Sister Outlaw on single women’s (good) food

I am very good at cooking for other people, but very bad when I am by myself. Other people get lavish meals like lamb shanks in Middle Eastern spices on preserved lemon couscous with carrot, beetroot and parsnip roasted in brown sugar and olive oil, followed by lemon delicious pudding. But when I am child-free and left to my own devices I eat crap. Some nights I’ll just get chips and gravy for tea, or cook pasta and cheese, or fried eggs on toast (NB: no veges). I also have an unhealthy obsession with dukkah (sesame seeds and nuts and spices like cumin with salt) and have been known to eat half a jar of the stuff, stuck with olive oil to most of a loaf of fluffy white bread (gosh, I’ve been wanting to own up to this for ages, it feels good to get it off my chest). It was delicious, but I did not feel so good the next day.

Recently returned to a single state, I have resolved that I simply have to devote as much attention to cooking nice things for myself as I do when cooking for other people, or I will become lardy and unhealthy. As we know, being lardy and unhealthy is inimical to dating but, more importantly, leads to permanent ill-health and it’s hard enough to meet a bloke in Katoomba without confining yourself to the hospital grounds.

But enough about non-dating in the Blue Mountains. This post is about how virtuous I am for cooking even though I didn’t really feel like it, how I managed to work dukkah into the meal without overdosing on the stuff, and how it’s important to just get going and do stuff for yourself, because the results are really special. And it doesn’t take much effort, or cost much.

This week, I made a VERY yummy celeriac and parsnip soup, which was dead easy. You just take a celeriac – a funny lumpy vegetable that manages to be like celery, potato, cauliflower and ginseng all at once – and chop the tops and bottoms off it. Then you quarter it, eight it, peel off the skin and chuck it in the pot with two quartered onions, two or three cloves of garlic, some water, some dry white wine, two peeled parsnips, a bay leaf and some thyme. Cook it until the veges are soft (about 20 minutes) and then blend it to bejeesus, add some soy milk or stock to get it to the consistency you want and warm it through with some salt, pepper and a vege stock cube if it’s not savoury enough. Serve it with some crumbly parmesan on the top and drink the rest of the wine while you eat.

But the nicest dinner of the week incorporated green veges AND enabled me to eat dukkah. I just love simple pasta dishes like grated zucchini or pumpkin tossed through spaghetti. Tonight, I fried an onion with some small pieces of sweet potato, garlic and a finely sliced piece of preserved lemon (my most specialist secret ingredient). When that was rocking I shredded a small bunch of silverbeet into the frypan, tossing until the colour brightened. I mixed it up with some fetta, a bit of butter, a smidge of cream and a small handful of coriander leaves. Then I mixed it into hot, fairly wet pasta (so the pasta water made a kind of sauce) and sprinkled dukkah over the top.

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It came out lemony, with plenty of bite in the silver beet and the salt of the feta and nuttiness of the dukkah hanging perfectly off the sweet potato. I even had enough left overs to ensure that I don’t have to buy lunch tomorrow, which is good in these global financial crisis-ridden times.

I am really interested to hear about other people’s eating vices so invite PDP readers and writers to share their sins against fine dining. However, to ensure we honour the goals of this blog, perhaps it’s best to temper stories of vice with tales of how we have managed to redeem ourselves by cooking clever and artful food, even when we is by ourselves. So, c’mon contributors and commenters, share.

48 comments ↓

#1 Francis Xavier Holden on 08.07.09 at 10:25 pm

When I’m by myself 9 times out of 10 it’s a small can of tuna eaten out of the can, or sardines on toast with tabasco.

I can go the dukkah and olive oil big time too, even with a crappy old no name white sliced loaf if I have to. Or just olive oil and salt on toast

#2 Dr Sista Outlaw on 08.07.09 at 10:37 pm

I am glad I am not alone in the dukkah/white bread fetish

#3 kel on 08.07.09 at 11:38 pm

its been a while since i did the single at home with no kids this night scenario, but i do recall fondly nights when i tossed prawns in a skillet ( prawns bought shelled by the kilo in a bag from the asian markets before my no prawn bent due to sustainability issues) with some indian wet curry paste, fried a little then tossed in coconut cream and spinach from the garden. meanwhile rice was cooking. that was my i cant be bothered but recipe…

#4 emica on 09.07.09 at 5:57 am

totally with you on the food for one thing. when I lived on my own the only food in the house was cheese, gherkins and vita Wheat & coffee of course but the milk kept going off. but then I’d have friends over and cook huge meals of deliciousness!

