secret single behaviour – how to get excited about cooking for one

cavalo nero

It’s been a while since I last watch an episode of Sex and the City but I’ve found that since I joined the ranks of the newly single, I’ve been thinking about the show from time to time

The episode that has stuck in my mind is where Aiden has moved into Carrie’s apartment. This causes Carrie to start quizzing everyone on what she calls their ‘secret single behaviour’ – the quirky habits they fall into when they’re on their own.

Carrie admitted to eating saltine crackers in the kitchen standing up while reading fashion magazines. Which also got me thinking about cooking (or at least the eating) habits of singles.

A lot of people say they can’t be bothered cooking when they’re on their own. It’s a bit harder to get motivated when you don’t have someone to share the fruits of your labour. But for me, cooking for myself is one of my favourite things. It rare for me to feel sad or lonely in my kitchen.

So I thought that this week I’d share with you my favourite secret single recipe and the things I do to keep motivated to cook when it’s just one for dinner.

embrace your favourite foods
If there’s something you love – that get’s you excited just thinking about it. Make sure you put it to the top of the menu list.

For me it’s things like brussels sprouts, asparagus and beetroot. But it changes with my mood and the seasons. Tinned sardines are really doing it for me of late.

make dinner time a special treat
Making dinner time a reward rather than a chore is an easy way to help get motivated to cook. Start thinking of it as time to relax and unwind while you’re chopping and stirring. Put on some good music and pour yourself a glass of wine. Make the most of this time to yourself.

set the table to set the scene
Even when I’m eating solo I still set the table with proper cutlery and a serviette, light some candles and if I had a TV, I’d turn it off. By treating doing the same things that I would if I had company, I feel like less of a loser eating on my own.

play the use-what’s-in-the-fridge game
This is one of my favourite secret single tricks. No need to stop in to pick something up on your way home from work. Just open the fridge – pull out a few ingredients and see where the evening takes you.

don’t scrimp on quality
It’s easy to think ‘It’s just for me – no need to spend extra on getting the best’. Trust me, using inferior ingredients and having a disappointing meal is one sure way to make solo cooking inspiration vanish.

halve your recipes
I’m a girl who loves variety, especially in what I eat. So making a big batch of something and then having to eat it day in day out is not very appealing. To overcome this I either freeze the excess or halve the recipe. Which mostly works well, except for the time I forgot to halve the chilli but halved everything else(!)

use it as a chance to experiment.
When you’re cooking for yourself the performance pressure is off and it’s the perfect opportunity to explore new recipes and techniques. While I’m happy to try new things when I’m cooking for others – it’s only when I’m feeding myself that I risk my truly ‘out there’ ideas.

I’d love to hear your secret single cooking behaviour – what inspires you to cook for one?

cavalo nero

wilted greens with parmesan
serves 1

My favourite greens for this dish are either kale or cavalo nero (also known as Tusan cabbage) but it’s also lovely with plain old spinach or silverbeet.

It is one of my all time favourite single gal meals. Quick and easy and so so good for you. It’s also surprisingly versatile.

The cheese can be substituted with all manner of things. Sometimes I poach an egg, or just toast some pinenuts to sprinkle on top. If I’m craving a fish hit I’ve also been known to toss through a can of sardines – but I appreciate this isn’t for everyone.

It can also be a great way to use up leftover ragu or even risotto.

2T olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely sliced
1 bunch or about 4 large handfuls cavalo nero (or other greens – see note above)
1/2 lemon
1 handful grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over a medium high heat. Add garlic and cook until it just starts to brown. Add greens and stir fry until just wilted. Remove from the heat. Squeeze through a little lemon juice.

Serve on a warm plate with parmesan sprinkled over and extra lemon on the side.

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{ 30 comments }

Frenchie November 23, 2009 at 11:46 pm

I absolutely love this post, you totally just hit the nail on the head. Although it can be hard to make dinner for one especially after heartaches and heartbreaks, I think it is so courageous to be so bold about it. I would agree that one of the best parts about good food is sharing it with someone. But sometimes, I am so grateful that when I set the table for just me I can sit down and enjoy food just as much as if I am with someone. I think that being able to eat alone is like being able to laugh alone, it’s sign that you’re comfortable just being with yourself, and that is the most special gift.

Ruth November 24, 2009 at 3:22 am

Thanks for the tips. My husband works at a job that takes him away during the week. Its sad but I love that I get to cook what I want during that time. Especially vegetarian dishes and more dishes from away. I also love the book Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant complied by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Its a compilation of stories on what people eat when they are all alone in the kitchen. It made me laugh and cry and eat better when alone!

