While restaurants have adapted and re-adapted to the “new” safety standards, many people still choose to cook at home, leaving us faced with how to make nutritious, creative, and inviting meals for one or two people.
Even if we enjoy cooking, which I do, coming up with ideas, researching recipes, and shopping economically, especially in small portions, is challenging.
But here are some of the culinary techniques and clever hacks that have helped me stay motivated over the past couple of years.
When the pandemic first began, I knew I would need to shop far less often and buy in larger quantities. I was also concerned about a disruption in the food supply chain, so keeping fresh items until I was ready to use them became a priority.
My solution was to stock my pantry with staples and put them up for future use. I bought a vacuum sealer a few years ago that has become an essential part of my routine.
I’ve portioned meat in individual servings, stored sauces, and blanched vegetables in small packs and frozen them. I also sealed dry goods like flour, cereal, beans, and other legumes in air tight packages to keep them fresh far longer.
I dehydrated fresh mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes, which lend themselves to being preserved dry and rehydrate beautifully, to add to stews, sauces, and casseroles.
Seasoning is key to making innovative dishes with standard ingredients – meat, vegetables, pasta, rice, and other grains can be given a new twist just by changing the flavor profile. I planted a few pots of basil, chives, parsley, rosemary, and thyme outside my kitchen door.
They thrive in small spaces with little care and fresh herbs magically elevate a recipe from ordinary to extraordinary. In addition to using them fresh, I harvested the herbs when the plants needed pinching back, coarsely chopped them and stored them immersed in olive oil in ice cube trays in the freezer, ready to drop into a pan for sautéing.
In addition to your regular spices, look for spice blends. The addition of Herbs de Provence, Italian seasoning, Cajun blends, and Moroccan Spice mix can transform a meal into something exotic and unique.
A nice pot of beans is nutritious, low in calories, loaded with fiber and essential minerals, but it’s difficult to make just enough for one or two. The solution is to cook multiple servings and freeze the basic beans to be finished at a later date.
Having them precooked makes it easier to quickly whip up a delicious chili with beans, cassoulet, hammock, and beans or any number of other one pot wonders.
I have several favorite store-bought sauces that I keep on hand to prepare a quick and delicious curry, Alfredo, or enchilada casserole. Using a jar sauce cuts the preparation time in half and guarantees a tasty dinner with less effort. It also expands your repertoire.
I find most meat counter portions too large for two people, so I divide them into four-ounce servings when I get home and freeze each serving individually. You can also ask the butcher to do it for you; most are very accommodating, especially if you shop at the store regularly.
The Internet is boiling over with easy-to-follow recipes and ideas for single-serving and dinner-for-two menus. Here are a few sites I enjoy.
Also check out the Facebook group Kitchen Quarantine, where more than 7,500 chefs and home cooks share ideas, recipes, and photos of what they’re cooking up.
Food is a necessity, but with a little effort and creativity it can also be a healthy and delicious pleasure. Bon Appetite!
What hacks do you use for preserving food longer? Are you been able to shop healthy ingredients for your household? Do you cook, and where do you find inspiration for new meals? Please share in the comments below!