Cooking Vegetables: Parsnips

Before the potato was introduced to Europe and other parts of the world, the most popular root vegetable was the parsnip. Even today, those who want a non-potato starch in their diets can use parsnips as a good substitute.

Parsnips are in the same family as carrots. They look like carrots, but are a dirty white in color. They are generally sweeter and tangier than carrots. They are cooked the same way you cook carrots.

Parsnips grow in cooler climates because frost is needed to develop their flavor. They are a favorite crop in areas with short growing seasons. They are richer in nutrients than carrots; especially rich in potassium.

Shopping: Look for roots that aren’t dried out or with papery skin.

Preparation: Trim off the root end and the top. Peel and slice according to the recipe or cooking method being used.

Most often, parsnips are cut into thick slices and boiled. Often they are added to soups and stews and then removed, leaving behind their unique taste and starch used to thicken the dish.

Roasted parsnips are a traditional Christmas dish in many places. They can be baked with a roast or lay the slices out on a baking dish with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Put in an oven preheated to 400ºF for about 25 to 30 minutes or until fork tender.

Heat oil about an inch deep in a heavy pan, slice the parsnips as thin as you can and fry into chips or crisps. If you’ve ever had Terra Chips you’ve eaten a version of these.

We all need to eat more of them. Finding new ways to cook them will keep them interesting and something to look forward to when dinner comes around.

Food Safety: Don’t Fear The Fridge

Some time ago, I talked about getting all your ingredients together when you start to cook.  This is called mise en place, “things in place.” This is important because sometimes the cooking can go fast and furious. You may not have time to prepare the next set of ingredients. Then you end up with burned or overcooked food and that’s not good for anyone.

Many people, especially if they are new to cooking or don’t do it that often, think that for the protection of your health and tummy, cold ingredients should remain cold until the last possible moment. We have visions of potato salad in the sun sending dozens of family members to the emergency room.

But the fact is, for the most part, your worries are unfounded. Remember, people have been cooking for tens of thousands of years, nearly all of that without refrigeration. You should have plenty of leeway leaving your prepared ingredients on the counter while you cook.

Temperature. When you buy frozen or refrigerated food at the grocery store, unless it’s very hot outside, food won’t get too warm on the way home. Yes, sometimes something soft like ice cream can start to run a little. But most of the time, things are so thoroughly frozen or cold they lose very little of that during the time between the store and the home kitchen.

The same is true at home. Usually, food that’s been kept for more than a few hours in your fridge or freezer are not going to warm up that fast, even in a warm kitchen. In general, you should have at least an hour before your food begins to reach the danger zone where bacteria can begin to grow in and on that food.

Bacteria grow at a temperature between 40º and 140ºF. That’s why cooks are told to get food above 145º for several minutes to ensure all dangerous germs are killed. That’s also why your home refrigerator should be below 40º. There are a few strange bacteria that can thrive outside that range, but they don’t live in our environment. Those live in the Arctic or outside volcanic vents deep in the ocean.

What about other micro-organisms? Good question. There are viruses and other little creatures that could live on your food that you can’t see. Viruses usually get on and in food because of improper handling, not exposure to open air. Molds and yeasts are always in the air and will set up shop in food if given the chance, but they are usually noticeable by sight and smell. Also, these non-bacterial life forms usually don’t make you sick. However, they live in similar conditions and so might indicate the presence of bacteria.

How much time is safe? The truth is that it varies according to the type of food and the conditions around it and how well it has been stored. As a general rule of thumb, food should never be left out, whether from the refrigerator or the oven, for more than four hours. Personally, I believe that one hour is the maximum I’m comfortable with.

When I’m cooking, I spend a few minutes looking over my recipes and planned menu and make mental notes about what needs to be done when and in what order. Sometimes there will be a few moments to get the next batch of ingredients ready. And sometimes the recipe is so simple that I don’t bother laying everything out as I will have time as I go to add the ingredients directly. But most of the time, it’s worth the effort to get everything ready, ingredients and equipment both.

