I’ve always been a foodie. In fact, my love of gardening started in the 1970’s with growing fresh herbs for all the dinners Martin and I prepped at home. That was followed with growing my own produce and finally, gardens to fill the senses. But, food, glorious food was always at the center of my enjoyment. And at the center of family time. Dinners out were not the normal routine for us when we could make it better in our own kitchen.
As our daughters grew and moved out of the house, we empty nesters adjusted to smaller meals. Then, after decades of cooking together, Martin’s move to memory care left me cooking for one. At first I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to continue cooking for myself. But, after years of delicious home cooked meals, the alternative of processed, frozen dinners or take out left, well, a bad taste in my mouth. With Covid, of course, fewer restaurant options remained and eating out solo as I’d done when I traveled for work was also unappealing. What to do? What to do?
At one of the occasional meals I have at Rachel’s house I savored a yummy chicken chili made in a crockpot. I lamented the idea that such a meal would leave me with so much extra food. Then, Rachel to the rescue!
“You could get a small crockpot used for appetizers or smaller meals and cut the recipe.”
What? Feeling out of touch with the conveniences of today, I was amazed to find there are crockpots for two. Of course, I bought one for $30 along with Pamela Ellgen’s book, “Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook for Two”. One of my favorite recipes is Chicken in Mango Chutney. Spiced with cinnamon, ginger and curry I love the smells that fill the air. Another who knew is mango comes all diced in a can!
The crockpot revelation gave me the impetus to alter my frame of mind about cooking for one. I discovered the website https://www.allrecipes.com, which offers the ability to modify the number of servings for many recipes. Since most recipes can’t be reduced all the way down to one, I cook a meal and freeze the other half or have it for dinner a couple nights later. That gave me another idea.
Instead of looking at recipes as that’s too much for me to eat, I began looking at whether or not the meal could be broken into smaller portions and frozen. Yes, I know I didn’t want to buy frozen meals at the grocery store, but my hesitation was based upon too much added salt and/or sugar along with ingredients the names of which I can’t pronounce. During my current Michigan winter I’ve found a big pot of soup, stew or chili freezes well and provides a cozy comfort food dinner on bitter cold nights. Grandma Merlino’s spaghetti sauce can also be made as for a crowd then divided and frozen for future pasta dishes.
Other favorite comfort foods include lasagna and enchiladas, easily made in a casserole dish, divided and frozen. As my days fill up with activities outside the house, these dishes along with the crockpot provide ready meals upon my return. Paired with a salad I can still eat an enjoyable healthy dinner.
Speaking of salads I upped my game from the usual greens to making some interesting additions. With winter comes a dearth of fresh greens, tomatoes and cucumbers. Roasting root vegetables (parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets and whole cloves of garlic) to be added to kale, spinach and arugula along with chopped nuts, dried cranberries or other fruits and some feta cheese makes for a nourishing winter salad. I also started adding a touch of maple syrup not only to my chili recipe, but also my balsamic vinaigrette. It provides an earthy nutty flavor. Dried lavender buds, reminiscent of a summer day, is another favorite addition to the vinaigrette. Summer fare may also include salads which are not limited to greens. Three bean, asian noodle or fruit salads shake things up a bit.
On days when I find myself without a meal plan I turn to my egg carton and vegetable bin for a quick frittata in a small fry pan. I add anything I can find including some roasted root vegetables, peppers, shallots, potatoes, celery or asparagus. What’s left can be re-heated for breakfast or even a lunch.
Never one to count calories I try, not always successfully, to simply eat healthy. My one guilty pleasure is bread. Any kind of bread, but especially a hard crusted bread or a moist muffin. So, I indulge in a baking day making anything from crusty rosemary bread to carrot pecan muffins to focaccia bread. Again, the muffins freeze well. Breads can also be frozen, but should be used within the month.
Eating for one, which started out as a depressing thought, has turned into an exploration of my senses as I experiment, discover and enjoy what food, glorious food has to offer. It gives me something delectable to look forward to at the end of the day. And, the results have been very satisfying indeed.