Folks, this soup is magical. It’s simple to the point of being questionable—just chicken broth, rice, eggs, and a lemon. But that’s the beauty of it. Rice simmers in the broth, then the hot liquid tempers beaten egg yolks. It all cooks together until the soup suddenly thickens and brightens. That’s it. I love how humble and warming it is, how the lemon kind of crashes through. I craved it on one of our first cool nights in NYC last week, and I’m sure it’ll be in my regular rotation as the days get chilly.
Most recipes you’ll find start with eight or nine cups of broth, six eggs, a cup of rice. My favorite version comes from Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year. After Gourmet magazine closed, she spent a year in upstate New York cooking her way to finding peace with it all. This soup was soothing for her then, and it is for me now. I hope she doesn’t mind that I scaled down her recipe to serve one.
I love poached chicken for this—it’s tender and falls apart in big, pleasing shreds. I cooked a couple breasts on Sunday using this method from the Kitchn and used them in lunches and dinners all week long.
Also, don’t toss those egg whites! Bulk up your next scramble or beat to soft peaks and fold into pancake batter for extra fluffy cakes.
A super simple, bright, comforting soup for one. This Greek classic uses just broth, rice, lemon, and eggs. I like to stir in shredded cooked chicken breast and top with parsley or scallion. You could sauté a few veggies in the pot before simmering the broth if you like. This recipe is adapted from Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year.
1½cupsunsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
3tbspdry white rice
½cupshredded cooked chicken breast
salt and pepper to taste
Bring stock and water to a boil in a large pot with the lid on. Regular broth or stock would be a little too salty here… if you can’t find unsalted stock or low-sodium broth, up your ratio of water to broth. Once it reaches a boil, add rice, reduce heat slightly, and simmer with the lid on until the rice is tender, about 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and the juice of ½ lemon in a bowl and beat well with a whisk to combine. When the rice is cooked, take a ladle full of the stock mixture and very slowly stream it into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until combined. Add this mixture in a slow stream back to the pot with the remaining stock mixture, whisking constantly. Simmer about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. It will thicken slightly, but not as much as a custard.
Stir in shredded chicken and simmer about 1 minute more to warm through. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley leaves or a little chopped green onion.
When I’m staring down a pantry ingredient at the store, the (imaginary) conversation between us goes something like this: Me: “If I bring you home, how will you earn your keep?” Ingredient: “You can make that one thing you’ve been craving!” Me: “Yeah, but like, after that.” Ingredient: “I don’t know. Wait a bit, then make it again? Let me fossilize on the top shelf until you forget I exist and buy another one?” Me: “Wrong answer. Next!”
I try to think of at least three ways to use an ingredient before bringing it home. I’m also always trying to figure out how to use what’s already in my pantry. More than being conscious of food waste or budget, this is really just what gets me excited to cook… I love finding new recipes or inventing my own in the name of using up that one thing. I’ll build dishes around the last dregs of a tahini jar, the last bundle of soba noodles. I’ll bake for no other reason than I must—must—use the entire carton of buttermilk some way, somehow.
A few weeks ago, that ingredient was cornmeal. I just had to have a batch of Dessert for Two’s corn muffins. After that, I snuck some more cornmeal into a lemon loaf cake. I tried to boil it like polenta. I made the corn muffins again. And, sigh, I still have about half a bag left.
And so the recipe for these savory cornmeal pancakes was born. It’s my cheat for a cornbread fix that doesn’t serve ten people or take an hour to make, with sharp Cheddar and scallions as optional stir-ins. The salsa here is Texas caviar–inspired, with a touch of sherry vinegar for extra oomph. A dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt brings it all together. It’s light yet super satisfying, simple yet packed with flavor. I’ll happily chip away at that bag of cornmeal just to make it again.
Think of this dish as cornbread meets Texas caviar, cooking-for-one style. You will end up with enough pancakes for two, but this by design: The leftovers keep beautifully. Warm in the microwave and top with tomato-y braised greens or slather with butter and add to a hearty salad or grain bowl.
