cut up some winter squash (this is butternut) in large pieces to cover the bottom of a casserole dish in a single layer. Splash with brandy, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped onions, a dash of brown sugar, and salt and pepper:

Cover tightly, and cook until the squash is tender and beginning to brown.  Meanwhile, assemble a mixture of chopped green apple, more brown sugar, a little olive oil, and some finely-chopped peanuts:

Spoon this mixture over the top of the half-baked casserole:

...and continue to bake, uncovered or mostly uncovered, until the apples are soft and the whole is nicely browned:

With roasted tomatoes, and some collards and carrots drizzled with balsamic reduction, a lovely feast for one:

 ...and a lot of little dishes to wash, true, but I don't do this every day and once in a while it's so worth it!


  1. I love your mini dishes and your suggestions for mini-dish-multitasking! I'm cautiously collecting small dishes, not necessarily because I always cook for one, but more because I have a very soft spot for anything tiny. I guess I'm a seven-year-old girl at heart! :)

  2. Brilliant, beautiful, and tasty-looking to boot! Plus it's nice to let the oven heat up the kitchen these days (even though this barely passes for winter here).

  3. That mini filo pie is the cutest thing I've seen in ages! The roasted tomatoes are making my mouth water too!

  4. Agree with Rose, the mini filo pie is 'adorbs'.

  5. Very cute! I love little dishes too. Do you have a toaster oven? I use it instead of the big oven if I only have one thing to bake and it will fit in the toaster oven.

  6. I love your multi-tasking solution while still making mini-meals for one! I finally made a buckwheat bake because I also roasted some garlic and squash at the same time. :)

  7. I love your ideas, and the way they don't waste energy! I have the opposite issue to you: my family is large, and sometimes it's hard to fit everything in the oven, so I have to do it in batches! Keeps my kitchen nice and warm though :) I too love beets in my lunchbox; I make a salad from whatever is left from the night before- tonight I filled my lunchbox with: spiced apricot and almond couscous, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and bok choy, roast beet and roast pumpkin, with some cubes of smoked sesame tofu thrown in for good measure. To add flavour when the salad is less interesting, I often add some Chinese preserved black beans, for a salty tang not unlike blue cheese.

  8. I think you eat better and more creatively than anyone I know, including me. The little baking dishes are a great idea for smaller portions — I do get tired of working my way through a huge casserole. I used to have a toaster oven that was great for cooking a small item, and sometimes I really miss it, though I don't want to devote any counter space to one now.

  9. Thanks for your nice comments, everyone!

    Kelly, you can have fun with your little dishes even if you're not cooking for one. Each person can have their own, individual pie, casserole, dish of scalloped cool would that be?

    Stacy, word on the weather. I'm hoping to get out in the sun tomorrow...on February 1, whoa! But there is something super-cozy about oven-heating, that is for sure.

    Rose and Shenandoah, both the pie and of course the tomatoes, are so amazingly easy and quick, you won't believe it (about the pie, the tomatoes are pretty obvious ;-) until you try.

    Renae, I do have a toaster oven, and do use it to cook one little thing, but there is something so very fulfilling to me about the economy of cooking a whole bunch of stuff in one oven...okay, I'll come clean, I grew up in a large family and my inner goddess of plenty just likes to see a lot of food assembled in one place...

    Janet, yes! There are so many things I only make as part of a multi-task...

    Yogi, your salad sounds great. Smoked sesame tofu, never tried it but that sounds fantastic. And I just bought some of those fermented black beans but haven't tried them yet either...what a great idea!

    Andrea, wow, high praise! And re the toaster oven space thing, I hear you. Mine sits on top of the microwave. I can use the toaster oven *or* the microwave, not both or it blows a fuse. My microwave is a hand-me-down that's probably 15 years old by now and not pretty. And a toaster oven is just...a toaster it's sort of an unromantic little area of the kitchen. But useful.