There’s a pretty annoying myth out there that it’s no fun to cook for yourself. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Cooking for one is lonely, it makes me so sad.” To which I reply, “What’s no fun about drinking three oversized glasses of wine, cooking your favourite food, and watching as many episodes of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta as you want with no one around to judge you?” Sounds like a pretty goddamn good night in to me.
Mastering the art of cooking for one is similar to mastering the art of dining out alone. Except that cooking at home allows you the comfort of soft pants and your choice of music (the first person to start that chain of restaurants will become richer than Bill Gates). You just need to embrace the solitude and not give any shits. According to some you have to be a bit more on your toes when you dine out alone, you have to be a bit more savvy about it. That’s what a lot of today’s women’s magazines will tell you. It will all be ok if you work really hard to look like you’re someone important (you are). Take a book, take a magazine, take a journal, wear a sparkly scarf and that lipstick you only break out for special occasions. That all helps I guess, but it’s kind of shitty that no one ever gives this advice to men. When I see a woman dining out alone, I don’t think, “Aww, she has no one to have lunch with.” I think, “Deadly, she doesn’t have to share her fries.”
For a laugh, take a few minutes and google “how to dine out alone.” You’ll find a few good points, but mostly you’ll realize how many people should be banned from saying things on the interwebs:
“I pull out a small notebook and pen. It’s less absorbing/distracting than an electronic device. And, it sends out a subtle but oddly effective signal: This may be a journalist at work.” Advice from a travel writer. Nice idea to have in your back pocket. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a food critic, or that I’m Matt Preston from Masterchef Australia but without the cravat.
“When the waiter comes by and asks how everything is, tell them fine and ask for the check even if you are not finished eating. This way you won’t have to prolong the time you sit at the table alone.” Advice from Wikihow. Step number 6. Out of 9. Guys, COME ON.
“Try to avoid really busy sitdown restaurants. Both out of courtesy for the restaurant to not take up a whole table with your sorry ass, but also to avoid the embarrassment of having to stand around and wait for your sad, sad table for one.” Advice from a crazy lady in Nashville who I really hope doesn’t have a daughter but if she does I bet the kid’s been on Toddlers and Tiaras.
“It’s only eating. Who cares. And sometimes when you’re dining out alone people give you free booze.” Advice from me. And yes that’s happened and it was a half a litre of white wine and woo-hoo!
(Coincidentally I’m writing this from an airport, where you have no choice but to eat alone. And while we’re chatting about airports, as a citizen of the world I feel it’s my duty to inform everyone that I’ve recently discovered the joys of travelling with post-it notes. Sticking one over the motion sensor of an automatic flush toilet is a fun and fabulous way to make airport washrooms less terrorizing. Plus, you can leave fun notes for people like, “Have a nice day!”, “Have a great flight!”, or my personal favourite, “This is a post-it so the toilet doesn’t flush on your bum xo.”)
Lucky lucky me, I discovered the joys of cooking and drinking by myself years ago while I was living in South Korea. For the first time in my life I had my own apartment. It was a little studio, not much bigger than your average hotel room. I adored it. I walked around in my underwear and showered with the door open so I could listen to music. I would get off work around 9 o’clock, come home and pour myself a glass of wine and start cooking. I didn’t have an oven so it was usually a curry or my mangled attempt at something Korean. By the time supper was ready I’d feel very pleasant after a glass of white on an empty stomach. I ate cross-legged on my bed, watching whatever English TV was on that night. I loved it, and it stuck. When I ended up back in Canada and bought my house, cooking for one wasn’t a burden, it was an absolute joy. I thought nothing of making a roast chicken dinner and eating leftovers every day for a week. Making a big fat lasagna wasn’t a problem with lots of tupperware and a deepfreeze. And because my kitchen was so small people got to sit on it at parties. The deepfreeze, not the lasagna.
(Ah yes, if anyone is passing judgement on my solo drinking in Korea, that’s cool. My students called me a troll because I had arm freckles and I was frequently mistaken for a Russian prostitute by cab drivers, so you know, I never let my pride get between me and a bottle of Black Tower. I’ve since developed better coping mechanisms, and better taste in wine. Sort of. Little Penguin?)
