More than one in four households in the US have one occupant, a number is as high as one in two in Stockholm. That’s a lot of cooking being done…alone. Hence, Peter McGraw is pleased to deliver this fun, even inspirational episode on solo cooking.
Listen to Episode #122 here
More than 1 in 4 households in the United States have one occupant. That number is as high as 1 in 2 in Stockholm, Sweden. That’s a lot of cooking being done alone. Hence, there has been a request for this topic and I’m pleased to deliver a fun and even inspirational episode featuring Joseph Newman, a serial entrepreneur, restauranteur, fine arts and graphic designer, realtor, educator and broker of all things pleasurable. Joseph is a Colorado native and runs an award-winning real estate group in Denver. We lean heavily here on his experience as a multiple restaurant owner.
The other person who makes up the we is my guest co-host, Laura Grant. She is a child-free, sex-positive, solo polyamorist who enjoys first dates, job interviews and crafting complex spreadsheets for pleasure and profit. When not traveling to experience a different culture, she finds great meaning in investing in her relationships with herself and others. Like me, she is not much of a cook until now. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Thank you for having me.
Welcome back, Laura.
It’s always good to be here.
I eat out a lot, though not as much as I used to, for obvious reasons. I order a lot more than I used to. When someone asks, “Peter, do you cook?” I say, “I prepare food.” I meal prep salads sometimes, which I eat for breakfast and people know this. I heat up pre-made meals. I do some basic cooking. I can cook some eggs. I make tacos and prepare chicken or beef to put on said salads. I throw a hell of a burrito night. Before we get to why we’re talking to Joseph, I want to hear from Laura about her cooking habits. Laura, do you cook?
Anyone who knows me is like, “Why are they asking Laura about her cooking habits?” No, I don’t cook. It is comical how little cooking I do. People don’t know what I look like. I’ve never missed a meal, but I don’t cook at all. Restaurants closing down was a problem for me but at the same time, I’m okay doing simple stuff. I know in the past you’ve said that you don’t live to eat.
I eat to live.
It’s a necessity and I’m sure you enjoy it every now and then. I live to eat. I enjoy it. I don’t make my own shoes because I’m not good at that. There are professionals out there who have studied and worked hard to be amazing cooks, so I let them do it.
That’s a perfect segue, isn’t it?
When I was younger, my accountant always said, “Can you change the oil in your car?” “I sure can.” “Stop, because somebody is better at it. They get paid to do it.” “Deal.”
You support the local economy. That’s important too.
You’re an expert in food, Joseph.
I don’t consider myself that.
In this room, you are.
What I meant to say is, “Yes.” If they ask if you’re in the band, “Yes, you’re in the band,” but I do subscribe to the saying that food is life. Any one of my numerous friends will say, “Food is life. Joey knows it.”
What do you mean by that?
I mean that it’s more than just you live to eat or you eat to live. Food literally is life. It spans all the cultural boundaries. You meet more people through food. You experience an immense amount of time with family, friends, loved ones, relationships and what have you via eating food.
It’s a source of pleasure beyond a mouth pleasure.
Also pain at times.
It’s true. I have hurt myself with spicy meals before.
Let alone the instruments you’re trying to create meals with.
Joseph, before we get too deep into all of this, why should Laura and I listen to you?
We need to listen to somebody. Please help us.
Quite simply, indentured servitude. I grew up in restaurants as my first real job, washing dishes at around thirteen years old. From that point, I caught some romanticism to the idea of, “Restaurants will be great. I’ll do this for a long time.” I went in and out of a lot of industries but always had restaurants to fall back on. During that time, I also caught the travel bug. Going, eating, drinking and seeing cultures with your eyes, all of a sudden, I found myself owning five restaurants now in my lifetime. I’ve opened fifteen different restaurants. I’ve worked in different countries and I adore what food does for people and cultures. You’re listening to me because I care.
Can you give us a sense of some of these types of restaurants? I’m curious about it.
Because of the breadth of cultures that I have been able to experience, I have been part of comfort Americana. A very Jack Kerouac-y and the best food is when you found it when you were on the open road at some mom and pop shop. I’ve had an American-French nouveau bistro. I’ve done New Jersey American-Italian. We’ve done California cuisine. It’s a little bit of everything. You get these different concepts of how to prepare meals and then you also go through fads. This all started in the ‘90s. Everybody has a different idea of what they want to eat so the ingredients change at the same time.
It’s hard work.
It’s a labor of love.
I think we should jump in because we’re already dancing around some of this topic. Laura is here because she requested this episode and she was the second solo to request it. You were the second guest I tried to get so this is perfect. Here are two silver medalists. I would like to focus a little bit more on healthy foods and eating healthy. I feel like that’s a foundation for a remarkable life, and keeping a reasonable budget.
One of the things that singles face is they often don’t have families and all of the expenses around families, but they also are typically on a single income. In a world built for couples, it’s a little more expensive to be solo. We can venture beyond that, but I would like that as a foundation. We’ve already alluded to why food is important and why is solo cooking an important endeavor for the audience of this show to master, especially Laura Grant.
It’s such a pain point. I hear this from so many single people, including the ones who love to cook. “I love to cook. It’s how I express myself. It’s an art, but I don’t because I’m single. It is a pain in the ass.”
It doesn’t have to be though. It’s more of a self-reliance kind of thing. If you can be self-reliant and confident in that portion of it, it’s less of a pain in the ass. I would say because economically it can be a little bit different or more expensive if you’re coupled up. Your time expenditure is a little bit more expensive as a single person doing it. Switch your paradigm a little bit and it’s a completely different experience.
