Cooking for you: Whole meals portioned for one

Hot Veggie Mess: A poached egg sits atop a vegetable-and-potato hash.
Hot Veggie Mess: A poached egg sits atop a vegetable-and-potato hash. MCT

The words, repeated day after day, week after week, can be frustrating: “Yield: 4 servings.” “Yield: 6 to 8 servings.”

What about the many people who only need “Yield: 1 serving”?

Cookbooks, online sources, food television and even newspaper food sections are geared almost entirely toward multiple eaters. Families are expected, friends are assumed. The unspoken premise is that people who dine alone can just fend for themselves — or freeze heaps of leftovers.

Of course, there are ways around the whole Yield: Massive Quantities conundrum. Solo diners can simply cut the recipe quantities in half or quarters, which often works (though certainly not always). Or perhaps, just perhaps, a newspaper story will come along that is aimed directly at solo diners. Perhaps the story will include recipes that serve just one, or maybe two.

And families that need to make four servings or more? This time it’s their turn to quadruple the recipes.

One trick to cooking for yourself is to buy a lot of staple items, use just a little bit of several of them at a time, and put the rest back in the fridge so you can use just a little bit more of them several times in the future.

That was my thinking behind my first dish, or rather, one aspect of my thinking. I sautéed together small amounts of an assortment of common vegetables that are found in most pantries — carrots, mushrooms, onions, celery, zucchini and red bell pepper (green would work too, but red is prettier) — and added a dash of curry powder for just a hint of full-flavored warmth.

That mixture tasted great on its own, but I wanted to add a little crunch and bulk to the dish, so I served it on top of a potato pancake. Curry, of course, goes well with fried potatoes, and mixing the potatoes with the other vegetables is much the same thing as making a vegetable hash.

And what is a vegetable hash without a poached egg on top? So I added that, too. The way the yolk oozes down the pile and blends with the vegetables and potato pancake is simply marvelous — and if you like sriracha sauce, a bit of that makes it all the better.

All that remained was to come up with a name. Because the dish was a combination of about three different ideas, I gave it the only name that fits: Hot Veggie Mess.

Admittedly more refined is a luscious and healthful soup that is easy to make but still gives you the satisfaction of having made it. Double Chickpea-Two Tomato Soup gets its name from the fact that half of the chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are puréed and half are left whole, while most of the tomatoes are puréed with the chickpeas but a few sun-dried tomatoes are finely chopped and added to the purée.

Sound good? It is, especially when it is all pulled together with a bit of basil and served with a slice or two of good, crusty bread.

Time for some meat. A lamb shoulder chop is the perfect size for one person, and it cooks easily and quickly. If you wanted, you could just throw it on a hot pan with a little oil, cook it for a few minutes on both sides, and have a delicious dish.

But that wouldn’t really be cooking, would it? If you are a solo diner who wants to try something with a little elegance, my Quick-Braised Lamb is just the ticket.

Most braised lamb requires a fair amount of tomato and a large amount of time. But because I used the shoulder chop, the time was not necessary and neither was the tomato. The braising liquid here is just a small glass of red wine mixed with Dijon mustard and a touch of rosemary. I added a few thick slices of mushroom for an extra jolt of umami heartiness and wound up with a dish that, when you eat it, feels like a mini celebration.

Finally, I decided to dust off one of my favorite cooking tips, passed on from chef Jimmy Sneed. You know how veal has a mild flavor that easily absorbs the taste of whatever it is cooked in? Well, do you know what else does that same thing? Turkey, or specifically turkey breast fillets. You can prepare a turkey breast fillet the same way you would prepare veal and you will end up with a dish that costs a lot less but is almost as good as the real thing.

So I decided to whip up a plate of Almost Veal Piccata. I skipped the typical step of dredging the turkey through flour because I did not want the extra calories, and I also opted not to pound the turkey flat before cooking it because I wanted it to stay nice and moist.

Other than that, though, the method was the same: I browned the fillet with sliced mushrooms in garlic-scented olive oil, deglazed the pan with cheap-but-drinkable white wine, added a healthy spritz of lemon juice, tossed in some briny capers and finished the sauce with a pat of butter.

It tastes so good you’ll want to share it with a friend.

Main dishes


Yield: 1 serving

1 lamb shoulder chop, about 8 ounces with bone

1/3 cup red wine

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

3 mushrooms, sliced thick

Pinch rosemary

Season lamb with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together wine and mustard. Set aside. Put oil in skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the lamb and sear well on both sides.