Factors to consider. While it seems like bacteria can live in a very wide variety of environments, the fact is that they are like all living things. There are foods and conditions they like better than others. Bacteria feed on protein and carbohydrates. They like water and warmth. That means they are likely to thrive in some foods while leaving others completely safe. Dried meats and bread, for example, can be safe at room temperatures because they don’t have water in them. Fresh meat, seafood and opened fruits,vegetables and eggs have lots of water and are favorite places for bacteria to grow. The outer casing on eggs and fruit make a big difference. Unless there are cracks, gouges or holes, bacteria can’t get inside and have very few places to get a hold. So, unopened fruit can stay safely on the counter for days.

Acidity. Bacteria don’t like environments with pH levels below 4.6. That’s why acid is often used as a preservative. Vinegar and lemon juice raise the acidity of foods, making them unattractive to bacteria. Salt will also alter the acidity level, which is why it has been so valuable through history.

In addition to those factors, most bacteria also need to breathe. Foods sealed in vacuum packs, submerged in oil or inside a properly prepared can or jar are usually safe from all but one form of dangerous illness. Botulism only grows in an oxygen-free environment and is deadly. However, it is rare.

While you might find all this frightening, the fact is that food-borne illness usually can be avoided with just a little awareness and properly handling.

Cooking Vegetables: In The Turnip Patch

As we slog on through the winter months, root vegetables are often highlighted in many home recipes. Because they can keep, we think of warming soups and stews full of potatoes, carrots and onions.  Here are some less well-known roots you should explore these days. These would be common for our grandparents, especially if they were poor and from the Eastern states.

Turnips are round tap roots, white on the bottom and purple on the top. They are in the same family as mustard and radishes. There are many varieties. Larger ones are used for animal feed. Small turnips are the style we most eat. Many varieties are raised just for the greens, which taste similar to cabbage. Some common greens varieties going by other names are rapini or broccoli rabe and Chinese cabbage. Another root variety is the rutabaga.

The greens are prepared the same way you’d cook spinach, chard, collard or other greens. These greens are high in vital nutrients.

The root part, however, has very little nutritional value. The taste is pungent like a radish but becomes mild with cooking. Since we’ve already covered how to cook greens, we’ll concentrate here on cooking the root.

Shopping: Look for smaller turnips that are firm and feel heavy for their size. If the greens are still attached, even better.

Preparation: Trim off the tap root from the bottom and the stalk end. Peel, like a potato, and slice thinly, like an onion.

Boiling is the most common way to cook all root vegetables, and it applies to turnips as well. Bring a pot of water and sliced turnips to a light boil and cook until the pieces are tender. Test this by sticking a sharp knife into a large piece. If it doesn’t go in easily, it’s not done. Boiled turnips are used in the Middle East as a cure for fever.

For another low-fat version, steam the turnip slices until fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Pickled turnips are common in Japan, Lebanon and in other Asian countries. Pickled turnips are very good in a stir-fry.

I know it’s the wrong season to think about grilling. But if you want something different on the barbie, how about grilled turnips? Steam the slices first for about five minutes. Cooking them the full time on the grill will only work if you have a very low heat. After steaming, lay the slices out over medium high heat for about two minutes per side, until nicely browned and tender.

Sauté turnip matchsticks in a mix of a teaspoon each of butter and extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Stir frequently until tender, about 12 minutes.

A no-fuss method is to roast turnip slices in the oven. Preheat it to 500º and lay out the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Coat with extra virgin olive oil and bake for about 15 minutes or until tender. Turn the slices over about halfway through.

Learning about all the different ways you can prepare vegetables will make them better tasting and more appealing. We all need to eat more vegetables and finding new ways to cook them helps get those valuable nutrients into our bodies.

That’s A Knife – Part 3: Care and Feeding

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, a sharp knife is much safer than a dull one. The reason for this is that a sharp knife does the work with relatively little effort on your part. But a dull knife causes us to press harder, which lessens control and may cause slipping. That leads to cuts.

