Cooking for one

Dec 3, 2008 at 11:35 a.m. ET

If you live alone, are single, or have to cook just for yourself a couple times a week, it can be tempting to reach for that frozen dinner or boxed macaroni and cheese. Instead of dining on industrial-tasting meals, make your dinners a delicious pleasure by taking the time to whip up a satisfying single-serving dish. It doesn't mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen, either - the following recipes are ready in 30 minutes and, bonus, they cost less than 20 bucks!

Cooking for One

Tips for cooking for one

Be creative

The hardest part about cooking for one person is purchasing just the right amount of ingredients so you don't end up with waste. A nifty tip to avoid having to throw any perishables away is to buy in small quantities and use the same ingredients in a different way for the next few meals. For example, buy a small array of vegetables and creatively use them in a variety of dishes. On Monday, you can make a vegetable stir-fry. Tuesday, make a vegetable frittata. And on Wednesday, toss together a pasta primavera. Same veggies, just cooked a different way.

Make enough for leftovers

Another great way to avoid waste is to make a larger meal and freeze leftovers in individual portions. You can also keep a couple of extra servings in the refrigerator as an easy grab for lunch. Later in the week or month, when you need a quick meal, simply reheat your homemade frozen dinner — it will be healthier and taste so much better than a pre-fab meal from the grocery store freezer aisle.

Opt for smaller portions

Proteins — such as chicken, fish or beef — can be purchased from the meat counter in single servings. You can also buy a six-pack of eggs, rather than a dozen. Be sure to visit your local farmers market, too. Fruits and vegetables can often be purchased in small quantities, so you can buy only what you need.

Measure your ingredients

Another challenge to cooking for one is estimating how much you can eat. The key to making just the right amount is to measure your ingredients — everything from pasta to vegetables. Additionally, follow the directions on food packaging to make a single serving — unless you want to make more for leftovers.

Use smaller cookware

Instead of pulling out the 12-inch skillet to saute your vegetables or cook your fillet of fish, use an 8-inch skillet. Also, heat sauces in a small saucepan, rather than a large one. By using smaller cookware, you will cook your food more efficiently and be less tempted to make too much.

Sit down and plan

Perhaps, the most important part of cooking for one is the planning. At the beginning of each week, plan out what you're going to have. Plan meals that will re-use ingredients. And be creative so you aren't disappointed with a boring week of meals. Planning — or simply even cooking only for yourself — may seem like a challenge, but with a little ingenuity it can be fun and rewarding.

Recipes for one

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry

Makes 1 serving Ingredients:
1/4 cup dry sherry, vermouth or rice wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled, cut into matchstick size pieces
About 2 cups of chopped vegetables (whatever you have handy)
2 small scallions, sliced thinly Directions:
1. Whisk sherry and cornstarch until there are no lumps. Mix in sugar and salt. Add chicken to mixture and let marinate for 30 minutes or up to overnight in the refrigerator. 2. Heat oil and ginger in a skillet for a few minutes over high heat and add chicken to skillet. Stir-fry until about half-way cooked. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon. Set aside and keep warm. 3. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetables. Stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender. Raise heat to high again and add chicken and scallions. Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes, or until chicken is fully-cooked. Serve over cooked rice, if desired.

Baked Salmon and Vegetables

Makes 1 serving Ingredients:
1 (8-ounce) salmon fillet or steak
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 small garlic clove, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 small scallion, chopped
1 cup mixed vegetables Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lay salmon in an oven-proof dish and drizzle with 1/4 teaspoon olive oil. 2. Combine mint, oregano, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Rub half the mint mixture over one side of salmon and bake 10 minutes or until opaque. 3. Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat 3/4 teaspoons of oil over medium heat. Add scallions, vegetables, and the rest of the mint mixture. Cook, stirring, a few minutes or until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve with salmon.

Clam Chowder

Makes 1 serving Ingredients:
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped leeks
1 cup chicken broth
1 small potato, chopped
1 cup low-fat milk
1 small can of canned clams
1 cup shredded spinach
Fresh nutmeg, grated
Salt and pepper Directions:
1. Saute onion, celery and leeks in a little bit of broth for about 5 minutes. 2. Add potato and the rest of the broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, covered, or until potato is tender. 3. Add in the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes.

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