I like the word self-reliant. I did a Solo Thoughts episode where the members of my community have forced me to define what it means to be solo. One of the things that you might not be surprised about is it doesn’t have as much to do with relationship status as people typically assume. It’s about wholeness, that you’re a complete person and you’re not half of a whole. The second one is you strive for autonomy of which self-reliance is an important part of it. The last one is not necessary nor sufficient, but solos tend to be a little unconventional. You might live your whole life and never make a meal because that’s just not your thing.
I like conventionalism though because, with the capacity for abstract thought, everything opens up, all of your different biases. What you can experience in the day-to-day from cooking to riding a bicycle can change your avenue daily.
I like this notion of self-reliance and you’ve already made the case to me. Laura, you mentioned something that I had jotted down. I have never gotten there with my food prep but this notion of engagements or the act of creation.
The experiential joy of the creation.
In the same way that writing a poem may have this flow state. If you’re an athlete, it’s going on a run. It is essentially the problem solving that goes into this idea where time melts away and you have this positive feeling. That certainly is the case with chefs.
I think it can be. There’s absolutely an artistic approach to it that will lead you into that metaphysical plane of, “I’m really in this,” but you can enter it in a lot of different ways. Maybe, it’s by necessity. “I have to cook because there’s a food desert around me,” or what have you. You can still get to that pleasure center. Maybe it’s just a different starting point.
If you do it well, solo cooking can save you money and perhaps time. Here’s the other one. Sometimes you’re not cooking for one, you’re cooking for more than one. You ought to have a couple of things besides burritos that you’re able to make.
It’s going to be a well-rounded individual.
The last thing I’ll say is that 28% of households in the United States are one occupant. That’s the most common form of household now, having replaced the nuclear family, which now has fallen to third. A couple is number two. Twenty-eight percent of households have one person in it. That’s a lot of opportunity for solo cooking that’s happening there. One last question before we get into some of the tactics. Do you have an overarching philosophy that you would want to share with the aspiring solo cook?
I find that solo cooking is the most pleasurable when you care for the ingredients. You might not even care for what’s going into your body, but if you put care into the ingredient, it’s going to care back for you. I don’t mean to be too woo-woo with that although I’m from Boulder. My parents were hippies. I grew up eating healthy food, but with a slightly finer twist to it. I think if you care about it, just try a little bit. It’s actually going to pay you back tenfold.
Can you give an example of this?
For instance, you eat to live. Would you take a pill and be good with it? “That’s the energy I need. I’ve eaten for the day. I’m good to go,” or would you say, “I want to enjoy whatever it is.” If I’m by myself, “This is a beautiful filet. This is an awesome broccoli rabe. Look at that. That’s gorgeous. That was created without my help. Now, I get to do something with it.” I care a little bit more than, “Butter in the mouth. I’m done.”
It sounds like an act of gratitude.
It is. It’s giving that moment of thanks, caring about it, and having an artistic approach. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. You are creating the art as you go.
It’s more of a process than just the end result.
I believe everything in life is. I would like to get to the end. I don’t like to drive in traffic, but that’s part of the process.
It’s supposed to be half the fun.
I can appreciate that. I can reflect on that when it comes to the consumption side of things. It’s very easy to eat and scroll, eat and work, eat and answer emails. In that case, it ends up being just fuel. It’s just calories in. It almost doesn’t matter what went into it all, and so having a little bit more presence on the consumption side. You’re talking about it also on the preparation side.
Yeah. Why not the whole process?
Let’s give thanks to this onion which is going to flavor this meal.
If people did that, even the ones that say, “I don’t have the taste buds. I can’t catch a bouquet on what I’m smelling.” Once you give one inkling more of what it is before you just put it in the pan or in your mouth, you probably will catch a whole lot more flavor and a lot more profile. You’ll even compare it to other things and finally start saying, “I don’t like it because of X, Y and Z,” not just, “I don’t like it.”
I think that’s a worthy goal.
We’ve got one go-round. We might as well make every meal taste a little better.
You did an episode about cultivating taste. There is a callback to it to say, “You don’t need to have that yet. You’ll get there.” You can learn about the food and once you learn about it, you appreciate it. Once you start appreciating it, you learn even more because you’re attuned to it, paying attention and being mindful.
It doesn’t even have to be traditional learning. You have to look it up in a book. Eat the same meal a couple of times a week and pay attention to each time you eat it. I bet you it’s different each time.
Let’s talk about making the said meal. Let’s pretend that everybody is like Laura. Besides a kitchen or let’s assume people have a kitchen, at least they have a stove, an oven or maybe a microwave. What is the very basic equipment that you need to get started?
This is a great question. My friends and I have spanned it over different scenarios. What’s the basic equipment you need in a kitchen while camping or backpacking? You wind up in a different country and this is what they have.
Most of our audience are from the United States, and then Europe and Canada.
Most of them live in tents.
They’re intense or they live in tents.
They’re intense, I’ll tell you that.
First is to have a sharp knife, and even crummy knives are fine, but if you could sharpen them.
Is that for safety reasons?
It’s a little bit of everything. People think that it’s scarier to have a sharper knife, but it’s like having more horsepower on a vehicle. If you can evade something or properly wield it, you’re probably not going to hurt yourself. Just because it’s sharp doesn’t mean you’re going to cut yourself.
When you say knife, I’m envisioning the traditional.
The butcher’s knife. I’ll go classic. That one will work on almost anything. You can use it all the way from the tip to the heel.
What is the price range that someone might experience in the United States for a good enough butcher’s knife?
