Tag Archives: cooking advice

How to Cook for One Without Eating the Same Meal All Week Long

No matter how much you love to create in the kitchen, cooking for one can be a bit of a challenge. It can be hard to figure out how to shop and cook for yourself without eating the same darned thing until you’re blue in the face (or until your leftovers are green with mould). Sometimes it seems that creating a satisfying meal for one is more work than it’s worth. When I lived solo I certainly reached for a few pickles and scoops of hummus on occasion. And sure, sometimes a dinner like that is exactly what you need. But if you’re looking for more than a snack plate for dinner, here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to help make things easier – not to mention more fun.

Plan Some Meals

Planning out all your meals isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some semblance of meal planning that works for you. Are you the kind of person who loves slotting in every single meal for the entire week on a giant chalkboard wall and sticking to a plan? (Guilty!). Go for it. Does that seem like way too much work? No problem. Start by scribbling down a few meals that you want to cook in a notebook or on your phone and then go with the flow each day. The important part is to think about what you’re going to eat in advance, so that you’re not blankly staring into the fridge come 5 p.m. and turning to delivery instead.

Related: 9 Easy Weekly Meal Plan Ideas That Really Work

Consider Your Schedule

Figuring out the kinds of food you plan on eating isn’t the only part of meal planning — deciding what you eat depends on how busy you are too. When I was living solo and I knew I’d be swamped with work, I’d roast up a chicken and some grains on Sunday and repurpose that all week long — into salads, sandwiches, tacos, etc. On the opposite side, if I had a lighter week, I’d plan to simmer up some soups, casseroles or other larger dishes that I could then portion out and freeze for later. Knowing your schedule is an essential component when it comes to successfully cooking for one.

Get the recipe for Ina Garten’s Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken

Shop Accordingly

It may seem obvious, but when you’re cooking for one you’ve got to shop for one too. Otherwise your fridge will start to rot from the inside out. Shopping for one means not giving into several fresh fruits and veggies and sticking to a few you know that you’ll consume instead. It means buying the two-pack of chicken breasts instead of the value size (unless you plan on dividing and freezing). And it means making friends with the people at the deli, meat and cheese counters, because odds are you can get a small portion of what you want from one of those helpful folks (hi Catherine!). Last but not least, always try to have a list and never shop hungry, because that’s when impulse or bulk buying is always at its worst.

Stock up on Staples

Just because you need to be careful about how much fresh food that you select, doesn’t mean you can’t stock up on things that will keep for a long time in the fridge or cupboard. Eggs have a long shelf life and I love how ridiculously versatile they are. Oatmeal and grains can last me for months and canned beans are the perfect thing for a last-minute salad, chili or taco night. Bulk stores are great too because you can pick up the portions you need for basically the same price or cheaper than at the regular grocery store, so maybe consider investing in some airtight containers and giving your pantry a makeover. For me, when I have more options to choose from, I always feel less bored with what I’m eating and making for myself.


Get the recipe for Pinto Bean Salsa Salad

Related: Budget-Friendly Pantry Staples You Should Always Have on Hand

Halve Your Recipes

One of the most frustrating things about cooking for one is when you come across a recipe you want to try out and realize that it inevitably serves two to four people. Because no thanks, I don’t want to gamble on having to eat a new dish that I might not like for the next four days. Luckily, it’s a problem that can be easily solved by learning to halve your recipes. Know your basics (there are three teaspoons in a tablespoon; a quarter cup has four tablespoons) or do what I do and turn to good old Google when you’re stuck. Need to halve an egg? Put it in a container, whisk it, and save half for later.

Make Meals You Can Repurpose

I seriously love roasting up whole chickens. You get more bang for your buck, they’re delicious and most importantly, they can be transformed into so many other dishes throughout the rest of the week. Tacos, power bowls, salads, a chicken pasta, soup… the possibilities are endless. Think beyond chicken though. Cook up a batch of quinoa that can be transformed into bowls, patties or even sushi, roast some beef for a variety of meaty dishes or steam up a big bowl of rice to be made into some creative mains… or even dessert.


Get the recipe for The Pioneer Woman’s Red Wine Pot Roast

Organize the Freezer

The freezer is your friend, especially when you’re trying to portion out meals for one. Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and peppers can be saved for later by washing, cutting and flash-freezing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet before transferring them to a freezer-friendly container or bag. Herbs can be saved by dividing them into ice-cube trays and freezing them with some water or stock. And anytime you make a soup, casserole or other freezer-friendly offering, portion it out and freeze it so that you can have your own “microwave dinners” whenever you need something quick. I’ve learned that this works well for desserts too. Divide and freeze pies and cakes or whip up some cookie dough and portion it out onto trays. You can flash-freeze and store them, so that you can pop a cookie or two into the oven whenever the sugar craving strikes.

