Party of one: How to find joy in cooking for just yourself – Stuff

I am a latecomer to solo eating, after the loss of my husband who was an excellent cook.
We had an unwritten rule that whoever got home first from work made dinner and, some nights, I shamelessly stayed late in order to enjoy the delicious smells in the kitchen as I walked in.
It has been a bumpy path to cooking for one. But I have held fast to the idea that making dinner each night is my treat to myself. I start chopping, slicing and sauteing, finally sit down with a plate of nice food, and the world always seems a better place.
So here are some simple solo strategies from my kitchen bench, and from other food writers who cook for one.
* How to eat on the cheap, according to chefs
* Stephanie Alexander’s five key kitchen lessons for home cooks
* Placentas, nuts and rice: Top Kiwi foodies spill their freezer secrets

This is mostly about dinner because breakfast and lunch tend to take care of themselves. Dinner is the more challenging meal, when you sometimes ask “can I be bothered”?.
My initial problem was over-shopping and over-catering, with no-one to hoover the leftovers that glared from the fridge. I can do a second round, but a third is a serve too far. I freeze extras, of course, but you can end up with too many mismatched bits and pieces.
So, mostly, I cook from scratch. Typically it is something easy: a crunchy salad with a piece of pan-fried chicken; a sturdy soup of chickpeas, chorizo, tomatoes and spinach; stir-fried green beans and broccoli with brown rice and fish; grilled sardines on toast with a salad; or tray-roasted chicken and vegetables (see recipe).
I have learnt to be economical with pots and pans, and to clean up as I go. I shop carefully (and locally) for fresh produce, and generally stock up at Hamilton Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
The produce is well-priced and is a perfect place for solo shoppers. I might buy a head of broccoli, a small cauliflower, a wedge of pumpkin, a couple of leeks, a single fillet of tarakihi, and a sourdough loaf (half the loaf goes into the freezer to avoid it going stale and being ditched).
When I buy meat, I break down the packs and freeze pieces individually, or I might make meatballs and freeze them in packs of two or three.
I hate wasting food so I turn stray bits of vegetable into Lonely Vegetable Soup or make vegetable gratins and stir-fried rice with odds and ends.
There are always staple greens in the fridge, a decent collection of condiments, and fresh herbs in the garden, plus pantry staples such as pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, chickpeas and sardines.
And eggs are always on hand for an omelette when I really can’t be bothered cooking.
A keen gardener, Auckland food writer Kathy Paterson counts her small vegetable garden, plus two large pots of spinach by the kitchen door, and her freezer, as the keys to cooking for herself.
“The joy of cooking, for me, is in feeding others, but we all need nutritious food.”
Paterson grows silverbeet, sprouting broccoli, spring onions and, right now, cauliflower and cabbage.
She picks as needed, prepares and stores meals in the freezer, and this keeps her food waste to a minimum.
Paterson’s chicken and vegetable soup is her winter go-to recipe. She buys a whole chicken, poaches it in water with root vegetables and aromatic herbs, and this gives her the meat and stock for the base of her soup.
The finished soup is frozen in well-labelled containers. It does many lunches or a light dinner.
Beef or lamb stews are other freezer favourites: “then I can add a grain salad packed full of garden vegetables, or my best-loved mashed potato.”
Niki Bezzant, another Auckland-based food writer, author and editor, totally embraces cooking for one, and hardly ever feels that it is not worth the effort.
“I love cooking just for me; indulging my own appetites. It’s a great pleasure to eat exactly what I please. It feels luxurious.”
Bezzant shops little and often, which helps her avoid waste and over-spending. “I get bored eating the same thing all the time, so when I buy in bulk it doesn’t really work.”
She is a big fan of easy flavour enhancers; mixing sriracha and mayo to dollop on a rice bowl, or a quick peanut sauce over greens and salmon. She also likes roasting things to eat later.
“Lately, I’ve been roasting a can of drained chickpeas in oil until crispy and enjoying them sprinkled liberally over salads, in lunch bowls, alongside chicken or fish or just as a snack.”
Waikato food writer and author Nici Wickes’ inspiration is her newly released cookbook, A Quiet Kitchen, which grew out of the daily Instagram cooking videos she made during lockdown.
The book delivers a generous helping of single-serve, full-of-flavour recipes, perhaps with leftovers for lunch.
“It’s annoying that most recipes are written for four to six people,” she says.
Some of Wickes’ top tips: “Start accumulating cookware that is good for one, a small oven-proof dish that’s perfect for a crumble, or a small roasting dish. Most of our cookware is massive, and you don’t want to be eating lasagne all week. Second-hand shops are great for this.”
And get clever with cuts of meat.
“If you want a roast, use a single lamb-shank or a fresh pork hock.”
A cooked (free-range) supermarket chicken is also good value (at about $13). There is the initial roast meat, then it can be shredded into laksa, soup, salads, pasta, sandwiches and more.
Wickes has a penchant for puddings, and A Quiet Kitchen has some beauties. She says one of the bonuses of being on your own is that you can eat pudding (or anything) whenever you like.
“Pudding for breakfast? Steak for breakfast? Why not?”
She’s another who celebrates cooking for one.
“It’s one of the very best things you can do for yourself.”
When you crave a roast dinner.
Heat oven to 200C fan bake.
In a small roasting dish, assemble 1 chicken thigh, wrapped in a slice of bacon or prosciutto, and chunks of red onion, red pepper and par-boiled potato or kūmara, all cut to roughly the same size.
Brush with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar, then add a generous grind of salt and pepper, and finely chopped rosemary and garlic, and make sure everything is evenly coated.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are nicely caramelised.
Remove from the oven and stir through a handful of chopped spinach or rocket until just wilted. Top with chopped flat-leaf parsley and crumbled feta to serve.
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