I’m footloose and fancy free ce soir sans The Boy and am v proud of my zucchini omelette with spring oninions, chopped ham and parmesan. Had to get rid of excess zucchini and sp onions – going for a bargain at the markets.

hmmm. it’s not so much what i eat but how – standing up, no cutlery, at 6am or 11pm…

#5 Dr Sister Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 8:38 am

Kel, your ‘can’t be bothered but recipe’ sounds like spoiling oneself to me – well done! Do you, like Emica, eat standing up? Or, like me, plonk yourself down in front of Masterchef?

#6 Pumpkin-eater on 09.07.09 at 9:10 am

My home alone food varies from the not so bad – pasta with tinned tuna, sautéed brocolli, garlic, and chilli with lots of olive oil (or an Asian noodle and vegetable combo with lots of chilli oil); to the sad – nuts from the cupboard toasted or peanut butter from the jar.

#7 dylwah on 09.07.09 at 9:21 am

toasted sangas. as long as there is cheese and some salty meat i am sorted. tuna, chevre, tomato with a few torn basil and parsley leaves drizzed with a little evoo was a fave back in the shift work days. thats in the Jaffle iron obv.

#8 Dr Sister Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 9:24 am

Jaffles – yum – but chevre does not meet definitions of crap food, no, not by a long shot (I mean, I don’t like it, but it’s still kind of fancy). Nuts from the cupboard I do understand, as well as whole packets of rice crackers or bhuja mix.

#9 Zoe on 09.07.09 at 9:26 am

My favourite quickie dinner is a big pile of kale cooked in garlic and olive oil with a poached eggy on top. And a bucket of chorizo.

The kids’ favourite quickie dinner is “dog tin spaghetti” (aka Watties), and they like it cold. Even in winter. Ew.

#10 Dr Sista Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 9:33 am

Yep, with you there. Loathe tinned spaghetti AND baked beans. Our household lazy dish is packet gnocchi with packet pesto.

#11 Zoe on 09.07.09 at 9:36 am

And I didn’t out my crapness did I? I am far more likely to falter in the middle of the day rather than at the end of it, particularly if it’s a running around chores day, because I’ve made sure the kids have eaten and forgotten to eat myself because I didn’t want kids spaghetti.

… there have been drive-throughs.

#12 dylwah on 09.07.09 at 9:49 am

ah crapness, two chops, cooked with some mushrooms, two fried eggs, some chips. perhaps the yummy mushroos that have soaked up all the lamb fat will quallify this one.

#13 Dr Sister Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 9:59 am

Ah Zoe, verily, that is crapness, but on lonely drives back from Blacktown around 10pm, knowing there was noone at home to fetch me a meal I have succcumbed myself (and I regularly forget to eat, which leads to explosions of dim sims and other unfood). Dylwah, sounds like a lot of cooking there – it only counts as crap if you bought the chips hot or got them from a freezer packet.

#14 dylwah on 09.07.09 at 10:14 am

it is all in one pan DSO, but i suppose that must bow out of this one as i guess that i do not eat enough crap unless it comes from the BBQ chook shop. that is assuming that gyros etc count as too healthy.

#15 kate on 09.07.09 at 10:26 am

My standard quickie is grilled cheese on toast. If we run out of cheese we have peanut butter sangas. If we run out of bread we just cry. My sister did a good line in rice and peas with sweet soy for many years, which is an excellent standby so long as you have frozen peas (and rice, obviously) because it’s not hard to make a single serve. My old housemate and I did couscous and peas many times while broke and/or tired, at least you’re getting one veggie in.

When I lived alone I ate pretty well, I like cooking uninterrupted so it suited me. Except when I felt like baking, then I had to call up reinforcements to help eat, which is how I came to get pregnant to the Bloke who lived upstairs. Anyway, salad with veggie burger and poached egg (with sweet chilli sauce) was a favourite lunch or quick-ish dinner for quite some time, I consider making it again sometimes then remember that poaching eggs doesn’t work very well with grasping toddler.

Do you dislike all beans or just tinned baked beans? Because homemade baked beans are another good standby that’s easy to make in small-ish quantities.

Failing all that, for when standing in the kitchen for any time at all is impossible: raw carrots and celery and capsicum with dip counts as eating vegetables, and is particularly good in heatwaves.