Spend at least $20 on a single knife. You want to get closer to the $100 range. If you treat it well, you will have that knife your entire life. That’s the key. A sharp knife, then next to that is a pan of any sort that has a little bit of depth to it. You can use it to boil or sauté. You can use it to scallopini and whack things or whatever you need if you have a guest over who you don’t like.
There are these nonstick pans, and then now this iron skillet thing is a big deal. Does it matter?
It matters depending on what you care for in time and flavor. Non-stick, I have a gazillion of them. Cast iron, absolutely. I have some that my parents passed on to me because you can season them and it keeps the flavor. You don’t ever really wash it out with soap. You keep the flavor going and it creates one of the best nonstick pans on the planet. However, time and not user-friendly. You got to care for your equipment.
That’s a master’s level pan.
Let’s go high-intermediate. It doesn’t have to be master’s level but you have to take the time to do it. It’s not incredibly difficult. It’s just taking the time to make sure you keep up with your pan.
Do you need a cutting board?
You need it. You got a kitchen and you got surfaces, but you know what I’m saying.
What if you are renting?
How much is your deposit, I guess is the question.
What are some other basic things? I assume a pot of some sort.
You could use a deep pan. You could do it with one. A pot is great if you wanted to boil more water. If you’re solo, you probably don’t need that much water. It depends on what you’re trying to boil. Utensils, go with a spork. Get the spoon and the fork. Get a sharp knife. We’re going bare bones here. This is Bear Grylls. We’re in the middle of nowhere.
I’m picturing you at the dinner table with your giant butcher knife and cutting your broccolini.
Throw out some other things that are put on people’s radar.
I think everybody should have sriracha in our kitchen if you’re going to need a seasoning. Salt, pepper and sriracha, you can get away with anything at that point.
That was my next question, about seasonings.
Equipment, you can go for forever. Cherry pitters to melon ballers to all kinds of different colanders and what have you, but if you’re getting down to the question of what do you need? One necessity is a knife, pan and one utensil. You can get it done.
Is there something that’s sneaky valuable to have that might not be on people’s radar?
Sometimes ceramic paring knives because they don’t need as much sharpening and it’s a shorter blade. Those can be pretty great. What I use all the time is a copper bowl. It’s not as sneaky. It’s very traditional. It’s classic French, but the fluffiest most unbelievable whipped eggs you’ll have in your entire life come from copper. It has a chemical reaction that then pours into your non-stick pan. You can do whatever you want with it after that.
To digress for a moment. You can correct me if I’m wrong, Joseph. If you are a chef and you want a job and you go in for the interview, they’ll ask you to make an omelet. Is that true?
It can happen. Theoretically, they make you do a stage, which is fancy for, “Come work for free. Let’s see if you’re worth it.” The omelet is a big one. That one has been passed down for generations and generations. That’s a pedigree one where if you can do it properly to the particular chef’s liking, it’s great.
In terms of coloring and texture.
Also, consistency. It depends if you’re using metal or plastic. Some people prefer only wood to turn the eggs over. Is it a rolled omelet? Is it a flip omelet or are you doing the toss in the pan? There’s a whole lot of ways to go with that, but it has become the wives’ tale of, “Make a good omelet. If you break it, you’re out.”
I have a friend and all he could do is make an omelet. He’s like, “I could get the job.”
I love that because everybody says, “I can make spaghetti.” I’m like, “You can get spaghetti anywhere. Make an omelet.”
When my parents got divorced, my dad had never cooked ever. The things he learned how to make were an omelet and broccoli with a really good cheese sauce. It was that and microwaved burritos. We survived. We didn’t get scurvy.
You hit the basic spices, oils, butter and those kinds of things.
Butter is the catch-all. Why not? If not, people don’t want to do anything dairy-driven like that. You can just do a vegetable oil of sorts. There are a gazillion allergies out there now. People have different tastes. People swear by coconut oil, avocado oils and whatnot. I like classic vegetable oil because it has a higher frying temperature. You can get it hotter without it burning. You’re not tinge-ing any of the food. You’re not smoking up the kitchen. If you had to, probably oil is the easiest of use that you can put with anything and butter. Fat is flavor.
I think it’s counterintuitive based on the generation I’m from, but I think butter is healthier also.
I don’t know that it is counterintuitive necessarily. Some people say that those are absolutely necessary calories that taste better personally. Some items, you don’t want that flavor in there, but how are you going to make popcorn? Talk about solo necessities.
Is there anything else about the kitchen and about the space? I’ll offer one and get to get your reaction. I’m just stealing this from one of my favorite documentaries, which is Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s about cleanliness and how essential cleanliness is to preparing food. The world’s best chefs are obsessed with keeping a clean kitchen. I have to assume that translates from just a food safety standpoint.
That’s massive in my book. Having grown up in kitchens and owned different restaurants, having that not only shows that you are really into the preparation of food, but you also care about who’s going to receive it. You want your space to look good. You’re not going to be mixing any ingredients unnecessarily or by accident. Beyond that, I think something that people don’t like with solo cooking is why am I making this mess just to feed myself?
I grew up under the mise en place scenario. Everything is in its place. You create all of your pieces, whether that’s multiple bowls or what have you, but as you’re creating it, you’re cleaning. People see me in the kitchen and I’m like, “Hang out. Keep me company,” but you can’t help because I’m going to be flying between the sink, the stove and the countertop. By the end of it, there are barely any dishes to do when I serve the meal.
It’s because you’re using that downtime while something is heating up.
I’m always moving. There’s always something I could be doing. We would always say in restaurants, “You got time to lean. You got time to clean. Keep it rocking.”
