I crave in color. More than a specific dish, more than something wildly decadent, I just want a compilation of colors. If I don’t see them I don’t feel satisfied. In college, I’d circle the hot and cold bars endlessly trying to compose a rainbow on my plate (I still do this at every buffet and potluck). These days I throw spinach or parsley into almost everything I cook… I just need to see it there. No one forced me to eat veggies as a kid, and I don’t follow any particular diet. It’s just what I want.
What we crave is both physical and emotional (this is my highly unscientific opinion). The physical: Our bodies crave what’s been missing from our meals or our hormones make seemingly odd combos irresistible. The emotional: When we feel the need for comfort or pleasure, we want the foods we ate as kids or what we’ve learned to love since then. I’m not sure where my color thing came from, but it’s just my version of every person’s inexplainable, wonderfully weird food preferences. There’s no rhyme or reason and no consistency either. What I want changes as often as my mood (so, pretty much constantly).
As single cooks, our craving is the loudest and often only voice in the kitchen. It’s obnoxiously loud, to the point where it’s hard to be satisfied with eating anything else. Answering that craving is giving your body what it needs, whether that’s a big salad or a big burger. It’s not giving into a lifetime of junk food because our bodies crave variety and moderation in all things. Something super rich and heavy gets just as boring as something super light after awhile.
I think we also crave what’s within reach: What’s in our fridge right now, what we know how to cook right now, what we can get delivered thirty minutes from now. The more we cook, the broader the foods we crave because we know we can achieve them at home. There’s less settling for what we don’t really want (old leftovers, a frozen entree) because we know how to give ourselves exactly what we do.
Knowing exactly what I’m craving and acting on it is so satisfying and empowering to me… it’s what drives me into the kitchen as a solo cook and makes me feel I belong there. It’s one of the best things about cooking for one.
Sometimes I just can’t let go. One specific craving for a not-too-sweet carrot cake led me down a rabbit hole of recipes and whys. How could some recipes call for 11/2 cups of sugar while others call for half that? Is there really a difference in the end between butter and oil? Is that little bit of buttermilk really necessary when I’ll have a quart of the stuff left over? I wanted an everyday loaf that could be a breakfast, snack, or dessert… something I’d always have the ingredients to make.
I tried five different recipes, combined amounts from one with the techniques of another, looked to completely different recipes and adjusted again and again. Baking truly is mad science in this way—you can do a million different things to arrive at one simple cake, and you won’t quite know what you’ll get until you pull it out of the oven.
Quick breads and cakes (really anything out of a loaf pan) are great bakes for the single cook. They can hang at room temperature for a while without going stale. There’s no multi-dozen batch to stare you down. You can carve off as much or as little as you like and dress it up (a slather of butter or cream cheese or ricotta and chocolate chips). In the end, this carrot loaf (cake? Quick bread?) checked every box.
Really though, if you want to bake, bake. You don’t need an occasion or someone else to share it with. If it brings you joy and satisfies your sweet craving, that’s reason enough.
Warm-spiced and not too sweet, this carrot quick bread is a perfect quick breakfast, snack, or dessert. I like to leave off the glaze and dress up a slice with a slather of cream cheese or dollop of ricotta.
Prep Time 15minutes
Cook Time 1hour
Total Time 1hour15minutes
2large or 3 medium carrots
½cuplight brown sugar
⅓cup+ 2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
⅓cupplain Greek or regular yogurt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
Grate carrots on the large holes of a box grater to measure 11/2 cups. In a large bowl, stir together carrots, sugars, oil, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg until well combined. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture and stir just until combined. Pour carrot mixture into prepared pan and bake at 350°F for 55-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then turn out and cool completely.
The weight of the world is crushing. You’ve been living in isolation for months, cooking every meal and washing up afterward. It’s too hot to turn on the stove. You’re out of inspiration, having shopped nowhere but your neighborhood store, having dined nowhere but your own home. Even if you love it, cooking for one can lose its appeal… especially now.
What I’ve realized is that cooking for myself is not an all or nothing proposition. It’s not about committing to a certain number of home-cooked meals over a certain number of days. It’s not about creating a gram-worthy plate every night. Cooking for one is about showing kindness to yourself in whatever way you need on any given evening, whether that’s preparing a thoughtful meal or not cooking at all.
The most important thing is that you get to choose. You shouldn’t be stuck with random snacks when you really want an exciting, satisfying meal. You shouldn’t be locked into a meal plan when you don’t feel like making that day’s scheduled dish. You shouldn’t have to eat the same leftovers three nights in a row when you really want something new. No lack of cooking skills, fear of food waste, or feeling that you don’t deserve more should stand between you and what you really want to eat.
