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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Indulge/  A Cooking Guide For Singles

A Cooking Guide For Singles

The quick-fix solution for singles, especially those who work long hours, is to ‘cook ahead’ and ‘mix and match’, says Madhu Menon

Photo: iStockphoto (iStockphoto)Premium
Photo: iStockphoto

“I really don’t like cooking. It’s such a pain." I’ve heard this from more than one friend. Apparently the ‘‘joy of cooking" that I talk so much about isn’t a big hit with everyone, especially with people who work long hours and are rarely in the mood to cook anything.

This column came about as a result of persistent prodding from my single friends who live alone and wanted ideas for meals that could be cooked quickly and that were still tasty. As a man in the same position myself, I had to empathize with their plight and try to get at least a free drink or three as gratitude for this piece.

The problem is twofold: a lack of energy and a lack of ideas. Nobody wants to come home at 8.30pm and then cut up a whole lot of things to make a gourmet meal. And when you’re physically tired, you tend to be mentally tired, too. So ideas for dishes don’t fly fast and furious either. In this column series, I shall try to provide solutions for both.

Your two tools for solving the energy problem are: ‘‘cook ahead" and ‘‘mix and match". So here are some essentials for your kitchen before we get into the actual cooking.

■ A nice, sharp knife. My first column for Mint Indulge was on how to pick a good knife (and you can read it on the Livemint website). A 10-inch sharp chef’s knife will make chopping ingredients easier and faster. It will also reduce the chances of you cutting yourself by blunt blades that are more likely to slip. If you have the budget, pick up one of those hand blenders that also have a vegetable chopping attachment. They cost around 1,000 and can help if your knife skills need work.

■ Rectangular, microwave-safe, plastic containers with tight lids to store sauces, gravies and other pre-made food in the refrigerator. Rectangular containers are the most efficient use of fridge space, and tight lids ensure no spillage or leaking of strong smells.

■ Cling film and aluminium foil for wrapping unused foods in small quantities so the cold air in the refrigerator doesn’t dry them out. They also help in covering large fruits and veggies that have been cut.

■ A nice spacious refrigerator, preferably with a large freezer. The more doodads you have for storing various things, the less useful space you tend to get.

Now that you’ve got your tools and storage sorted, you are ready to move to the cooking phase. Here’s where you can use one of those lazy Sundays that you might spend drinking beer and lounging on the couch. We’ll use this time to prepare a bunch of things in bulk instead. Here are some ideas:

■ Pasta sauces and curry sauces: Both these are excellent candidates for making ahead of time and freezing. In fact, their flavour tends to improve after a day or so. Make a basic tomato sauce for pasta (recipes in my previous column) and freeze. Then you can simple add a few different seasonings and herbs when you reheat the sauce, and create many variations. Ditto with curry sauces. Take a recipe that you like (say, butter chicken) and make just the sauce part of it without the meat. Let it cool and then freeze. When you come back from work, just sear some chicken legs in a pan with salt and pepper, pour some frozen sauce on top and simmer for 10-15 minutes. While you do this, you can cook rice on another stove. Now do the same for a few more base curry sauces and you have a lot of choices. Just remember to under-salt the sauces a bit and to add fresh herbs only when reheating, not when cooking. For even more convenience, reduce the sauces in volume, then pour into ice cube trays. You can then pop out sauce cubes as and when you need, or put them into plastic bags and store. (Don’t use the same trays for ice, however.)

All you need to do is make portions for eight people (double typical recipes for four people) if you live alone, and that should see you through eight meals in a week, which is pretty decent for a one-time effort.

■ Salad dressings: Another excellent candidate for bulk preparation, with no major difference in effort whether you make one portion or 10. I’ve given some good starting points for salad dressings in my earlier column on salads (also on Livemint.com) and you can simply make those and store in glass bottles. If you feel like having a light meal when you get back, just cut up some veggies (optionally, combine with some leftover meat from old kebabs or cold cuts), toss in some dressing, and you have a meal in under 15 minutes.

■ Casseroles and bakes: Pies, quiches, casseroles, lasagne, tarts can all be baked ahead of time and successfully refrigerated. Just cover them with cling film to prevent drying, and cut them into single portions in the container before refrigerating. You can simply reheat it in an oven or microwave when you get home, and your meal is ready in less than five minutes. Or add a salad and you’re still done in 15 minutes.

In the next part in this series, I shall give you more ideas about mixing and matching leftover foods to create interesting new things. And since this column will be out in print on a Friday, how about using the coming Sunday to make a few sauces, etc., to store for the week?

Madhu Menon is a chef, restaurant consultant and food writer.

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Published: 29 Mar 2013, 12:53 AM IST
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