#16 Dr Sister Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 10:33 am

I used to feel like making pancakes so ask friends around to eat them but never got up the duff as a result, so hats off to you Kate. I’m happy to eat proper beans, but don’t find them quick. They, and vege burgers, are food to make when one is looking after oneself I feel.

Peas are invaluable for the solo diner, and I’ve also been enjoying frozen spinach cubes, which thaw nicely for adding to egg/omelette dishes (omelettes are a classic standby in our house). Should eat more raw carrots/celery, so dip is an excuse to do that!

Two minute noodles with peas = food. Chicken two minute noodles with chilli and lime = fake Vietnamese broth.

#17 emalie on 09.07.09 at 11:52 am

Peas ‘n’ cheese. Not as bad as it sounds. Microwave a middle sized bowl of green peas, add good parmesan and/or mozzarella towards the end so it melts a little and top with pepper and the perpetual dukkah. Good when you cannot face the universe, possibly because of the rhyme… and being so, so green it tends to lean one more towards eating well again …

#18 Dr Sister Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 11:58 am

that sounds good!

#19 Cristy on 09.07.09 at 2:33 pm

My most common ‘can’t be bothered meals are:
Pasta with tomatoes and olives;
quick & dirty fried rice;
fried slab if tofu ‘burger’ (with tahini, tomatoes and something green if available);
soba noodles and anything left in the crisper;
couscous, tinned chickpeas, and any available vegetable…

Like Zoe I often forget lunch altogether and end up eating a whole pack of corn thins with tahini or having dinner at 430pm.

#20 FDB on 09.07.09 at 3:10 pm

“reinforcements to help eat, which is how I came to get pregnant to the Bloke who lived upstairs.”

Eating – ur doin it rong!

Mine’s a packet of Kraft macaroni cheese, as is if necessary, but preferably with a chunk of grilled meat. Pork chops are best.

Now I must dash – the Lady Friend has just come home from the Vic markets with a 700g rib-eye steak on the bone to commiserate my new-found unemployment, and I’m frickin’ starving!

#21 FDB on 09.07.09 at 3:11 pm

Oh, and no. I won’t be eating it on a bed of crappy pasta and rehydrated plastic cheese.

#22 Dr Sista Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 4:09 pm

Sorry to hear about unemployment woes, but maybe this leaves you more time for food blogging? I am very glad to discover another who eats the evil plastic cheese, you have given me courage to own up to occasionally eating (and even enjoying) the stuff … it’s all I can do sometimes to steer the boy child past that section of the supermarche (‘no’, I say, ‘that’s not good for you. We’ll buy two minute noodles instead’).

#23 Jonesie on 09.07.09 at 4:42 pm

I second peas and cheese, though I put pasta with mine.
As a long term very busy single gal living alone and below the pov line, I admit I cook one main meal a week (Like a soup or casserole) and eat it for four nights.
Then I scratch dinners the rest:
Tomato and cheese on toast, every vegetable in the fridge, yogurt and cereal, Home made creamed rice or cheats lentil soup. That sort of thing. My guilty fall back is bottled sauce (which ever one is on special) on pasta with a load of cheese and peas. I eat that. um. alot. and I like it. *goes to feel guilty in corner*

#24 emica on 09.07.09 at 5:45 pm

two thumbs up to baked beans – from a tin. making your own is against the crap food/ can’t be a*sed rules. But I learnt from a serially impoverished friend, and this is the important bit, to add some fresh or dried rosemary and serve on buttered toast. makes it almost feel like an occasion!

#25 Jennie on 09.07.09 at 5:57 pm

OK Zoe put me up to this. But I am addicted to diet coke. I know it is rotting my insides but I just cannot stop drinking the garbage.

I counteract this bad drinking vice with lots of healthy red wine!

#26 Zoe on 09.07.09 at 6:00 pm

I’m partial to a coke if I have a terrible hangover, but diet coke seems pointless to me. Particularly if, like Jennie, you’re a winemaker. I think in that case I’d have a drinking problem hair of the dog.

#27 FDB on 09.07.09 at 6:26 pm

Good God that was an incredible steak. Lady Friend must have been aiming to procure one I couldn’t finish.

*buuuurrrrp*

I shouldn’t have bothered with the potatoes, but I suppose now I have something left on the bone to gnaw on later.

Now I must rouse my sorry carcass and play a gig up in Northcote. Perhaps for once my major drumming bugbear – speeding up when overly excited – won’t be a problem!

