Empty Nesting

booksAfter forty years, there are now no children in the house, and so cookbooks for two (or one) are the theme of this post. I doubt though that I will really change my approach to cooking as I like leftovers. Furthermore, I have been cooking for two for some time now, as Henry (now installed in his dorm room thousands of miles away) does not like the same food that Danny and I like. Nevertheless, I have several recent cookbooks on this topic, and a lovely Deborah Madison book that has been around for a few years.

wwewweaDeborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin (her husband) must have had a lot of fun writing What We Eat When We Eat Alone: Stories and 100 Recipes. They interviewed people from all walks of life on what they ate when they ate alone. A large number of the interviewees are, not surprisingly, food professionals, and it is particularly interesting to find out what some of my favorite cookbook authors have to say on this subject. Much of the food that people eat when alone is truly gross, such as Spam or Wonder bread cookies, which makes for some very funny prose. Early in the book, we have a list of “Five Bad Ideas”, the first two being “”Mustard Sandwich with Reworked Coffee” and “Potato-Sesame Bread with Tequila Mix”. There are also lots of good ideas, and the official recipes, those printed in recipe format, that I tried were quite good, as expected from Deborah Madison. The recipes are simple, with no fussy presentation, appropriate for a person cooking only for herself. Patrick McFarlin provides the illustrations, which I (not knowledgeable about art) would call colored line drawings. The drawings are not really to my taste, but still fit in with the tone of the book. The authors throw in the occasional lagniappe of a poem, and there are several profiles of women and their cat(s). The book itself is well-produced: compact with good paper and a pleasing layout. I can highly recommend this book: it is a pleasure to handle, the pages are a delight through which to browse, and there are lots of good yet simple recipes.

salmonsoupDeborah Madison must be a big eater, as she says that her “Salmon Chowder” (page 194) makes one large or two modest portions. We got four bowls out of the recipe. The soup is simple: basically it is just potatoes and salmon in some sort of liquid: milk, fish stock or water. I used milk, but when I left our first two bowls on the heat a bit too long, the soup curdled. This wasn’t really a problem since everything still tasted good, but the texture and appearance were not ideal. The recipes calls for 4 to 6 ounces of salmon; if I make this again, I might use up to 8 ounces of salmon.

pastap2“Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers” (page 102) is a pasta puttanesca for two (or one hearty eater), but we got four or more servings out of the recipe. I adore the flavors in this recipe: garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and olives. Using sun-dried tomatoes instead of a more ubiquitous tomato sauce is a nice touch. Deborah recommends serving this with Parmesan cheese, which one usually doesn’t with fishy pasta sauces; I, however, am just fine with the cheese. [Go to the recipe.]

tofuI’m not quite sure why “Tofu and Vegetable Coconut Curry” (page 224) appears in this book. Most people could coax at least four, and probably more, servings from this recipe. Although not that complicated a recipe, frying tofu, an act required by this recipe, is a pain and makes a mess by splattering oil. So I do not see this recipe as one that I, at least, might want to whip up for myself alone. Regardless, this is a good recipe. Deborah excuses the large yield by stating that she doesn’t want to have half a block of tofu or half a can of coconut milk lying about, a sentiment with which I totally concur. Along with the tofu and coconut milk are peas and carrots, strangely reminiscent of one of my father’s culinary masterpieces, Morton’s frozen chicken pot pies. In fact, looking at the picture, one can imagine the tofu as chunks of chicken and the coconut milk sauce as overly salted, artificially flavored, pasty chicken gravy. The sauce, however, is very much not that: it is flavored with ginger and garlic, jalapeño and cilantro, curry powder and soy sauce. The curry powder and soy sauce are, I think, supposed to be some sort of Malaysian influence. This is how my children like to eat, and they drive me nuts by always pulling out the soy sauce whenever I serve Indian food.

kippersOne chapter of the book is devoted to sardines and pasta: “Saved by Sardines, Rescued by Pasta”. In the spirit of this chapter, I offer our friend Jeremy S’s kipper salad. It is essential to use salad cream, not mayonnaise, and malt vinegar, not some high class vinegar, for what we are after here is quintessential British food. I really like this eggy fishy salad, but even if I thought it only so-so, after making hundreds (if not thousands) of bowls of tuna salad, and spending too much money on whitefish salad, it is pleasing to have another fish salad in the repertoire. [Go to the recipe.]

vscVegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You: More than 100 Delicious One-Pot Meals for Your 1.5-Quart/Litre Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester, is not, I am afraid, a very good cookbook. Slow cooking is a technique most suited to meat cooking, although there are a few vegan ingredients that adapt easily to this method, mainly beans and grains. This book, however, has an overabundance of stew-like vegan dishes made with fresh vegetables tossed into a slow cooker and cooked to death. The first two recipes I tried ranged from tolerable to terrible, depending on who was tasting them. Burned twice, I hesitated to try a third recipe, and was considering featuring a cookbook in this post with no representative recipe. However, after tossing the original third recipe I had picked, I perused the book once more, looking for a recipe that actually seemed appropriate for a slow cooker. I found a chili recipe, and after being sure to boost the flavor by using spicy fake meat and spicy tomatoes, I ended up with a dish that I liked quite a bit.


Before 7-9 hours of slow cooking

“Autumn Harvest Veggie Soup” (page 76) seemed like a sufficiently seasonal soup: its main ingredients are winter squash, Brussels sprouts (and on the capitalization, look here), carrots, and bell pepper. Not too exciting, but it could be palatable—not, however, when cooked and cooked and cooked. There is not even a point to putting this in a slow cooker. All the vegetables could be prepped ahead of time, then everything thrown together to be cooked for 30 to 45 minutes.

thaislow“Thai Massaman Curry” (page 109) was also completely unsuited to the slow cooker. The ingredients could have all been prepped, then cooked with minimal effort in 15 to 20 minutes. Putting the main ingredients in a slow cooker and cooking for the 7 to 9 hours suggested turned these ingredients to mush. This recipe was quite tasteless, which was odd considering the long list of spices. I would guess that the long cooking killed much of the flavor. In an effort to get some taste, I stirred in some Thai red curry paste that I happened to have in the refrigerator. Skip this recipe.

fakechiliI had been planning to cook “Ethiopian Style Tempeh W’et and Veggie Meal” (page 148), but after the two disasters above, I lost all faith in Kathy Hester, our cookbook author. I was, however, not quite ready to give up, so I decided to try what looked like a safe recipe, “Wacky Cincinnati Chili” (page 100). There is nothing particularly “wacky” about this recipe. Furthermore, most of what makes this chili “Cincinnati” happens outside of the slow cooker, so I question that word in the title also. But other than the stupid title, this is a fairly good recipe. Of course, I used spicy fake meat and spicy tomatoes; with regular tomatoes and fake meat, this recipe might have been as tasteless as the other two from the book that I made. [Go to the recipe.]

eyvEat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook by Joe Yonan is full of interesting vegetarian recipes. And I appreciate that the recipes are vegetarian and not vegan; these days, there is a glut of vegan cookbooks and too few non-vegan vegetarian cookbooks on the shelves of our local Barnes and Noble. This book is something of a sequel to the author’s Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, with meat recipes, a book I somehow missed. The recipes in Eat Your Vegetables  are moderately involved; they are for one person in that the recipes do not yield that much food. Many of the recipes will leave the single cook with open and partly used packages of ingredients that will most likely end up being thrown out, either before or after the mold starts growing. I would have preferred the same vegetarian cookbook but with the recipe yields scaled up, however it is clear that the author and his publishers wanted a gimmick, so “recipes for the single cook” it was.

brocsaladeyv“Curried Broccoli and Warm Israeli Couscous Salad” (page 21) is well-described by its title; unremarkable additional ingredients are carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and cashews. The salad is lifted from the doldrums with the addition of pickled raisins (cider vinegar, sugar, and hot pepper flakes heated, then poured over raisins) and the arugula stirred into the hot couscous so that it just wilts (although here I used spinach). I did not try to serve this salad warm, just at room temperature, and it was fine that way. Danny thought that the salad made particularly good leftovers.

tofudishAlthough “Szechuan-Style Tofu and Shiitake Stir-Fry” (page 115) left me with most of a can of chile bean sauce, and would have left me a few squares of marinated tofu, had I not decide just to dump the entire package of tofu into the pan, the recipe is worth making again (maybe fairly soon, in order to use up that bean sauce). The recipe is very simple, the only work being the cleaning and slicing of the mushrooms, chopping some ginger and a scallion, and opening a pack of marinated tofu and slicing the tofu. Who needs a slow cooker for instant hot food when coming home after a long day at work? Do the minimal prep work in the morning, and spend about five minutes in the evening cooking it all up. If you want to eat it over rice, the rice might take some time (but no work); the rice could also be prepared ahead of time.