Wendy November 24, 2009 at 3:38 am

I love cooking for one. When my boyfriend isn’t around I tend to use lots of blue cheese and/or mushrooms – both things he detests. Or I centre my meal around one vegetable. A roasted aubergine or braised chicory, for example.

silvia November 24, 2009 at 4:30 am

I’m currently cooking for myself most of the time and really enjoying it. Because dinner cooking-time is time i can spend for myself and relax a bit, doing something i love and in the end eating something tasty, of course! Being in the kitchen is something peacful and comforting for me. And it’s only when i’m cooking for myself that i try the somewhat more adventerous experiments, too.

Erin November 24, 2009 at 7:12 am

I lived by myself for about 2 years and loved cooking for myself. All your suggestions are great, Jules.

My favourite time was getting home from my part-time job on Sunday afternoon. I’d pick up some lamb and a bottle of red, and cook up a big curry, then freeze the leftovers for when I got home late during the week.

Freezing is an important thing for singles!

destined to design November 24, 2009 at 7:37 am

i love this! i sometimes find it hard to muster up the energy to cook a real dinner just for myself, but when i do, i always really enjoy it. i hate eating leftovers too, so i’ll definitely try that halving the recipe idea. the nice thing about cooking for one is splurging on a quality ingredient because you only need enough for one serving. thanks for sharing!

Taylor November 24, 2009 at 9:14 am

Jules, I’ve recently found your blog and am so glad I did! Everything I’ve made so far from your site has been easy and turned out wonderfully; I’m now raving about your site to my family and friends. Thanks for writing!

KT November 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

Great post Jules. I must confess I tend to eat my dinner in front of the TV, but I really should make the effort to sit at the table and really enjoy my meals. I agree about not skimping on good quality ingredients!

Paul November 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

Jules, I like precision in the kitchen: my favourite tool is the digital scale. Could you please post a photo of your hands so we can see what you mean when you say a “handful” of this or a “large handful” of that. I like your blog too – thanks.

Janet November 24, 2009 at 10:17 pm

I love to eat, so cooking for myself is a pleasure. I frequently prepare something that appears–not as leftovers–but as a new, recycled meal, i.e., pork roast into an Asian stir-fry; roast chicken into Thai curry. Also, it’s a pleasure to roam through food mags and pick new recipes. Today I will try your wilted greens with kale from the garden. Never watch TV during dinner, but confess to sometimes opening a book–after I have savoured a few bites with full attention.

jules November 25, 2009 at 6:20 am

frenchie
I love the parallel with being able to laugh on your own

jenny
thanks for the tip about the book – funny someone emailed me about this book the other day – definitely a sign I need to check it out

wendy
I’m hearing you about blue cheese and mushrooms. Love the idea of focusing on one vegetable as well

silvia
I hadn’t thought about the cost benefits of splurging on great ingredients for one – another perk!

erin
your old sunday ritual sounds like great fun

thanks for spreading the word taylor – get your friends to subscribe

thanks KT
the thing I hate about eating in front of the TV is that you just start eating and then mysteriously it’s all gone and you’ve hardly tasted a mouthful

hey paul
I used to be a precision freak as well but I’m trying to loosen up a bit. I guess the key thing with handful measurements is that it’s not critical that you get the exact same amount each time.But for the record my hands are pretty average girl sized.

janet
love the idea of reinventing and refreshing leftovers. Am completely jealous that you have access to kale from your garden

Shannon November 25, 2009 at 8:05 am

I’m not sure if it really is an amazing and bizarre as I think it is, but this is almost exactly what I have been eating obsessively for the last week! Without the parmesan though – I’ll have to give that a go =]

Nao November 25, 2009 at 10:44 am

Hola Jul,
I am loving the greens witha bit of lemon and garlic!! It sounds great and i think Joel is getting it for dinner tonight :) Luv u xoxo

Kylie of Thin Crust Deep Dish November 25, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Have you heard about the book What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison? I haven’t read it but have heard interviews with Madison about it. It sounds fascinating. I love to eat alone mindfully. It’s so much fun to eat just what you want, prepared exactly as you like it. Congratulations on your singledom (that can’t be a word).

Andrew November 26, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I think the hardest part for me is portion control. I still find myself shopping and cooking for two, but I don’t really feel like storing and then later eating left overs, so I just end up eating more than I should, and then throwing the rest out.

I’m not really sure why I buy and cook for two, maybe it’s a habit, or maybe it’s a bit embarassing or too hard to buy for one, or maybe I just live in hope that someone will ‘drop in’ for dinner.