Every cook has cut his/her hands at one time or another. But a sharp knife, used correctly with minimum effort, will leave a clean, probably shallow cut that will heal easily. But a dull knife under greater pressure can leave behind a ragged, deep cut that could cause some serious damage.

By the way, all that follows applies to steel knives. Japanese ceramic knives are completely different and will have to be shipped back to the manufacturer for sharpening, which probably won’t be needed. Ceramic knives tend to hold their edge for a very long time. However, care should still be taken to protect that edge and keep it safely out of young hands without supervision. Remember these are ceramic and can break if dropped or dropped on.

You need to keep all knives sharp. And that means a proper sharpening stone. They are not expensive and easy to use, but they take a little time and can be hard to find these days. Don’t look in the kitchenware section of your department store, go to a hardware store, preferably an old fashioned kind if you can find one.

You might be tempted to buy one of those electric knife sharpeners. Sadly, none do a very good job. They tend to create a broad edge that dulls quite quickly, requiring you to sharpen the knife often, which wears away the metal. Also, they take way too much metal. That means your knives, that you spent so much money on, won’t last as long as they could or should.

You might also believe that the honing steel, that long steel bar on a handle, sharpens the blade, but it doesn’t. It just trues the edge, which gets slightly bent with use. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the steel. Run your knife on the steel every time you take it out of the block. This keeps the edge sharp and reduces the frequency of real sharpening.

In addition to using a honing steel, you should store your knives properly by using a block or a magnetic strip. These protect the edge. Avoid storing knives in drawers where they connect with other metal tools. Always wash your good knives by hand, never in the dishwasher. Wash them as soon as you’re finished using them, don’t leave them laying around or in the sink. Not only is this safer, but it keeps acids from staining or corroding the metal, or food from sticking to the blade requiring more dangerous scrubbing to clean.

Avoid using a hand-held metal sharpener. They don’t do a good job at all and can actually damage your blade. Those are only good for gardening tools.

A sharpening stone should be what’s called a wet stone, meaning it uses water to create the abrasive that does the work. There are also oil stones, but they require the purchase of special oil and are hard to clean. The stone should be about two inches wide and five or six inches long. It should have two sides, a rougher side and a smooth side. It should be stored wrapped in a soft, clean towel or rag in a place where it won’t be dropped or dropped on by hard objects, which could break it.

To use the stone, add a few drops of water to the rougher side of the stone. Holding the knife securely, tilt it up slightly (about 5 to 10 degrees depending on the size and original grind of the blade) with the edge down and move the blade in small circular motion. This will work up a small amount of grit paste on the stone. For smaller blades this is all you need to do, remembering to repeat the process on the other side of the blade.

For larger blades, like a chef’s knife, wet the whole length of the stone. Run the blade along the stone in a manner similar to that used on a honing steel. The blade should be at about a ten degree angle to the stone, edge down. Starting at the tip, push the blade, edge first, across the stone, almost like you’re shaving it. As you push the blade forward, also move it toward the handle. The motion will be on a diagonal. Repeat on the other side, switching sides every few passes. Always keep the edge of the blade pointed away from you.

How many times you do this motion will depend on how dull the knife is. When you feel it is sharp, turn the stone over. Wipe the grit from the blade and use the same motion for this side for 12 to 20 passes, alternating sides of the blade. This refines the edge. Wash the knife before putting it away.

This whole procedure will need to be done about every one to two years, depending on usage. It should also be done if you damage the blade or blunt the edge. Keeping your tools in the best shape will make cooking easier and more fun. The knife will do the work for you.

That’s A Knife – Part 2: Hold Me

As we continue talking about kitchen knives, we take a look at selecting, buying and using them.

Whether you buy a knife set or individual knives, take time to examine what you intend to buy. Are the handles secure? Is there a brand name stamped on it? Are there any marks, stains or scratches on the blade?