And when you just can’t bear to cook, order takeout. Pile the random foods from your fridge onto a plate. Pop some popcorn. Just take the guilt out of the equation for tonight. Depending on your mood, you can choose something totally different tomorrow.
Some of my favorite can’t-bear-to-cook dinners: – A soft-boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumber, Greek yogurt topped with olive oil, and a little smoked salmon – Frozen veggie dumplings steamed with veggies over microwaveable brown rice. – A mile-high cheese sandwich
– A couple slices of prosciutto, walnuts, sliced cheese, apples wedges, and celery sticks
I will always be on board for simple, starchy comfort. Risotto, steel-cut oats, polenta laden with Parmesan… if it’s warming and clings to a spoon, I’m on board. Congee is starchy comfort at its best. It’s a rice porridge that’s most common in China, though you’ll find other versions in the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and India. Congee is kind of magic: A small handful of rice simmered in lots of water transforms into something luxuriously creamy and filling.
The only problem? Congee takes a long time. Most recipes call to simmer a big batch for a few hours. I don’t have that kind of time, but a congee craving is a congee craving. So what’s a solo cook to do?
I found the answer by way of Nadiya Hussain’s Ginger Rice with Spiced Chickpeas. You’ve got to whisk it. By boiling the rice first, then whisking constantly for about 5 minutes, the grains broke down and became porridge in less than 20 minutes. Magic. It’s definitely not traditional, but it totally works in a pinch.
The best part is topping with whatever you have on hand—why this is one of my favorite “use it up” meals. I added leftover roast chicken, microwave-steamed snap peas and yellow squash, sliced radishes, and an extra scallion here.
More topper ideas: – Protein: Any cooked meat or fish, cubed tofu, or a soft-boiled egg – Veggies: Any steamed veggies or thinly sliced cucumber and radishes – Drizzles and sprinkles: soy sauce, chile-garlic sauce, sesame seeds, garlic chips, or crushed red pepper
The consistency of your congee is really up to you. Let it simmer a little longer after whisking to thicken, or add a little more water if it feels too thick. Just don't skip the swirl of sesame oil or butter at the end—it's what makes the texture so luxurious.
Course Main Course
Prep Time 5minutes
Cook Time 20minutes
Total Time 25minutes
1tspgrated fresh ginger
1tsptoasted sesame oil or butter
1small scallion, thinly sliced
Combine the ginger, rice, and water in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes (the rice should be cooked through at this point).
Uncover and whisk constantly for about 5 minutes (the rice should start to break down and the water should turn milky white). Let simmer another 5 minutes, uncovered, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil, scallion, and salt.
Ladle congee into a wide bowl and top with the veggies, protein, and condiments of your choice.
It’s something I’ve been pondering for about five years now. After interviewing single friends across generations, filling notebooks with ramblings and recipe ideas, and living the solo cooking life in multiple cities, I have THOUGHTS.
Cooking for one means my cravings are in charge. There’s no one to consult, no reason to compromise. If I get a hankering for something, nothing else will do. What I crave changes moment to moment—why strict meal planning or days of the same leftovers just doesn’t work for me. My appetite changes too: Depending on the night or my mood, I’ll want a feast or small snack, something robust and hearty or light and simple.
Cooking for one means willpower is half the battle. Parents have to feed their kids. Couples share the cooking duties or decide where to order takeout. My motivation to get up off the couch and cook is the only factor here. Some nights I feel so inspired and excited to cook that I make a feast. Other nights it’s all I can do to make a sandwich. Cooking for one isn’t an all or nothing proposition… It’s about enjoying whatever ends up on your plate and taking care of yourself in the process.
Cooking for one means playing the “use it up” game. Every item I pick up at the store gets its own screening: If I buy you, how am I going to use you up before you go bad? Or before you become another space-hogging relic that I can’t bear to throw out? Food waste is the enemy that must be defeated at all costs. For me, it’s a fun challenge: My best ideas come from finding new ways to use up what I have on hand.
Cooking for one means keeping it simple and convenient. As much as I love to shop, I don’t have the patience or budget to seek out expensive or hard-to-find ingredients. As much as I love to cook, I don’t want to spend more time cooking or washing dishes. I’m not interested in complicated recipes that just make less food (read: the same number of steps and lots of odds and ends left over). I want food that’s fresh, fast, and interesting. And I want to get everything I need for the week at the one or two stores closest to me.
My takeaway? Solo cooks are just different. We’re our own category with our own unique needs and challenges. And now that singles make up almost half of all homes in the country (!), it’s the perfect time to create our own resources and share them. I couldn’t be happier to be part of the conversation.
