Cooking for One: First Bag of "Tricks"

James R. CoffeyStarred Page By James R. Coffey, 11th Sep 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Recipes>Cooking Tips

In the first two installments of this series on Cooking for One, we learned how to keep variety in our diets and how to perform basic essential recipes. Now let's open our first bag of "tricks."

1. Sautéing

(While most any vegetable or fruit can be sautéed, onion will be used for the purpose of description.)

Cut both ends off the onion. With this done, you’ll be able to easily peel away the skin of the onion using a paring knife or your fingers. Now, chop the onion according to your needs: for thicker onion slices, cut the onion horizontally; for finely chopped onion pieces, cut horizontally and then vertically. If you’re sautéing for a particular recipe, measure out the amount of onions you need and put the remainder aside. Now, heat a small amount of oil--Vegetable or Canola oil is preferred to Olive for this purpose--in a skillet, just enough to coat the bottom, but no extra. (You don’t want them to stick, but you don't want them to swim.) Now, turn the heat to low and heat the onions slowly, occasionally flipping them with a wooden spoon or spatula, being sure not to overcook them. It should take approximately 6 to 10 minutes to make them slightly browned but nearly translucent, and soft when you fork them. (For Italian or Mexican recipes, you can sauté garlic simultaneously.)

2. Blanching (fruit)

(While this process can be used on lots of vegetables including potatoes and tomatoes, it’s especially handy for pealing fruit such as peaches, plums, pears, apples or other fruit with thin, non-peelable skin; but not citrus.)

First, wash the fruit to remove dirt and pesticides. Then choose a pot large enough to accommodate the number of fruit you want to blanch plus enough water to cover them, plus one inch. Now, remove the fruit and set the pot on the stove to boil. Next, choose a bowl, pot, or some large clean container that will accommodate your fruit and enough ice water to submerge them. Now, once the water begins to boil, place the fruit one at a time into the water using a large spoon or cooking tongs; this will stop the boiling. Once the water begins to boil again, cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. After five minutes, turn off the pot and remove it from the burner. Using your tongs or spoon, immediately drop your fruit into the ice bath. The general rule of thumb is to “shock“ them for an additional five minutes, so if the ice melts too quickly, drain it off an add more. At the end of five minutes, they should be cool enough to hold in your hand. Using a paring knife, you’ll find that the skins will peel off with very little effort, leaving beautifully peeled fruit you can serve as is, sliced with cream or desert topping, or just a drizzle of honey.

3. Poaching (eggs)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. The water should be at least 5 to 6 inches deep. Season the water a little sea salt and pepper. When the water boils, add about a tablespoon of vinegar for every pint or so of water (3 tablespoons should do it). If you use the “taste test,” the vinegar should be barely noticeable. Now, lower the heat to a slow simmer. Once all the bubbles have reduced to a small rumble, carefully crack one egg into a teacup or large ladle (don‘t break the yolk), then lower the teacup or ladle into the water and pour the egg out as gently as possible into the water. The egg white will almost immediately coagulate in the water and begin to turn white. Most eggs will take between 2 and 3 minutes for the white to cook; many chefs prefer the yolk still runny, but this is a matter of personal preference. When at the desired doneness, remove the egg with a slotted spoon. Repeat with remaining eggs. Once you get the hang of it, you can poach several eggs at once (and learn to add a variety of flavorings).

4. Poaching (fish)

(Virtually any fish or other seafood can be poached, but lighter, meatier fish like Salmon seem especially appropriate for this method, and is always a favorite.)

Rinse fish fillets and pat dry them with paper towels. Place them in saucepan just big enough to hold them. Add enough poaching liquid (see egg poaching) to barely cover the fish. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. (Do not boil. This will cause fish to break apart.) Adjust the heat to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer. In about 10 minutes, the fish should flake easily when tested with fork and the center should be opaque. (Longer for denser or thicker fish.) Carefully remove the fish with a slotted spatula and plate. Remove any skin or obvious bones with a paring knife.

(With a little experimentation, you’ll learn to season the poaching liquid according to your meal, making it hot for a Mexican feast, perhaps sweet to compliment savory (pungent without sweetness) side vegetables, or using dill to go with a cucumber dish.