That’s the part that seems like magic to me. It is the timing of making multiple pieces of a dish. You have your vegetable, your starch, your protein or whatever is going on and timing it all so it all comes together on the plate approximately at the same time and you didn’t burn anything down.
A lot of that is definitely practice. I’m a fairly fastidious person. In my mind, as I turn on the first burner, I’ve already gotten five steps ahead so I know where I’m going. Depending on how much I’ve been drinking, it changes a little bit maybe. I go in and out but it is key, especially in Colorado. As soon as something hits the plate, it’s already half as warm as it was before it was in the pan. Not like in tropical regions where it stays warmer longer. You want it to come out, be beautiful and warm.
Laura, I completely agree with you. That’s so impressive. When you go out to eat, it’s incredible that everything arrives the way it does. It’s such an amazing thing that we take for granted.
It’s lovely to hear you say that because we’re pirates in the back going, “More peanuts.”
The skill level and being able to feed an entire restaurant through an evening is an incredible process. For the novice, even just preparing two things and getting the timing right beyond experience, which I suspect probably is the answer to this question, but is there some sort of tip or perspective with regard to that idea of timing? The timing can be intimidating.
Think of the temperature. I’m going to create mashed potatoes, steak and salad. Prepare that salad. It can sit cold. Don’t try to do that later. Don’t put things unnecessarily out of order just to create more time for yourself. That’s not going to work. That’s one way to do it. I would say, think about how you want it to look. The longer something sits on a plate, it’s going to oxidize and change. The last thing that you do maybe is you’re pouring beurre blanc on top of a piece of salmon. You’re doing that at the very end, put the plate on the table and eat. It’s a hierarchy.
I have to say this. This show lends itself to visuals. There’s a reason there’s something called the Food Network, which is on television and not on SiriusXM Radio. One of the reasons to do this is to provide a bit of inspiration. It’s to get people to try this skill out and see if it agrees with them. Maybe they save a little money and maybe they save a little face the next time they have a visitor.
Maybe they crushed that job interview at the restaurant.
Let’s talk through some tips when it comes to shopping. What are some of the things that lend themselves to a solo cook? I can’t even say the word you said to put on the top of the salmon.
Nobody can say it properly. For solo shopping, there are a lot of movements that are coming around that make a lot of sense these days where you’re doing things that are seasonal. Look for things that actually are in your store and ready. I think what people would find are these pitfalls or these mail at home recipes where you should go and find this one berry that doesn’t exist during the winter in Colorado where it does in Great Britain or what have you.
Find things that are at the ready. More than that, you’re always going to buy more than you need. Just get it out of your head that you’re going for one meal. What I was saying earlier, I was alluding to the expense of time. You might go to the store three times a week. It’s not always the best use of time, but you’re not going to waste food and you’re always going to have fresher meals every single time.
It’s more European.
In a way. It is walking to the store and what have you.
It sounds like you’re suggesting ingredients-first recipe next, which I’m not good at because being not confident, if I don’t have a recipe, I’m not even going to know what to look for.” You’re saying to go to your market. Whether you have access to a great farmer’s market or just the grocery store and see what looks good and then say, “That’s a building block.” Especially with smartphones, you can look up the recipe right there.
You have all that information at your fingertips. If you’re going to ingredient-first, which I love, I got to this point where people would say, “What’s your favorite thing to cook?” I think in the back of their head, they’re saying, “Do you like Italian or do you like Spanish?” I would instead say, “Just name any nationality anywhere on the planet and we’ll go and cook it. We’ll see what we can find to cook that, if it’s Jamaican or what have you.”
There’s a great workaround when you head into the store looking for ingredients and they don’t have them because most ingredients are barely a one-off. You’re going to go to the store, “We need carrots.” “There’s no carrots.” I bet you there are ten other root vegetables that could take their place. You have to be a little bit willing to pivot.
I guess it’s knowing what foods are similar. It also comes with tastes like the difference between a parsnip and a turnip. They’re pretty similar or are they? Is it going to go in this recipe? Probably.
That’s part of caring for each meal you’re having. You can say, “A beet would go awesome here. I’ll get beets instead.” Maybe I’m going to try Brussels sprouts or artichokes that aren’t in season. I’ll pivot to some other green, but it will still work in the end because you’re willing to move around with it.
Things that are in season and things that you like. It’s a lot easier to make a meal featuring an ingredient or ingredients that you like versus don’t like. I have to assume that as you go on, then you can start to experiment a little bit more.
Part and parcel to that is don’t be afraid to fail. You go to Whole Foods or something and they’ll have dragon fruit. People look at it and go, “What is that thing?” Buy it and cut it open. Do something with it. You’re buying for one. You’re not buying for a restaurant. Waste the $2 to make yourself happy or to say, “I’m never doing that again. That was a wild expenditure.”
I had winter melon that does not taste the way I thought it would taste. It looks like honeydew but it tastes like a cucumber. I’m glad I didn’t put it in my fruit salad, but it was a good experience.
This is important also because I’m interested in eating healthy foods. One of the things that happen for a lot of people is they get very one-dimensional. They eat the same thing over and over again because they like it. They can prepare it and whatnot. Yet, we benefit from food diversity. Eating lots of different things, foods of different colors, foods of different spices or foods from different parts of the world is good for us. It’s taking some chances.
It’s beautiful that we have that opportunity. We could go to a store and have the one potato that we grow in our region, but we have things from all over the world. There are 4,000 species of potato and we get 200 of them here already. “I’m going to get bored with potatoes.” Maybe not. Try one that’s a different color.
