How to cook for one, when living with many
October 1, 2011 1:07 PM   Subscribe

People who live with others but cook for yourself: What do you cook? How do you cook it? Requesting recipes and tips, please.

Things you cook on a pretty regular basis for your solo meals, as well as ones that take more work would be appreciated.

I was hoping that people would have tips that are specifically relevant to the particular constraints of sharing a kitchen (and cupboard and refrigerator space) would bring, on top of cooking meals for one on a regular basis. I find that I can only store so much, and it's hard to go through food quickly before they spoil. Thanks.
posted by Busoni to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
We're four sharing a rather small kitchen. I think this is two separate questions:

Sharing Space
We each have our own shelf in the fridge and in the pantry. We label things that go in the freezer. We generally each buy our own food (including kitchen basics like flour, sugar, spices, oil...) but share perishable basics like milk, eggs, and coffee. We tend to be generous about offering food ("I made some pasta, does anyone want a bowl?") but understand that we're each on our own, and there's definitely a little resentment when someone takes something, either with or without asking. We're each (technically) responsible for taking care of our own dishes, but it helps that we have a dishwasher.

Coooking for One
I keep individually bagged chicken breasts and tilapia fillets in the freezer and defrost one at a time for dinner (or extra if I want to bring lunch the next day). I eat that with some steamed veggies and pasta/rice/couscous/potato. It's super fast and a good system for eating alone, but it does get a little boring. I like Mark Bittman's suggestions for quick, easy meals, especially the ones like this.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:20 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Toaster oven chicken legs!

And salads.

I buy things the day I'll be eating them, for the most part. My section of the fridge holds condiments, butter and milk, mostly.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:32 PM on October 1, 2011

Absolutely best bachelor dish...Pasta with Oil (Aglio Olio).

Boil your pasta. (Please don't rinse it)

While it's boiling put some olive oil in a large bowl. Chop some garlic, and mix it into the oil.

Now, when the pasta is done, drain it and IMMEDIATELY toss it in the bowl with the oil. You want the pasta HOT so it will absorb the oil. Toss to coat with oil. When you are done, there should be no (or very little) oil at the bottom of the bowl.

Do not rinse the pasta, or it won't absorb properly.

Add some parmasan cheese and chopped parsley and toss.

That's the BASIC recipe.

From there you can have infintite variations. With the same technique you can eat a different thing every night.

Leave out the garlic or parsly, no problem.

Add any leftovers you have, chicken, tuna fish, cold cuts chopped fine. Heat up some frozen vegetables and toss them in. Canned clams or sardines.

Instead of garlic, use Vietnamese fish sause (my favorite!)

Stir a little jarred tomato sauce into the oil for a subtle tomato flavor.

Chop tomatoes and basil.

Use different cheeses, soft cheeses like blue or chevre.

All of those things that come in jars from trader joes, like the olive tapenade, or different sauces, blend the with the oil and toss. (Use a whisk if you have one.)

Try breadcrumbs instead of parmesan!

One recipe, infinite dishes! Havel fun.
posted by TigerCrane at 1:45 PM on October 1, 2011 [16 favorites]

This may sound a bit anal retentive, but I bought a dedicated label maker for my kitchen and I label absolutely everything with the date I cooked it (in the case of leftovers) or the date I opened it (in the case of packages of cheese or milk or grains or whatever). I only wish I had thought of this when I had roommates. Without the label maker there, I had to go into a drawer for a post-it and a pen, and because of the inconvenience of opening the drawer, I frequently used to skip labeling. My new system really makes a difference in helping me manage my perishable items because I can see immediately what I need to use right away.

If I had roommates, I would amend my labels to include the date as well as my initials or whatever.

The best tip I have for cooking for one is to buy only the amounts of things you need. Grocers will frequently split up produce for you so you can buy half a head of celery or whatever. Sometimes you have to ask, but it's worth it if you end up throwing away food constantly (which is not only wasteful but also disheartening!). Shopping in bulk bins (as at the natural foods market/co-op) is helpful too so you can just purchase half a cup of brown rice instead of a 2-pound bag.

Although buying large quantities of ingredients is tempting since it often works out to be cheaper per unit, you're not saving any money if you end up tossing half of the package, and anyway, you likely have limited storage space in your shared kitchen.
posted by pupstocks at 1:47 PM on October 1, 2011

I live with respectful roommates now so I don't worry about labeling my things unless they're very expensive or I know I'm going to need them in a pinch. Generally I pick groceries that I know I really like and will eat so that the refrigerator isn't full of stuff I bought and don't want anymore (when I don't have roommates I'm more willing to experiment). I'll buy like, three cans of Northern beans when they're on sale, and keep them in the pantry. Then the day of, I buy a bundle of kale, or a few tomatoes and a head of garlic, and cook one of the cans with the fresh vegetables for a meal. I eat cereal and milk for breakfast but I keep a few yogurts + granola in the fridge for when I run out of either. I keep snacks that can also become meals (particularly lunches), like carrots and hummus, or peanut butter and jam. I eat meat when I go out to restaurants, which is usually about once a week, but I almost never cook it due to space and sanitary requirements. Sometimes I make a pot of soup and freeze in individual containers. I don't really keep things like butter on hand because I don't need them, but I will occasionally buy a few sticks of butter and bake or make roux for a few days as a treat.

