Cooking and shopping for one... what are your secrets?
August 12, 2006 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Cooking and shopping for one: What are some good resources? Google is helping some, but not giving me exactly what I want.

Google so far seems fine for finding recipes for one, but I'm really trying to compile information on the whole lifestyle.

I live alone and I refuse to eat sodium and junk-packed frozen foods every day, so I cook for myself. The challenges I face are:
- Establishing good shopping habits
- Knowing about how long different kinds of produce are OK to keep
- Where do I keep them? ex: Is a bell pepper OK to keep in the fridge? For how long?
- What are some good "base necessities" I may not have thought of keeping around? Sure I have Olive Oil, a few herbs and spices, BBQ sauce, etc - what else?

My end goal is to:
- Establish a schedule for shopping so that I can eat a reasonably fresh meal 7 or more times a week (dinners all days, maybe both lunch/dinner weekends, etc). Can I get away with once a week or do key ingredients just not last that long?
- I really don't like freezing things because I don't know what freezes well, what won't taste as good, etc. Is this irrational?
- What are some really great staples to always keep around beyond olive oil, butter, salt, tarragon, basil, oregano, etc?
- What are the little nuances of produce or other ingredients that I am missing. Ex: For some reason my bananas go bad REALLY fast where I live now, I don't recall this being the case normally. Why? Too humid? Dry?
- I might even want to go so far as to say "Every Sunday, pick up 2 bell peppers, 3 potatoes, etc etc" to roughly last the week for some general but slightly varying array of dishes.

I'm comfortable picking random ingredients leftover in my fridge and making something up, so recipes are not my top concern but are still welcome.

Basically, I find that I love cooking and am fine with doing it alone, but I probably waste a little too much food sometimes and I find it challenging to establish a rigid shopping schedule, so sometimes I cut corners.

If the motivation strikes, I might even compile the information neatly and toss up a website that organizes it, as I'm sure I'm not the only person stuck in this conundrum.
posted by twiggy to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Getting a subscription to Everyday Food has helped me a lot on this score. Each issue features a specific "cooking for one" recipe, and the other recipes are all very easily halved or quartered. They also feature multiple recipes for seasonal ingredients (so when tomatoes are in season, for example, they'll have half a dozen suggestions) and themes (grilling, holiday, etc.), as well as shopping lists.
posted by scody at 2:44 PM on August 12, 2006


I really don't like freezing things because I don't know what freezes well, what won't taste as good, etc. Is this irrational?
Most anything you cook can be frozen with little loss in flavor/texture/nutrition. People often make large batches of soups, stews, lasagna, ... and freeze portions. A better question is what shouldn't be frozen? I wouldn't make a large stir-fry from fresh vegatables and then freeze it.

Yeah, and bananas can be refridgerated.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:46 PM on August 12, 2006


Rice freezes pretty well. Bell peppers can be cut into strips and frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet. After they're frozen, you can put them into plastic bags and they keep forever.
posted by MadamM at 3:07 PM on August 12, 2006


I like Real Simple, but their archive is not well organized. A few links....

http://www.realsimple.com/realsimple/content/0,21770,683779,00.html
http://www.realsimple.com/realsimple/content/0,21770,689598,00.html
http://www.realsimple.com/realsimple/content/0,21770,1210757,00.html
http://www.realsimple.com/realsimple/content/0,21770,1100050,00.html

Also search for 'pantry checklist' which will get you many lists of staples (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art40873.asp), 'freezing' (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze.html), and 'cooking for one' (http://extension.usu.edu/files/foodpubs/fn501.pdf) which will get you all kinds of tips and recipies.
posted by sLevi at 3:16 PM on August 12, 2006


Wow.. realsimple is a good start, and will be useful to me beyond just the cooking since I'm a new homeowner. Organizing and Cleaning tips! Awesome!
posted by twiggy at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2006


I really don't like freezing things because I don't know what freezes well, what won't taste as good, etc. Is this irrational?

Only slightly given your willingness to learn and absorb so much about the rest of your kitchen habits. 'Can this be frozen or not?' is another question to learn the answer to like 'do you keep bell peppers in the fridge'.

A good vegetarian primer will answer a lot of the latter questions - they're cookbooks, sort of, with some recipes. But mostly a lot of information about vegetables. Good, in depth cookbooks will usually answer both questions for ingredients and recipes. The Joy of Cooking has little blurbs about a lot of different ingredients for example, including storing, cleaning, etc, as whilst Cooks Illustrated Best Recipe books talk about how long you can freeze many of their recipes for (if it doesn't say, the answer is probably 'no'). Bittmans' How to Cook Everything adds those sorts of informational bits, as well.

Also, look at 'family' oriented cookbooks and magazines. The ones targetted at working mothers tend to have weekly menu planners - sets of recipes that come with shopping lists, often divided into staples and things to buy that week. The menus usually re-use some of the same elements. So, the leftovers of the chicken you cook on monday become part of the chicken salad on Tuesday, and the casserole on Wednesday, for example.

Many good recipe books will also tell you whether things can effectively be frozen or not. Starches tend not to freeze tremendously well - pastas get flaccid, rice over inflates when you recook it, mashed potatoes turn runny. I tend to freeze sauces and soups most of all. Some proteins like meat - but I usually undercook it a little the first time if I plan to freeze it.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:27 PM on August 12, 2006


When I lived alone I went shopping once a week and cooked 2 or 3 times. Most recipes make about 4 servings and I also packed lunch so this worked well. I ate lots of leftovers and gradually figured out what types of dishes kept well (stews and soups are usually better the 2nd or 3rd day). I didn't freeze too much, but just refrigerated and ate what I'd cooked that week.

