Cooking for One Can be Fun

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. Maybe it’s the slowness of the Summer. You know, those lazy days that kind of fry your brain and turn your thinking to mush. And since I’m not good at art projects, can’t focus enough to decide what to watch on Netflix other than 90-Day FiancĂ© and all the spin-offs, and have too much attention deficit for puzzles, I’ve turned to what I know, which is cooking. That’s been my creative outlet, and my outlet for all that pent-up energy from being home during this quarantine.

When I worked and lived in the City (New York City) I could barely be bothered cooking. If I wasn’t traveling, then I was out for dinner either for work or with friends. I was probably home 2-3 nights at most a week. If I was home, I usually bought prepared food from one of the great neighborhood places because — and I think I’ve said this before — it was cheaper to do that than buy all the ingredients to cook a meal. I know that sounds crazy but I would wind up throwing out so much because I never knew when I’d be home to use what was in the fridge. Now that we have all been home for months it’s been great watching on social media how many people have learned to love cooking!

So now to the title of my blog today — Cooking for One Can be Fun! Yes it can. How many times have you been told that it’s not enjoyable to cook for one person? How many times have you looked at a recipe and the recipe serves 4 or more? Where are the recipes for one? Why do portions not come in single serving units when you go to the supermarket? Hey, what about us single folks? We are people too, right? So I say yes, cooking for one can be fun. Who better to create something special for than yourself right? You deserve it, I deserve it. And if you make a little extra, well then you have leftovers or something to share with the neighbor. It’s ok! Cook for yourself, indulge, create, enjoy. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just use what you have on hand. Look up recipes, there are so many great apps like the NY Times Cooking app, or Epicurious, or Yummly or my blog FKDecanted. Go to them for inspiration. Go to them for guidance and create. Put good things in your belly, even the simplest meal can be yummy. So many of my friends have been asking me to start compiling the recipes I’ve been making, so going forward I am going to start incorporating recipes into my writing. And folks there will be recipes for 1 serving and sometimes for more! And well, if you want it for more you know what to do — double it, triple it … but let’s start with serving sizes for the single folks out there. Here are a few of my recent favorites that I’ve made for myself.

Ingredients for the Tuna Tartare: One 4-6 oz piece of piece of high quality tuna, cut into small dice. Marinate for about 30 minutes in the following: 4 Tbsp Soy, 1 Tbsp Mirin, 1 Tsp Rice Wine Vinegar, 1 Tsp Swad Ginger Paste, 1 Tsp Ponzu, and wasabi powder to taste.
Ingredients for the Cilantro Guacamole: 1 avocado smashed with a fork so that it’s almost smooth but has a bit of texture. 1 Tbsp Swad Cilantro Chutney, juice of 1 lime and about 1-2 Tbsp fresh cilantro chopped.
Assembly: Take a large pastry cutter, if you have one, or use a tumbler and start layering the guacamole and tuna tartare. If using the pastry cutter, place it on the plate and create your layers directly on your serving plate. If using the tumbler, then make your layers and gently invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with kettle style chips.
To drink: I liked my Hendricks Gin and Tonic but a wine choice should be something with good acid and fruit balance such as a Gruner Veltliner, Vinho Verde, Albarino, Torrontes and of course Sake.

Super fresh and easy, a quick Summer night’s meal made in 1 bowl!
Ingredients: 1 cup of dried egg noodles 1/2 cup spinach, 4 Tbsp Ricotta, 1 lemon zest only, handful of pine nuts.
Directions: Cook the egg noodles in boiling salted water. While that’s cooking, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned in a dry pan on the stove. In a large bowl — even the bowl you’ll eating from if you have a pasta bowl, add the ricotta, spinach a pinch of salt and pepper and mix together. Add the drained noodles directly into the bowl, the heat will wilt the spinach and top with the pine nuts and lemon zest. Season again a bit more. Even drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top for a bit more texture. Serve immediately.
To Drink: I’d love an Orvieto or a good Pinot Grigio or even a glass of Falanghina. Acidity, floral and bright, these types of wines will go great with the freshness and creaminess of this dish.

Here’s a light summer lunch — simple in-season ingredients from the garden and farm.
Ingredients: 1 ripe tomato, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, 1 garlic clove minced, 2 Tbsp chopped basil, 1 Tsp chopped fresh oregano, salt and pepper to season, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle.
Directions: Take the top off the tomato, and remove the pulp and seeds — save the pulp, drain the liquid. Drizzle tomato with olive oil, rub inside with salt and pepper set oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees. In a bowl mix the ricotta, parmigano, garlic, basil, oregano and the tomato pulp. Stuff the tomato with the ricotta mixture, and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast the stuffed tomato in the oven until it’s soft, but still holds it’s texture — too mushy and it will fall apart, you want to be able to cut into it. This might take about 20 minutes — but check!
To Drink: A light Pinot Grigio or even a Gavi would be a fantastic white pairing but you could also go red with a glass of Barbera or Dolcetto or even a Pinot Noir from Oregon — I’d serve them slightly chilled.