Make sure you hold the knife in your hand. How does it feel? Is it comfortable? Does it feel like your hand if wet might slip? Does the edge feel sharp? Does it look even all along its length? Is it straight if you sight along it from the handle? Will it work for what you want to use it? If you have big hands like me, do your knuckles clear the table if the blade’s heel is against the cutting board? If not, you may want to look at a knife with a taller blade. Your chef’s knife should be like an extension of your hand. The handle should be thick enough you can grip it comfortably without your fingers reaching all the way around and touching the heel of your palm.

Is the knife balanced? Hold the knife suspended between your thumb and forefinger at the widest part of the blade next to the handle. It should not move much. If it tilts handle down, the knife is not balanced and the handle is too heavy, which might make it hard to hold for a lengthy time. Also, the blade might be too flimsy for your needs. If it tilts handle up, it will become too heavy to hold for very long. The knife, as a whole, should not be too heavy. Most cooks prefer lighter knives that don’t become tiring to use.

Correct holding posture. We tend to hold a chef’s knife like a sword, with our whole hand wrapped around the handle, safely well back from the blade. However, the correct way to hold it is with the thumb and forefinger pinching the top of the back of the blade and your other three fingers curled around the handle just behind the bolster. This offers the most control. Most cutting and chopping should be done on the back end of the blade just in front of the heel, in other words as close to your hand as possible.

Now That’s A Knife

In the early days of this blog, we talked about kitchen essentials. Chefs and cooks will agree that one essential is a few really good knives. Knife skills are important in the kitchen. That means you need to learn how to buy, use and care for them.

I know that while my knife skills are no where near a professional level, I can chop vegetables and food in general just as fast or faster than any mechanical chopper. I never use a garlic press, preferring to chop it fine by hand. I can’t do it as fast as those big name chefs that can take apart an onion is less than a minute. And my technique might not always be ideal. But I think I do a pretty good job. I’ve amazed my mother with how fast I can chop and slice even if it’s not that fast.

Types of kitchen knives. Back when we were talking about essentials, I said you needed at least two different knives, preferably three or four, along with a honing steel. I also recommend a sharpening stone if you want to keep your knives in the best shape. Finding a professional sharpener (person) isn’t as easy these days as it once was.

The two absolutely essential knives you need is a chef’s knife and a paring knife. These represent both ends of the knife scale. A chef’s knife gets its name because it’s pretty much an all purpose knife preferred in the kitchen. The paring knife is small, more maneuverable and used for peeling and light cutting jobs like trimming (or paring).

I think you should also have at least two other knives for special jobs. One is a carving knife. This has a long, slightly flexible blade allowing you to slice a large piece of meat without hacking it to scraps, which might happen with a shorter knife like a chef’s knife. Another is either a boning knife or a fillet knife. Which you choose is mostly up to what kind of food you eat the most. A fillet knife is used mostly for stripping the flesh off the bones of a fish. It has a medium long blade that is thin and very flexible. A boning knife is similar, but the blade is heavier and not so flexible so it can be used to separate joints of meat or poultry.

Other knives that might be useful are:

  • bread – usually a long blade with a dull, rounded tip; the edge is serrated so it moves cleanly through the bread.
  • butcher – similar to a chef’s knife but with a less sharp tip, not seen much these days but once a staple for American frontier homes.
  • cleaver – like a butcher knife, but with a lighter, taller, more square blade capable of more precision handling.
  • electric carver – many chefs and cooks swear by these for neat, even cuts of meat and large baked goods; it’s made with two side-by-side blades that move back and forth, essentially doing the work for you; usually the blades are scalloped rather than serrated.
  • pizza cutter – a wheel knife on a handle can be useful for cutting many things into serving pieces if they’re not too thick.
  • pie – this has a triangular, offset blade that is sharp on one side to both cut and serve cakes, pies and other round, mostly flat foods.
  • and specialized knives like those for grapefruit, butter and cheese.

Knife materials. There are three basic ways to make good knives. Most common is stamped steel. A large, flat piece of hardened stainless steel is rolled out and then cut with a die, kind of like a cookie cutter but stronger. A handle, usually wood made of two pieces or sides, is then riveted on before the blade is sharpened and finished. Forged steel knives are made of molten steel poured into molds and then shaped using hammers. The handles are usually a part of the whole knife with a comfortable outer layer to make it easier to hold and less likely to slip. These are much more expensive than stamped knives.

