Mid Week Inspiration No. 7: What do you eat when you're home alone?
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With my husband traveling a lot lately, I'm often reminded of what it's like to cook for one
Certainly, carry-out is an option, although it's something I rarely do. Finding there can be a lot of pleasure in the act of cooking, if only for myself.
Meals like stir-fries or risotto that feel too extravagant or stressful to make for a bigger group can be perfect for one. Since I love to experiment in the kitchen, nights like this make it easier to try out trickier dishes or techniques. It's nice not to worry about a sweet husband coming home to the smell of something that's gone .. well, terribly awry
They're also the best occasions to make some of the things he isn't quite fond of. Rules? Out the window. Eat breakfast for dinner, overdress my salad and dessert is always best when served first (just a few bites though).
Without anyone to witness, some of life's messier indulgences can also be enjoyed without worry. Like slurping ripe mangos, sliced summer tomatoes, or corn on the cob without a constant toothpick
The first time I remember cooking for myself was probably in high school
Our family made a move from our farm in northwest Iowa to a college town. My parents were both full-time students, and my brother and I filled our days with school, sports, and friends (not necessarily in that order)
While the four of us shared a house, because of our schedules, single-serving dinners were the norm all year long. The Schwan's Man was a friend. Sometimes we'd eat together, but unless my Granny was visiting, I can remember only a handful of times we coordinated a meal
And so, well into the years of having a family of my own, my food knowledge and stovetop creativity were often limited to the handful of dished I could nail in my sleep. Here's lookin' at you, spaghetti with butter and Parmesan cheese
Nonetheless, I picked up a few new kitchen habits during that happy season, when there was always a fresh batch of rice or noodles in the fridge. I fell in love with the starchy, warm goodness of white rice coated in melty cheese (best eaten with ketchup). Or ring noodles, again covered in cheddar (and French dressing)
I bet I've made those two meals hundreds of times
Sometimes now, when I'm home alone, I think about how much I'd love one of those bowls of sweet, cheesy, goodness. I feel the hints of nostalgia and remember peering into the fridge, coveting someone else's treasure labeled with a post-it: “Do not eat!”
But more likely the pleasure is equally the youthful bit about not having to really have or plan a or a proper meal at all; a chunk of cheese and a box of crackers, or an apple and a jar of almond butter
Or sometimes I’ll just skip dinner and go directly to dessert – anything from a giant bowl of cherries to a late summer peach. Perhaps a quick batch of date brownies. Biting off a triangle of dark chocolate whilst standing in front of the pantry. A cold glass of Prosecco
And so I've started an unscientific poll of sorts and have been asking everyone I know “What do you eat when you're all by yourself?” A few of my favorites?
“I tend to graze. I love roasted beets with goat cheese. I'll put the beets in the oven, but find myself hungry before they're ready. So I'll snack on olives or crackers, maybe some cured meats or cheese. Or pasta, there's always pasta.”
“Arby's sliders. Once a month, I stock up on their dollar sliders and keep them in the freezer. Warm one up, along with a veggie side, and it's the perfect meal for just me.”
“The few times I'm left alone, I generally make a bee-line for the local pizza joint.”
“A big plate of taco dip. Layers of refried beans, sour cream + taco seasoning, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheddar, and chips for dipping. So, so good!”
“Once the kids are in bed, you'll find me eating an entire bowl of popcorn. I always add olive oil, cracked pepper, and freshly grated Parmesan. If it's summertime, I could eat watermelon and be totally content (with a Bud Light)”
“Hormel chili from the can. My health-conscious wife and I have come to an understanding; some things are best left unsaid.”
“Cinnamon-sugar toast. It sounds simple, but it's my favorite. My mom used to make it for me when I was little.
While I don't eat rice with handfuls of melted cheddar melted anymore, this risotto is a pretty close second. It's soft, creamy, filled with veggies and topped with a poached egg.
Making risotto is all about the ceremony – the simmering broth, the toasting of the rice, the spooning and stirring, spooning and stirring. The result is always a dream.
But then there are the times when the idea of standing at the stove and stirring to the perfect consistency is, admittedly daunting. Thus, the baked method. Twenty minutes in the oven, and the rice was cooked to perfection.
It's baked, starchy, savory, bright, and cheesy. Most of all? Completely comforting
Here, I used a combination of peas, edamame, mushrooms, spinach, and leeks. As a liquid? Water, vegetable or chicken broth all will work
It's a wonderful base recipe that you can trick out, depending upon what looks good at the grocery. If you're feeling creative, there are lots of cool things to do with the leftovers as well. Fashion the day-after cold risotto into arancini and either pan-fry or bake them. I've even thinned leftovers out with broth, added beans, and more veggies to make a soup
No matter what you're having to eat at your dinner party for one, like a favorite sweater or a camera requiring film – pleasure, not practicality should be the goal. When it's time to eat, take a break from the usual, pick your favorite plate, light a candle, choose a pretty flower arrangement, beautiful bread, and pour your bubbly into a wine glass instead of a mason jar.
Play music, eat slowly, and
Enjoy every bite!
We've discussed signature dishes and ideas for easy weeknight cooking, but this eating alone business means you get to break all of the rules. What do you eat when you're sure no one else is watching?
Baked Vegetable Risotto with Poached Eggs
- 1 cup shelled edamame (fresh or frozen, thawed and cooked)
- 1 cup peas (fresh or frozen, thawed and cooked)
- fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tbsp white vinegar
- ½ pound mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
- 2 Tbsp clarified butter, divided (or coconut oil)
- 6 eggs (large or XL)
- 2 large leeks, chopped (whites and pale greens only)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 - 4 ½ cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water)
- fine grain sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
- 1 - 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 bunch flat-leaf spinach, trimmed and leaves torn (or any green of your choice)
- 2 Tbsp Greek yogurt
- ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese + more for garnish
- ¼ cup chopped fresh chives + more for serving
- Preheat the oven to 400° F
- In a Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbsp clarified butter. Add the leeks and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the leeks are soft and translucent (~3 minutes)
- Add the rice and stir to coat with the clarified butter. Add the wine and cook until most of it has evaporated (~ 1 or 2 minutes more)
- Stir in 4 cups of the chicken stock, a healthy pinch sea salt, and a grind or two of pepper. Bring to a boil
- Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake on the bottom rack for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, check the risotto (most of the liquid should be absorbed and the rice just cooked)
- Prepare Mushrooms
- While the risotto is baking, saute the mushrooms. Over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp clarified butter in a large skillet.
- Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender (~ 5 minutes) Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl, along with edamame and peas
- Poach Eggs - (10 or 15 minutes before the risotto is done)
- Bring a large skillet of salted water to a bare simmer over medium-low heat. Add vinegar.
- Crack 1 egg into a small bowl, then slide into simmering water. Repeat with 2 more eggs.
- Cook until whites are cooked but yolks are runny (~ 3-4 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water.
- Repeat with the remaining eggs.
- Finish and Serve
- Remove the risotto from the oven and stir in another ½ cup chicken broth, butter, spinach, Greek yogurt, Parmesan, ¼ cup chives, and the reserved edamame, peas, and mushrooms.
- Stir until the greens are wilted and the cheese has melted (~ 2 minutes)
- Divide risotto among bowls and top with poached eggs, and chives