5. Roasting (peppers)

Peppers are best roasted over a live fire such as a gas burner or a charcoal grill, but it is possible to use a broiler if that’s all that’s available. If using a broiler, preheat the broiler and then cut the peppers in half and remove the stems, veins, and seeds. Coat the peppers lightly with Olive oil then place them on a broiler pan. Broil for 5 to 7 minutes or until the skin starts to blacken and crinkle. If you’re using a gas burner, oil the peppers and place them flesh-first directly on a medium-high flame or as close to the heat source as possible using metal tongs. As the flesh closest to the heat blackens and blisters, flip it over so that all sided cooked equally. Remove the pepper when it has blackened completely. Immediately place them in a bowl and cover them to allow them to steam; you can also use the traditional method of dropping them into a paper bag and rolling down the top. After 15 to 20 minutes, you’ll be able to easily scrape off and discard the blackened skin. Discard the seed pod, stem and inner ribs also before using.

6. Roasting (nuts or seeds)

To roast nuts or seeds, coat 1 cup of shelled nuts evenly with 1 teaspoon of Canola or Olive oil. Spread the nuts evenly on a baking pan or cookie sheet and place them into a preheated oven at 350° F. Stir occasionally until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned (5-10 minutes). (When they’re done, the smell will fill the air. Do not let them burn.) Remove them from the oven and dump onto a paper towel to cool. Sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy. If you want to take this a step further, add Chex cereals to the mix and create Chex Mix. (To dry roast just follow the instructions below for toasting nuts omitting the oil.)

To toast nuts or seeds, place them in a heavy skillet (cast iron is great for this) on top the stove. Heat slowly over low heat, shaking the pan as you would for popcorn so they don’t scorch. Cook until slightly browned and smelling delicious, about 10-15 minutes Other seasonings to consider are garlic, onion powder, cayenne, and sesame seed. And depending on your choice of nut, many (peanuts, cashews, and almonds) are quite tasty coated with cinnamon, too!

7. Steaming (vegetables)

When steaming vegetables, you‘ll need either a handy and inexpensive steamer basket (pictured here), or some other type of a metal sieve (a metal colander will do) that will nestle snuggly into a large cooking pot. Add just enough water to the pot so that is just barely reaches the bottom of the colander or steamer basket. Turn on the heat and rinse off your vegetables. Once the water comes to a boil, add the vegetables and place a loose fitting lid on top to cover. If your lid is more fitted over the colander, position it so that one side hangs over the colander just enough to let the steam escape. Continue to steam according to the vegetable used:

Asparagus: About 4 minutes for thin spears, 5 to 7 for thicker.
Broccoli: About 5 minutes. (Broccoli turns a bright, rich green when done.)
Brussels sprouts: About 10 minutes
Carrots: Sliced about ¼” thick, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Cauliflower: About 6 minutes.
Green beans: About 5 minutes.
Peas: About 3 minutes.
Zucchini: About 6 to 7 minutes.

When the time’s up, turn off the heat and immediately lift out the basket or colander and dump into a bowl. (Do not leave them in the pot as they will continue to cook.) Season according to taste.
(Though it is possible to steam in a microwave, health experts advise against it as microwaving actually changes the molecular make-up of foods--and thus, their nutritional value.)

8. Steaming shrimp (and other crustacean)

First, rinse and peal your shrimp (about a pound for an individual, 1 ½ to 2 for two). Keep the shrimp on ice until just before cooking them, as fresh shrimp spoil quickly. Insert either a large steamer basket or a metal colander (as you used for steaming vegetables) into a large pot and add 2 Bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of sea salt, and just enough water to just reach the bottom of your steamer. Turn on the heat to medium-high and drop in the shrimp. Once the shrimp are in, lower the flame to low and put a lid on the pot. They will cook very quickly, so keep an eye on them. Don't leave them in for any more than 3 to 4 minutes. Once the shrimp change from grey to pink, they're done. Remove the basket and dump the shrimp into a bowl if they’re to be added to a recipe, or onto a bed of ice if to be served as is. Cold, they can be serve with cocktail sauce or other dip.