Prep Time 20minutes
Cook Time 10minutes
Total Time 30minutes
Black Eyed Pea Salsa
¼canblack eyed peas, rinsed and drained(about ⅓ cup)
⅓cupcherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
3tbspfinely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley(leaves and stems)
3tbspfinely chopped red onion
1small garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
¼tspfreshly ground black pepper
¼cupgrated sharp Cheddar
1scallion, finely chopped
½cupbuttermilk(or 3 tbsp plain yogurt + enough milk or non-dairy milk to equal 1/2 cup)
2tbspsour cream or plain Greek yogurt
In a small bowl, combine all the black eyed pea salsa ingredients. Do this first so the flavors have time to marinate and meld, and the red onion can lose some of its sharp bite.
In another bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in Cheddar and scallion. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, egg, and oil. If you don't have buttermilk, add any milk to the yogurt and stir to combine first, then add the egg and oil.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. (In one test, I beat a leftover egg white to soft peaks and folded it into the batter. Would be delicious with or without!)
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter and swirl to melt and coat pan. Use a ¼-cup measuring cup to scoop batter into pan for 6 pancakes. Cook 2-3 minutes per side. I usually work in batches: 3-4 pancakes in the first, 2-3 in the second.
Top 3 pancakes with the sour cream and black eyed pea salsa. Save remaining pancakes for another meal, a snack, or a side.
One of my pre-theater rituals in New York was a plate of spicy cumin lamb noodles at the Xi’an Famous Foods on W. 43rd street. I’d fashion an oversized bib out of napkins to avoid dripping red chili oil on my clothes (I usually did anyway), crouch over my plate, and shovel the slippery noodles into my mouth with chopsticks. I could be in and out of the restaurant and in my theater seat in under an hour, bathroom stop included. That location of the restaurant is closed now, and Broadway is shuttered until at least next January.
My homemade attempt at Xi’an’s lamb noodles is nowhere near the real thing. I just wanted to taste some of those flavors and textures together, maybe in honor of a ritual I didn’t know I was about to lose. I got ground lamb and cooked it like a Thai larb, browning quickly with spices, then adding a splash of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar to get those crispy bits. I tossed with rice noodles and whatever veg would add a pop of color. Here, it’s a couple handfuls of baby spinach and curls of sweet, crisp carrot, though I’ve also loved this with broccoli, yellow squash, and thinly sliced radishes.
This dish is now one of my go-tos when I crave something quick and spicy, but I’m also glad it doesn’t really measure up to the original. It gives me an excuse to go back again soon.
Inspired by the classic at Xi'an Famous Foods, though by no means a substitute for the original. A little crushed red pepper goes a long way here, but feel free to adjust to your heat preference.
Prep Time 10minutes
Cook Time 10minutes
Total Time 20minutes
2ozwide rice noodles
⅓lbground lamb(you could also use ground beef or turkey)
1garlic clove, minced
¼tspcrushed red pepper
2tsplow-sodium soy sauce, divided
2tspunseasoned rice vinegar, divided
1generous pinch granulated sugar
1½cupsbaby spinach, torn
Bring about 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add rice noodles and cook 4-5 minutes or until tender, then drain. If you want to use a heartier veggie, add it to the boiling water in the last couple minutes of cooking.
Meanwhile, heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the lamb, scallion, garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, and salt. Use a spatula to break up the meat and work in the spices. Cook 3-5 minutes until the meat is browned. Stir in 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. Cook another 3 minutes (you should see some crispy bits in the pan). Remove the pan from the heat.
Peel the carrot and then keep peeling into wide ribbons, working on one side of the carrot at a time. Add the carrots in a single layer over the lamb in the skillet, then the spinach. Drizzle over the remaining teaspoon each of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add the hot noodles, cover with a lid, and let sit off the heat a couple minutes until the spinach is slightly wilted, then stir everything together.
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.
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.
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 Solo Kitchen
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 Brooklyn, NY. I’m aslo passionate about helping single cooks of all skill levels find confidence and joy in cooking for one. Learn more.