Friday, March 16, 2012

TAKING A BREAK FROM COOKING FOR JUST ME



I see that some folks are still visiting the blog and I thank you all for coming to read. I strongly believe that people living alone need to enjoy at least one of the many tasks we have to keep ourselves alive…cooking. Not many of us enjoy the day to day housework, laundry, etc that we must tackle alone. Food, however, can become an outlet for creativity that can be enjoyable both in the preparation and consumption.

Recently I’ve had a turn in my life that has taken me from cooking and eating for one, to cooking and eating for three. Both of my parents, Dad is 84 and Mom is 78, have reached the stage in their lives when living alone is no longer an option. Dementia is evident in both and where my Mother was always the best cook around, she can no longer put a meal together.

I’ve brought them both to Ohio to live with me and now my life is filled with activities I never thought I’d be undertaking. For two people whose lives revolved around mealtimes, it’s a hard act to follow to keep them both fed on a timely basis. Three full meals a day plus evening snack time are the high points of their day.

So for now, there is very little Simple Meals for One going on in my humble home. I will still put up some entries I’ve been working on regarding kitchen tools and hints that I’ve found to be extremely helpful when cooking for myself. If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them, I do check for those from time to time.

Meanwhile, feel free to check out my other blog Old Biddy Loose on the Town for some of my other activities, including some entries about living with aging parents with dementia.

To borrow a catch phrase from Jacques Pepin, Happy Cooking!

Make the most of meals on your own, you have no one to please but yourself!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Comfortable Nursery Dessert

There are some things straight out of our American childhood - mac n' cheese, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, twinkies and good old chocolate chip cookies - that everyone you talk to has grown up with.  We tend to call these comfort foods. 

Nobody doesn’t like comfort food. It’s the perfect soothing way to end a rough day. It’s regressive yet satisfying: one bite and you’re a kid again. There’s a reason the British call this stuff "nursery food"—meaning bangers-and-mash, beef stew, shepherd’s pie. Like mobiles and lullabies, traditional comfort foods are meant to make you fall asleep as soon as possible, with generous amounts of fat and refined sugars. They’re the indulgent foods we probably shouldn’t crave but do—a guilty pleasure, the culinary equivalent of listening to a Barry Manilow album. They’re our silly little reward at the end of a stressful day.

Well, this has been an especially stressful week for me and when I ran across this recipe in my Mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook I felt the urge to find a way to create this for myself this week. Banana Pudding.

Mom used to make the pudding from scratch and serve it while slightly warm.  If you need to recreate that effect with my version, feel free to warm the pudding briefly in the microwave.

A new convenience food at the grocery store now makes this a simple and tasty weeknight treat.  Well, OK, new for me....my friends with kids are all too familiar with pudding packs, but they're something that never crossed my threshold until very recently.  Bringing home pudding swathed in plastic always seemed like a really bad idea.  As someone who seldom buys anything wrapped in plastic, these seem like a crazy idea to me.  But today when I had an hour to kill waiting for my prescriptions, I was wandering aimlessly down the grocery aisles and managed to land in front of the pudding pack section. 

There is an incredible array of flavors available in pudding these days - cinnamon bun, caramel, blueberry cheesecake - and the one that struck my eye - banana.  With a banana sitting on the counter at home and a quick stop over to the cookie section for a box of vanilla wafers, a comforting nursery dessert was only moments away.

For my friends with kids, you may be making this already.  For the rest of us, this is a bit of a jog down memory lane and now made especially easy for a single serving.

NEW FASHIONED BANANA PUDDING

1 pudding pack - banana flavor
1/3 of a fresh banana
7 vanilla wafers
1 teaspoon melted butter

Reserve 2 wafers for garnish and put 5 vanilla wafers into a plastic bag and crush to a fine crumb.  Combine the crumbs with the melted butter and mix well. 

Put buttered crumbs in the bottom of a dessert dish.

Slice the banana into 1/4 inch slices.  Reserve 3 or 4 slices and cut the others into quarters.  Mix the smaller banana pieces into the banana pudding.  Pile the pudding mixture over the crumbs.

Garnish with reserved banana slices and vanilla wafers.  Eat and be transported back to your childhood for a little soothing R&R.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NEW WEEKLY POST - ONE POT WEDNESDAYS!

