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From Rachel Ray to "ER": Cooking for One

By Stephanie Berger

I love to cook. Some of my earliest memories include me perched on a stepstool, sprinkling salt into a mix or nibbling a piece of apple as my mom prepared Thanksgiving dinner. Although I used to worry that I would never inherit my Italian mother’s cooking acumen, years of observation and cooking classes have transformed me into a junior chef.

My culinary skills have often curried favor with boyfriends and roommates who couldn’t bake their way out of a Duncan Hines box. So when I moved into my apartment and started cooking gourmet meals for one, I thought I’d do just fine. I could make delicious dishes and save money by not eating out — the perfect solution to being strapped for cash in the city.

However, I soon realized that I’d need to make some modifications to my favorite recipes in order to save my dough. For the $30 it costs to buy the ingredients for one of Rachel Ray’s 30-minute meals — which usually take a normal human 60 minutes to make — you might as well order Chinese. Sure, baking chicken and steaming veggies instead of having Dominos deliver can be kinder on my budget (and waistline). But purchasing the components of turkey tetrazzini or Creole shrimp can set me back big time.

Lately, I’ve tried to get creative with my leftover ingredients. If I make a salad one night, I’ll use the rest of the lettuce on my sandwiches for lunch. When one dish called for fresh basil, I chopped the rest of the leaves and blended them with olive oil and Parmesan cheese to make pesto.

Unfortunately, my flair for creative cooking doesn’t cancel out my tendency to be a klutz in the kitchen. Last weekend, I decided to make a crustless quiche using the one strip of bacon, a teaspoon of goat cheese, and an assortment of veggies that remained in my fridge from previous dishes. As I leaned over the oven to stir the ingredients in the pan, my arm brushed against the door. What at the time only hurt slightly has turned into a large, blistery wound that has gotten me more than a few strange looks on the street.

So let’s go over the ingredients to my ideal, money-saving menu. Awesome cooking skills? Check. Thrifty attitude and resourceful use of food? Check. Health insurance to cover the hospital stay for future third-degree burns that I sustain?

Well, I’ll have to wait on that last one. My new company’s coverage doesn’t kick in until January.

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