I would choose 2 or 3 recipes per week and make a shopping list based on that. I don't keep too many perishables on hand as staples, not even potatoes or onions. I buy them as needed, by onesies and twosies. So what I'm saying is that the logistics are simpler if you pick recipes and shop for them, rather than improvising based on things you find in your kitchen.

Things that freeze well: soups, stews, casseroles and roasts. Avoid freezing potatoes because they get mealy and watery. You can experiment with freezing foods that are not on this list, but be prepared for some disappointments.

Things that don't reheat well: fish (it overcooks during the reheating), deep-fried or batter-fried foods (including southern fried chicken, tragically), some pan-fried foods like hamburgers (they just lose their appeal, dunno why), and grilled things (they lose the appealing smoky aroma and toughen up).

Anything not on this list is fair game for reheating. You'll learn your own preferences soon enough, but many many foods reheat well.

Storage: if it's moist, default storage is in the fridge. "Moist" means anything wetter than dry pasta. Exceptions: potatoes, onions and garlic keep well at room T. Keep potatoes in the dark or they'll develop a bitter green layer under the skin. You can leave most raw vegetables at room T for a day or so if your fridge is too full, but keep them cold if you can.

The most perishable foods are meat and poultry, especially ground meat (more surface area for oxidation and bacterial growth). Poultry is more perishable than red meat, and seafood more than poultry. Don't keep any of these longer than a day or 2 before cooking, and store them in the coldest part of the fridge.

There are very few non-meat ingredients that would keep less than a week in the fridge, assuming they were in good condition when you bought them. (However, when I lived in Baltimore I stopped buying milk during the summer because it spoiled so fast, although it was fine in winter. Guess those refrigerated trucks weren't really all that cold inside, or something.)

The most perishable vegetables/fruits are the soft and luscious ones, like tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, etc. Things with soft insides and thin delicate skins. Fruits armored with thick skins, like citrus and melons, are a lot tougher. They should all keep for a few days to a week in the fridge. Again, because I shop based on a recipe, rather than improvising, I don't keep things around very long.

Other staples to keep on hand: rice, soy sauce, fish sauce (nam pla, for Thai and Vietnamese food), salted black beans, balsamic vinegar, dry pasta and bottled sauce for times of low energy and inspiration, dry herbs and spices to suit your cooking style. These all keep at room T. Refrigerated staples: hoisin sauce, regular and hot bean paste, chili oil, toasted sesame oil, tomato paste in a tube.

I love cooking (especially Asian food), but if I had to do it every night it would become not-fun very quickly. Leftovers are your friend - develop a large repertoire of dishes that reheat well and your time in the kitchen will be less frequent but more enjoyable.
posted by Quietgal at 4:06 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Lots of really good advice in this thread, here's another link to a Prevention article that I found helpful:


posted by invisible ink at 4:07 PM on August 12, 2006


Yeah, the link would be helpful:-)

http://www.prevention.com/article/0,5778,s1-3-58-0-7020-1-P,00.html
posted by invisible ink at 4:07 PM on August 12, 2006


Get a FoodSaver and freeze things you've cooked in single-sized portions. Also use it to freeze uncooked foods like chicken breasts, steaks, burgers, etc., in single-sized portions. Also use it to store chopped onions for a week or more, so you can chop one big batch at a time. I know it's hard to believe any product hawked on infomercials can be a godsend, but it is. Your foods will suffer no freezer burn and will taste fresh when reheated. Also, frozen, refrigerated, and pantry foods will have a much longer shelf life, and you won't have to waste money buying the small size of everything.

I second the advice about soups and stews keeping well and actually improving with time in the fridge. I'd add chili to that list, most emphatically. I make it in gallon-sized batches, keep some to eat over a week or two, and freeze the rest.
posted by ROTFL at 5:12 PM on August 12, 2006


I thoroughly second the Foodsaver. I buy meat in bulk, freeze it in the package for 2 hours or so to firm it up a bit, then break it down into individual-serving-size vacuum bags. These can be defrosted and ready for cooking in 20 minutes by submerging the sealed bag in hot tap water (which I then use to water the plants after it cools).

It's also good for extending the shelf life of dry stocks - you can vacuum seal in standard mason jars.

As I noted in a previous thread, fresh vegetable purchased from a local farmer's market will last significantly longer in your possession than similar vegetables bought from the supermarket, since they haven't been sitting around in a warehouse or shipping line. The lettuce I buy from the farmer's market easily keeps 1-2 weeks.
posted by Caviar at 8:55 AM on August 13, 2006


I swear by my lettuce saver--I can easily get three weeks of goodness from a head of lettuce when I store it in that.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2006


A secret ninja trick(Quietgal must be a ninja) is to write out a menu for the week, then write a list of things you need to make the menu. Include on your list exactly what and how much you need of each thing, then buy exactly that.

You'll learn what keeps and what doesn't, but remember that a fridge is a low humidity environment, so to keep veggies, a paper bag in the fridge works great because it keeps in humidity but keeps things from getting soggy.

Don't fridge onions, garlic, potatoes, or tomatoes. You might want to fridge nuts and grains if you're keeping them more than a month or two. Keep your oils away from heat and light.

Certain things, such as seafood and berries, just go bad quickly, and there's nothing you can do about it without compromising its freshness. Cook them first, even if you're not going to eat them immediately. Things will last longer once cooked, and to save time you can always bring for lunch what you had for dinner the previous night.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:23 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I also like Everyday Food.

Do you have access to a nutritionist? I see one on a semi regular basis and she and I go over things for me to make--she's a great resource on trying new things, working with portion sizes, what can fill you up for fewer calories and cutting down calories in existing recipes.
posted by clairezulkey at 1:12 PM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


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