Remove lamb to a plate and discard garlic. Add mushrooms to the hot oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. If necessary, add a little more oil to keep the mushrooms from sticking. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and have released their liquid.

Pour in the wine-mustard mixture, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the pan. Return the lamb to the pan, and sprinkle the rosemary over both the meat and the liquid. Lower the temperature to medium low, cover the pan and simmer until the meat is done, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove lamb to your serving plate and keep warm. Simmer or lightly boil the sauce to reduce it by one-third, until it is slightly syrupy.

Per serving: 409 calories, 26 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 84 mg cholesterol, 23 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, no fiber, 177 mg sodium.

Source: Recipe by Daniel Neman.


Yield: 1 serving

1 turkey breast fillet, 6 to 8 ounces

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

3 mushrooms, sliced

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon capers

1/2 tablespoon butter

Season turkey on both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until they begin to turn brown and release their liquid. Move mushrooms and garlic aside and add turkey. Cook until browned on one side, then flip. Add wine and lemon juice, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the pan. Cook 2 minutes, then add capers.

Cook until turkey is done (it will have an internal temperature of 165 degrees, or you can cut a small slice into it to see if it is cooked). If the wine is about to evaporate before the turkey is finished, add another splash or two. Remove pan from heat and swirl in the butter. It is all right if there is very little wine left in the pan; simply coat the browned side of the turkey in the melted butter, which will have picked up the flavor of the wine.

Per serving: 509 calories, 25 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 115 mg cholesterol, 41 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 3 g sugar, no fiber, 201 mg sodium.

Source: Recipe by Daniel Neman.


Yield: 1 serving

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 small carrot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped celery

1 small (or 1/2 large) garlic clove, finely chopped

3/4 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, divided

1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes

1 cup vegetable stock, divided

3 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped.

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Grated parmesan, for garnish

In a medium-size saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, and sauté until limp and lightly colored, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup of the garbanzos, the canned tomatoes and 1/2 cup of the stock. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Scrape into an electric blender or use an immersion blender to purée until completely smooth.

Return the soup to the pan, if you used a blender. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup stock, the remaining 1/4 cup of the garbanzo beans and the sun-dried tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a simmer, add the basil, and taste to adjust the seasonings. After serving in a bowl, sprinkle with grated cheese.

Per serving: 327 calories, 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat), no cholesterol, 11 g protein, 45 g carbohydrate, 10 g sugar, 4 g fiber, 1,506 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from “Soup for Two” by Doanna Pruess.


Yield: 1 serving

1/2 tablespoon butter

Pinch curry powder, optional

1/4 onion, diced

1 small carrot, cut in 1/4-inch slices

1/2 rib celery, cut in 1/4-inch slices

1/2 red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1 small zucchini or 1/2 large zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise, then cut in 1/4-inch slices

1 Russett potato, unpeeled

1 tablespoon onion, minced

1 wedge lemon

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Pinch nutmeg

Vegetable oil (not olive)

1 poached egg, see note

Melt butter in a large skillet and stir in optional curry powder; cook about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in carrot, celery and pepper until thoroughly mixed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the carrots are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini. Cover and cook until the zucchini is cooked, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

Grate the potato, using the small holes of a grater. Place the gratings in several layers of paper towels and squeeze out as much liquid as you possibly can (do this over a sink). Unwrap the potato gratings and place them in a medium bowl. Add the onion, squeeze the lemon wedge over the bowl, and stir to mix thoroughly. Add the egg, flour and nutmeg, and stir to mix again.

Pour oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is very hot; a little bit of the potato mixture will sizzle immediately when you drop it in. Pour in enough of the potato mixture to make about an 8-inch pancake; you will probably have 1/4 of the potato mixture left over. Flatten the potatoes in the pan with a spatula and fry a few minutes until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the pancake in the pan — it helps to use 2 spatulas — and cook until the other side is golden brown. Remove, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt (it is fried potatoes, so it will take a lot of salt).

Place the still-warm potato pancake on a plate. Top it with the warm vegetable mixture and then top that with the warm poached egg. Serve with hot sauce such as sriracha, if desired.

Note: To poach an egg, put about 3 inches of water into a small saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar, the cheaper the better. Bring the water to a simmer and crack in 1 egg. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. If not using immediately, gently glide the egg into a bowl of ice water. The egg can be warmed again by placing it briefly in hot water.

Per serving: 466 calories, 22 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 341 mg cholesterol, 18 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 11 g sugar, 8 g fiber, 217 mg sodium.

Source: Recipe by Daniel Neman.