Creative meals for one

July 07, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Single or on your own for a while?

Tired of takeout and eating leftovers?

Sick of hearing the same solution - just make a big batch of soup or chili and freeze portions you can thaw out later?

As a single person, I often fall into the trap of takeout that's oh so easy to pick up. But it's not necessarily the healthiest or cheapest option.

One solution for me has been to thaw one skinless boneless chicken breast and poach it for two meals. I make quesadillas one night, and, the next night, chicken salad.


But I wanted more variety. So I checked in with some cooking experts, including Sam Zien, whose "Just Cook This! with Sam the Cooking Guy" show airs on Discovery Health.

Googling for cookbooks aimed at singles, I often found recipes that required a long list of ingredients - some hard to find - and layers of instructions. Not the kind of thing that prompts many single people to rush to the kitchen after a long day of work and a growling stomach.

Then I came across a listing for Zien's book, "Sam the Cooking Guy: Just a Bunch of Recipes," which came out in March. His recipes weren't aimed at singles, but they were simple and quick, with a short list of ingredients that were easy to find and that could be reduced to a single serving size rather easily by the average cook.

Plan to use leftovers

"One of the things that I'm totally big on are those deli-roasted chickens. They're gold," Zien said. It's a bit much to ask someone to come home from working late and cook a whole chicken, but you can buy a deli-roasted one and use the meat to make different dishes.

Use the leftover chicken for enchiladas or chicken tacos, and make some chicken salad to take to work for lunch the next day, Zien said. To check out Zien's recipes, go to

Chicken fried rice is also good. You can make a batch of rice to go with the chicken the first night, then use leftover rice for chicken fried rice.

"I call it fridge fried rice. You basically open your fridge, and what's in your fridge goes into the fried rice," Zien said. Stir-fry in bits of vegetables and whatever leftover meat you have.

Some uses for leftover steak are in fajitas or chili or in a salad, suggested Zien and Deborah Rhoades, dietitian and extension educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Frederick County, Md.

Zien uses leftover mashed potatoes to create mashed potato tacos. He warms a tortilla until it's a little crispy. Then he adds sour cream, mashed potatoes, lots of chopped green onions, a little hot sauce and a handful of kettle potato chips for some crunch.

"It's just thinking a little bit differently with what you're going to do with the stuff in your fridge," Zien said.

The freezer is your friend

A bag of frozen shrimp comes in handy too, Zien said. He started buying frozen shrimp after he discovered the seafood counter he went to was selling frozen shrimp that had just been thawed out. Just put them in cold water for about 10 minutes to defrost before cooking. You can grab however many you need - enough for you or for you and friends. During the summer, the larger ones, 21-26 count, are great for grilling.

I like using fresh herbs, and I grow some in my garden, where I can snip whatever I need. But a problem I ran into occasionally was wasting fresh herbs bought at the store. There's only so much fresh cilantro a single person can eat, and most of it would go bad.

Zien's solution: Make cilantro pesto you can freeze and thaw whenever you need. For instance, a single person could skewer some of those shrimp, add some cilantro pesto and grill.

To freeze, just pour the pesto - cilantro or more traditional basil pesto - into an ice cube tray, freeze, then store in the freezer in zipper bags.

A group of singles

Zien and Rhoades also suggested cooking groups with friends so you can try more dishes without doing all the cooking.

A group of five co-workers could make up enough servings of a dish to have for lunch so that each person takes care of lunch for one day that week, Zien said.

Rhoades suggests a dinner group in which you take turns hosting dinner every so often or have potlucks. Or a sharing group in which six friends each prepare and exchange six quarts of a soup or other food that can be frozen.

Other suggestions Rhoades had:

· Use leftover chicken to add extra nutrients to canned soup, such as adding extra chicken and vegetables to a can of chicken noodle soup.

· To leftover rice, add black beans, garlic and spices for a vegetarian dish the next day.

· Wraps are quick and easy. Use leftover chicken or steak with lettuce, tomato and salad dressing or cream cheese.

· It doesn't have to be fancy. Have fruit, cottage cheese and bread for dinner, or have some whole-grain crackers and fruit with salad.

For a list of foods and how long it's safe to keep them in the refrigerator or freezer and still be safe to eat, go to this U.S. Department of Agriculture site,

Basil or cilantro pesto

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