#28 Zoe on 09.07.09 at 8:05 pm

I just had a quesadilla for dinner, having fed children and hsuban hours ago when I wasn’t hungry. I had a lurid green tortilla instead of my usual organic mountain bread (thank you school holiday shopping with children), w leftover tomato pasta sauce, cheese and bacon, folded in half and dry fried in a cast iron pan. Then sriracha and lime juice. Much better with chicken/corn/cheese.

#29 Reemski on 09.07.09 at 8:18 pm

You know those frozen mixed individual serves of veg? I can eat those with anything and pretend to be healthy

…but easy dinner for one? Chicken breast sprinkled/rubbed with whatever flavouring, tonight chermoula from a stand at goodfoodshow, wrapped in foil, then baked in the oven, served with mashed sweet potato from the microwave, green beans and brussels quickly panfried with a squeeze of orange juice and 1/2 dried birdseye chilli….

#30 Zoe on 09.07.09 at 8:49 pm

That sounds pretty good, Reemski. Certainly better than Masterchef eliminatee Aaron’s brekkie on the way to The Press Club.

#31 Injera on 09.07.09 at 9:05 pm

I have a home-alone night every Tuesday and – because I’m lazy and went though a stage of eating nothing, or eating icecream – I make enough on Mondays to have leftovers on Tuesdays.

If there are no leftovers, then it might be some rice, mixed up with tuna and whatever I can scrounge from the fridge (olives, artichokes, whatever-that-is-in-the-tupperware-oh-god-not…that).

Now I’m going to make sure there’s always dukkah! (But I might skip the peas’n'cheese.)

#32 Dr Sister Outlaw on 09.07.09 at 9:12 pm

Oh noes! Have only just realised that annoying Aaron from Masterchef has exact same full name as my delightful son. Will go and do an exorcism, right now! Maybe some flaming dukkah will do the trick …

#33 Zoe on 09.07.09 at 9:32 pm

I think you’ll need sfericated playdough …

#34 Helen on 09.07.09 at 11:24 pm

When I lived by myself, I often used to buy a quarter chicken from the chicken shop and, without having to bother with the preparation and browning phase, used to dick around with tomato-and-capsicum-whatever squished up sauces, curry spices, or whatever I felt like experimenting with at the time. That was a fun and creative step in learning how to cook. I usually had a lot of rice to use up – I eat rice with EVERYTHING.

These days, I find a bottle of Sugo sauce plus a bag of those baby spinach leaves plus cheese is the quickest and easiest lazy pasta sauce. Plus garlic, also, unless I’ve run out.

#35 Kirsty on 10.07.09 at 10:02 am

When I was a kid my mother burned the necessity of having a balanced meal on my brain, so that now I find it impossible to have a meal without some kind of fruit or vegetable present. I don’t know if my mother was going through a stage or it was one of those hypocritical (in the best sense) things that parents do, wherein they want things to be better for their children than themselves. Just the other day, at a family gathering, my mother suggested fish and chips as a quick dinner. I said that I’d make a salad while others were collecting the fish and chips, and everyone looked at me oddly. Of course, I told my mother that it was all her fault.

Anyway, I would say the worst quick dinner from a just-can’t-be-bothered-perspective that I’ve ever had would be a tin of soup. I went through a time where I couldn’t even make toast to accompany it.

Other quick meals have been fried rice with only frozen peas and omelette and too much sweet chilli sauce. Another is pasta with a very quickly made sauce from a tin of tomatoes, garlic, dried chilli and oregano. For a while I was quite fond of the pita bread pizza with a topping of tomato paste, anchovies, olives, and some feta or bocconcini with a green salad.

At the moment I’ve been a bit more inspired by the city farmers markets that are now being held every Wednesday in Brisbane. I’ve taken to doing a 30 min roast chicken (cut it up, give it a quick pan fry for some brownness, then pop it in the oven–you can go through the same process to get roast potatoes with it, and what the hell add some chunks of onion and whole garlic cloves too).

#36 kate on 10.07.09 at 10:52 am

You know with the veggie burgers I was talking about the ones in the packets right? I mean, I make a mean chickpea burger from scratch when there’s a crowd, but the ones in packets are ok for those nights when you wish your Mum would turn up and take care of everything. The packet sits in the fridge until such a day arrives and then it’s a pretty quick fry up. The sweet chilli sauce is compulsory in my view, but the salad & egg bizzo is optional for days when one is in the mood.

