Cooking for just one or two people can take some adjusting to after years of catering for a family. And however nostalgic you feel about cosy family suppers there are undeniable plusses when it comes to cooking for one or two. At last, the pressure's off.
You can forget the tyranny of the big weekly shop and churning out yet another meal at the end of a long day. Now you can eat exactly what you please and when; no more catering for faddy eaters (unless that's you - or your husband, of course!); you may be surprised to find that shopping feels like a real pleasure again. You can pick out whatever takes your fancy - and what looks good and fresh - and cook it the same evening, or scour the farmer's market for gems to experiment with.
Now you can contemplate treats which used to seem hopelessly indulgent or just plain unaffordable for a family, like those teeny chocolate pots and posh puds. The same goes for a good steak, a fine piece of fish, a wedge of your favourite cheese. There are few nicer - or speedier - suppers than steak with salad. Chop potatoes into small chunks, toss in olive oil and shove in a hottish oven for half an hour or so and you've got chips. All pretty effortless, but if you can't be bothered you could always plump for a chunk of bread instead.
People who live on their own often say they can't be bothered to cook for themselves. And that's understandable. But most of us like to eat well, even if we don't want to slave over a hot stove for hours: looking forward to supper is one of life's precious pleasures, and it's a good habit to maintain. As flowerfriend advised a fellow gransnetter who was recently widowed: "Eating properly is important and if you sat and enjoyed a glass or two together (with husband) you can still do it."
So the secret is to go for recipes which are simple and speedy. Elizabeth David had good reason to celebrate the pleasure of an omelette and a glass of wine. You don't even have to cook at all - it's perfectly possible to put together an instantly satisfying cold supper. The secret is to shop thoughtfully, and buy foods you really like. (This can take some remembering - you may well be out of practice after years of catering for other people's tastes.) Salad nicoise is a good example of an effortless classic which requires little preparation: just salad leaves, boiled eggs, tuna (fresh for a treat), green beans, capers and anchovies thrown together with a good dressing.
There are plenty of undemanding hot dishes too, and it's worth compiling a list of your own top ten. Jack says, "Eggs florentine sounds complicated but it is just buttered spinach with a few eggs cracked into gaps, a sprinkling of salt, pepper and nutmeg, a dash (or two) of cream and a layer of grated cheese (whatever's in the fridge). Heat 'til bubbly. Then eat with crusty bread. Delish."
Another perennial favourite is Welsh rarebit. There are many versions: Jamie Oliver spreads sourdough bread with chilli jam; others add mustard. Purists insist on cheddar, some foodies swear by Lancashire. But there's pretty unanimous agreement that Worcestershire sauce is essential. It's up to you - after all, the joy of solo eating is that you don't have to please anyone but yourself.
And never forget that humblest, almost effort-free, and most reliably comforting staple: "a jacket spud (crispy from the oven) with lots of grated cheese slightly melted and butter! Mmmm." nanachrissy. Butter mashed with finely chopped mint - or any herb you fancy - adds a special twist.
Here's nanaej's recipe for a quick chickpea lunch:
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 chopped onion
1 clove garlic (crushed)
Butter or oil for frying
1. In a saucepan, fry the chopped onion until clear.
2. Add garlic & cumin and let fry gently for 30 seconds. Add chickpeas and tomatoes. ?
3. Bring to gentle boil then reduce heat and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.
Even dishes that take a while to cook often require minimal preparation time - and that's what matters, because it allows you to forget about the food and get on with something completely different. But best not to forget the timer, just in case you get too absorbed… Salmon is ideal: wrap a couple of steaks in foil, after you've added herbs (dill or tarragon are delicious) and a splash of white wine or dry sherry, cook in a medium oven for 20 minutes and you've got one for now, one for the fridge. (This method works just as well with other kinds of fish). Chicken breasts are delicious cooked the same way; so are chicken pieces or a pork chop cooked without the foil, surrounded by chopped veg, unpeeled cloves of garlic and drizzled with olive oil. They need a bit longer - more like 45 minutes to an hour.
This echoes Greatnan's approach to solo eating: "Before I went for my walk this morning, I put a skinned chicken leg, one large potato cut into cubes, some carrot, leeks, onions and mushrooms in a big pan, made stock with two chicken stock cubes, added garlic, black pepper and a very small amount of salt and when I got back I put it on to simmer for a couple of hours and added macaroni and tinned peas for the last 15 minutes. It was absolutely delicious and will make my main meal for at least another day - possibly two more days if I eat it with some French bread."