Dishing out single servings
Advertiser Staff and News Services
|College student Kyle Oshiro modifies recipes and varies what he eats to avoid boredom.
Advertiser photo illustration/photos by Deborah Booker The Honolulu Advertiser
Yet, despite the growing numbers, singles still get shuffled to the most undesirable tables at restaurants. They're forced to get creative when it comes to grocery shopping. And try finding recipes that say "makes one serving."
Most people will live alone at some point in their lives. Armed with a strategy, dining alone can be just as satisfying as eating with company and you won't have to worry about anyone eating the last piece of cake you've stashed away.
Here are views of three singles a Kapi'olani Community College culinary student, a career woman who never touched a stove until recently and a former Islander who travels a great deal for business.
Growing up on his grandpa's produce farm in Kamuela, on the Big Island, Kyle Oshiro, 22, learned a lot about cooking but not much about shopping. "We never bought vegetables. They were always there, everything was always so fresh," he recalled. "Now that I live on my own, I'm kind of shocked at the price of lettuce."
Oshiro is studying garde manger cold food and hors d'oeuvres this semester at Kapi'olani Community College and works at Sekiya's Restaurant when he's not in school. He'll graduate this spring and hopes to start a food-related business someday.
He said his friends consider it odd that he cooks for himself. Most singles he knows prefer to dine out. But Oshiro, a Honoka'a High School graduate, has always loved to cook, and his mom used to leave notes for him about getting dinner started. In those days, it was mostly one-pot meals, easy stews and spaghetti and stir-fries and such.
He tries to stock up on foods he won't get tired of because it's so hard to buy most things in single portions. Pasta is a particular favorite. Being in culinary school, he says, has made him a more precise cook he can't just chop an onion any old way, he has to mince or dice or julienne it to whatever degree is best for the recipe. And he's more into herbs and spices: "You know, local food, you don't even think about spices. But now I'm into changing recipes, varying what I eat so I don't get bored."
Ann FreitasAll through college and her early career, Ann Freitas lived on "the saimin and deli diet." The only time she ate a full, multi-course meal was on a date or at a business lunch. "I didn't think cooking made sense for a single person," she said. "Besides, my mom was a great cook and that sorta backfired on me: I never learned because she was always cooking, and she didn't like to share a kitchen. And what I did learn was how to cook for an army we had four kids at home plus we hanai'd two and Mom never sent anyone away hungry. So I couldn't imagine how you made, like, a stew for one person."
But Freitas, now 36, realized in her early 30s that she wanted more control over her diet what went into the food she ate, and how it was prepared. She also had begun to gain weight and realized that she wasn't making good choices, and one reason was that gravy'd and fried restaurant food was too tempting.
"So I took a cooking course. I bought a recipe program for my computer. I started making a special time of shopping in Chinatown on Saturdays for fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh noodles and fish, or taking my lunch hour to go to the open market near my work," she said.
Now she loves to cook. She makes something from scratch for dinner four or five nights a week and takes the leftovers to work for lunch, or alters them in some way for dinner another night. "I like to cook more pasta than I can have at one setting. I rinse the extra cooked pasta in a little cold water to stop the cooking, toss it with a little olive oil and then I put it in a Ziploc. The next day, I can make something different a pasta salad, or I'll heat up a can of low-sodium tomato soup and put the pasta and some herbs and Parmesan cheese in."
She freezes leftover rice in zip-closure bags and reheats it in the microwave.
And she's learned portion control and how to scale back, starting with a scant cup of uncooked rice, a single chicken-breast fillet and so on. "My mom came over to visit from the Big Island, and I was making chicken in a light lemon sauce, one of my favorites. She was, like,
'Annie, you sure that goin' be 'nough?' She'd never cooked less than a whole chicken in her life!"
When she's at home in South Minneapolis, former Islander Mary Holmes does a lot of cooking for herself. Holmes, 50, used to order room service while on business trips for St. Paul's Musictech College, but she no longer feels shy about asking for a reservation. "I encourage people to dine alone," she says.
"I travel year-round, except summer, so I'm pretty comfortable dining out alone. It's difficult sometimes if you're at a place that's very loud and boisterous. The dynamic is not real conducive to single people.