chickpeabrocThe broccoli sold by the neighborhood Whole Foods Market usually comes with two or three heads bunched together. Having used one head in the curried broccoli salad, I used the other head in “Chickpea Pancake with Broccoli and Eggplant Puree” (page 82). Joe is good with the descriptive titles, for this dish (as I executed it) consists of a thick chickpea flour pancake, topped with baba ghanoush, broccoli, feta and Parmesan, and then run under the broiler until the cheeses melt. I really liked this use of baba ghanoush; I used the Sabra brand mayonnaise based baba ghanoush. Joe suggests baba ghanoush only as an alternative to his own “Ottoman Eggplant Dip” (page 149), a concoction with roasted eggplant, walnuts, dates, and paprika. I didn’t want to spend the time on this, especially as I was a bit dubious about this combination of ingredients, and I am very fond of the Sabra product. I ended up using about twice the amount of cheese called for, and added hot pepper flakes, not in the original recipe. This was good, unusual, and not that much work. [Go to the recipe.]


Pasta Puttanesca for Two

Adapted from Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin, What We Eat When We Eat Alone

Olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 anchovies, chopped
¼ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
2-3 tablespoons chopped black olives
1 tablespoon capers
Hot pepper flakes
Small handful of parsley, chopped
Basil or oregano, dried or fresh (optional)
Zest and juice from 1 small lemon
4-6 ounces spaghetti or other pasta

Bring a pot of salted water for the spaghetti to a boil. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic and anchovies and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the garlic softens and the anchovies break up. Add everything else except pasta. When the pasta water boils, add the pasta to the water. I like to use something that cooks quickly, such as capellini. When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with the sauce.


Lentil Chili

Adapted from Kathy Hester, Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You

¾ cup dried black lentils
2 cups water
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup fake ground beef (e.g., Lightlife Smart Ground Mexican Style)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼-½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cocoa
Pinch ground allspice
1 14.5 ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes (e.g., Muir Glen with adobo seasoning)

Pick over and rinse the lentils. Then add the lentils and all the rest of the ingredients except for the salt and tomatoes to your small sized slow cooker set to low heat. After a few hours, check to see if you need to add more water, and add some salt at this point, starting with ½ teaspoon of salt. After several more hours (say, 6 or 7 hours total at this point), add the tomatoes. Cook for about one more hour. Taste for salt. You may serve this over pasta or rice, topped with cheese or a fried egg, with avocado, or however you desire.


Chickpea Pancake with Broccoli

Adapted from Joe Yonan, Eat Your Vegetables

½ cup chickpea flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small head broccoli, florets only
¼ cup baba ghanoush, preferably mayonnaise based
2 tablespoons crumbled feta
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
Hot pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 450º. Mix together the chickpea flour, salt, water, and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Heat a small cast iron skillet over a hot burner; when it is hot, add the other tablespoon of olive oil, and swirl around to cover the bottom of the pan (or, if you must, use a non-stick pan here; just be sure that whatever you use is ovenproof). Pour in the chickpea batter, then bake for about 20 minutes. While the pancake cooks, microwave or otherwise steam the broccoli; you want it just barely cooked, though. One minute in the microwave is enough for me. When the pancake looks done (solid on top, and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan), remove from the oven. Spread the baba ghanoush on top, then the broccoli. Sprinkle the cheese over all, and finally sprinkle on some hot pepper flakes. Run under the broiler until the cheese melts. If you are lucky, the pancake will lift right out of the pan. Eat right away, as I do not imagine that this would make good leftovers.



Kipper and Egg Salad

1 6.7 ounce can kippers
2 hard boiled eggs
Salad cream
Malt vinegar

If the kippers are very oily or liquidy, drain them. Remove as much of the skin as you can, and break up the kippers, which I do with my fingers as I am removing the skin. Chop up the eggs and add to the kippers. Add salad cream: how much depends on what you like. Start with at least a couple of tablespoons. Shake in some malt vinegar, and mix it all up. Taste and add more of whatever it needs.

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