The Single Person’s Diet

No company, no problem! Not only can you dine in fine style by yourself — you deserve to!

We’ve all done it: munched handfuls of cereal from the box and called it dinner. Or mindlessly devoured something while standing and reading the mail or the paper. Or hovered over the sink, quickly downing what we pretended was a meal so we wouldn’t have anything to clean up.

But dining alone does not have to involve thawing, opening a can, dialing a take-out joint or standing in front of the fridge and playing “spin the leftovers wheel.” Preparing meals from scratch for yourself can, and should, be an enjoyable act of self-love and self-nurture. Of course we enjoy sharing meals with others, but friends and family aren’t always around to cook for. If you love good food (and who doesn’t?), one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is taking the time to cook a meal just for you — then sitting down and savoring every delicious mouthful.

Cooking for yourself, beyond the sensory pleasures, affords you the opportunity to customize meals to your personal preferences and to use the best and freshest ingredients. Be as healthy, or as decadent as you desire. Love salt, hate it, want a rich mouth feel, or to indulge in onions and garlic, or to try something spicy or exotic? You don’t need to run it by a committee. You want it, you got it! You’re limited only by your imagination.

There’s something creative and comforting about taking the time at the end of a busy day or dedicating a quiet weekend afternoon to cooking recipes you love or want to experiment with. Don a soft cotton apron. Put on music. Brew up a pot of your favorite tea (or pour a glass of something a little stronger). Enjoy the colors, smells and textures of the food you're preparing. Remember to inhale as you chop fragrant herbs and mince garlic; stop and listen to the gentle sizzle of food in the pan; slow down and actually feel the recipes come together as you pour, stir, taste … then taste some more. Connecting to what we’re doing in the kitchen forces us to take notice, enhances the experience and helps us be in the moment — something desperately needed in our hectic lives.

This is not a guilty pleasure. It’s a way to honor yourself and treat yourself with the same respect you give to your loved ones. So don’t stop when the cooking is done. Equally important is setting a beautiful table for one. What better excuse to take out the good Irish linen or Riedel wine glass you save for “special” occasions? Who’s more special than you? Set your table with candles, cut flowers, a cloth napkin in a pretty ring. If you haven’t already, uncork a bottle of wine, turn on your favorite tunes and nourish your body, mind and senses. You deserve this, and you are worth it.

Whether you cook on a regular basis or aren’t entirely sure where your large skillet is, this French farmhouse–style menu is a hands-down dinner-for-one winner. The proportions are just right for just you. Its robust flavors are satisfying and soothing, yet you won’t spend a lot of prep time in the kitchen. The roasted Cornish game hen is an ideal treat: not too complicated to prepare and the perfect-size roast for one. Served with a simple herbed couscous and individual cherry clafouti (a custardy fruit-studded cake) for dessert, this meal will remind you that the pleasure of food is in both the preparation and the dining.

French farmhouse menu

Grown-up stuffed celery (spears filled with goat cheese topped with fig jam)
Lemon-garlic roasted Cornish game hen
Parslied couscous with peas
Individual cherry clafoutis

Wine suggestion: The game hen will make a terrific partner with pinot noir, whose sweet, earthy character is a perfect complement to the meaty sweetness of a roasted bird.
GAME PLAN (Half-hour prep time, 1 hour cooking/baking time. Allow 1-1/2 hours from start to seating):

  1. Prepare and roast the game hen; while it’s roasting, prepare the stuffed celery and clafoutis.
  2. Prepare the couscous when the game hen is out of the oven and resting.
  3. Bake the clafoutis just before you sit down to eat, so you can enjoy it warm from the oven when you’re done eating the main course.

Lemon-garlic roasted cornish game hen

Serves 1
Simple and elegant, the combination of chicken, lemon, garlic and olives is a natural. This dish is also a perfect example of how lemon highlights other flavors.

1 Cornish game hen, about 1 3/4 to 2 pounds, rinsed and dried
2 medium lemons, preferably Meyer
1 cup pitted brine-cured olives (kalamata, gaeta, picholine or a mixture)
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper to taste

  1. About an hour ahead, remove the Cornish game hen from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slice 1 lemon paper-thin. With your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the meat on the breast side of the hen. Insert 5 or 6 lemon slices underneath the skin of the hen. Put any unused slices and the ends of the lemons into the cavity.
  3. Cut the remaining lemon into 8 wedges and scatter them over the bottom of a shallow baking pan with the olives and garlic. Place the hen on top, pour the olive oil over the bird and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  4. Roast for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees F and roast for 20 more minutes, or until the meat is firm, the skin is golden, and the juices run clear (a thermometer placed into the thickest part of the bird will register 165 degrees).
  5. Let the hen rest 15 minutes, then serve with the roasted lemons, olives and garlic.

Parslied couscous with peas

Serves 1 to 2
You might want to stir in a handful of toasted pine nuts to the couscous for a little extra texture and flavor.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup couscous
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring often until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in the peas, parsley and broth and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, cover, and let mixture return to a simmer.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
  4. When ready to serve, fluff the couscous with a fork and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Individual cherry clafouti

Serves 2
If there’s any leftovers, cover it with aluminum foil and store at room temperature up to one day, or in the refrigerator for up to four days. To reheat, place the clafouti, uncovered, in an oven heated to 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk, whole or low fat
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen, thawed sweet Bing cherries, halved and pitted
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter two individual 1 1/2- to 2-cup ramekins or gratin dishes.
  2. In a blender or a food processor, combine the sugar, flour, eggs, milk, vanilla, zest and salt, and process until mixture is blended and smooth.
  3. Arrange the cherries in one layer over bottom of the prepared dishes. Pour the mixture over the cherries. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is puffed and springy to the touch.
  4. Sprinkle the top with the confectioners’ sugar and serve warm.

Kathy Kingsley is a food writer and cookbook author.  Visit her website and blog.

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