Virginia Willis Blog

Cooking for One: Easy Recipes for Serving Yourself

Scary, isn’t it? Pantry shelf meat? Whoa. When I am in Atlanta I am alone as often as I am not, but even if I come home from traveling to an empty refrigerator , I don’t reach for the “pantry shelf meat.”

You know I love to cook. I cook when I am happy, I cook when I am sad. I cook when I am hungry or just bored. Yes, I cook to eat, and I cook to work, but I also cook to relax. Cooking for me is more than the ability to put food in my mouth. The physical action of cooking nourishes me.

Maybe you eat alone sometimes, too. You might be a single parent and the kids are away at camp or your spouse is traveling for business. Perhaps you are divorced, never married or “partnered”, or sadly, your mate passed away. Maybe you are between girlfriends, boyfriends, or just plain old taking a break. Maybe you are simply decidedly, happily single.

As much as food is about sharing the table and bringing family and friends together – the table should also be about nourishing yourself, just yourself, all by yourself.

There are a lot of reasons for cooking for one. One friend bakes a sweet potato or just nibbles on cheese and crackers when she is by herself. Now, I love a sweet potato, but not night after night. Some single folks I know have nothing but diet coke in the fridge and go out to eat every last meal. Another friend who lives alone is admittedly rarely by herself and entertains friends or family nearly every night.

If I am by myself, I cook dinner for myself. Scarfing down a frozen Kashi pizza or opening a can of tuna is a desperation dinner for me, not a nourishing meal.

My friend and colleague Joe Yonan, food editor for the Washington Post has written a great book called Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures of Cooking for One. It’s packed with interesting, inventive, and enticing recipes for cooking for one.

Joe has shared with me a couple of recipes to share with you. This, to be clear, this isn’t necessarily meant to be a menu, instead it’s meant to show you a couple of really delicious recipes you can cook all by yourself! No need to limit yourself to a baked potato or feel yourself forced into inviting over hoards of friends. No pantry meat, no frozen pizza, canned tuna, or salty, soggy takeout. You, just you.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Or, maybe that needs to be Bon Appétit, You!
VA

Fig , Taleggio, and Radicchio Pizza
Serves 1

So, no, I don’t keep pantry meat, but I do keep dried fruit, nuts, and cheese that will last for a while when I am away. I also keep frozen store-bought pizza dough in the freezer that I pick up at Whole Foods Market and even my local Publix bakery sells fresh pizza dough. Easy breezy. I LOVE Joe’s technique of cooking the pizza on an upside-down cast iron skillet. Absolute genius.

3 dried Mission figs
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons raw walnut pieces
All-purpose flour
1 (6-ounce) No-Knead Pizza Dough with Spelt (see below) OR 6 ounces store-bought whole wheat pizza dough
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small head radicchio, shredded (about 1/4 cup)
2 ounces Taleggio or another pungent cheese, cut into small pieces

If the dough has been refrigerated, transfer it to the countertop to let it rise for about 1 hour before making pizza.

Preheat the broiler with the rack set 5 inches from the element or flame. If you are using a cast-iron skillet or griddle pan for the pizza, set it over medium-high heat until it gets smoking hot, about 15 minutes. Transfer the skillet (turned upside down) or griddle pan to the broiler. If you are using a baking stone, heat it in a 500°F oven for an hour, then carefully transfer it to the broiler.

Put the figs in a small skillet set over medium heat, pour in the wine, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the figs soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain, then chop into 1/2-inch pieces.

Toast the walnut pieces in a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat, shaking the skillet frequently, until they are very fragrant and starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately transfer to a plate, let cool, and then coarsely chop.

To shape the dough, dust a work surface liberally with flour and put the ball of dough on it. Sprinkle with flour and knead a few times until the dough comes together and holds its shape when you form it into a ball. Add more flour if necessary. Form it into an 8-inch round by pressing from the center out toward the edges, leaving a 1-inch border thicker than the rest.

Make sure you have all the topping ingredients measured out and ready before you assemble the pizza, because once you place the dough on the cooking surface you can’t easily move it.

Open the oven or broiler door, and quickly slide out the rack with the cooking surface (skillet, griddle pan, or baking stone) on it. Pick up the dough and quickly transfer it to the cooking surface, pressing it back into shape if need be, while being careful not to touch the cooking surface with your fingers.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil onto the dough, scatter the walnut pieces on top, then the radicchio, then the chopped figs, and then the cheese. Slide the broiler rack back into the oven and close the door.

Broil the pizza until the crust has puffed up around the edges, the pizza has blackened in spots, and the cheese has melted, 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the pizza with a wooden or metal pizza peel or a square of cardboard, transfer it to a cutting board, and let it rest for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil on top, cut the pizza into quarters, transfer it to a plate, and eat.

Here’s a short video of Joe showing you how to get that crispy crust at home.

No-Knead Pizza Dough with Spelt
Makes 5 (8-inch) pizza crusts or 10 (5-inch) flatbreads

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour
2 1/2 cups white bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast (also known as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast)
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

PREPARATION
Combine the flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.

Pour the water and oil into another bowl or measuring cup, pour the liquid into the flour mixture, and stir until blended.