In a class by themselves are ceramic knifes, made of zirconia. While these are made of similar stuff as plates or vases, they can be amazingly strong and rarely need sharpening. Also they are less likely to be affected by corrosive substances like acids. However, they are more brittle and can break if dropped on a hard surface. They also cannot be used to cut through bones or pry apart frozen foods.

Parts. All knives, even those made as a single piece, have three basic parts. The blade is pretty obvious, usually sharp on only one edge and can be edged from heel (back, closest to the handle) to tip, which can be sharp and pointed or rounded and dull. The tang is the part of the knife that extends into the handle, which is often a separate but attached piece. At the heel of the blade is the bolster, a sort of hilt or guard to help prevent the hand from running up onto the blade. Some smaller knives, like paring knives, don’t have a bolster.

Next time, we’ll talk about what to look for in a knife and how to hold it.

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie, also called Cottage Pie, is a homestyle one-dish meal from Britain. This is original comfort food. Like most high-style dishes today, it started out as peasant food, a way to stretch meager ingredients into a filling meal. This is an ideal dish for leftovers. The variations can be endless depending on what you have on hand and your personal taste.

Although traditional Shepherd’s Pie is made with mutton or lamb, thus the name, it really can be made with any sort of chopped or ground meat. The assortment of vegetables also is very adjustable.

The term Cottage Pie was first coined in the 1790s when potatoes were introduced in Britain as a staple crop for poor farmers. The term Shepherd’s Pie shows up nearly 100 years later and specifically refers to a meat pie made with mashed potatoes and mutton. Cottage Pie has usually referred to a beef pie. However, today in America mutton is very hard to find. Lamb is nearly as difficult to locate depending on what part of the country you live in. So, usually when we use the term Shepherd’s Pie, we’re actually talking about Cottage Pie made with ground beef.

Like many other peasant dishes, there are variations all around the world. Add bread crumbs on top and it’s Cumberland Pie. Vegetarian? No problem. Use tofu, lentils and chickpeas and you’ve got Shepherdless Pie. My own version could actually be called a Potato Casserole, which is popular in Dominica, Quebec, Russia, Bolivia and the Middle East. That’s because I add a topping of cheese.

This is an ideal dish to make your own. It can feed a large group or the easily- warmed leftovers can be paired with a salad, cornbread or home-baked rolls.

Shepherd’s Pie

Servings: 6
Prep Time: 25 Min.
Cook Time: 25 Min.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup half & half
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 12 oz.. package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 lb. extra lean ground beef
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • 3 lbs. Gold potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Peel and cut potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Rinse. Put in large sauce pan or medium pot and add enough water to cover. Put pot over high heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and simmer potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes until they are soft but not falling apart.
  2. When potatoes are done, drain and add butter, half & half, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Mash by hand until most lumps are gone and potatoes have the right consistency without being paste-like. Do not over mash them!
  3. Preheat oven to 425°F. In 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion and cook 3 min., stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook 5 to 7 min. or until all liquid evaporates and mushrooms are lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in frozen mixed vegetables and cook 2 min. longer. Spread vegetable mixture evenly in 3-quart casserole.
  4. In same skillet, cook ground beef over high heat 5 min. or until browned, breaking up meat with side of spoon. Stir in tomato paste, flour, thyme, ground red pepper and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt; cook 1 min., stirring. Add broth to beef mixture and heat to boiling; boil 1 min. or until mixture thickens slightly. Spread beef mixture evenly over vegetables.
  5. Spread potatoes evenly over beef. Bake 2o min. or until sides bubble. Remove and add cheese evenly over the top and replace in oven for another 5 minutes. Let stand at least 5 min. before serving.

