What do single cooks make for dinner?
Let's face it. Lots of single cooks just don't cook. They eat out. Whether it's fast food or fancy food, the restaurant kitchen is often the place single cooks come home to.
While more and more of everyone's food dollar these days is being spent on the food-service industry, statistics from the National Restaurant Association indicate that singles do eat out more often than members of larger households. Singles consume 223 meals away from home a year, or 4.3 meals a week, according to the NRA. Other customers eat out 192 times a year, or 3.7 times a week.
On the other hand, singles are less likely to own pets than is the rest of the population. According to the Pets Are Wonderful Council, 19 percent of one-person households own a dog, while almost half of the households with three to five family members own one.
What's the connection? A simple-minded statistician could draw only one conclusion: Single cooks have more chances to eat what they bring home in doggie bags.
In fact, aware of lighter eaters and people who want to act like lighter eaters, restaurateurs are turning doggie bags into pretty packages these days. Between aluminum foil swans and clever logos on containers, people bags are getting chic.
The idea here is not just to reheat the leftovers. With simple preparation using ingredients already at hand, you can build on the chef's creativity and turn the dish into something to call your own.
First, a word about doggie bag etiquette. Obviously, pocketing the relish tray tonight for an antipasto platter tomorrow is not appropriate behavior in front of business clients or first dates. And you probably won't be requesting doggie bags at precious nouvelle cuisine dinners (please, a wrap for my mussel?) where the portions are often no bigger than leftovers to begin with.
On the other hand, the beef industry has recently been promoting the "little-known" low-calorie aspects of red meat. The catch is portion control; practically anything can be low calorie as long as you eat it sparingly. Yet how often do Americans consume a 3-ounce sirloin at a steak house? Planning ahead with a doggie bag is about the only way to do it.
Make creative use out of a bread basket heist. Aside from eating your booty as is, turn the goods into something more presentable.
Stale italian or french bread or croissants are ideal for french toast. Top with a warm maple walnut syrup made by spiking maple syrup with chopped walnuts and heating in a saucepan over a low flame for five minutes.
Make cinnamon rusks for breakfast the morning after. Slice a french roll or similar plain bread in half horizontally, place a sliver of butter on top of each half and sprinkle with cinnamon. Pop it in the oven for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, or until hard and crusty.
Perk up leftovers from the neighborhood pizza joint. Before reheating them, add additional toppings, such as saute'ed mushrooms, zucchini or other vegetables at hand. Make it fancy with condiments such as capers, marinated artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers that may have been hiding out in your refrigerator from a recent dinner party.
Make a cold fish salad from a leftover fillet. Add mayonnaise, freshly ground black pepper, some chopped celery, a dab or two of dijon mustard, a dash of hot pepper sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Skin leftover pieces of fast food fried chicken. Cut into bite-sized pieces or strips and use in chicken salads or stir-fries.
Make a quick beef barbecue out of a leftover pub burger. Simply saute' the ground meat in a skillet with some good-quality barbecue sauce.
Here are some other ideas to get single cooks to stretch their food dollar and shrink their stomachs. CURRIED FRIED RICE (1 serving)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon chopped onion or scallions
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder or more to taste
Approximately 1/2 cup leftover Cantonese food that contains meat and vegetables
1/4 cup chopped ham (optional)
3/4 cup leftover Chinese white rice
Soy sauce or sesame oil or leftover packets of Chinese hot mustard or duck sauce
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small skillet. When hot, add egg and cook until set. Flip onto other side and cook until done. Remove omelette from pan. Set aside and allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting into 1-inch wide strips.
Add remaining oil to pan. Briefly saute' onion or scallions and garlic until soft, about 3 minutes. Add curry powder and stir until onions and garlic are coated.
Add leftover Chinese food, ham and rice and cook over low heat, stirring, until food is heated through. Return egg strips to pan and stir into rice mixture. Sprinkle with a few drops of soy sauce or sesame oil, if desired, or serve with leftover packets of Chinese hot mustard or duck sauce. COLD MEXICAN BEEF SALAD (2 servings)
Leftover beef, cut into thin strips
8-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Combine beef, kidney beans, pepper, celery and onion in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together oil, vinegar, garlic and spices. Toss with beef mixture and refrigerate at least 1 hour. SPAGHETTI FRITTATA (1 serving)
2 teaspoons olive oil
Leftover spaghetti, vermicelli or linguine (seasoned or sauced is okay)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated parmesan, romano or gruye re cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
Red pepper flakes to taste
Leftover italian bread or rolls for serving (optional, if you have the nerve)
Heat olive oil in a small skillet. When hot, add leftover noodles and spread them so that they cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 5 or 6 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
Combine egg with remaining ingredients (except the bread) and pour over the pasta. Lower the heat and cook until egg has almost set. Flip onto other side and cook until done, about 2 minutes. Turn out onto plate. Serve with leftover italian bread painted with a mixture of minced garlic and olive oil and baked for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. CAKE THE SECOND TIME AROUND (1 serving)
Leftover chocolate or white cake (stale is okay)
Liqueur such as brandy, amaretto or frangelico
Place cake in a small bowl. Pour liqueur over it. Allow to soak for a few minutes, until cake absorbs liqueur. Serve topped with chopped pears and walnuts.