"I try to support mom-and-pop restaurants, if they're interesting and not greasy holes-in-the-wall. I like places where the décor is nice, the food is great and the place is welcoming. It has to all fit together. I ask the locals, 'Where's a good Thai restaurant or Italian restaurant?'
"I usually ask for a table by a window, or a booth where you can look outside or watch people rather than being in the middle of the room. I was just in L.A., and I went to the Palm. I had to eat in the bar. It's not comfortable and not relaxing.
"Another spot I went to had a lot of big pillars. I was kind of stuck behind one. That time I said, 'Would you mind if I sat elsewhere?'
"At some places that are well known, you have to share a table.
I always bring some kind of reading material. It's fun to people-watch, too. It just depends on the place."
As to eating in, "as we get older, we have a tendency to cook less. I cooked for my kids for years and had the big dinner parties. You get sick of that. But I still cook whenever I'm home. I'm not too into takeout.
"I'll take leftovers for lunch the next day. Or have them for dinner another day. I'll make soups or pastas or stir-fries or Thai food. I like curries. I'm from Hawai'i, so I like a lot of seafood dishes. I love Italian food. I spent a month in Tuscany this time last year, so I eat a lot of dishes with fresh basil. I make my own pesto.
"Cooking and developing recipes is a form of therapy, particularly here, where you're inside for winter. It's a good, relaxing way to begin an evening and care for yourself. When I want something quick, I'll usually pull out a quick-heat vegetarian chili or a box thing that I just have to throw hot water into, like some of the Fantastic or Thai Kitchen brands. You can add pea pods or a couple of fresh ingredients, but you don't have to think much.
"I think the relationship between cooking and shopping is important. I'm totally a fan of health-food stores. I wish we could go back to the neighborhood market. It's much chummier to have a selection of six aisles vs. 25 aisles. I don't think we need that many choices."
Tips on cooking for one successfully
- Keep your pantry stocked with staples. (See accompanying story.)
- If you'd like the cost savings available at big-box stores, go in with a couple of other singles so you can divide up large packages of perishable goods.
- Before shopping, take a quick inventory of what's in your refrigerator and play the mental game of use it or lose it.
- When you buy fish or steak, choose a piece larger than a single serving so that you can use the rest another night in salad or pasta.
- Try not to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach or refrigerator, especially when it comes to produce. Ask yourself: how many tomatoes will I eat this week?
- It's OK to buy little bunches of fresh herbs you'll waste some, but the taste is worth it.
Outfitting the kitchen:
- A few sharp knives.
- Microplane grater.
- Stainless-steel mixing bowls.
- Measuring cups and spoons.
- Baking sheets.
- Whisks, spatulas, wooden spoons.
- Food processor (a mini is fine).
- Sauté pans (a small one for omelets, two larger ones for vegetables, meats and fish; 8- 10- and 12-inch) and a pot to boil water for pasta and to make stock (4- to 6-quart).
- Heavy Dutch oven for stews and braising.
- A couple of saucepans for sauces, heating up soups, etc.
- Small roasting pan and a rack for chicken.
- Small loaf pan.
- Custard cups.
- A blender.
- Toaster oven.
- Microwave oven.
- Soups: Change garnish or add a protein.
- Stews: Serve with rice, mashed potatoes, noodles or polenta.
- Steak: Use in a salad.
- Vegetables: Use in salads, pasta, risotto, soup or frittata.
- Salmon or tuna: Use in salad or with pasta.
- Chicken: Use in salad, soup, pasta, risotto or sandwich.
- Shrimp: Use in salad, soup, quesadilla or pasta.
- Rice: Use in soup or salad.
Knight Ridder News Service
Here's a suggested pantry and fridge list for the solo cook. Not everyone needs all of these ingredients. Tailor the list to suit yourself.
Buy the best you can afford. And buy small amounts, unless it's something you think you'll use often.
In Hawai'i, it's best to store oils in the refrigerator. Rancid oil is bad for you besides tasting nasty. To prevent insect infestation, flours and spices should be stored in the freezer in an airtight container.
