One single cook claims that the most efficient way to eat dinner is standing up. In front of the refrigerator. Sans silverware.
This habit, a hallmark of other single cooks, works on the tenets that a sit-down dinner requires cooking and cleaning up dishes and that lasagna and Chinese restaurant leftovers taste better cold anyway.
What all single cooks need are a few dishes in their repertoires that can be prepared on a Sunday afternoon and made in portion sizes to last for three or four evenings. This eliminates the temptation of cheese and crackers for a main course. And although it may facilitate the penchant for stand-up dining, at least it will be more elegant than peanut butter.
Pasta casseroles and stews are obvious types of dishes that can be eaten cold or that taste even better in the days following preparation. A hearty soup or a pot of chili made on a raw Sunday afternoon is a soothing antidote for the day and the week ahead. Roasted chicken or turkey parts can take on different guises during the week, as a salad, made into a hash with diced potatoes and carrots, or sliced into a black bread sandwich with a dab of chutney and thin slices of apple.
Local artist Karen Brown often cooks up a pot of grains, such as rice, millet or kasha that will serve as the base for dishes during the week. Brown will spike the grains with almonds and raisins and perhaps season them with cayenne, black pepper, cumin, thyme or tarragon, chopped parsley or watercress, sesame or sunflower seeds. The grain will then be reheated as an accompaniment to stir-fried vegetables, with a dash of tamari, or Brown will saute' some vegetables with a dash of curry and serve them with the rice, millet or kasha and a side dish of yogurt and diced cucumber. Soups and casseroles are also good vehicles for additional fiber.
Single cook Diane Boratyn makes a massive quantity of chicken broth at the beginning of the week, cooking a stewing chicken with parsnips, carrots, onions, celery, parsley, bay leaf, allspice and pepper for three or more hours, then refrigerates it and skims off the fat. Boratyn then alternates eating the broth with thin egg noodles, chunks of chicken or vegetables, such as broccoli florets.
Or alternately, she will steam a pound and a half of shrimp (not that expensive, she says, considering the amount of meals she gets from it). Then during the week, Boratyn will eat the shrimp cold, dipped in bottled miso or a soy-based marinade or with homemade cocktail sauce. She may even reheat them quickly in a wok with a little ginger and garlic and a vegetable.
Here are some all-week-long dishes from local single cooks. And if you must, most of them can be eaten cold, standing up, in front of the refrigerator. CLAIRE REGAN'S SPINACH PIE WITH MUENSTER CRUST (6 servings)
3/4 pound sliced muenster cheese
3 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, cooked and drained well
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup grated parmesan or less to taste
Dill and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Line a 10-inch pie plate with overlapping slices of muenster cheese. Cover the bottom of the pan and three-quarters of the way up the sides. Combine cooked and drained spinach with cottage cheese, eggs, onion, parmesan, dill and pepper. Place in pie plate. Cook in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Regan eats this pie cold, reheated or sliced and slipped into pita bread for lunch the next day. JEFF PRINCE'S POACHED LEMON-GINGER CHICKEN BREASTS (4 servings)
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
Juice of 1 lemon plus rind and pulp from a quarter of the lemon
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
Place chicken stock in a large saucepan. Add ginger, lemon juice and lemon quarter and bring to a boil. Add chicken breasts and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Turn heat off, cover and allow to stand for 1 hour. Serve warm or cold with a steamed vegetable. The chicken stock mixture can also be reduced by half and poured over the chicken breasts. Or, slice the chicken into strips and make a Chinese chicken salad with snow peas, bean sprouts and slivered almonds. Or combine sliced chicken with pasta, dressing the noodles with a light coating of soy sauce and sesame oil. LOUISE'S EASY BRISKET (4 servings)
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 cups tomato sauce
2 1/2- to 3-pound brisket, trimmed
Salt and pepper to taste
Place onions and tomato sauce in a dutch oven. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Season brisket with salt and pepper. Place brisket in dutch oven and cover. Simmer for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Check periodically during cooking to make sure brisket does not stick to bottom of pot. You may also need to add water. Turn meat over every 1/2 hour. Remove meat and cool before slicing. Reserve gravy. Serve reheated with gravy, cold, or on rye bread with a spread of horseradish mixed with yogurt or sour cream. JEFF REAMY'S KIELBASA CASSEROLE (3 to 4 servings)
1 pound kielbasa
2 large potatoes, quartered
1 large onion, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
Pepper and curry powder to taste
Place kielbasa, potatoes, onion and tomato in a casserole dish. Cover with 1/2- to 1-inch of white wine. Bake at 450 degrees for 1 hour. KAREN BROWN'S BLACK BEAN BAKE (6 to 8 servings)
Brown often makes a huge pot of black beans, freezing them in plastic containers or baggies. During the week, she then has several alternatives: either eating them alongside a Greek salad, making them into a soup or combining them into Mexican dishes such as burritos.
FOR THE BLACK BEANS:
2 1/2 cups dried black turtle beans
4 cups boiling water
2 large onions, chopped
3 tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper, cumin and cayenne to taste
FOR THE BAKE:
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups cooked black turtle beans
3 cups cooked brown rice
3 fresh hot chilies, chopped
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
To make black beans, pour boiling water over beans and soak for 1 hour. Saute' chopped onions and tomatoes in olive oil until softened. Transfer to a stockpot and add black beans and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 3 hours, or until done. In the last 1/2 hour of cooking, add the garlic, black pepper, cumin, cayenne and cloves.
To make black bean bake, saute' onions and garlic in oil until transparent. Remove from heat. Combine beans, rice, chilies and onion mixture in a mixing bowl. Layer in a large casserole dish by putting rice and bean mixture on the bottom, followed with the cottage cheese, then the rice-bean mixture, then half of the cheddar cheese, then more rice. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover, top with remaining cheddar cheese and cook for 10 more minutes. Freeze remaining black beans and use during the week for soup, as a condiment or in other Mexican dishes. SPINACH PASTA CASSEROLE (4 to 6 servings)
1 cup water or bouillon
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
8 ounces spinach pasta
4 ounces pimientos
1 cup cooked peas
1 cup skim milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Freshly grated black pepper and oregano for serving
Fill a large saucepan with water or bouillon. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, add chicken breasts and simmer, covered, for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cut into strips.
Saute' mushrooms in butter until softened. Cook spinach pasta. Drain and add chicken strips, mushrooms, pimientos and cooked peas. Add egg yolks to skim milk and beat until foamy. Add to pasta mixture along with parmesan cheese and cook over high heat until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Serve with freshly grated black pepper and oregano.
Adapted from "Cooking Light," by Susan M. McIntosh (Oxmoor House Inc., $14.95)