 

Recipe: Easy Weekend Beef Stew

When the weather’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than a nutritious beef stew. Made with lots of vegetables and a cheap cut of meat, stew can really warm you up and fill you up while still being low in fat, calories and carbohydrates. The real winner for dishes like this is the fact that it gets better the second or third time.

Another great thing about stew is that it’s easy to make, something you can just throw together, let cook a while and then enjoy.

Stews have been around for at least 8,000 years, according to archeological information. They are defined as solid food bits cooked in a flavorful liquid, very similar to braising. Stews differ from a soup in that they are usually thicker, using some kind of thickening agent or technique. Also, stews are usually cooked longer over a low heat, where soups can be thrown together and consumed in less than an hour.

You’ll notice in the recipe below the meat is coated in flour before browning. That thickens the dish, although not by much. If you want thicker gravy you can add a roux or corn starch slurry later in the cooking process. This hearty stew can be stored or frozen in single serving containers for a quick dinner or lunch throughout the week or weeks to come. Serve with crusty bread and a nice red wine.

Easy Weekend Beef Stew

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 2 hours 10 minutes;  Ready In: 2 1/2 hours; Servings: 6 of 1-1/2 cups each.

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1 lb. beef flank, chuck or round steak, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) or olive oil
  • 2 cups water or 1 cup beef stock with 1 cup water
  • 1 beef bullion cube if not using stock
  • 1 cup black coffee, decaffeinated preferred
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 6 small to medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 6 small carrots cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 medium onion cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 tsp. browning and seasoning sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • splash of red wine vinegar

Directions:

  1. Put flour in shallow bowl or dish. Add salt, pepper, paprika and Italian seasoning. Mix well.
  2. Add beef chunks and toss around with a clean hand until all beef pieces are well covered with seasoned flour. Save any leftover flour and set aside.
  3. Heat a large saucepan or a soup pot over medium heat. Melt butter if using or add olive oil. Add beef and brown on all sides stirring occasionally. Browning takes 8 to 10 minutes. Don’t worry if the flour starts to look a little grayish.
  4. Add the water, coffee, thyme and any leftover flour mixture. Raise the heat to high and stir well. When it begins to boil, lower the heat to low and cover. Allow to simmer for one hour.
  5. Add all of the remaining ingredients and again raise the heat to high to bring to a boil while stirring thoroughly. Lower heat back to low, cover and let simmer for another hour or until meat and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Taste the gravy for seasoning, remove the bay leaf and add a splash of red wine vinegar before serving.

Nutritional Information:

Calories 341, Calories from fat 120, total fat, 130 g, saturated fat 7 g, cholesterol 56 mg, Carbohydrate 38 g, Fiber 5 g, Sugar 10 g, protein 18 g per serving.

 

A Late Night Snack Like No Other

Some of you may have worked or now work in a restaurant or some other late night job. cacio-e-pepeThe last thing you want to do is cook dinner when you get off work. People in the restaurant industry face this dilemma most evenings. Fortunately, they also have people around who know how to cook. If that’s the case, you probably have eaten Cacio e Pepe, or Pasta with Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano.

Like rice, this is a dish that is very simple, but also takes practice to get right. On the face of it, it looks like one simply cooks some pasta, usually spaghetti or other thin noodle, then tosses it with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and some grated Pecorino cheese. If you get it right, it is delicious and loaded with protein and carbohydrates, just what you need at the end of a long night. But if you don’t get it right, it turns into a clumpy, greasy mess.

Another thing we like about this recipe is that it can be dressed up if you have some left over meat or other protein, or it is good on its own the next day if just take the chill off after spending the night in the refrigerator.

So, if your first try at this dish fails, keep trying, it’s worth it.

Start with medium skillet over medium-low heat. This recipe only makes two large servings, so you won’t need a big pan. Heat about three tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet. Add a teaspoon or more of freshly ground black pepper. You can just use the grinder over the pan until you see a good amount in the oil. You just want to warm it up so it becomes wonderfully fragrant. A little sizzling is to be expected. Take the pan off the heat and let it sit.