The best meals to come out of my kitchen usually happen when I have next to nothing in the fridge. Maybe it’s the necessity of invention. Maybe food just tastes better with the added satisfaction of using up the odds and ends of my fridge that never found a home. If I can get it done in under 20 minutes, I’ve hit the solo cooking trifecta: using up what I have, making something simple and satisfying, and getting it to the table fast. Added bonus if there’s only one pan to clean.
I always, always keep a can of cannellini beans in my pantry. They’re so mild and creamy, so endlessly versatile. I know as single cooks we’re supposed to fear that half-eaten can lest it get forgotten, but this never happens with cannellini beans. I’ll use half in a dinner tonight, then use the other in my next salad, random veggie sauté, or pasta toss. It’s the can that keeps on giving.
You might know of shakshuka as the tomato sauce-y, skillet-baked eggs found on many a brunch menu. I love the idea of a “white” version that’s a bit heartier. I had some droopy parsley, so in it went, along with the Swiss chard, crumbled feta, garlic, and crushed red pepper. I recommend serving with butter-slathered pita (I am so lucky to get mine fresh from a Middle Eastern restaurant across the street from me) and a glass of wine.
Other ways I’ve used that bunch of Swiss chard this week:
– Steamed with a sliced sweet potato and yellow squash as a side for roast chicken
– Shredded for a lunchtime wrap with turkey and white Cheddar
– Blended into a green smoothie with banana, pineapple, and almond milk
– A big veggie stir-fry over brown rice
A speedy beans and eggs skillet made a little heartier with Swiss chard. Use whatever greens you have on hand (spinach, kale, even a big handful of parsley).
Course Main Course
Prep Time 10minutes
Cook Time 15minutes
Total Time 25minutes
2garlic cloves, minced
Pinchcrushed red pepper
¾cupcannellini beans, rinsed and drained(about ½ cup)
¾cupwater, chicken stock, or vegetable broth
1cupSwiss chard leaves, roughly chopped
2tbspfinely chopped flat-leaf parsley(optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Heat oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook about 30 seconds or until the garlic starts to sizzle. Stir in white beans and a pinch of salt and sauté about 2 minutes.
Turn down the heat to medium. Using a fork, mash about half the beans in the pan. Stir in water or stock and chard until the chard is wilted. Stir in half the feta crumbles. Spread bean mixture in a single layer in the skillet. If the beans look a little dry at this point, add another splash of water.
Make two pockets in the bean mixture with a spatula or the back of a large spoon and crack one egg into each. Cover the skillet and cook for 4 minutes or until the eggs are just set. Remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the eggs. Sprinkle the parsley and remaining feta over top. Serve with toast or pita.
My first day in my first apartment in Brooklyn was Christmas Eve. It had been one month since I got my first job in New York, two months since I showed up at my aunt’s Tribeca apartment, three months since I left a seven-year job in Birmingham, my hometown. My new roommate was home in Texas. The streets were quiet, the subways almost empty. I dropped my things and walked the chilly couple blocks to Four & Twenty Blackbirds. Sitting there with my pie and a book, surrounded by other holiday orphans doing the same, I felt like I’d finally “made it” here.
Two years, a new job, and my own apartment later, I’m feeling more at home in the city and with myself. I’ve found that I prefer to live alone and really always have. And I’ve found so much joy and nourishment in cooking for myself. I’m free to indulge any craving, to improvise and fail and discover. My kitchen (er, tiny kitchenette) is where I relax and unwind at the end of a long day. Cooking is all the more satisfying because I know I’m taking care of myself and answering my own weird and random cravings.
I won’t lie though: Cooking for one (even for a professional foodie) is a challenge. Recipes serve four or six or eight. Stores package ingredients to serve four or six or eight. I’m always trying to find new ways to use up what I buy because I can’t stand food waste or a week of the same leftovers. There are also plenty of nights where having the sheer will make something, anything, feels like more than half the battle.
Maybe you feel this way too, which is why I’m sharing My Solo Kitchen with you. Here you’ll find recipes designed to serve one and fit the lifestyle of a busy, social, single cook on a budget: Not fussy or expensive, with accessible ingredients and no food waste. I’ll talk too about living the solo cook life, from shopping strategies and understanding your cravings to just psyching yourself up to make dinner.
Here’s to finding joy and confidence in our kitchens and giving ourselves the gift of a great meal. Let’s do this!
Is cooking really worth it, just for me? Yes, and it’s easier than you think. This is food for the busy, social, single cook, with hacks and use-it-up strategies that make the most of everything you buy. It’s solo cooking designed for real life, and it’s never been more delicious.
Hi, I’m Hannah. I’m a food writer, recipe developer, and content manager based in Nashville, TN. I’m also passionate about helping single cooks of all skill levels find confidence and joy in cooking for one. Learn more.