Lightly coat a large clean bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 8 to 12 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees F).

After 8 hours, the dough should have risen and be bubbly on the surface. The timing is very forgiving here; you can let it continue bubbling and very slowly expanding for several more hours if you like. Transfer the dough to the refrigerator for about an hour before dividing, so it’s easier to work with. Lightly rub your hands and work counter with olive oil. Turn out the dough onto the counter in one piece. Lightly dust it with flour and fold it onto itself a few times, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough comes together and holds its shape when you form it into a ball. Cut into 5 equal pieces (for pizza), about 6 ounces apiece, or 10 equal pieces (for flatbread), about 3 ounces apiece.

Refrigerate or freeze what you’re not going to use right away. Transfer the balls to individual freezer-safe plastic food storage bags, drizzle with olive oil, and turn the dough to coat it in the oil. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Sprinkle the piece(s) you are going to use immediately with flour and transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour.

Proceed with pizza recipe.

Note: If you have refrigerated the dough, remove it from the refrigerator and let it rise for about 1 hour. If you have frozen the dough, defrost in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours, then transfer it to the counter to rise for an hour. The dough should be pliable and able to be easily stretched into shape.

Mahi Mahi with Kiwi -Avocado Salsa with Coconut Rice

According to my friends over at Seafood Watch, catching Mahi Mahi (dolphinfish) using pole-and-line or trolling gear limits accidental catch of other species. Pole-and-line and troll-caught mahi mahi from the U.S. Atlantic is your “Best Choice and all other sources are a “Good Alternative.” U.S. longline is another “Good Alternative” but “Avoid” all imported mahi mahi caught with a longline.

1 (6-ounce) mahi mahi fillet (or substitute halibut)
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup coconut water
1/3 cup jasmine or other long-grain white rice
1 kiwi, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 scallion, white and green parts, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 fresh jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 1 lime
Leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey, or more to taste (optional)

Pat dry the mahi mahi with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a small skillet or saucepan fitted with a lid, combine the coconut water, rice, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat until the liquid is barely bubbling. Place the mahi mahi fillet on top of the rice, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until all the coconut water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the rice and fish stand, covered, for another 5 minutes.

While the rice and fish are cooking, make the salsa. In a small bowl, stir together the kiwi, avocado, scallion, jalapeño, lime juice, and cilantro. Taste and add a touch of salt if necessary and a drizzle of honey if it’s too tart.

Transfer the rice and fish to a plate, top with the salsa, and eat.

Reprinted with permission from Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One by Joe Yonan copyright copyright 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Ed Anderson copyright 2011

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

 

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13 Responses to “Cooking for One: Easy Recipes for Serving Yourself”

  1. When I get in the kitchen, I lean towards cooking once for several days. I used to HATE eating leftovers. I will cook up a lasagna or potato soup or even chili like I once did for my large family. Some goes into the freezer and some simply into the refrigerator. If I really enjoy something, I will want to eat it for 3 or 4 days, adding something like a salad or sandwich, or even cornbread freshly made.

    Reply
  2. Kim Dimond

    I recently started watching Anna and Christina’s Grocery Bag on The Oprah Network. Much to my surprise I noticed that on Thursday they will be reviewing and cooking from Bon Appetit Ya’All. Having assisted Virginia at Foxfire in Greenville, SC, I am really looking forward to the episode.

    Reply
  3. I usually have my family to cook for but when I don’t I can be as creative as I want and experiment without having to have anyone fuss that they don’t like some ingredient in my new found dish.

    I love the idea of cooking pizza on a cast iron skillet. I would have never thought of that.

    By the way I love your writing style. It’s fantastic!

    Reply
  4. Some of my best meals have been for only myself… nobody’s around to be picky or complain that it’s not something or the other. In fact, sometimes I just prefer to eat alone!

    Thanks for the sweet post.

    Reply
    • I have to say I agree, Nealey — it can be really special to purposefully make dinner for one.
      And, to eat and reflect in silence as to what you are eating — not watching TV, no checking email, or chatting on twitter, but to think about the food using all the senses. Thanks for sharing! Best VA

      Reply
  5. I’ve been so curious about this book. Thanks for sharing a sneak peek! I’m guilty of the baked sweet potato, topped with canned black beans and scoop of salsa. But when I’m cooking for 2 or more, I suddenly have the energy to cook a 3 course meal with dessert! It’s strange how we don’t treat ourselves that well and save it up to lavash on others.
    Are there desserts for one in this book? I’m curious because, you know, small desserts for two are kinda my thing 😉

    Reply
  6. Sadly cooking for one is my reality. I will have to check Joe’s book out especially if he’s a Postie. Really love their food section. The book I’ve been cooking from when it comes to cooking for one is Judith Jones’ The Pleasures of Cooking for One.

    Pantry Shelf Meat is not in my pantry but is in my Disaster Emergency Kit. Apparently I need to add a can of peas as a suitable decorative side dish.

    Reply
    • Joe’s book is great. I think it would be perfect for you. It’s really good food. He’s smart and knows what he’s talking about in the kitchen. It’s well written, too, of course being the editor of WaPo Food. Let us know what you think. Thanks, as always, for sharing. Best VA

      Reply

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