Let’s do an example of a very basic meal that someone could aspire to. Maybe we’ll do two. We’ll do one for the meat-eaters and one for the vegetarians. If you’re vegan, I’m sorry. We may not get to you.
We can do one that will transition into any one of them just by adding an ingredient or two ingredients. The Mediterranean region lends itself to that. I guess all of them do when I think about it. You can eat vegan to full omnivore in almost anybody’s culture. Let’s pretend we’re doing something with pasta. Primavera is super easy. It can be vegan, olive oil, pasta, a couple of veggies, salt, pepper and garlic. It’s done.
Let’s talk pasta for a moment.
I was born for this conversation.
Pasta can be intimidating because you can cook it too much or too little. I think too little is better than too much.
It’s all personal preference. What we do know universally is we’re taking this dried stick or whatever shape it is and we’re going to rehydrate it. Everybody knows that part. Cook it to your liking. Try it a bunch of ways. You can do the spaghetti against the wall trick and see if that works for you. The one thing you can’t do or you might not make it so that whoever is coming over for the date night likes it, but you can get to a point where you know you like it.
Laura, are you feeling incredibly inspired by this guy right here?
I’m pretty inspired. We’re talking about pasta. It’s the one thing I like to make. I have a pasta-making machine. It’s like bread machinery. You dump everything in and it spits out pasta. They are the fresh pasta and the recipe is egg and flour. That is the recipe. It takes time but having the fresh pasta is just incredible.
It is pretty neat too and you get to say, “I made some fresh pasta and I’m going to turn it into a primavera.”
What you’re saying is more than inspiring. It’s licensing. It’s giving people permission to screw this up There are so many things that we do in life that we get good at. The first time we do it, it’s not a perfect omelet, but if I can mix my metaphors, you’ve got to break some eggs.
I like the licensing idea behind it. Part of cooking at home and having fun, especially with friends or even by yourself, is dispelling the fear of it. You’re going to mess up a lot, but you’re not going to mess up forever. I know a lot of people who have their, “This is my dish. I go on a date and I cook salmon with cherry sauce. I’ve gotten good at it and then they can’t cook anything else,” but at least they feel confident in making that meal. It’s probably more than spaghetti or PB&J or what have you.
Back to primavera. You can make it more interesting. You can roast the garlic in the olive oil in the pan for a while. Make sure that it’s nice and brown but not too hot. You haven’t burnt it. You created an incredible sauce, already. Salt and pepper, olive oil and garlic. It’s a vegan sauce right there. Sauté your veggies in it, whatever it is, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers or onions. Let it heat for a little bit.
You probably don’t want to overdo it. You don’t want mush. A little bit of crisp is nice. You’ve already got your pasta boiled to whatever liking you like. Drain it. Toss it in. Maybe a little more salt. Done. Vegetarian? Let’s do fresh grated Parmesan on top of it. Maybe a pat of butter. We’re already there.
A little more flavor.
Spice it up with chili flakes. “It sounds good.” This is a blank slate now. Add any meat. It’s probably fine or fish or any kind of crustacean. Mix it with clams or mussels. Do a little bit of a filet on top. That one goes the distance. You don’t have to do anything with the meat. If you want to cook it separately so you can make a big meal, maybe other people want to eat with you or what have you or you don’t want to have the meat flavor and you’re cooking for two days. Keep the pasta and the veggies on their side. Prepare the meat on its own, whatever the protein is. It could even be tofu at that point.
It sounds like a good leftover meal too like random vegetables and half a serving of meat and some pasta.
You can then transfer that to something else. That meat hasn’t gone into that flavor profile. I’m going to use it on that salad I pre-prepped for tomorrow. That’s the misnomer of, “I’ve made too much food each time I do a one-person meal.” One, now you can mess up a little bit because you’ve already got too much food, but two, why not have a leftover? Three, let’s put it into some other recipe that I have because I have the ingredients already prepared. Fourth, you’ve preserved it now. That thing that was about to turn is now going to last another few days because it has been cooked out. You get a couple more days of it in the fridge.
I’m so impressed with what you did right now.
I appreciate that.
Can you do this for a different type of meal besides pasta? Take us from vegan to omnivore.
The question is, do you want to start with starch? Some people don’t want to do anything that has to do with starches. They’re trying to do away with that for dietary reasons and what have you. Do you want to do a cheese? You could do flambé cheese and then add eggplant and lemon at the end of it. Now, you have this fabulous Greek meal. Toss a little oregano on it and that was it. You went from eggplant, which could be just vegan to vegetarian with the cheese, and then if you wanted to add a giant prawn or a pork cutlet. These will all lend themselves to the flavor.
Let’s talk about some resources. Laura mentioned recipes. There are books out there. My first choice of guest was Klancy Miller who didn’t answer my email. She has a book called Cooking Solo: The Fun of Cooking for Yourself. I have a very active member of the Solo community. Jest, I think that is how to pronounce her name. Forgive me if I’m mispronouncing it. She said that the book Culinary Artistry is a foundational text that everyone needs to read. I don’t know if you have recommendations for books, but there’s also YouTube. It’s never-ending the number of resources.
The resources are vast.
There are many options there. Even just picking a recipe, especially if you read the 87 pages of backstory about the person who wrote the recipe.
No, thank you. What advice do you have with regard to these options?
I liked the book, but I’m also old school. I like being able to thumb through it and see what’s happening there. I also grew up that way. After my parents divorced, by necessity, I taught myself how to make pasta at eleven years old because I saw a book on the bookshelf. My kid bro and I were latchkey kids, and I couldn’t do another piece of sourdough toast with butter and strawberry. The book is a big one for me but at any more, if I’m hard-pressed to think of new flavors, there are a billion apps.