Related: 35 Easy Freezer Meals You Can Make Ahead (And Devour Later)

Have a Go-To List of Single-Serving Recipes

We’ve agreed that the two to four serving recipe struggle is real, but that doesn’t mean all recipes are the single-person’s devil. Mug cakes are a delicious way to microwave your way to a quick dessert after a long day, for example. Or a quick omelette with a salad is the perfect mid-week meal. Take note of any recipes you make (bookmark them, print them out or file them away in the old memory bank if you prefer) and refer back to them when you need a little inspiration.

Find a Support System and Share

One of the less glamorous parts about eating and cooking alone is that you can never quite participate in bulk purchases, family meal packages or organic produce boxes. The good news is that you probably aren’t the only one feeling like you’re missing out on those deals, so why not grab a fellow singleton and go in together to reap those rewards? Splitting a grocery bill or bulk shop with a friend, family member or even roommate lets you fill your fridge and pantry with a wider variety of options of things that (hopefully!) won’t go bad, while keeping you on track with your budget and dietary needs.

Related: How to Host a Successful Freezer Meal Swap

Let Go of the Idea of “Traditional” Meals

Cooking for one doesn’t need to be bleak, but it also doesn’t have to be fancy. Before you feel guilty for not breaking out the fine china or cloth napkins for yourself, remember that any balanced diet is a good diet. So if that means grilled cheese for dinner or a simple salad, you do you. In my days of cooking for one I was just as likely to whip myself up a New York striploin or master a new recipe as I was to throw a tuna melt in the toaster oven or put a hunk of cheese and a few veggies on a plate and call it a day. That’s the beauty of cooking for one: anything goes. By embracing that mentality, then suddenly all of the pressure is off. And for me, that not only means that I have more fun in the kitchen, but I’m more likely to try new things too.

Need more inspiration? Here are 40 quick and easy meals for one.

Chef Michael Smith on How to Throw a Labour Day BBQ

Food Network star Michael Smith is one of Canada’s best-known chefs — and also a barbecue fiend. The Chopped Canada judge recently launched Fireworks, a restaurant celebrating everything barbecue, and is Prince Edward Island’s hottest new eatery.

“We have every live fire cooking method known to man,” he says. “We have a smokehouse, a hearth, and a wood-oven. It allows us to do different techniques, and every single one using live fire and coals.”

If you can’t make it to Prince Edward Island to enjoy the fine barbecue at Fireworks before the end of summer, don’t worry. Chef Michael shares his top tips for throwing an amazing Labour Day barbecue at home. Before you get grilling, read this!

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Start with the right equipment.

It may seem old-fashioned, but Chef Michael swears by the power of cast-iron cookware for grilling.

“Cast-iron is a revelation to us,” says Chef Michael. “It radiates heat so evenly; things just don’t burn in it! We cook with cast-iron every single thing we do. Dutch ovens, skillets, planchas. That’s one big take-away: consider using cast-iron.”

Cook with live fire (if you can).

Whether you’re a first timer or a barbecue master, Chef Michael encourages those with backyard space to use “real wood fire” for grilling.

“Have one fire that’s generating your coals,” says Chef Michael. “Then sweep the coals over to the other side of the hearth — that’s where you do your cooking.”

The type of wood matters too; always use dried-out hardwood over softwood, which tends to leave an oily film on food, spoiling the flavour. “Hardwood burns hotter, slower, and tastes better,” says Chef Michael.

Maple Planked Salmon

Don’t cook over a flame.

When grilling, avoid direct contact between flame and food. Instead, let the flame die down to a hearty, thick bed of coals, no matter what fuel source you’re using. “We don’t cook over flame,” says Chef Michael. “Flame scorches food, and leads to black.”

Dress to impress (your meats, that is).

Add a gorgeous aroma by smoking meats with fruit wood chips like apple, available at most hardware stores.

“These are the caviar of wood,” says Chef Michael. “The wood has a distinctive flavour, tasting fruity. Reserve this special aromatic wood if you’re smoking food.”

It’s easy; just let the fire burn down to embers, and then top dress with fruit wood at the last minute. Or for a flavour-packed punch, consider brining your meats.

“If you’re really looking to amp up your barbecue game, brine,” says Chef Michael. “Chicken and pork in particular really benefit.”

It’s all in the technique.

To master the art of barbecuing, follow Chef Michael’s essential grilling tips:

  • Pre-heat your grills: “It’s probably the biggest tip of all. Food will not stick to hot metal. It sticks to cold metal.”
  • Sauce at the end: “Never, ever put barbecue sauces on your food before you grill it! Many sauces are packed with sugar, and immediately burn. Brush your sauces on towards the end of the cooking process.”
  • Be patient: “Often, we rush the process and miss the opportunity to fully cook the meat. If there’s a little tugging or sticking, that’s the meat saying, ‘I’m not ready to flip yet!’ Take your time — it’s very much in your favour.”
  • Understand the process: “The whole point of searing meat is to build flavour. Searing meat encourages juices to come out of the meat. If you’re rushing and not pre-heating, then you’re not adding flavour.”

Grilled Pineapple Salad

Have fun with the menu.

