Reader Alice submitted the following to Questions for cooks:
I’m single and not very brave or experienced in the kitchen. My staples are takeout food and frozen dinners. I’d like to eat at home a little more often, but I could use some tips on how to make that work for my situation.
One challenge I face in particular is if I cook a meal designed for four, then I end up with wasted food or having to eat the same meal four times in a row. I’d appreciate suggestions for things I can cook and then freeze in individual portions, and the best methods for storing/reheating (mini plastic containers? Ziplocs?).
My first recommendation is to avoid strict recipes for awhile and just start experimenting in your kitchen with single portions of proteins and vegetables. Walk through the produce area of your grocery store and only buy as much of a vegetable that you would eat in a single meal. Get one small zucchini or a handful of fresh green beans or one Russet potato. Then, head to the fish and meat counters and get just one steak or one pork chop or one fish fillet.
If don’t already own one, also get an instant read thermometer. When you cook the meat, you’ll want the thermometer to help you figure out when the food is done. Consult the Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures list if you are unfamiliar with these temperatures.
The next step is to pull out a skillet and give cooking a try. Wash the vegetables and skin them or cut them up, if necessary. A dollop of canola oil in the bottom of a medium-heated pan and a little bit of salt over the vegetables is usually all you need for cooking them. The exception to this would be a potato, which you might prefer to bake.
Once the vegetables are done to your liking, put them on your plate, give the pan a quick wiping, add another dollop of canola oil, warm the pan back up to a medium heat, and put your protein in the pan. When the meat is finished, put it on your plate and enjoy your meal.
After a few weeks of the single protein and vegetable method, you’ll likely become bored and want to move on to more interesting meals. With your new-found confidence, though, you can branch out to more exciting things. I’ve just started reading the book Ratio, and I think it would be a good match for you, too. The book gives you the tools to adapt recipes so you can make just the amount you need. You can look at a recipe for 10 people and figure out how to make it work for one or two.
As far as storing and reheating are concerned, the best method is the one you will use. In the first few months of exploring your kitchen, it might be easiest for you to store food in zip-top bags (don’t reheat in a zip-top bag, though, just put the food on a plate or in a pan). The more comfortable you become, the more interested you might be in buying something like the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid storage set (which is BPA-free) or a glass storage set like the Anchor Hocking TrueSeal containers. Label all the containers (you can use a reusable label or a piece of masking tape) with what is inside the container and the date you put it into the freezer. Freezing is a perfect idea for things like casseroles and other items that are difficult to reduce to a single serving size.
Thank you, Alice, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Be sure to check out the comments for even more helpful advice from our readers.
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