Next, you need either a large skillet or a wide saucepan. Place the spaghetti or pasta in the pan and add just enough water to cover. Season with a pinch of salt. Over high heat, bring the pan to a boil. Give it a little shove around the pan from time to time to keep it from clumping. Follow the package directions for al dente, pasta, usually about one minute less than the recommended time.

Take two to three tablespoons of the pasta water and put them in the medium skillet containing the oil and pepper mixture. Add two tablespoons of butter to that and stir it all together. Take tongs and transfer the pasta to the smaller pan. Add about one cup of grated Pecorino Romano. Use a fork to stir in the cheese until it is all melted. Use a little more pasta water if needed to get a creamy sauce that coats all of the pasta. Taste to adjust seasoning, adding a bit more salt and pepper if needed. Then take the whole pan to the table and serve directly on to plates. If you have a guest, be sure to offer extra grated cheese and black pepper.

You might not be familiar with pecorino cheese. If so, you will find it very similar and sold along side of the more well known Parmigiana Romano. And please don’t think that means the stuff that comes in an refrigerated canister. That not only tastes like salty sawdust, it contains sawdust, or cellulose, to keep it from clumping. Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk rather than cows’ milk. That gives it a tangier flavor and a lot less fat.

This dish does contain a lot of carbohydrates. But if you are an active person, this is an easy and fast meal suitable for making after a long day at work.

Making Time to Cook Worth It

Having time to cook when you’re single is a matter of strategy. If you plan ahead you can eat better without being tied to the kitchen. You have to set aside a little time to do cooking, which can be for the whole week if you work it out right. You have to know what you need, make meal plans and use grocery lists. Instead of trying to make a tiny meal for one, make a regular size meal and put the rest away for later in the week.

During the week, you want to begin working on what you’ll eat, what groceries you’ll buy and what dishes you’ll cook. Here’s how that would go:

  1. With the help of your nutritionist or dietician, you’ve made a general meal plan that outlines what sorts of food you need for each meal: which meals need vegetables or fruit, which will be vegetarian, and which will be open for things like eating out, meals with friends and so on.
  2. Review the grocery store ad for the week to see what’s on sale. Pick out some foods you’d like to get and some recipes or cooking ideas to go with them. Don’t be afraid of large quantities, your freezer is your friend and that’s less you have to buy later.
  3. Once you know what you’re going to buy and cook, make a grocery list to be sure you don’t forget something. While you’re at it, use a calendar or some other grid to show what you plan to eat for each meal. This is not written in stone. Things will change through the week and that’s okay. What you don’t eat today can probably be eaten tomorrow or some other time. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just some general ideas.

Now you’re ready to shop. Plan on no more than two stops. If you like shopping in a mega supermarket, fine. Or you might want to consider, depending on where you live and your situation, stopping at the farmers market in the morning and in the afternoon go to the supermarket. Whatever works best for you.

If you’ve chosen Sunday afternoon for your cooking, you should be armed with your recipes and your meal plans. Not everything has to be done at once. For example, you can put together the ingredients for a salad and make a dressing, just don’t put them together. If you’re making a pizza, make some extra dough and make an extra crust or two, top them all but bake only one. Wrap up the others and store in the freezer for later.

You can make breakfast sandwiches or burritos while your dinner is cooking and pop those in the freezer for quick breakfasts during the week. Make a meal that offers flexibility, like a pot of soup, stew or chili that can be portioned into containers for later. Use those entrée containers to make your own frozen dinners. Just put in the plate components and stick in the freezer to be microwaved later. All of these things can be done while your cooking a main meal or right after. That way, everything, or nearly everything, gets done in one day, leaving little for you to do when you get home from work.

Also consider making components to various meals like a pot of rice, a pot of beans, a loaf of bread, a saucepan of mixed vegetables. All of these can be placed in containers for use later. You’ve already got everything you need for a tasty stir-fry or meatless dinner or lunch.

With just a little thought and planning you can reduce your cooking time enormously while still allowing you to eat good, healthy, homemade meals all week long.