Epicurious has its own app and you can scour through things. I don’t personally look at YouTube recipes, but I know it’s a great one. A lot of people also do the mail-order meal in a box scenario that has step-by-step instructions. I have gone through those myself just because I wanted to see what are people being taught and it’s strong. People are getting a good idea. I think they’re also leaning into it a little hard as in, “I can’t do it without that recipe card.” You’re supposed to be learning that you can do it. Substitute any of those ingredients and just go along with it.
I’m glad you brought up these mailed to you meal kits. First of all, it’s fascinating that very few are solo chefs. Most of them are built around couples or families, which I don’t think is a problem per se, because for what we were talking about, you now have some leftovers. I don’t think that should stop anyone from pursuing one versus the other. It seems to me that’s a nice in-between. It’s holding your hand a little bit to get you used to doing this.
You can just get the pre-prepared meal delivered and pop eight of them in the freezer. I don’t recommend it but that’s what I do.
I can appreciate that. People live busy lives and they’re not looking to have this artistry and the magic element to it. It’s like the Peter and Laura tier meal prep. We call it meal prep or the Blue Aprons, etc. of the world.
You’re preparing it as a recipe. You didn’t go out and create the recipe. Even chefs at the top of their game are using somebody else’s recipe. You’re preparing it. At the end of the day, you’re constructing.
What about any other resources that come to mind that might help people?
Talk to people. Talk to everybody because everybody has a recipe. Even better is everybody has a mom or a grandmother that had this thing. Even if they don’t know how to cook it, they’re going to give you a name of something that you’ve never heard of and that is invaluable. We all need to be passing forward those recipes. Even if you do it poorly, pass that one forward.
I’m going to digress for a moment and ask about baking.
I like baking.
During the pandemic, suddenly sourdough became a thing.
Everybody has got their own yeast starters now.
What do you think about baking as a subset of this process?
I think it’s a wonderful experiment in chemistry. I’m a highfalutin artsy-fartsy.
I’m an analytical detail-oriented person. I like baking because if you do XYZ, it’s going to come out.
It is, especially once you get to your acclimation of altitude and different salinities of water and all that jazz. I enjoy it for what it is, but I don’t get that. I flourished and I really did something creative on my own. What I did was somebody else’s recipe, but I did it damn well so everybody eat up.
You’re doing Math.
I talk a lot about the difference between art and craft. There’s a craft of cooking. There’s a technique of cooking and these fundamental basics. There’s also the art of interpretation, expression and iteration. I’m not there yet, but I like the craft of putting these things together in proper order and proper way, and getting the result that you wanted. It’s one thing to build a chair. It’s another thing to be Eames and make a beautiful piece of functional art.
We’re IKEA over here at the moment.
I was talking a little bit about different methods that singles could use to make cooking a little more collaborative even if you live alone. Something I’ve done in the past is a meal prep club with friends to say, “I’m going to cook a big meal,” and then parse it out into portions. Four of my other friends will do the same and then we will swap. I have five different meals with probably different techniques. Maybe someone’s Nana had this ancient recipe that they’ve passed down. I’m getting to taste a few different things.
Maybe I will be inspired by it or it will be the best thing I ever had and I will want to take the recipe, but that’s something that I’ve done in the past. Usually, people are not super excited about Laura Day for lunch, but that’s one thing in addition to these delivery services. Leaning on friends to say, “Maybe we can barter for different goods and services,” or say, “I’ll do your taxes if you cook me a couple of meals,” or things like that. I’ve tried to skirt around the issue of not being particularly a good cook.
I think the collaboration part of it is what makes foods so universally fun, interesting and lovely. I could cook a meal by myself. As we just said, we’re always going to cook a little bit more. Why not go knock on your neighbor’s door? “What are you doing? I got this,” or go after that loved one that you’ve been trying to find forever or what have you. “Come on over.” We would also do a lot of theme nights. “Everybody, we’re doing anything Southeast Asian. Come over. You do something green. You do something protein. You do something starch.”
Everybody comes with their own thing. Does it always mix? No, but it’s fun. It’s like a food roulette. Those are great. The collaboration kind of things and that’s not specific to solo. It’s getting people together on that motion, but more to the point of what you’re talking about where everybody cooks and then hands out. You can do everything, but make it more of an adventure. You can say, “You have to go to Pacific Ocean Marketplace and that’s the only place you can get ingredients. Make it from there.” “You can only go to 7-Eleven. I want to see what you can make.”
Solo is not about being alone as I demonstrated with the definition. You can be solo in almost a traditional partnership in a sense, minus the traditional part of it. This notion of a potluck has a solo component to it, which is a bunch of different people coming together and bring something to contribute to a communal experience. What would be a nice example of, “I get invited to a potluck and I don’t want to mail it in and pick something up from the store?” Put some stuff on our radar that we might consider doing.
I love going seasonal because whether or not people understand it, they are attracted to whatever is pollinating in the air and whatever is growing right now. Maybe we’re getting into spring and we want to do some succotash salad that’s nice and bright with red wine vinegar or a sherry vinaigrette with Spanish chorizo and some shaved Parmesan. These are little things that are 2, 3 ingredients that you’ll show up with and it’s not Jell-O-mold. It’s not chips and dip or a store-bought pasta salad.
The sky is the limit with that one. Go and find the most beautiful set of heirloom tomatoes you’ve ever seen. Wait until you get there. Cut them up, drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper. That’s it and the people will look at it and go, “Those are beautiful. They’re orange, yellow, green and red, and they have tiger stripes. It’s tomato with good olive oil. It’s so good.”
