EDF: The Challenges – and Joys – of Cooking for One

A native of Falls Church, Va., Bren Herrerra is a freelance food and travel writer and personal chef based in Atlanta, Ga. She shares her love for Cuban and Latin fusion cuisine in her blog, Flanboyant Eats. Bren tells me she throws back five shots of Cuban espresso daily to wear her many hats. Her latest gig is a biweekly cooking segment on "Daytime" TV.

Bren's green tea ice cream cups. (Bren Herrera)

A friend once told me I should treat myself like a queen when it comes to cooking. Her bright suggestion came after my ongoing complaint that cooking for one is simply not fun. I’m single, with no real responsibility for others’ nutrition; therefore, I find myself extremely lethargic, come dinnertime. I find little interest or appeal in cooking for just me.

In Latin households, eating is as much about fellowship with friends and family and political discourse, as much as it is about actually chewing. So, cooking and eating alone is far from my idea of a relaxing and entertaining night -- and so not Latin.

When Kim invited me to eat down my fridge, I was excited because of the challenge it presented. Staying away from my favorite sushi house for an entire week, would cause emotional imbalance. It would mean not eating out and enjoying background music while slightly eavesdropping on the next conversation. It meant staying at home and cooking for just me! The flip side of what would normally be an agonizing task, gave me inspiration to be queen-like! After taking full inventory of my fridge, counter tops and cupboards, I finally convinced myself I am deserving of savory and well-thought out dinners just like I prepare for my clients.

After coming home night after night with loads of extras and partially cooked food, my refrigerator is usually overflowing with stuff. Most of it consists of cut-up vegetables, unused plantain, seasoned fish, extra sauce and a steamer with cooked rice. Usually, the food goes to waste. This past weekend is no different; after catering a bridal party, plus the regular stash from my weekly clients, I was certain to have enough meals for one, if not two weeks.

I decided I would start my week off with colorful food. Monday’s dinner was easy. Two bags of sliced and diced vegetables quickly made their way to a skillet where I made a sofrito, the foundation for flavoring Latin food. The sofrito was used to make saffron rice. I had frozen salmon, which I had already thawed out once, so it had to get cooked this week. Using once fresh -- now dried -- tarragon, I seasoned my fish, added a squeeze of lemon, injected 2 garlic cloves, added salt and let it marinate for 30 minutes.

I was happy to see some white space on the fridge shelves, but my freezer is another story. I won’t explain why I have two gallons of green tea ice cream. In my effort to avoid rendering it completely freezer burnt, I had to get creative. I scraped out three whole lemons, cut the shells in half and filled them with the ice cream! I froze them for an hour and after my main course had settled, I was spooning ice cream out of lemon cups! The unexpected citrus-y bite was a sure way to inspire fillings for later in the week. Plus, it was just different.

Tuesday night was Caribbean inspired with a red bean and coconut arroz congri (Cuban style beans and rice) I made in my pressure cooker. One zip-lock-style bag of jerk-seasoned chicken turned into kebabs loaded with chunks of carrots, mushrooms and red onions. A two-pound bag of uncooked shrimp from the bridal party made it into salad with avocado, parsley, garlic and lemon. I had sweet plantains as my side and treated my palate to another green tea lemon cup for dessert!

As for the rest of the week, I’ll be the queen’s chef and prepare food in abundance. I’ll try Kim’s cilantro pesto, make an orzo salad with the veggies and even try a green tea flan! Beans will make their way into stews and dips. The rest of the shrimp will go to making burgers. And my four-pound bag of plantains will make a variety of dishes including an awesome plantain frittata, milk shakes and plantain muffins. I guarantee that if I don’t eat all of this food on my own, I will host my friends to a Friday night royal feast with dimmed lights and Paquito D’Rivera jazz setting the mood!

Bren's Plantain Frittata

12 eggs
1/2 cup smoked mozzarella, thinly sliced (you can also use pepper jack or smoked gouda)
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
pinch of salt (Asiago provides salt, so be conservative)
3 garlic cloves, mashed and diced
butter for browning
2 ripe plantains, sliced diagonally or cut into smaller pieces
Canola oil or butter for cooking

In a large bowl, crack and beat eggs until you get a good foam. Add cheese, nutmeg and salt . Set aside.

In small saucepan, brown garlic in butter on medium heat for 1 minute. Set aside.

In medium saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of the oil and fry plantains on both sides, until golden brown. Drain excess oil on paper towel. Let cool. Cut into smaller pieces, if desired. Add to egg mixture, plus garlic, and gently whisk together.

Using a quarter-size amount of Canola oil or butter, coat large sauce pan. Add egg mixture and cook on medium heat on one side, about 5-6 minutes. Gently flip over and cook for another 5-6 minutes or until egg is thoroughly cooked through. If you are unable to flip the frittata over, place on top of an oven-safe pan/skillet. Finish cooking in oven on 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until you know egg is thoroughly cooked, or golden. Remove from oven and invert onto serving plate. The result will be more souffle style and a bit thicker.

Makes 4 hearty servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Eating Down the Fridge
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Oh Bren! I love the idea of scooping out the lemons for lemon cups! My ice cream maker will shortly come out of the cupboard for the season and I have a terribly good lemon rum sorbet recipe (Ben & Jerry's ice cream cookbook) that would work great like that!

Posted by: capecodner424 | June 24, 2009 8:03 AM

Love the write up Bren!!!! You are soooooooooo creative who would have thought to carve out lemons and place green tea ice cream in it. You are so original. I will have to try your Plantain Frittata. I LOVE PLANTAINS!

Posted by: shamsham | June 24, 2009 9:07 AM

I love this post and all the meals sound delicious. Also you know I love the shrimp avocado salad so I hope you saved some.


Posted by: gaindie | June 24, 2009 9:41 AM

I love this article. I am not a big fan of green tea, but this green tea ice cream cups sounds good.

Posted by: ibentsi-enchill | June 24, 2009 10:30 AM

Shrimp burgers? I would love that recipe.

What an amazing abundance.

Posted by: chiquita2 | June 24, 2009 12:59 PM

Bren - what a wonderful article! And your recipe is perfect, as always. I read the post daily and would love to see you here more often!

Posted by: jenshaines | June 24, 2009 4:08 PM

Hey, fun to see interest picking up! Wednesday's meal is Monday's meal deferred: carne de res con nopalitos (beef with cactus).

My mother gave me a Mexican cook book some years ago, The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Ortiz. Unknown to me at the time, it's a classic. One time when visiting Tucson, Arizona, I tried a dish of beef with nopalitos on a whim. Woah! Some years later, I looked up the recipe (or a close cousin) in this book. I've made it a couple of times and had a bottle of nopalitos sitting in the cabinet in the hope I'd get around to it again.

Well, EDF week seemed the perfect time to break out that jar of nopalitos. I didn't have the tomatillos that the recipe called for, but I did have a can of Italian cherry tomatoes. I also was lacking the chile peppers, but did have a jar of chilero. I first experienced chilero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Take chunks of onion, carrot, bell pepper, habanero, and garlic cloves and marinate for weeks with vinegar (cider vinegar is my favorite). I had my heat and also a requisite amount of acidity called for by the tomatillos. The last shift was using some beef tenderloin that was in the fridge instead of the chuck called for in the original recipe.

So, this was a dish with a LOT of substitutions. Good for eating down the fridge, right? We haven't had dinner yet (Mrs. Blade had to do an evening assignment), but my sample taste pretty good.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | June 24, 2009 11:12 PM

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