It’s been so long since I posted a regular meal here on Simple Meals for One, most of you are probably thinking I eat nothing except desserts.  Not so dear friends!  It just happens that recently I’ve been eating out a lot, which means that not only do I not have to cook meals on those particular evenings, but I usually haul home a box of leftovers that feed me at least one more meal, sometimes two. 

If you follow along on my Old Biddy blog you’ll have some sense of where I’ve been eating lately and it hasn't been in my own kitchen.   Although I truly love the actual eating when I'm out, one of the best things about eating out is that I get a lot of really good ideas to bring back to my own kitchen: pizza ideas from the pizza and wine pairing dinner a couple of weeks ago; recipes from the chef at the wine pairing dinner at Giant Eagle last week; or maybe a little French-style bistro meal from the menu at l’Albotros. Not to mention ideas that pop into my email box from King Arthur Flour or Culinate or Eating Well.

So many ideas and so few days to cook!


Crock pots sitting on a shelf waiting for
cooler weather.
Luckily, with the arrival of fall my calendar has slowed down a bit and I’m feeling the tug of the kitchen again. This time of year I drag the slow cooker down from the shelf and begin longing for meals of soups and stews and pizzas and casseroles that warm up not only the kitchen but my soul as well.

So welcome to my new weekly addition to the blog of One Pot Wednesdays. A soup pot, a slow cooker, a pizza peel or a wok are all that’s required to turn a few ingredients into a hearty meal for one.

We’ll brush up some techniques such as our knife skills, too, because many one pot meals require some slicing and dicing as prep work. The better we’re able to wield a good sharp knife, the easier this will be.  Some hints on buying equipment for making One Pot meals will show up here too.  Got questions?  Feel free to ask them as a comment and I'll try to reply accurately. 

But enough chatter, let's get rolling! 

Our First One Pot Wednesday – Classic Leek and Potato Soup
Last year I posted a recipe for a big pot of this soup to my other blog “Old Biddy Loose on the Town”. It was a more complicated version that is absolutely delicious and I would be proud to serve this to company any day of the week – or in fact make this and eat from the pot for several days.

However, here our goal is to simplify recipes to create one that prompts everyone to cook for themselves without having tons of leftovers to deal with later or make it complicated enough that we’ll turn to a can of processed soup instead. The result today is this simple version of the French classic - Leek and Potato Soup.

There is good reason this is a classic. Leeks and potatoes are excellent partners. Potatoes easily take on the subtle flavors of leeks that are a cross between an onion and garlic giving you the best of both from one ingredient. This version is also vegetarian, giving me a good hearty, meat free, weeknight meal. Today I added a sprig of fresh thyme to the pot but you can substitute dill or rosemary for a totally different hint of flavor.
Leeks require a thorough cleaning
to remove sand that grow between
the layers.  Chopping first then washing
is a simple way to achieve the best results.

If you so desire, feel free to top this soup with some shredded cheddar cheese and/or crumbled bacon.

CLASSIC LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

2 teaspoons canola oil
½ medium leek, cleaned well and chopped
½ cup water or vegetable broth (just enough to cover the vegetables)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 sprig of fresh thyme
¼ cup milk or half and half
Chopped chives for garnish

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil over medium heat then add the chopped leeks. Sauté over medium heat until the leeks begin to turn translucent.

Add water, chopped potatoes, thyme sprig, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are soft but not mushy. Remove the thyme sprig.

Using an immersion blender, blend the potatoes and leeks to desired constancy. (I prefer to leave some chunks in my soup for texture but feel free to blend your soup completely smooth if you desire.)

Add milk or half and half and stir to warm through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve in a warm soup bowl and garnish with chopped fresh chives.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Cake...Need I Say More?

OK, one little bit more....this pudding cake is just for YOU!  A sort of One Day Only Special - a temptation Tuesday dessert for one.

Again, going back to my Mom's favorite recipes (which just happen to be some of my very favorite desserts) I settled on this classic chocolate goodie for the weeks' Temptation Tuesday treat.  Normally made in an 8x8-inch baking dish, this was enough to feed my small family of three for two nights (unless Dad managed to get into the fridge and steal the rest after dinner).  It is especially good served while still warm, but not hot, from the oven with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

This is one of those magical pudding concoctions that start out with the liquid ingredients on top and while it bakes, the cake moves to the top leaving a decadent gooey layer of chocolaty goodness on the bottom.  A great thing about baking this in a small dish like tonight is that there isn't any of the chocolaty gooey stuff left behind in the dish when transferring to your own serving dish.  Score one for the single serving dish!