9. Marinating (vegetables)

For this process you’ll need:
1 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon garlic
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix all your ingredients. Favorites are onions, carrots, green peppers, corn, green beans, kidney beans, and tomatoes (grape tomatoes work well), but you should experiment. Wash your vegetables to remove dirt and pesticides, and place them into a bowl or casserole dish large enough hold them and your marinating mix. Pour mix over your vegetables. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 24 hours. Mix a few times to distribute the marinate well. When done, they can be eaten cold or added to other dishes. They work especially well added to green salads. Keep any leftover marinate as it makes a great salad dressing.

10.Marinating (fish)

Mix your marinate ingredients: see the above vegetable marinating mix but also consider fresh chopped mango, soy sauce, or fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice. Now separate your mix in half. One portion will be used while the fish is cooking, the other will be spread on afterwards. Now, rinse off your fish and pat dry with paper towels. Place fish into a flat baking or casserole dish and dump in your marinate mix, turning once to coat both sides. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Now preheat your oven at 350 and select a baking dish for the second part of the process. After 30 minutes, take fish out, place in baking dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on fish thickness and type of fish). After the fish is finished baking, use a spoon to spread the second portion of marinade on top of the fish. Fish soaks up marinade, so this extra portion will give the fish extra flavor.

(This process can also be done in the broiler instead of the oven, but you must watch fish very closely as it tends to brown very quickly and can dry out.)

*As Ceviche is officially “marinating,” I’ll include it also here:

Prepare the fish by washing and trimming it into thin slices or bite-size pieces. Most any fish will work but Cod, Flounder, and other white fish produce the most reliable results. (Shrimp and other crustaceans can be use as well.) Into a bowl or flat baking dish, add chopped onion, chili peppers (careful how much), lemon and/or lime juice (enough to accommodate the amount of fish, but at least half a cup), a teaspoon of sea salt, a teaspoon of Olive oil, a dash of hot sauce (if you’re adventurous), a sprig or two of Cilantro, and a clove or two chopped garlic. Now all you have to do is lay your fish in the dish, pour over the mixture, cover, and stick in the fridge. While this process generally takes 4 to 6 hours, watch (and taste) as you go—the flesh will go from gray and translucent to firm, whitish-pink, and opaque. Remove from the fridge and serve with garnishes and something crunchy (like corn chips) for texture.

28media,tumblr(dot)com (roasting nuts) (poached fish)
honestfare(dot)com (ceviche)
foodnetwork(dot)com (marinating)


Blanching, Cooking Eggs, Cooking For One, Cooking Healthy, Cooking Ideas, Cooking Tips, Roasting, Sauteing, Toasting

Meet the author

author avatar James R. Coffey
I am founder and head writer for James R. Coffey Writing Services and Resource Center @ where I offer a variety of writing and research services including article composition, ghostwriting, editing...(more)

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Jerry Walch
15th Sep 2010 (#)

All good information even if I never cook for just one :-))

Reply to this comment

author avatar James R. Coffey
15th Sep 2010 (#)

Glad to hear that, Jerry!

Reply to this comment

author avatar group2be
15th Sep 2010 (#)

Nicely done. With it being just myself and 2 children which usually one is only home in the evening for dinner due to college and work schedules, I've had to learn to cook lesser portions as well. Very helpful ideas in this thourough and well written article. ( the directions are so nicely written as they are easy to follow with a nice flow.)

Reply to this comment

author avatar James R. Coffey
15th Sep 2010 (#)

I hope you've read my first article in this series which addresses leftovers and the idea of cooking more--not less!

Reply to this comment

author avatar chrysolite
15th Sep 2010 (#)

Great article and instructions, James! Hope many people will read it and DO IT! ;) Home cooked food is so much healthier and tastier! Have a great day! Chrysolite

Reply to this comment

author avatar James R. Coffey
15th Sep 2010 (#)

Thank you kindly. I couldn't have said it better myself!

Reply to this comment

author avatar siboiss
15th Sep 2010 (#)

I am not in the habit of using recipes myself, but you have given me some great ideas here. Thanks again.

Reply to this comment

author avatar James R. Coffey
15th Sep 2010 (#)

I aim to inform--and sometimes entertain! Thanks!

Reply to this comment

author avatar chrysolite
19th Sep 2010 (#)

... and you succeed brilliantly! Thanks again for this article!

Reply to this comment

author avatar James R. Coffey
19th Sep 2010 (#)


Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?