I also keep two or three frozen meals in the freezer (homemade or Trader Joe's) in case I don't have time to cook or I forget to buy groceries. That is a nice stress reliever. Also, rice helps bulk up soups and beans and veggie meals. If you don't have a rice cooker, Minute Rice is, you know, fine.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:11 PM on October 1, 2011

I lived in halls of residence for 4 years in total, I always had at least half a cupboard, i.e. on shelf in a cupboard, and at least half a fridge shelf to myself. But a lot of the time I had a full cupboard and a fridge shelf to myself. My cupboard contained my plate, bowl and cup, my two small/medium sized pots, my chopping board, knife, cutlery and any other equipment as well as all non perishable foods like rice and onions and some veg - I never really refrigerated much veg other than salad stuffs. I do not seem to recall spoilage ever to be an issue. The key I think is to shop regularly and to cook just enough for one meal at a time so you don't have to try and store leftovers, too. If you buy a packet of chicken breasts or whatever just freeze them individually. Make distinctive knots on your freezer bags or something, if you can't be asked to label stuff and live with respectful people, who will try to eat their own food not yours. I normally just bought a pint of milk and only a small chunk of cheese or meats or vegetables for a few days. It did help that I did not have a car and had to carry my shopping home - you think a lot more carefully about what you need to buy that day. There was never really any issue with people taking food that wasn't for them to take but perhaps I was just lucky.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:13 PM on October 1, 2011

I ate a lot of egg scrambles and omelets when I had roommates but cooked for myself. Eggs are easy to store and easy to cook in one person portions.

I got real fond of english muffins because they store easier than bread does. I had to buy milk in the smallest containers.

I made lots of yummy homemade soup in the winter. I stored it in single serving portions.

Trader Joe's frozen Mac and Cheese is amazing, in case you haven't tried it.

As far as veggies go, onions and peppers last a long time. Celery and carrots go a long way too. Aside from those staples, I just bought what I needed the day I was going to use it.

Quick and easy rice dish (low-rent fried rice): Cook 2 portions of rice with chicken or veggie broth. Cool to room temp. Mix in skillet with fresh garlic, frozen veggies and leftover baked chicken. Season as you like. Be liberal with the soy sauce if that's your thing. Add a scrambled egg if you're adventurous.

The thing I hated the most was never having room for ice cream in the freezer.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2011

The most specific tip I can think of that I've learned from my time sharing kitchens with others is that if you're sharing a fridge, it's much easier to keep track of your stuff (and thus cut down on the amount of food that spoils) if you have your own section of the fridge vs just intermingling everyone's food. I usually stake out a crisper drawer myself. It just cuts down on the "oh, I forgot I bought that bag of carrots until I found it three months later rotting behind my roommate's molding thai takeout."
posted by geegollygosh at 10:12 PM on October 1, 2011

Steel-cut oats. They boil up in 10 minutes. Great hot or cold later out of the fridge. For variety, try Tabasco and other kinds of hot sauce. Easy to store and use. (But get the good stuff, like Bob's Red Mill, not the cheap pasty crap.) Very filling and seriously healthy, yet not the sort of fancy food roommates will filch when you aren't looking.
posted by 5Q7 at 2:42 AM on October 2, 2011

I lived in a house with 5 people for four years, and some of my favorite options were the quick meals made largely from cupboard staples. I found that it eventually worked out to negotiate fridge and shelf space, but actual desire to cook in the kitchen simultaneously was the most frustrating, so I'd try to get in, make my dinner, and get out of there quickly. Some of my favorites included:

Tuna melt- canned tuna has so many uses. I guess this would also apply to a chicken melt or grilled cheese with tomato, etc.

quesadillas - basic black bean, corn and cheese, or add sauteed onions and/or peppers if you have them, even frozen spinach is a great addition. Pretty much any leftovers you have around could be worked into a quesadilla.

chili - canned tomatoes, canned beans, ground turkey or chorizo, both easy to store in the freezer if you don't use them up. And leftovers frozen make for an easy dinner reheat later. Another great twist on the leftovers is to top some cornbread with a scoop of chili, some shredded cheese and a fried egg on top of it all. Yum.

stir fry - if you have fresh veggies that's great, if not frozen veggies work very easily. add whatever protein you have around. a rice cooker makes this particularly easy. Fried rice the next night is a great use for the leftovers.

quick curry - anyone who really knows how to cook indian food would probably hate this idea, but I love cooking some canned chick peas and canned diced tomatoes with curry powder and garam masala, then toss in some spinach (fresh, frozen, whatever). Super quick and flavorful. Great over rice and with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt on top to cut the spice.

sweet potato burritos - I loved this one in the summer since you wouldn't have to turn on even the stove. Use a fork to poke some holes in the sweet potato and cook in the microwave (3-4 mins, then turn over and cook about 3 mins more, depending on size). Heat up some black beans (sauteed peppers and onions are also a great addition here). Scoop the cooked sweet potato out of the skin, squash on a tortilla, add beans (and other toppings). Serve with your regular mexican condiments - cheese, sour cream, a fruity salsa is also a great combination here. Oh and guacamole if you're feeling fancy.
posted by moshimosh at 8:15 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

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