Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cooking Small...

My freezer is full and it is the result of of two things;

(1) cooking too much food
(2) not knowing how to stop.

And this dilemma is a common one for so many of us these days. After years of cooking large family meals, scaling down is "more than a notion" as my old friend Louise use to say. Whether you are cooking for two now, or like me, one, adjusting can sometimes be a nightmare. I can't buy enough storage containers and bags! I need to exercise some control here...and quickly!

For me, I think the hardest part is that I like to cook! Chopping, dicing, sauteing and simmering are all things that just make me happy. Add to all of that, this first winter living solo has been cold, snowy, icy and windy. Conditions that scream for something warm and aromatic brewing in the kitchen. But...enough is enough.

Spending the last several decades cooking three meals for three males, dealing with "leftovers" is a strange concept to me. So what I first need to do is stop, take stock of the situation and see just where I need to go with this.

Cook once, eat twice
Not three or four times. Just twice. Controlling portions are the challenge here. On one recently very cold Sunday, I had the desire to make a pot roast in my slow cooker. Chopping the carrots, onions and potatoes, browning the well seasoned beef, de-glazing the pan with a touch of red wine (I've been cooking with wine for years... but just recently discovered how good it is in food), well, needless to say, I was in my element!
But by the time I got everything in the crock pot, I actually had to redistribute the ingredients to fit the lid on!
As I stepped back to gaze at my giant masterpiece, I started to panic and reached for the phone to see who was available for dinner. Fortunately, I found someone but there was still plenty to spare. Even after  my guest took a large container home!

Get Inventive
The next week, I took the remaining pot roast from the freezer and turned into a delicious stew by adding a few more potatoes, carrots and a can of mixed veggies. I thinned it out by adding half a can of beef broth, a small can of tomato sauce, and it all worked! I'm also getting very good at turning left over entree meats like chicken and steak into great lunchtime salads the next day. I've discovered that while fresh herbs are great when you are making a larger menu, the dried versions last a lot longer. I was throwing out way to many wilted sprigs of parsley, basil and cilantro. I now stand in the grocery isle with one question, "is this the size I need?" The answers usually "no".

Use Smaller Pots!!! 
This one revelation was my light bulb moment! I was still using large stock and stewing pots that I used when making dinner for two teenage boys coming home from football practice (and usually with a few friends)! I actually couldn't figure out how to make a small pot of gravy (pasta sauce for the non-Italians)! I never measured anything, I just knew by what pot I was using where my ingredients needed to level out at. So I invested in a few smaller pots. Big difference! Now, instead of a large pot of pasta gravy, I often make a much smaller fresh marina sauce in just a fraction of the time. I actually prefer it! Smaller pots, smaller soups, smaller stews! It just makes sense!

The Perks of Cooking Small
Affordability! While shopping the other day, I saw large sea scallops on sale that looked so fresh. At $12.99 a pound, they were still relatively expensive, but I only needed a few so I indulged myself. Why not? It took me several months of cooking for one to take full advantage of this budget friendly fact. I no longer have to eat chicken cutlets when I really want the veal!

The Well-Stocked Pantry...For One
Minus "family-sized" anything, it's really not much different than before. The exceptions of course being healthier cereals, more brown rice and whole grain pastas. Cans of chopped tomatoes, coffee and extra virgin olive oil are staples. I will even admit to harboring a few relatively unhealthy Asian-style noodles in foam cups that I sometimes resort to when I just don't feel like cooking at all. I know they are loaded with sodium, but they are pretty tasty.  And with all that water retention, they are great to eat the night before a long car ride! Another well stocked item comes from my favorite supermarket which sells small, 4-pack carriers of 4 oz wine bottles that are great when just a little is needed for in a recipe. High end, brand name wines, that you can cook with or drink. I love this! I sit them next to my favorite peanut butter. Wait a minute...there is a difference. This pantry is filled with everything that I like!

When you feel the need to really cook, to spread your culinary wings and fly...put  together a gathering. I am fortunately and logistically surrounded by family and friends ( a lot of whom are hard-working and single), and they never refuse a cooked meal! Here's where all the recipes you've been collecting (that are always designed to serve between four and six people) can get full use. Drag out the big pots and big ideas! And at the end of the night, insist that leftovers be taken. I'm sure there is something in the freezer with your name on it!

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