Zoe November 28, 2009 at 6:43 am

I just stumbled across your blog, and so glad to have read this post.
I have a partner, but I do live alone in a small studio…so apart from when he is over 2-4 nights a week, I eat dinner alone as you said.
I really enjoying the whole process of sharing food with others, but still used to cook and present delicious and more exciting meals for myself. Lately though, I have been so lazy and just throwing whatever together (often just a protein shake eek!) and have kinda lost that enjoyment a bit…
Reading this though has really inspired me to get back in there and start cooking the things I love again, so thank you for sharing! I am going to try those delicious looking wilted greens tonight, my partner always says how yuck kale tastes, but cooked like this I know I will convince him ;)

An November 28, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Hi Jules,

Your post nails my thoughts on cooking alone. I’m a uni student sharing with other flatmates, but we all cook our own meals and eat alone most of the time. I love trying out crazy and new things without being held down what another person likes/prefers.
I go by the handful of this, handful of that kinda way – I’m not very exact – but I understand one has to be more exact with baking. I’m a more savoury kinda girl. Also I go by “I stuff up, I make it better next time. If it’s good enough, I can serve it up to others.”

Also love to snack on raw nuts, fruits, saltine crackers with nutella/kaya/honey, standing up.

David December 2, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I myself just became single again, and it is difficult sometimes to want to cook an entire meal for just myself. But I try to do it as often as I can, and I am glad I found your site!

lili - pikelet and pie December 2, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I am also newly single, but cooking for 1 has never really been my problem. I love cooking and can always find someone to give excess away too. My issue is eating out alone. In normal situations being alone in a restaurant doesn’t bother me one little bit, but I’ve just spent 3 weeks in Malaysia and found my eating options very limited because I was alone and could only order 1 or 2 dishes. Moving on regularly this meant that I was never able to fully experience eateries, so I ended up eating one place meals in Hawker places. It was delicious but I felt like I was missing out a little.

la grosse mere December 3, 2009 at 8:25 am

Just found your blog – and as I’m always cooking for myself, I had to read this post ;-)
I have no problem cooking for only myself – I think it’s pretty challenging to find recipes you can also prepare for only one person without having tons of leftovers.
I always prepare my lunch in the evening before and take it to work – so I don’t face the problem of sitting alone at the table – I really hate sitting alone there and just eat. If I had a TV, I’d switch it on…

jules December 3, 2009 at 9:26 am

hi la grosse mere
I guess the most important thing is to do whatever you’re most comfortable with and enjoy your meal

lili
I’m hearing you about eating alone while travelling in countries that have a culture of sharing – struggling with it myself in spain at the moment

thanks david
good to hear from other single folk having a go

hi an
you’ve convinced me I need to try these saltine crackers standing up. thanks

hey zoe
good luck with convincing your partner on the joys of kale – you could have a tough battle there

hey andrew
I know what you mean about portion control – I find it hard to shop for one in Australia but I’m noticing that here in Barcelona everone is much more geared to people shopping for single servings – my local bakery will even cut a baguette in half for you – it’s great

kylie
haven’t heard of deborah’s book but sounds really interesting – thanks for the recommendation

nao
hope joel enjoyed the greens!

shannon
great minds think alike!

Lyndal December 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

Thank you Jules,
I love this post, you are inspirational and clever…all the best at El Bulli too

jules December 11, 2009 at 11:16 pm

thanks so much for commenting lyndal.
you say the nicest things.
J

cassi st. james December 30, 2009 at 12:33 am

I love your blog…especially the posting about 5 ingredients in 5 minutes! That is my central theme and I have been cooking this way for years! Now sharing it with my readers. Thx. cassi

jules January 5, 2010 at 11:35 am

cassi
so glad you love stonesoup. I’m loving the 5 ingredients recipes as well. it’s fun to really get back to basics

Hannah January 10, 2010 at 10:27 am

I think what I love about cooking for myself is just being able to eat whatever I’m yearning for, without feeling the need to conform to “appropriate” foods for the time. So it it’s technically dinner-time but I feel like oatmeal, or a huge bowl of steamed vegetables accompanied with super dark chocolate -I can do so easily and happily! :)

Love the blog – have only just found it, but foresee some enjoyable archive-reading in my future!

jules January 12, 2010 at 7:03 pm

hannah
you’re so right about the freedom to be inappropriate. welcome to stonesoup. hope you enjoy the archives

Maggie November 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I love recipes that are full of flavour and contain much chilli! I’m glad I am alone and can please myself.

Love the idea of only 5 ingredients too.

jules November 26, 2010 at 4:07 pm

thanks for the kind words maggie
there’s always something to be said for pleasing yourself!

Alecta November 6, 2011 at 9:58 am

I just tried this tonight and it was delicious! Since I can’t have garlic or onion, I subbed in some cumin and used kale as my green. I think this might be a new favorite.

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