Here are some general suggestions to get you started.
- Oils olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, other salad oils if desired.
- Vinegar balsamic, white, wine and/or rice.
- Mustard (yellow and Dijon), ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce.
- Kosher salt, sea salt, pepper.
- Chili powder, ground cinnamon.
- Olives, capers, anchovies.
- Canned beans (kidney, black, cannellini, garbanzo).
- Low-sodium canned chicken or vegetable broth.
- Flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla.
- Dried beans and lentils.
- Dried fruit (raisins, dates, prunes, apricots).
- Cereal and oatmeal.
- Potatoes, onions, garlic.
- Rice, short and long grain.
- Pasta and saimin, ramen, soba.
- Tomatoes (fresh, sauce and paste).
- Peanut butter.
- Chili oil, sambal oelek, hoisin and/or ko chu jang.
- Milk, cream.
- Cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, Swiss, goat or blue).
- Carrots, celery.
- Cottage cheese.
- Oranges, lemons.
- Flat-leaf parsley.
- Fresh veggies and greens.
- Chicken breasts.
- Ground beef.
- Nuts (to keep them from going rancid).
- Fresh ginger (lasts much longer grate it while it's still frozen).
- Unsalted butter.
- Peas and corn.
- Bread, English muffins or bagels.
Advertiser staff and news services
Kyle Oshiro's standby is this rich pasta dish that he's made his own with a few additions, particularly shrimp. He couldn't offer exact measurements, but here's the technique:
Kyle's carbonara: Brown a few slices of bacon until crispy. Chop and set aside. Pour off all but a small amount of the bacon fat and then sauté whole, peeled shrimp in it until pink. Remove shrimp and reserve. Meanwhile, boil linguine, drain and place in sauté pan over low heat. Also, quickly blanch some frozen peas, drain and stop cooking in cold water, drain again and set aside.
Blend together 1 egg, 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan and 1/2 cup of milk or cream. Pour this over warm pasta. Add bacon, shrimp and peas and toss. Taste and add salt or pepper as desired. "It's really delicious," he promises.
Ann Freitas loves this recipe from the classic "City Cuisine" by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger "written long before they were the 'Two Hot Tamales'," she says. She's scaled it down for just one, but it can be readily doubled or quadrupled. Instead of spinach, you can use mixed greens such as spring salad greens or a blend of chard and kale.
Chicken with Lemon and Greens
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 skinned and boned chicken breast
- 1 cup low-salt or homemade chicken broth
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 scant tablespoon butter
- Fresh spinach (half a bag or 1 bunch)
- Olive oil
Preheat oven to warm. Place chicken breast between sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap and pound chicken breast to flatten to even thickness.
In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute shallot until wilted and transparent. Add garlic and chicken breast and sauté until lightly golden; turn and sauté until lightly golden. With tongs, remove chicken breast to heatproof platter or pan, cover with foil tent and place in warm oven.
Add chicken broth to sauté pan, stirring and scraping to combine pan juices and lift any browned bits. Simmer until chicken broth is reduced by half. Add lemon juice and simmer another 5 minutes. Lower heat and return chicken to pan.
Wash spinach and drain. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add just a drop or two of olive oil. Toss in spinach with some water still clinging to the leaves and sauté quickly until wilted.
Place spinach on plate and top with chicken breast. Serve with rice, if desired.
Mary Holmes loves to make recipes like this curry dish from "Kailua Cooks" (Island Heritage Publishing), which can be served over rice. She prepares the whole recipe and refrigerates leftovers to eat for lunch or dinner later.
Kama'aina Coconut Curry
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup butter
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small piece fresh ginger, minced
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups cooked shrimp
In saucepan, sauté onion in butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, curry powder, sugar, garlic and ginger. Cover. Simmer for 1 hour over very low heat. Blend in broth and coconut milk, stirring until smooth. Cover. Simmer for 1 hour. (Note: Sauce should not boil!) Add salt and shrimp. Heat through. Makes 6 servings.
Advertiser food editor Wanda Adams and the Knight Ridder News Service's Gita Sitaramiah contributed to this report.