A boiled egg (or a scrambled egg, but that creates more washing up) is another favourite around here, and I’d forgotten the early days of parenting when we had microwaved mixed frozen veg every day and cous cous. Why is it when you have a baby everyone turns up with meat dishes but no veg? Also, why turn up in January with casserole? I also purchased some gourmet organic packet soups in the newborn era and they were excellent for one handed 5 minute preparation and also healthy organic smug points.

The kid here would probably tell you that when all else fails just eat weetbix.

#37 kate on 10.07.09 at 12:50 pm

This whole exercise has had me hankerin’ for veggie burgers. Alas, the IGA does not stock them, so I bought frozen chips instead.

We will be dining on oven baked chips for lunch with gourmet accompaniments – tomato sauce and bbq sauce.

#38 via collins on 10.07.09 at 5:07 pm

Another owner-up to the Kraft Macaroni Cheese packets in decades gone by, university decades it has to be said.

I spotted a display in the supermarket last weekend, and had to ZOMG so violently the kids got a scare – it’s nearly 4 bucks a packet now! That’s not cheap comfort food no more.

Definitely tuna pasta in all its infinite variety at our place for can’t be bothered. Happily, the results tend to suggest that bother was actually had. Love that meal like a brother, and often a good one to match whatever shiraz has popped by for a visit.

#39 Dr Sister Outlaw on 10.07.09 at 8:03 pm

I never, ever do oven baked chips, though I do love packet vege burgers. Maybe I should! Tuna pasta very popular here. Elaborate version is tuna mornay casserole. El quicko version is tuna tossed in pasta with butter, cheese and whatever herbage comes to hand.

Hear you on the dearth of veges when you have a bub … but then I was only interested in things that were chocolate or dripping blood myself, so didn’t mind. Have to acknowledge that my mother outlaw was a saint for dropping over a gazpacho AND a potato/leeky soup thing.

#40 FDB on 10.07.09 at 10:40 pm

Oven chips with oven crumbed fish “fillets” and a few fig lettuce leaves from the garden to cover my shame is another nice one. With some S&W mayonnaise.

#41 dylwah on 11.07.09 at 10:21 am

just remembered the two egg Frittattalet. in its simplest form, chop up two mushrooms and one rasher of bacon and saute, add two beaten eggs, top with grated cheese, let it cook for a bit, move to under the griller pull it out before it burns, serve with toast.

#42 Dr Sister Outlaw on 11.07.09 at 10:26 am

frittalet looks set to make an entrance at my place soon – of course all this slack food is much better than what I am about to eat at the SCG … gah!!

#43 Crit on 11.07.09 at 10:05 pm

OOh.

Good days: some kind of pasta or asian noodle with either tinned tuna (for pasta) or salmon (for noodles, with soy sauce and sesame oil) and frozen vegetables. Pasta with pesto (from my freezer) with fresh tomato and that Meredith Dairy marinated goats fetta. Something I’ve cooked and frozen in ‘single dinner’ serves.

Bad days: Tinned spaghetti with cheese and tabasco. Or Continental ‘emergency dinner’ pasta with sauce (tomato version) possibly with frozen peas if I can manage. BBQ chook with fluffy white (or Italian bread) sandwiches, and lettuce if I’ve got any.

Really bad days: Toast with Vegemite. Green and Black’s milk chocolate. Tim Tams.

Great post, and really good to remind me that I’m not the only one who forgets to eat well.

#44 Kate on 12.07.09 at 1:44 pm

When the other half goes away I have been known to live almost entirely on poached eggs on toast, or avocado on toast.

Nowdays I try to plan for his absences and I make big pots of dhal and freeze them so at least I can pretend I’m being semi-healthy and economical.

#45 Dr Sister Outlaw on 13.07.09 at 9:36 pm

sounds eerily familiar – made bad two minute noodles today for lunch then good noodle soup for dinner. Several courses of home made ice cream during the day, so proper cooking was done!

#46 Sue on 14.07.09 at 1:46 pm

My standard home alone meal is instant noodles with every single dying vegetable in the house with miso sachet and…eek, someitmes with frozen fish balls…

In fact that is my lunch today. No fish balls though, leftover tea smoked duck ;)

#47 Dr Sista Outlaw on 14.07.09 at 2:45 pm

heh, yum to both fish balls AND duck

#48 Njba on 16.11.10 at 11:31 pm

I often cook for myself—less often nowdays, but once or twice a month maybe—and while I enjoy it, I tend to just scarf down the results, and not enjoy it like I would a meal prepared for more than one. I like Nigella in that she advocates eating by oneself and quite well, too.

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