It’s healthy. It’s good for you.
Healthy is not as hard as people think. We’ve just been conditioned to go with a lot of conservative-type foods as in they are preserved and they’re “easy to manage.”
You can put them on a shelf and they can sit there for weeks on end.
They come and Styrofoam first. That’s not at all healthy. Healthy can be just as simple as walking in and what you see in the produce section first, grab that. That’s probably your healthiest bet.
Next is meal prep. Let’s take an even more practical element to it. As we said, folks have busy lives. They are on the go and on a budget. Sunday night is meal prep night. Is this a matter of increasing the size of the portions? Talk us through how you might approach it.
If you’re making a bigger batch of food to eat over a few days, should you be treating things differently or choosing different foods?
The answer is both. You’re treating food differently obviously for portion size and that makes sense, but you’re also having to preserve it for a little bit longer. Let’s say, you’re making solids, which by the way as I said, I grew up in Boulder. Breakfast salad is a staple. We do that all the time.
I’m going to make a salad for breakfast. I’m going to make a thing. It is a cheat code for life.
I do it all the time and as a matter of fact, one of my dearest friends was the head chef at one of my restaurants. We did it a couple of weekends ago and we had to tell everybody, “It’s okay. It’s just a breakfast salad.” “What do you mean? What are you doing?” “Watch. Eat your lox and bagels and eggs. We’re going to have some breakfast salad with it.
Why is it okay to eat a salad at 12:01 but not at 11:59?
That happened to me the other day. Someone served me a breakfast salad and I did not know how to handle that. It was a bed and breakfast. There were other things. It was beautiful.
The Israelis know what they’re doing.
A real Israeli salad with all the parsley is so good. I would say, if you’re making a big salad, don’t dress it ahead of time so it lasts longer, but you’re also getting out of your own way with it. If you’re going to do meal prep, which I don’t do often. I prefer it to be as fresh as possible, but I have been known to do that. I will make my own dressings instead of buying dressing. I will instead make every single salad for a different day and have slightly different ingredients. This one has grapes. This one has watermelon radishes or what have you.
Instead of, “I just made six of the same salad.” Make it different for yourself. You’re going to be way happier. I’m going to put canned tuna in this one on this day and on this one, I’m going to do a vegetarian day. That one is going to get cheese.” It’s way simple tweaks that make it very interesting for your day-to-day through the five days a week.
I want to follow up with a question but first make an observation. One of the things that I do with my salads, and they are really basic, is I always have something a little sweet in there. Maybe it’s blueberries or apples. Something in there just to change the flavor profile because it can all start to feel very similar.
It homogenizes real quickly. You probably have a routine of what you purchased too though.
I do, yes. Having a little bit of sweetness that adds a little bit of flavor every three bites, especially when it’s a big salad Seinfeld-style.
For me, it’s texture. I’m mixing in different textures. Something a little crunchy or soft. I may add oranges.
Some of the best meals that you have, have an element of all of that, generally speaking. They don’t have to be complex with a multitude of ingredients, but if you can traverse sweet, savory, soft and crunchy in one bite, your mouth is on full orgasm, “I want another one of those.”
For someone who eats to live, I do appreciate the aesthetics of a good meal once I’m tuned into it. I agree with you on the idea of mixing texture or mixing temperature is also satisfying to have, but teaches me how to make a simple dressing.
Vinaigrettes are the easiest thing that people overlook all the time. If you have any sort of oil, preferably something that has its own flavor. Avocado oil is great. It’s very popular. Everybody likes that. A good olive oil, extra virgin and something pressed are great because it has all of these bright characteristics that people take for granted. It is just olive oil by the handful. Vinegar, any of them, sherry, apple cider or red wine. Do distill if you have to. Salt and pepper, that’s all you need. The very basic.
You’re going to like it because your vegetables are going to carry the rest of their flavors through anyway. You can get it more interesting by adding anything to it. Buy a more expensive oil. Do all the wood-smoked salt. Do pink peppercorns. Add Parmesan cheese. Smash up some blueberries. Put it in a little shaker tin or jar and now you have a fruit-forward vinaigrette. It’s real simple. It’s sitting in vinegar so it’s going to last. If you put it in the fridge, the olive oil or whatever oil it is, is going to congeal a bit. Let it sit on the counter, warm it up and throw it on there.
That would save me a ton of money because I buy this very expensive healthy dressing. When it’s on sale, I buy tons of it so I don’t have to wait for it.
I have the Fight Club fridge full of condiments. I have lots of salad dressing.
When we were in college, we had three pals that were all pizza delivery guys and our fridge was just pizza boxes and condiments, but we knew that a little Hawaiian is breakfast pizza. It’s a solid year of our lives.
We have two questions from our audience. This one is from Brandon, “Do you make a bunch of variations and do meal prep or do you waste prep time in dirty dishes on single servings?” He’s a comedian. That’s why he phrased this question. I think we’ve answered it.
Yes to both of those. Ride them cowboy and just go for it. I think the bigger deal is are you wasting it? What are you going to be doing with the wasted time and space otherwise? If you start to get good at the preparation as you’re going and cleaning, while you’re going. It is one in one. It’s like a club. I sauté that up, throw it in the dish or just quick rinse and you’re good.
This next one isn’t as combative. Why are recipes meant for one that typically has enough food leftover for another meal? I have a recipe book intended for solo cooking and it’s always too much for one meal.” That’s from Katrina.