Lots of foods are grill-able, and consider broadening the barbey beyond burgers and hot dogs. Chef Michael suggests smoking freshly-shucked oysters on the grill for 2-3 minutes, top dressed with fruit wood. Or make a Grilled Pineapple Salad, Chef Michael’s “all-time favourite.” For drinks, seared lemon or lime make great garnishes, or whip up a pitcher of grilled lemonade. Best of all, barbecued fruits work beautifully as a fiery dessert.

“Use the grilled fruit component as a simple dessert,” says Chef Michael. “Big thick rings of grilled pineapple served with some kind of funky ice cream. I like to grind up fresh cilantro and sugar in a food processor, and then sprinkle it onto grilled pineapple — delicious stuff!”

Chill out.

Last but not least, invite plenty of friends and family, and “don’t worry so much about the food.”

“It’s really about who’s at the table, not what’s on the table,” says Chef Michael.

All this talk of food got you hungry? Check out Michael Smith’s Best Seafood Recipes.

Dishes That Still Stump Our Chefs

Call it the dish that got away, your Achilles heel — or more simply put, rice — but rest assured, we all have a recipe that never turns out the way we’d like. Yes, even the pros have them. Here are the dishes that still frustrate our very accomplished Chef in Your Ear stars.

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Baked goods

Baking, admits Craig Harding, is a temperamental science that depends on factors like time, location and weather. “There’s not one correct way, you just need to understand how it works,” he says. “Baking, bread, pastries — they’re temperamental and challenging for sure.” This doesn’t stop him from baking entirely, but you’re not going to see Harding on Sugar Showdown any time soon, either. “I just try and keep pastry extremely simple,” he says.

Diet food

Healthy eating is one thing, but Devin Connell can’t stand curbing her creativity for the sake of a few saved calories. “I would never make a low-fat health dish,” she says. “That would bother me, if I had to restrict anything.”

Cookies

Jordan Andino won’t use recipes unless they’re his own, which makes baking a particular challenge. “There are established rules for baking and you can’t deviate,” he says, “But I hate using recipes, and I rarely get cookies right. I can do bread without a recipe, and I can do some other things, cakes and stuff. But I just can’t get cookies right — it’s frustrating.”

Rice

Cory Vitiello doesn’t like following recipes or leaving food to do its own thing. “Rice is one of those where you just set it and forget it. It’s one of those dishes I try to stay away from,” he explains. Rob Rossi feels the same. “You know, I can definitely cook risotto but beyond that I have a hard time even cooking minute rice. I don’t like to follow recipes, for one. And I’m not patient enough to leave the lid on and let it actually go for 25 minutes. I can’t do that. I have to be involved.”

Watch new episodes of Chef In Your Ear Mondays at 10 E/P and catch up on episodes online.

4 Things Every Beginner Chef Should Know

Our Chef in Your Ear experts have a host of skills between them, but one thing they’re especially great at is giving advice.

It’s taken years of mentorship, experience and training for them to learn these important lessons, but you can apply them immediately.

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1. Experiment. Fail. Repeat.
“The thing about cooking is that the more you try, the more you experiment, the more you fail, the better off you’re going to be,” says Toronto-based restaurateur Craig Harding. If there’s something new you want to make, hop online, look in a book or turn on your favourite cooking show and just try it. “I still don’t know how to make everything, and if I have an idea, if I see something I like or if I taste something I enjoy and I don’t know how to make it, I always go try and figure out how to do it,” he says. “And it may fail, but then I try again.”

2. Cook from the heart.
“The best cooking advice I ever got was from a chef of mine,” says Top Chef season one runner-up Rob Rossi. “He told me that if I would always cook the dishes like I would for my family, they would always come out really well. And I think that you have to know who you’re cooking for, and appreciate them, and you’ll love the food you’re trying to make them.”

Cory Vitiello, the owner of three successful restaurants, agrees. His mentor, Scaramouche’s Keith Froggett, once told him to stop cooking what other people wanted and figure out what he loved most. “Put all your emphasis into that, and if you’re truly cooking the food that you love and you’re not worried about cooking for anybody else’s palate, that’s going to come through in your food.”

3. Taste test at every step.
“One of the things that I had done with all of the cooks [on Chef In Your Ear] is that I get them to try what they’re making every step of the way,” says Craig Harding. “Taste it when you’ve started the cooking so then you know where it is after.” If you only have the time or inclination to learn one cooking skill, focus on seasoning. “Forget about knife skills and all that,” says Harding. “Even if they can’t cut something perfectly, whatever, as long as it tastes good.”

4. Learn the basics of flavour pairing.
“If it grows together, it goes together,” says seasoned chef and business owner Devin Connell. Items that grow together in the summer – like basil and tomatoes – pair well. Same goes for winter produce like squashes, root veggies and onions, all of which are complementary. “Think about your flavours in a seasonal way, because that will never fail you,” she says.

Watch all new episodes of Chef in Your Ear Mondays at 10 E/P. Click here for full schedule.

What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever gotten? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @FoodNetworkCA.