The recipe may seem a little complicated since there are over five ingredients and you need a couple of small bowls to mix things in, but believe me this was well worth the effort.  Did I have to lick my finger clean of chocolate cake goo after coaxing the cake batter into the dish?  Yes.  Did it take me nearly 10 minutes to gather the ingredients and get them ready to bake?  Yes.  Did the aroma of hot chocolate waft through my house while it was baking?  Yes.  These were hardships that I was willing to undertake to bring this recipe to my readers. 

I even had to taste test it just to ensure it was as I remembered it.  Man, what I won't do for you guys.

CHOCOLATE PUDDING CAKE - FOR ONE

Make the Cake
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoons cocoa
1 teaspoons butter
dash salt
pinch baking soda
4 teaspoons milk
1/4 teaspoons vanilla

Mix all ingredients and pour into a 4 inch ramekin.

Make the Topping
4 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoons cocoa
4 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cold water

Cocoa powder does not like to blend with water very well so you will need to use a whisk to beat it into submersion.

Mix and pour over batter.  Bake in 350º oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

When the cake is done, it will be bubbling around the cake and the cake will have firmed up.  Let it cool about 15 minutes before serving.
 
Add a spritz of whipped cream and you're ready to indulge!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mom's Apple Dumplings

Apple Dumpling…apple dumpling…ample duppling…… This is one of those things that Mom and I used to laugh over when I was a kid. Try to say “apple dumpling” three times really fast and see what comes out. Yes, we were silly. And no, for some sad reason, now when I try it it comes out correctly every time.

Frankly it was more fun when Mom and I were giggling in the kitchen over the ample dupplings. This is one of the things I remember very early on helping Mom make. She would make the dough and cut up the apples and I would hold the dough in my little hands while she piled in the apples, spices and a couple of dabs of butter. Then I got to fold them up and put them in the baking dish. Like lumps of wobbly rocks in a sack, I had to be careful not to lose any apples during the process and I was always to proud that I helped make this wonderful dessert.

Me and Mom having fun in one
of those photo booths. We really
liked to giggle!  1962
I cannot count the number of cold, winter Saturday nights when these were our actual dinner if we’d had a bigger lunch that day. There is always something warm and comforting about a hot dumpling fresh from the oven served with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of ice cold milk on top. Ahhhh….that really hits the comfort spot.

Meanwhile, it’s actually been over 20 years since I made these but I miss them terribly, especially in the fall when the apples are abundant. Mom had a special crust recipe she used for these but as a busy single cook I don’t really have the time to fuss with that so I’ve taken a shortcut by using store bought pie crust and it tastes just fine. Someday when company comes over I'll dig out the real recipe, but for now this will do just fine.

These little bundles aren’t fancy but they are like a warm piece of apple pie a la mode turned up just a smidge.  The ingredients are like apple pie, so if you have a favorite spice blend feel free to use it here, that's what I do.  The big difference is that this pastry bundle has a sauce poured over the baking dumpling that makes the crust all gooey and sweet.  The sauce thickens as it bakes and the idea is to baste the bundles once or twice during the baking time to keep the top moist. 

Feel free to serve this with some wonderful vanilla ice cream on top but frankly I cannot wait for the ice cream to melt so I top mine with some cold milk.  If you find your dumpling not quite sweet enough, a sprinkling of sugar on the top is a delightful addition to the bowl. 

STORE BOUGHT TIP
I purchased a package of a double pie crust from the refrigerated section of my grocer.  Baking for one pretty much rules out baking an entire pie, so I rolled out each crust on my board and cut each into quarters.  One was left out for today's dessert and the rest were wrapped in plastic wrap and tucked into a plastic freezer bag for storage in the freezer.  When I need a small crust for something it's a simple task to pull out one piece to work with leaving the rest for later use.

DO AHEAD TIP
Mom used to assemble these and put them into the freezer unbaked.  They were always a hit with company and because she had them pre-assembled it was an easy dessert that she could thaw out that day to bake and the house would smell of warm cinnamon and apples by the time company arrived.

MOM'S AMPLE DUPPLINGS

1/4 of a 9-inch pie crust
Filling:
   1 large apple, peeled, cored and sliced (about 1 cup of apple slices)
   sprinkle of cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg to taste
   1 teaspoon butter, cut into quarters
Sauce:
    1/4 cup water
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon butter

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.  Set out a small baking dish and butter it.  Set out the piece of crust onto a board. Feel free to roll out the edges so make the piece a little larger. Pile the sliced apples and spiced into the center of the crust and top with the butter pats.

