The simple pleasure of cooking for one

Credit: Nikos Frazier

Credit: Nikos Frazier

When I was single, I usually cooked enough food for at least two meals — dinner one night and leftovers the next.

It was easier that way, and more economical. Also, I’m lazy, and getting more than one meal out of one day’s cooking appealed to my slothful side. A dinner of corned beef turns into corned beef sandwiches the next day and corned beef hash for breakfast.

But sometimes you just. Don’t. Want. Leftovers.

Sometimes, you truly want to cook just one meal for just one person: you. And cereal doesn’t count.

So I decided to explore four takes on cooking for one: ground beef, pork, salmon (for when you’re feeling a little fancy) and vegetarian.

I was in a celebratory mood, so I started with the salmon.

It was easy getting a single fillet — I just asked the fish guy at my grocery store for one. And making the sauce for it was almost as easy.

The sauce is a simple matter of whisking together mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon zest, lemon juice and a bit of garlic. And when I tell you that it is a phenomenal sauce that I can’t wait to try again, I’m not being all food writery and say that everything I make is incredible. I’m telling you: It’s a phenomenal sauce that I can’t wait to try again.

I’m sure it would go well with other fish and even shrimp. For that matter, it would probably be excellent with chicken, too. But I can’t see how it could be better with anything than it is with salmon; it is a perfect pairing.

I sautéed my salmon in a skillet, giving it a delicious, crispy sear. But the sauce is so great you could also bake the salmon, or even poach it. Any way you do it, you’ll be happy.

I next tried a pork chop — and to be honest, I could only find them in packages of two. But that’s fine; I just had one left over to cook the next day.

The traditional accompaniment to pork chops is apple, so I was thinking along those lines when I came upon a recipe that stopped me in my tracks. It is a pork chop with apples, yes, but the apples are sweetened with brown sugar and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans.

Essentially, it is a pork chop with the filling to an apple pie. It isn’t nearly as sweet as that, but it’s basically the same idea.

And how is it? It’s excellent. It’s pork with a warm apple glaze. It’s a little hard to track down where the recipe originally came from — it’s swirling somewhere in the mists of the Internet — but somebody out there is a genius.

As with the pork, it was hard to find ground beef in a portion of much less than a pound. So, as with the pork, I had some beef left over to cook the next day.

I used the beef to make what I’m afraid is a standard meal when I am cooking just for myself. It reminds me of what I imagine well-fed cowboys used to eat on the range, so I called it Chuckwagon Skillet.

It’s ground beef cooked with onion, potatoes, beans, diced tomatoes and roasted corn, spiced (or not, if you don’t like heat) with minced jalapeño. If you start cooking the potatoes first, everything comes together at the same time, and you can make it all in one skillet. That’s important for solo diners.

If you want, you can make it with ground turkey, although I’m guessing not a lot of cowboys did it that way.

For my final solo meal, I made a vegetarian version of my favorite Philly cheese steak sandwich, Tony Luke’s, which is located right underneath Interstate 95. If you ask, Tony Luke’s will put broccoli rabe on its sandwiches.

So I was thrilled to find a vegetarian version, with just the right amount of broccoli rabe and thinly sliced portobello mushrooms substituting for the beef. The mildly bitter rabe plays beautifully off the succulent, earthy mushrooms, and there is just enough grease to make it great.

Best of all are the couple of slices of American cheese that are melted in, which makes it absolutely gooey and divine. You could also use provolone or do it the Philly way, with Cheez Whiz.

But use the American cheese. Treat yourself.



Yield: 1 serving

1 (4-ounce) salmon fillet

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1. Season the salmon with salt and pepper.

2. Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, 1/2 tablespoon of the oil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tarragon and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Set aside.

3. Put the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a cast-iron, nonstick or carbon steel skillet over medium-high heat, and heat until the oil shimmers. Cook the salmon flesh-side down for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how done you want it. Flip and cook the skin side for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with the sauce.

Per serving: 514 calories; 46 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 72 mg cholesterol; 22 g protein; 1 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 475 mg sodium; 33 mg calcium

Adapted from


Yield: 1 serving

2 teaspoons butter, divided (each teaspoon is 1/3 tablespoon)

1 pork loin chop

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 pinches salt

1 medium-sized tart apple, such as Granny Smith, thinly sliced

1/2 tablespoon chopped pecans, optional

1. In a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat until hot. Add pork chop, cook 2 to 3 minutes on one side, then 1 to 2 minutes on the other side until done — no pink juice runs out when cut. Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

2. Remove chop; keep warm. Add apples, optional pecans, brown sugar mixture and remaining 1 teaspoon butter to pan; cook and stir until tender. Serve with pork chop.

Per serving: 400 calories; 23 g fat; 9 g saturated fat; 97 mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 27 g carbohydrate; 21 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 364 mg sodium; 49 mg calcium

Adapted from Taste of Home


Yield: 1 serving

1/4 cup corn kernels; preferably fresh, but rinsed and dried if from a can

1 teaspoon (1/3 tablespoon) butter

1 cup diced Russett potato


2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 teaspoon minced jalapeño, or to taste, optional

4 ounces ground beef or ground turkey

1/4 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed

1/4 cup canned diced tomatoes

1. Place a skillet over medium-high heat, spray well with nonstick spray and sauté corn until spotted with brown. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

2. Melt butter in same skillet and add diced potatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook 5 minutes, tossing or stirring frequently. Add onions, cover, and cook until they are soft and the potatoes are browned and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. If using jalapeño, add it and cook for 1 minute.

3. Stir in ground beef and cook, chopping the meat with a spoon or spatula, until thoroughly cooked. Stir in beans, tomatoes and reserved corn; cook until warmed through. Taste for seasoning.

Per serving: 453 calories; 17 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 97 mg cholesterol; 29 g protein; 47 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 9 g fiber; 323 mg sodium; 75 mg calcium


Yield: 1 serving

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided

1/2 garlic clove, sliced thin

Pinch of crushed red pepper

3 ounces broccoli rabe or broccoletti, trimmed

1/2 tablespoon water

Salt and pepper

1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 medium portobello mushroom caps, gills removed, sliced thin

2 slices American cheese

1 (8-inch) Italian sub roll, split lengthwise and toasted

1. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broccoli rabe, water and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook until broccoli rabe is bright green and crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Off heat, stir in vinegar, then transfer to bowl.

2. Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in now-empty pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their liquid, 6 to 8 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown.

3. Stir broccoli rabe back into skillet and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and top the vegetables with the cheese. Cover and cook until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Fold melted cheese thoroughly into mushroom mixture, and place on roll.

Per serving: 596 calories; 30 g fat; 9 g saturated fat; 34 mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 62 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 1,225 mg sodium; 505mg calcium

Adapted from “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” by America’s Test Kitchen

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