All of these meals are really simple and easy so why not go ahead and cook for yourself. And feel free to edit, tweak, modify, whatever makes you happy! Just get creative and get cooking. Like I said, you deserve it. Seasonal ingredients make your life simpler as does a well-stocked pantry. Also look at some of the on-line sites like Penzeys, or Kalustyans, or my favorite Spice Mountain from the UK, for cool international spices, rubs and chutneys. Open a nice bottle of wine — so many now come with screw caps so you can have a glass and put it back in the fridge. Or invest in a wine preservation system like the Coravin. Go ahead make a cocktail I won’t judge I would probably join you! Cooking for One Can be and SHOULD BE Fun!

Winter, Wine & Warmth

I don’t know about you but I like winter. I know there are haters out there, those who dislike the dark and cold days that come with winter. I see it differently! To me winter means red wine and “brown spirits” to keep me warm along with lots hearty food. I love this time of year!

So as I look out my window onto the newest blanket of white snow, my mind goes to what can I cook and what wine would I want to serve with it — and of course what cocktail I might have while I’m contemplating all of this ha!

It’s ironic that I’ve grown to love not only spirits especially Bourbon and Scotch. My dad being a wine guy, never had any spirits in the house except for high-end cognac, which is grape based so that would have qualified in his drinking repertoire. I had never even tasted Scotch or Bourbon until I was late into my 20’s and working. Now I’m hooked! Bourbon is my true love and with so many styles, I always find one that will match my mood or drinking occasion. My 2 favorite classic cocktails are a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. I still think that there is no better Manhattan cocktail than one made with Makers — sorry Rye purists. I know I will get backlash here but I prefer Bourbon not Rye don’t argue with me that’s my taste! Makers is on the sweeter side so be careful when adding in the sweet vermouth it can make it too sweet if you add too much. And for an Old Fashioned I really prefer Knob Creek, its smooth and elegant texture with honeyed notes make it the perfect base for this classic cocktail. No comments please, I hear some of you groaning already; this is my blog and this is how I like my cocktails!

So as I looked out the window at the blanket of snow falling, I started to make one of my favorite one-pot meals the hearty Ukrainian Borscht. Now my grandmother would not have approved of this version of Borscht, her’s was a rich, sweet soup with flanken (beef). It was the traditional Jewish Polish/Eastern European hearty soup, that was often served with a potato in the center and adorned with lots of dill. As if the beets weren’t sweet enough, she’d add more sugar and a touch of lemon to balance it out. I discovered Ukrainian Borscht which is a meal in itself. The recipe is basically — 2-3 pounds of beets, 1 head of cabbage shredded, 1 large onion, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots (dice the vegetables) then 4-6 cups of beef stock made from 2 pounds of short ribs. Since I eyeball everything and have made this so many times, the recipe is not exact. While roasting the beets and making the beef stock, you wilt cabbage, saute onions, celery and carrots. Once the beets are soft, you carefully peel them — I highly recommend wearing gloves — and dice and julienne. Strain the broth and set aside the meat (dice it in large chunks) from the short ribs. Combine all the vegetables in a large pot, add the meat, beets and diced tomatoes (canned are perfect too), a bit of tomato paste maybe 2 tablespoons and the juice of 1 lemon and cover all with the stock — make sure it’s covered well with liquid so add more beef stock or some water if needed. I cooked this in a slow cooker for 6 hours on low — or you can do this in the oven or on the stove top, your choice, just make sure the meet is tender. The last hour I add a few tablespoons of chopped dill — adding it too early will make the borscht taste too much like dill. Also the last hour, you can add some diced potatoes — don’t add too early or they will be mushy.

Serve the borscht piping hot, with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill. Now for what wine to serve. A meal like this with a mostly savory notes and a touch of sweetness, as well as rich notes from the beef should have a wine that will stand up well to the complex flavors of the borscht. I calls for a wine that is bright and fruity with good acid and velvety tannins — a wine that is too fruit forward without good acid won’t stand up well to such a multi-flavored dish. I chose a wine from my cellar, a Barbera with just a bit of age on it. Barbera is a perfect foil. The Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera Marai 2014 from the famed Barolo producer, has bright, sour cherry notes and undertones of figs with a touch of earthiness and velvety soft tannins. Of course a village level burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir would also be a great choice, and even a Garnacha from Spain.