Pull the edges over the apples to enclose the filling being careful not to puncture the crust.

Put the dumpling into a baking dish, tucked seams down and smooth side up.  Cut a slit into the top to allow steam to escape.

Put the dumpling in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile prepare the sauce.

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium-high heat.  Allow the sauce to come to a boil.  Add the butter to the sauce and allow to simmer until the sauce just begins to turn gold.  Swirl the pan - do not stir. 

Once it has turned light gold, remove from the heat.

Pour the sauce over the top of the baking dumpling.  Return to the oven and bake an additional 25-30 minutes (will depend upon how thinly you sliced your apples). 

Every 10 minutes, baste the sauce over top of the dumpling.  Dumpling are done when you can run a knife into the center and it comes out easily. 

Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving. 

I prefer mine with some ice cold milk on top. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who's a Fool? I'm a Fool!

You can always tell a real friend; when you've made a fool of yourself he doesn't feel you've done a permanent job. - Laurence J. Peter

Thank goodness for that! There have been plenty of times I’ve made a fool of myself and for the most part it’s been either ignored or soon forgotten. Hopefully that means I have some pretty good friends.

Today, for Temptation Tuesday, rather than making a fool OF myself, I’m making a Fool FOR myself. A dessert Fool, that is.

What is a Fool?
According to the Food Lover’s Companion, a Fool is "an old-fashioned dessert made of cooked, pureed fruit that is strained, chilled and folded into whipped cream".  What could possibly be bad about that?  Most Fool recipes use a strained fruit puree, but today I'm using pineapple that is crushed and left fairly whole in the finished dish. 

Not one to leave well enough alone, today’s fool has a little something extra to give it a flavor boost. Rum! Pineapple is good. Whipped cream is good. Rum is good. Put the three together and this is REALLY good!

You will need a special piece of equipment for this dessert – either a mixer or handheld immersion blender. We’re only whipping up a scant ½ cup of cream so I find that the immersion blender works fine here. Alternatively, you can certainly use some non-dairy whipped topping if you prefer to make this even easier.

I’ve turned this into a parfait to give a little crunch to the dessert. Originally I intended to serve a gingersnap cookie as a garnish, but it sounded so good I added the crushed cookies to the recipe. I happened to have a small bag of inexpensive ginger cookies in the pantry from a batch of German meatballs I made a while ago (yes the recipe called for crushed gingersnaps and it was really quite good).  The bite of the gingersnap goes awesomely well with the rum flavoring of the pineapple. However, feel free to leave this out if you prefer.

Also, if you feel the need to leave out the rum, feel free.  However, this cooks for about 7-8 minutes so there isn't any alcohol left in the fruit by the time it's ready for the dish.

One final note before we get started.  When you're making something this simple, whether it's just for youself or you have guests over, using the best ingredients you can find will take the dish a notch above the norm.  I have noted use of a fresh pineapple, which I love. If you’re not all about preparing your own fresh pineapple, most produce departments now carry pre-peeled pineapples for your convenience. Best case - you may find pineapple chunks on a salad bar in your grocery so that you buy only what you need. In a pinch, a small can of pineapple tidbits will do. Real whipping cream rather than the imitation - fresh pineapple instead of canned - these things don't cost much more and it takes an average dessert to Fool heaven.
PINEAPPLE RUM FOOL PARFAIT

1/2 cup freshly cut pineapple
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream (or 3/4 cup non-dairy whipped topping)
1 teaspoon white sugar
¼ cup crushed gingersnap cookies,

In a heavy saucepan, off the heat, mash the pineapple with a fork or potato masher until crushed.

Add sugar and rum, mix well. Turn to medium-high heat, bring to a boil and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened.

Once almost all of the liquid has cooked off, remove from heat.  Put mixture in a heat proof bowl and chill thoroughly in refrigerator.

In a small bowl, whip heavy cream and sugar to stiff peaks.  Here you can see my immersion blender whipping 1/2 cup cream into.... 


...stiff peaked whipped cream. 

Put cream and chilled pinapple mixture into a small bowl and gentlyfold the cream into the pineapple mixture.

About a tablespoon of the cookie crumbs into the bottom of your serving dish. Spoon half of the cream mixture on top. Repeat the layers reserving a sprinkling of crumbs for the garnish.