I was away for work again this past summer, and at one point found myself with two days off and the house to myself. I lived in a little place called Dunfield, where the nearest store was a 45 minute walk away. I was carless, bikeless. I was less mobile than the five year olds in town who all have dirt bikes. Hey, whoa, it’s ok, I mean they’re not supervised but they wear helmets. Safety first! Anyways, by some weird alignment of the stars I had all the ingredients for an Iranian chicken recipe that I had found on Saveur. I quartered the recipe, thinking I’d have enough for one meal and leftovers the next day. I ate everything in two sittings in a matter of minutes.
According to Wikipedia (hopefully they’re not loaded like their pals over at Wikihow), jujeh kabab is one of the most popular dishes in Persia. To be honest, it’s ludicrous that it’s not all the rage here, because this chicken is so good you will make weird sounds when you eat it. Nevermind how it will make your backyard smell…like an exotic marketplace somewhere hot and sandy. North Americans are pretty smug about how much they love to barbecue, but I’d venture to say we could still learn an awful lot about how the rest of the world does it. I’m not knocking hot dogs and beer, but this is the recipe to try if you’re game for something a little different. On my Dunfield solo weekend there was no propane in my roommate’s barbecue (meaning there was and I didn’t know how to light it) so I roasted everything in the oven, with no skewers and it was still amazing. I’ve since made it on a proper outdoor grill for a bunch of pals and it was unanimously agreed: best chicken ever. Here’s the just-perfect-for-one recipe that I fiddled with, and the link to the original recipe that will feed a few pals, or feed your fridge so you can eat it all week. Or in two days.
Jujeh Kabab for One
1/4 cup plain yogurt (not low fat)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (bone in/skin on pretty good too)
Handful of cherry tomatoes
Ground sumac and extra lime to garnish
Mix first 11 ingredients together. Poke a few holes in the chicken with a fork and add to the marinade. Marinate in the fridge for 5 hours, or overnight if possible. Place chicken and cherry tomatoes on a foil lined pan and roast in a preheated 400°F oven until chicken is cooked through and tomatoes are slightly charred. Sprinkle with sumac and fresh lime juice. Serve with rice and flatbread.
Check out the original Saveur recipe here for the full-on experience.
A dead easy dish to impress yourself or a bunch of guests at a barbecue. I made a batch of rice with mine and some homemade flatbread. Which also sounds impressive but is easier to make than the chicken. I love Anna Olson’s recipe, but I’d used the last of my yogurt for the marinade. I poked around online and cobbled together this simple flatbread recipe with no yeast, no yogurt, just the basics. A little bit like bannock in a frying pan, but with a kick:
Sift together 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, one pinch of baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp of cumin seeds. Cut in 1 and 1/2 tbsp butter. Gradually add 1/2 cup ice water and mix with hands until a dough is formed. Break off dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a thinnish oval shape. Heat a little butter or oil in a pan and fry each piece one at a time until golden brown and lovely on each side.
You can make a bunch of these if you’re cooking for a crowd and put them aside. They’re just as good gently reheated in the oven as they are straight out of the pan. They freeze like a dream too, so you can do a bunch and keep them in the freezer for curries and spicy stews and stuff.
No “I’m at home and I can eat what I want” experience is complete without something sweet. I halved Nigel Slater’s chocolate brownie recipe, partly because I didn’t have enough chocolate, but mostly because I knew I’d eat the whole pan in one sitting. The best brownie recipe I’ve tried, and fun to make with different flavours of good quality dark chocolate. I had some Lindt “intense orange” in the fridge and the results were quite intense, and quite orange.
So, you know…we should all just relax and cherish those quiet moments we occasionally get to cook and eat by ourselves. Or if your quiet moments come with a glass of whisky and the Latino Hip Hop playlist on Songza then maybe we should be best friends. Unless you’re that no-fun lady from Nashville, in which case my sorry ass will be watching yours on TLC while eating Persian barbecue and a pan of brownies.