Inevitably, couples develop routines and habits that naturally evolve during their relationship. They’re usually quite tame, a little dull, for instance, he takes out the bins, you take the recycling. It’s the knowledge that you share the drudgery of daily life with someone which makes these tasks that iota more pleasant. I don’t know if many couples fall into this particular habit but Calum and I have a dinner-time deal where if he cooks I wash up, and vice versa. The burden of evening chores is then a burden shared. After a hard day’s work, or in my case, hard day’s cooking, I come home to cook some more then at least I know Calum’s got half the task sorted. It’s that moment of sinking back into the sofa, feet up, relaxation washing over me like a hot bath.
That said, this little deal only works until someone goes on holiday. And Calum’s on holiday. The dinner and washing up is all up to me now. Most evenings my plates and bowls lie next to the sink, half expecting for Calum to materialise momentarily, happily wash up, then disappear back to the Alps. I’m now used to seeing a pile of dishes still patiently waiting the next morning when I groggily and grumpily stumble in at 6am.
Cooking for one has never caused me much excitement. Dinner at university was usually an egg of some kind thrown together with whatever was going out of date in the fridge. Last year, I crawled into the kitchen at dinner-time, threw together a bowlful of Weetabix and stumbled back to bed, all creative energy spent on customers. Since living with Calum, however, I’ve had someone to impress. And after a few successful evening meals, I began to crave that flattery. More effort was spent on each dinner, ingredients bought specially for my sausage ragu or the ratatouille with garlicky lamb chops and crusty bread. Weekend roasts are a staple these days; juicy pork adorned with a crackling crown, roast potatoes with their crispy skins, cauliflower cheese, homemade Yorkshire puddings and gravy made from the pan juices.
With all this in mind then, the thought of cooking for myself was a little depressing. All the delicious meals I would miss simply because my eating companion is snowboarding. Not prepared to return to the dinners of cereal or Toblerone, I considered my options. We’re all used to the university meals for one: baked potatoes, stir fries, scrambled eggs, not to forget week-long stretches of pasta, the list continues. It’s time to shake up the mundanity of solo dining with easy yet creative recipes and here are some of my favourites:
- The baked potato – the classic partnership of cheese and beans, or tuna mayonnaise, is long gone. Finely dice some fennel and crisp apple, drain a can of tuna and mix with the crunchy veg and salty crumbly feta. Maybe add a pinch of capers. Dollop over mayonnaise, season with salt and pepper, and pile on top of a roast sweet potato.
- Turkish eggs – eggs are without a doubt the most convenient pre-packed meal. Unlike the simplicity of scrambled eggs or an omelette, however, this dish feels grander even though it is effortless to make. Poach an egg in vinegared water at a rolling boil for two minutes, then drop into a pan of clean hot water to wash away the vinegar. Meanwhile crush a small clove of garlic and add half to a large tablespoon of Greek yoghurt along with a pinch of salt. Melt a lump of butter in a frying pan and add smoked paprika, cayenne or chilli powder and allow to foam and sizzle before removing from the heat. Mound the yoghurt in a bowl, top with the egg and drizzle with butter. Serve with a good hunk of toast.
- A parcel of fish – lay a fillet of fish on a piece of baking parchment. Add halved cherry tomatoes, sliced fennel, lemon, olives and capers, plus a good glug of olive oil and sprinkling of salt. Tightly seal the edges of the parchment by rolling them together and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes until the fish is cooked throughout and the parcel is full of steamed vegetables and Mediterranean juices.
- The beans – The most simple of suppers. Tip a tin of butterbeans, liquid and all, into a saucepan, throw in a tablespoon of butter, a finely chopped chilli and a crushed clove of garlic. Season and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer until the liquid has evaporated and the beans are tender. Delicious topped with crumbled feta, avocado and lime zest. (Best eaten half a tin at a time, otherwise the results do wonders for your gut.)
These four barely scrape the surface of the mountain of meal ideas for one. How about a quick chicken tagine, vegan lemony carrots and couscous, and pasta tossed with tablespoons of butter, garlic, and burst cherry tomatoes? Motivation is hard to muster when cooking for yourself, but what would you prefer – curling up on the sofa with a bowl of noodles, pak choi, fried egg and quick pickles, or cold stodgy Weetabix? My eating companion will return soon, in the meantime though I hope he’s practising his washing up skills, there is a pile of plates waiting.