Garnish with the reserved crumbs, a small piece of pineapple and/or a cookie and serve.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chocolate and Bacon? Yes - Perfect Companions!

Ahhhh…Temptation Tuesday. I believe I’m in the mood for chocolate this week. Originally I was going to work on a version of my Mom’s Chocolate Pudding Cake, but good friend and fellow cooking aficionado, Bev, found a recipe for Bacon-Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Brownies. We’d talked about these at dinner last week, and I was totally blown away by the idea of them. Bev made these for a family birthday party and the reviews were enthusiastic.

What’s not to like? Chocolate? Good stuff! Bacon? Well, heck yeah! Bourbon? Now you’re talking! Put these together in one recipe and it couldn’t help but be something I wanted to try.

The original recipe is from Food & Wine magazine and is baked in a 9x9-inch pan making, what, 4 large brownies? OK, I exaggerate – the recipe says 24 brownies out of a 9x9-inch pan, but who are they kidding!  Looks like 8 would be a good number. And I’m not saying I couldn’t eat 8 of these, but I still decided to do my waistline a favor and cut this down to something more manageable for the single baker.

I tend to make brownies and cakes in half or quarter batches. This allows for dessert plus a little sumpin' sumpin' to snack on the next day. If you’re limiting your sweets intake, feel free to freeze half for another time. Or, of course if you're feeling generous, go find the original recipe and make the whole thing and share with friends or co-workers - it might increase your chances of getting a good gift come the holidays!

My 8x8 inch pan with my 4x7 inside.  If you can
find one or two of these they're a great
buy for a single cook or baker.
Baking for One
One key to baking brownies and small cakes is the baking pan. Almost everyone has an 8x8 or a 9x9 inch baking pan in the cupboard and most of us have a 13x9 inch pan, but we need to leave those behind for times when there are more people in the house.

For the single baker there are a couple of options. One is the muffin tin. Perfectly portioned and sized for one, these are obviously good for single portion cupcakes and muffins. Brownies, on the other hand, tend to stick to the bottom and sides of the pans and that could mean digging them out of small spaces like muffin cups leaving you with more brownie crumbs than actual brownie.

There are two good options remaining for smaller batch baking. First option - since I do a lot of baking smaller batches of casseroles, I have some small 4x7x1 1/2 inch Pyrex dishes that are mini-versions of the 9x13 dish. I happened across these at the Corning outlet store many years ago and use them often. They would be perfect for these brownies. However, I’d admit that not everyone has these. A quick internet search didn’t turn these up for sale anywhere but you may run across them at the outlet stores like I did. Given that……

The best option is probably one that everyone has in the kitchen – a bread loaf pan. Ideal because it’s about half the size of an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan, it has a rather simple shape that you can lift brownies out of if you’ve lined the pan with parchment or waxed paper or even foil (which I highly recommend). It also allows for taller baking in case there is more batter and it needs to climb up rather than spread out.

Prepare your loaf pan by spraying with a non-stick baking spray and fitting it with a sling of parchment, waxed paper or foil allowing it to be long enough to lift the brownies out of the pan once they are cooled.

Ready – here we go!

BACON-BOURBON BROWNIES WITH PECANS

1/4 cup pecans
2 slices bacon
4 teaspoons bacon fat*
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 packed cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on 2 opposite sides. Spray the paper with vegetable spray.

Spread the pecans in a skillet and toast over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool, then coarsely chop the nuts.

In a skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning once, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and let cool; reserve 4 teaspoons of the fat. Coarsely chop the bacon.

In a saucepan, combine both chocolates with the butter and stir over very low heat, until melted; scrape into a large bowl.

Using a whisk or wooden spoon, beat in by hand both sugars with the reserved 1 ½ tablespoons of bacon fat. Beat in the bourbon.

Add the eggs and salt and beat until smooth. Sift the cocoa and flour into the bowl and beat in the butter mixture until blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the bacon and pecans on top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the brownies are set around the edges but slightly wobbly in the center; a toothpick inserted into the center should have some batter clinging to it.

Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool completely. Lift the brownies out of the pan using the parchment paper.

Cut into squares or rectangles and serve.

* OK, some of  you are still squeemish about using bacon fat.  This is actually called for in the original recipe and I was a bit surprised to see it here but for the same reasons I use bacon fat in my cornbread, use it here.  It lends a hint of smokey goodness to the brownie itself to compliment the bacon bits on the top.