There are times when I’d come home from work and find that the rest of my family has either finished up with dinner or that none of them are home because of parish activities or catch-up dinners with friends (usually in my parents’ case) or work (as an RN, my sister sometimes does evening and graveyard shifts at the hospital). It is a standing rule at our house that, if 8:30 strikes and my parents aren’t home yet, whoever’s at home can sit down to dinner. Last night was one such case and I arrived home a bit over half-past eight, a bit tired and rather hungry.
There was a dish of gorgeously flavorful pork adobo in the kitchen along with a bowl of sauteed chayote (which, alas, I’ve never been really fond of). That, in itself, would have been fine. Unfortunately, I was all out of sorts and craved for something a bit unusual, something I could enjoy on my lonesome.
The idea of cooking for a single person – namely, one’s self – used to be something many people (particularly the young, upwardly mobile, and hip sorts) made fun of because it marked the solo diner as a “loser” in their skewed view of the world. Today, however, with so many people getting into cooking and getting into the whole condo-living schlock, cooking for oneself is actually a laudable thing. Not only is it a life skill, but it doubles as therapy especially for those of us who are burning out at work or feel more than a little encumbered by the stresses of this mad world we live in. And, when cooking for yourself, you have to have a number of dishes that help you feel a little less lonely when dining home alone.
Writer Amanda Hesser, in fact, knows a number of women – herself included – who have a set of what she calls home-alone foods. She once mentioned one of her sisters, that sister’s favorite solo meals, and described one particular dish that really got me curious:
My own sister, Rhonda, favors things like rich cheeses, fried chicken, and goose liver pate on toast. Her specialty is spaghetti with fried eggs. She fries two eggs with a clove of garlic in oil while she boils spaghetti for one. When the pasta is done, she puts it back in the pot, drops the eggs on top, and showers it all with pepper and grated cheese. Then she tosses it with a little pasta water and as she does, the egg yolks crack open and dress the strands of pasta, making it a rustic, simple carbonara, minus the bacon. - from Cooking for Mr. Latte (Hesser, 2003)
Now, mind that I didn’t have to cook any pasta: there was already a cooked lot of spaghetti in the fridge, so I just whacked off a fairly large portion thereof. Two fried eggs at night is a tad too much for me, seeing how we have extra-large ones in the fridge, so I decided on just one. I wasn’t up for mincing garlic, but the adobo was plenty garlicky and peppery; I chopped up a couple of deliciously fatty chunks. Now, with all that ready, I melted some butter in a pan, fried the egg till the whites had firmed up and gone brown and crispy at the edges (the wonted puntillitas of Spanish egg cookery) but the yolk was still golden and runny (broken, alas, as shown above). Setting aside the egg, I tossed the cold pasta into the remaining butter, warming it up until all the strands were coated in savory, decadent burnt butter. I threw in the chopped adobo along with a generous amount of grated Edam cheese and black pepper, plated it all up, and topped the lot with the fried egg.
Since I was too lazy to plate it up separately, I added a generous handful of chopped salad greens to the side of the plate (hence the really sloppy dish above) and dressed them with a bit of store-bought Caesar dressing. I poured myself a glass of lemon iced tea and dug in – and was very pleased with the results: the pasta was deliciously rich and unctuous, very like a carbonara with the adobo standing in for the bacon. The salad’s crunchiness made for a lovely contrast against all the soft, chewy textures of the pasta, and the sharpness of the dressing kept the taste of the cheese and eggs from getting too claggy on the palate.
Other things on my own list of home-alone foods include:
- curry rice made with potato, leftover meats, cold rice, and Japanese curry roux;
- savory tartines made with whole-wheat or multi-grain toast;
- instant ramen or ramyeun (the spicy Korean sort) with an egg poached in the broth;
- instant mee goreng with chopped chicken and mushrooms;
- instant laksa with squid balls and crabsticks (notice the number of instants in the list?); and
- pork and sausage fried rice with soy sauce and peas.
Home-alone food for one, as you may have guessed, should be comforting and soothing. And, no matter how calorific or fatty, you should never feel guilty about eating the lot.
So, what’s on your home-alone list? :)