Food and Wine have a commonality. It takes patience and love to make both. And when you have a great pairing — the right wine with the right food, you have magic. This combination was magic. It was the perfect pairing for a cold winter’s night. I used to make this for my mom and I know my dad would have loved it — grandma not so much.

Soup for the Soul

A hot bowl of soup on a cold and rainy or snowy day is like wrapping yourself up in your favorite sweater or wearing your coziest pj’s or even snuggling deeply into your warmest blanket. Now how’s that for a cliche! I realize that I’ve probably used up my cliche quotient for this blog piece, but really who doesn’t feel this way about soup. So as I look out onto the newly snowy covered trees and grass, soup is on my mind.

Maybe it’s a Kowalsky thing this obsession about soup. Or maybe it’s in the DNA, our Eastern European roots that have made us soup crazy. My grandmother always had one on the table no matter how hot the day was! My dad was obsessed with cooking them and now I follow suit. In fact I think this is my second posting involving soup! Soup is filling and doesn’t have to be made with overly expensive ingredients to taste good. My paternal grandparents were not wealthy people; immigrants from Poland who brought their food culture to New York. They lived in an area where most of the Jewish immigrants settled on the Lower East Side. Grandma was never one to cook what she called “American” food. Her foods were Jewish Polish — from Galicia, hearty and filling. Most of the cuisine from this region was made of ingredients that didn’t cost a lot and could be stretched to feed many. I can still see my grandfather sitting at the table with his giant soup spoon, slurping on a piping hot bowl of split pea soup or borscht. And it had to be piping hot or he wouldn’t eat it!

A meal had to start with a soup, and I don’t think I can ever remember one not starting this way even on the hottest of summer nights. Dad would yell, “Who eats like this in the summer? It’s too hot to eat soup.” Grandma wouldn’t budge, and we’d all be sweating but somehow we’d manage to eat it all!

My favorite soup she made and then my dad used to make was potato soup. She’d expertly make her “aynbren” which is the yiddish word for “roux”. But of course since the meal that would follow was usually meat, hers would be made with flour and oil, not butter but if she were serving dairy then she’d use butter. Nothing smells better than slowly caramelized onions, seriously, that’s probably my favorite cooking smell. She’d caramelize the onions, and dad would steal a spoonful — that was the tradition and she knew it! Once the onions were perfectly golden brown, she’d add the flour and mix it slowly over the heat until it too was the perfect shade of golden brown; next went in the Idaho potatoes, then cover with water and cook until done! Simple and delicious! And of course she’d serve it with a crusty piece of rye bread or challah.

What wine would I drink with this you ask? The rich, nutty, slightly peppery tastes I think go best with a rich white like Chablis from France, or a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The minerality, slight salinity and crisp acidity coupled with the rich bright, green apple and tropical fruit notes of Chardonnay that you find in Chablis, would marry well with this soup. Gruner’s floral notes peppered with spice and bright lemon citrus notes make it an amazing food wine and certainly one with enough oomph to cut through the richness of this soup. If you were to go red, I’d probably chose a Sangiovese, a Chianti Classico because it can be earthy and still have lots of red berry notes and good acidity which make it a good pairing here. And I’d even go as far as saying a Pinot Noir from Oregon, Burgundy or even Austria work because of the bright, lighter fruit and good acidity. You notice, acidity is a theme — acidity is needed when pairing with a food that is fatty or rich like this soup.

So last night as the snow came down for hours, I became obsessed with the idea of making soup to keep me warm. I made my own version of grandma’s potato soup and slightly upscaled it as she’d never have had porcini mushrooms though, she may have had dried polish mushrooms which were similar, and I know she only used water no chicken stock. So here’s my recipe:

Ingredients: 1 large onion sliced thin, 2 cloves garlic minced, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons butter, 3-4 tablespoons flour, 2 large Idaho potatoes large dice, 1 carrot large dice, 2 tablespoons fresh dill chopped, 1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms soaked until soft in warm water, 1/4 cup dried barley, 2 cups chicken stock and 3 cups water (heated to warm).
Directions: In a large pot, cook the onions in the oil and butter until deep golden brown. Add the carrots, drained porcini and garlic and cook for a minute. Sprinkle with the flour and cook until the flour is also deep golden brown. Add potatoes and cover with the water and chicken stock. Once it’s at a boil, turn down and add the barley. Cook or about an hour until the potatoes are soft and the barley is cooked. Season with salt and pepper and the chopped dill. Serve with crusty rye bread or challah and of course a nice glass of wine!