The hater in me is that we’re just big fat humans walking around and we need more food, but the reality is to portion that small and to go try to buy it in a store is probably difficult, especially if you’re buying pre-packaged items like cut mushrooms or what have you. You’re not buying two mushrooms. You can do that, but it’s difficult to find that in every single ingredient that’s on your list. I think also there’s a big proponent that they expect you to have some. Why not spend proportionately a little bit more to have that much more food to create a whole other meal? If you extrapolate that into what you would spend going out, “I spent $40 on two meals,” or “I spent $20 at the store and now I have six meals.”
I think it’s a practical matter.
It’s very pragmatic in that way, but it’s also how you prepare it. Once again, go knock next door and see who’s single, “I got some extras.”
If I may editorialize for a moment. The entire food industry is not built for solos. It’s built for a couple-centric and family-centric model. Packaging, portions, etc. are built around larger numbers of people in general.
Economically, it makes sense.
The classic is a loaf of bread. As a single person, to buy an entire loaf of bread makes zero sense.
That is why we have freezers. You freeze it right away.
I buy the little children’s single-serving milk because I put it in my tea in the morning. I use a tablespoon of milk a day. I’m not going to buy a gallon or a half-gallon of milk. It would go bad.
Look at you adapting. That’s what I’m talking about.
It’s a barrier to trying a new type of cuisine because if I need Sesame oil for one recipe, I need to buy a bottle of Sesame oil. Those are the things where maybe I’m going to love it and want to use this all the time.” I like what you were talking about being very adaptable to using different things. You know what the oil is there for. What it’s trying to do for the meals so it doesn’t have to be that specific kind of oil because the recipe said so or can I use a different kind of oil and add some sesame seeds at the end? Will that be similar enough? I guess that comes with experience.
It’s a little bit that but also remember that for the most part, the things that are probably scary for you to buy, probably have a long shelf life too. You’re going to have multiple attempts at whatever is terrifying you. You’re not buying a quarter of goat. You’re probably getting a bottle of chili oil.
The recipe calls for a quarter goat. What am I supposed to do? I did go through my pantry the other day and it was embarrassing the expiration dates on some of these things.
Do spices go bad?
Theoretically, they can but not really bad. What they do is they start to lose flavor or they might lose color depending on where they’re stored. Some of it is just that per FDA, they have to have a date on there. I got some stuff that has moved many houses with me and I use some of that. Nobody got sick. It’s fine.
Joseph, we’ve asked some great questions here. What questions should we be asking? What have we missed?
I like the direction that we took organically. We answered questions that would have been asked had somebody just come into it blindly. The real questions are, why is anybody afraid to get in the kitchen at all?
Let’s talk about that.
It’s straight anxiety.
Do you know who I blame? I blame your peers. You have been the most open-minded and encouraging expert that I have encountered. There’s a lot of looking down on the novices. I’m being a little cheeky when I say this but I do believe it. There’s a lot of judgment when it comes to food, the people who know food and care about food, and the people who seemingly don’t. I think it can be an intimidating thing because it can be a very judgmental place and the failures are very real.
At the same time, it is fairly low stakes plus you’re being safe with your food. I’ve had a bad meal before and I lived to tell the tale.
I’ve had some where I almost didn’t live but we’re here now.
I’m saying this as a compliment to you because if you listen to how people talk to you and even the way their tone changes when they find out that you don’t do this thing, it can make people feel bad about themselves.
It’s a fine compliment and I appreciate that. I also don’t subscribe to being just a chef or a kitchen person. I’ve held every position in every restaurant from dishwasher to owner, but I also find myself in classic Renaissance fashion. Life is school. You are always learning. I want to be a student of life. Why would I not pass that on? I don’t know, but some people find ownership. Maybe they only have that one expertise. Sharing that maybe denigrates their own belief system or maybe it makes them a little bit less special.
For whatever reason, there’s no getting around food. We’re all doing it. It’s all going to happen, so why not make everybody a little better? Let’s make the industry superlative by the mere fact that we’re all eating, trying together and being more open, and then we get better food. Even more, stuff that’s sent to us from different parts of the world where we get to see shows like Anthony Bourdain and see things we would never ever see. Without that, people wouldn’t have any clue. We would still be eating chicken and waffles.
A wise man I know said that food is life.
Who is this guy?
I would like to reiterate and wrap up how many different ways you’ve presented approaching cooking with building blocks of putting a meal together and food storage to say, “Store the things separately and combine them later.” The building blocks of swapping things out easily to add a little diversity without having to go to the grocery store nth times a week.” I hadn’t thought about it that way. It’s like, “Here’s the recipe. It has these eight ingredients. You go by those ingredients and you make that one recipe, and then you do it all over again.” Thinking of it differently will save me a lot of stress there.
A lot of people have a hard time shifting that consciousness but the reality is that fluency is not knowing everything about all one item. It’s about being able to execute it and present it well enough that you’re happy with it and the people around you or at least understand it.
I think we’re going to end there. Laura, it’s great to see you again.
You too. Thank you so much for having me.
Joseph, I appreciate the time.
I had a blast. Thank you, guys. Cook hard.
About Joseph Newman
Joseph Newman is a restauranteur, serial entrepreneur, fine art & graphic designer, Realtor, educator, and broker of all things pleasurable. A Colorado native, Joseph runs an award-winning real estate group in Denver.
About Laura Grant
Laura Grant is a child-free, sex-positive solo polyamorist who enjoys first dates, job interviews, and crafting complex spreadsheets for pleasure and profit. When not traveling to experience different cultures she finds great meaning investing in her relationships with herself and others.