In my sometimes solitary life style as globetrotting hotelier I more often than not find myself in the position of dining alone. As I have previously discussed in an earlier blog: https://culinarygypsy.com/2011/02/11/raising-the-bar-or-the-hitchhikers-guide-to-eating-alone-at-the-bar/ Not always does one feel like dining alone in a restaurant and indeed I find my end of day habit of cooking for myself not only relaxing but highly therapeutic. It has been claimed many times already that cooking is a de-stressing activity and it is certainly a great workout for a tired mind with all of the sensory actions needed. Of course I need to admit that although I am now in the senior hotel management arena I was, and guess still am, a chef at heart. (You can take the chef out of the kitchen but you can’t take the kitchen out of the chef!) Oh, and also cooking can be fun
Apparently though there is also a downside to constant solitary dining: morose self-pity; a failure to notice you have developed the social habits of a Tibetan Buddhist hermit, only with fewer transcendental skills; the likelihood that actually having to make polite conversation with anyone but yourself is a daunting thought and my god! Just how anal retentive have I become (I actually found myself folding my dirty laundry the other day just so the room attendant wouldn’t think bad of me!!!) Then again there is a huge upside to cooking for you only. Don’t get me wrong: I love cooking for other people and the satisfaction from seeing people I like appreciate my culinary skills but cooking only for myself, well, that’s a whole different bag. No dress code, I get to cook in my boxers, I can experiment and if it doesn’t quite succeed then I can just bin it without feeling guilty (or lose face) and of course if it does work out and taste incredibly delicious well it’s all mine…no sharing.
As I said I love cooking for others but when you cook for others and, nonetheless however appreciative they say they are, there is inevitably something they don’t like. It could be your meticulous attempt to duplicate a local delicacy or that brilliant thing you do with pasta and seafood and of course there is always someone that has suddenly become a vegetarian or worse yet….a vegan! Cooking for yourself is cooking for someone you know will appreciate the effort. It’s a dinner date with your favorite person, a culinary event of complete satisfaction and a very special kind of personal indulgence.
Even in my most hectic day I will start to plan my evening meal and get just a little bit excited thinking about it. I tend to play the “use-what’s-in-the-fridge game” making up meal plans from what’s left in the fridge and seeing what culinary masterpieces I can create. Just open the fridge – pull out a few ingredients and see where the evening takes you.
One of the secrets to satisfying home-alone cooking is to use as few cooking pots as possible. Let’s face it I love cooking for myself but I hate doing the washing up so the fewer the dishes the better. To remedy this I have come up with a fantastic series of one pot dishes.
Anyway not wanting to be deemed a xenophobic loner I thought I’d share some of my favorite recipes and the quirky things I do when it’s just one for dinner.
Tip no. 1 Buy yourself an electric rice cooker. Indispensable for the single cook and diner. Just throw the rice in with the correct amount of water (easy instructions always come with the rice cooker) and voila! Perfect rice
Nasi Goreng Ayam (Indonesian chicken fried rice)
Nasi Goreng is one of my all-time favorite fast foods from Indonesia. There are a large number of variations but essentially it is fried rice with its ancient origin in China. The main distinctions of Indonesian fried rice compared to its Chinese and other Asian counterparts are the application of sweet soy sauce, and the stronger, hot and spicier taste.
200 gram cooked long grain rice. Best to use left over steamed rice from the night before
1 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
60 gram onion chopped
2 fresh Chilies,
100 gram Chicken breast cubed
1/2 Tbs. Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce) also available in Asian grocery stores (substitute: Hoisin sauce
1 tomato, sliced
Make an omelet with the beaten egg and stand aside. When cool cut into strips for later addition.
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the chopped onion, sliced shallots and green onions, garlic and chilies. Fry until the onion is soft.
Add the cubed chicken to the pan. Stir fry until just cooked.
Add the Samal Olek or Sambal Badjak to the pan and continue to stir-fry
Add the rice, sweet soy sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Garnish with the omelet strips and some of the chopped green onion and prawn crackers.
Serve with the sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and prawn crackers.
Tip no.2 Have a good strong non-stick wok in your arsenal of cooking tools
With a bag of fresh ready to cook noodles from the supermarket, you’re on your way to stir fry heaven in a flash.
1tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp. bottled hoisin sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. rice wine (sake or mirin) or sherry
100 gram fresh rice or egg noodles found on most Asian product shelves or in Asian groceries
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
100 gram lean rump steak, cut into strips
60 gram onion, cut into wedges
1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
1 fresh red chili, chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
60 gram frozen green beans
6 baby sweet corns, sliced
60 gram fresh shiitake or button mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. heavy Soy sauce
In a small bowl, combine the hoisin sauce, the soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine or sherry.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or very large frying pan and stir-fry the beef over a high heat for about 3 minutes or until cooked. Use a draining spoon to remove the beef from the wok and set it aside.Add the onion, ginger, chili and garlic to the wok and stir-fry over a high heat for 1 minute.
Add the green beans, sweet corn and mushrooms, and continue stir-frying for 2 minutes.Return the beef to the wok. Add the soy liquid and the noodles and stir for about 1 minute to heat through. Serve immediately, offering heavy soy sauce for extra seasoning as required.
These are necessary items to have stocked at all times:
1. Jar of ready to heat tomato puree or passata
2. Dried pasta
3. White rice
4. Canned beans (such as chickpeas, cannelloni, kidneys)
5. Dry breadcrumbs
6. Extra-virgin olive oil
7. Dried herbs and spices
8. Onions and garlic
1. Fresh parsley and coriander
5. Cheeses (such as cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella)
7. Condiments (such as Dijon mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, and soy sauce)
8. Salad greens, tomatoes, green onion
9. Fresh Asian noodles
1. Ginger root
2. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3. Ground beef (divided into portions)
4. Frozen vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli florets, peas, and mixed vegetables)
5. Peeled and deveined shrimp
6. Ice cream
This is the original recipe for the legendary ragu and pasta dish named after Bologna, one of Italy’s most prestigious cities. It is so good that I left quantities for more than one person so that you will always have more to re-heat the next day.
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. oil
50 gram pancetta or Parma ham or quality bacon
500 gram ground chuck beef, or half beef and half pork shoulder
500gram bottled tomato puree (passata)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 large clove garlic
1 celery stick, diced small
1-2 chicken livers chopped coarsely
1/2 glass dry white wine
1 cup full fat milk, warmed
1 cup chicken stock
Salt, pepper, pinch of nutmeg
Place a large heavy bottomed sauce pan on a high heat and add 2 tbsp. oil with 2 tbsp. butter.
Add the onions and garlic and fry until the onions are soft and their water has evaporated.
Add the diced carrots and celery to the onions and sauté over high heat until they start to brown.
Add the bacon or pancetta into the pan… mix and sauté until aromatic.
Add the liver and turn frequently as it coagulates. Use a wooden paddle to break it into tiny pieces.
Add part of the ground meat in stages to make sure the meat fries without too much liquid. Flatten the meat with your spatula and flip constantly until the meat is evenly browned.
Pour the warm milk into the ragù, Mix and bring to a boil.
Add the tomato puree
Add the chicken stock, cover and simmer for 3 to 4 hours
Ragu Bolognese IS NOT served with spaghetti; serve only with top quality Tagliatelli