Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bennies of Cooking with Friends

One of the most economical ways to prepare meals is to cook with friends.

You share your resources, both food and cooking talent, and if you're single, you also have the benefit of scintillating dinner-time conversation with another.

I tested my theory this week and I was most happy with the result: dollars were saved, chat was had, and the dinners were delish.

The easiest and most economical meal was such because we made use of Whole Foods incredibly convenient, and free, marinating service.

Chicken thighs were on sale for .99 cents a pound and my friend requested that the 4 thighs she purchased be marinated.

The meat-counter associate listed several marinade options and my friend chose Teriyaki.

Once home, I offered my cooking talent to the meal, and this is what I came up with:

Basmati Rice with Chicken & Shallots
1) Pour one cup basmati rice into 2 cups of water. Boil, then reduce heat and simmer rice on low for about 3o -4o mins.
2) Place marinated chicken thighs into a skillet or pot, adding a little water or stock. Turn hot plate to med. Once liquid is gently bubbling turn heat down and cook thighs for about 30 mins.
3) At the 30-min mark, add a cup of frozen corn kernels to the rice. (Fresh corn is on sale everywhere at the moment, a very good reason to use fresh over frozen kernels. For this dish, simply remove kernels from the corn cob with a knife and add to rice.) Corn will steam cook on top of rice.

To Serve: Into a bowl place a big spoon of cooked rice, top with a chicken thigh, spooning juice from pot over chicken and rice, scatter sliced shallots over the top.

We two ate the four thighs and one cup of cooked rice between us and we figured the meal probably cost in the vicinity of $2 per person. In contrast, the shopping together, cooking and chat were priceless.

For our second shared meal, I contributed a half pack of ground buffalo that I'd bought on sale at WFs, and my last rasher of turkey bacon, plus garlic and an onion. My friend had some cheese and a pack of 365-brand penne pasta.

Spaghetti Bolognese
1) Dice half a large brown onion and chop one clove of garlic. Saute in olive oil until onion is transparent.
2) Add a sliced rasher or two of turkey or pork bacon.
3) Toss in ground beef, breaking it up while stirring with a wooden spoon.
4) Pour in a tin of 365-brand tomato sauce, stirring it into meat and onions.
5) Gently simmer on low for about 30 mins.
6) At the last minute, season to taste, and add a little Balsamic vinegar, it brings out the flavor of the meat sauce, as does a pinch of sugar. I like to pour in a little olive oil right at the end too, to enrich the sauce.
7) Boil a pot of water; add penne pasta and a glug of olive oil; cook till al dente or until pasta is soft, but still slightly chewy in the middle.
8) Drain pasta in a colander, running it under hot water tap, drain again, then pour pasta back into cooking pot and put pot back onto a high-temp hot plate--this will cause any remaining liquid to quickly evaporate. Remove pot from hot plate and pour a liberal amount of olive oil over penne.

To serve: Cover a plate with a single layer of penne and top with ample bolognese sauce, drizzle with your choice of grated cheese.

We had a simple side salad of lettuce and cucumber topped with a slurp of bottled Cesar dressing with this meal. The estimated cost of the meal per person: about $3.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Growling-Good Kitten Chow

Recently, I cat sat. My two charges, a couple gorgeous little Burmese kitties, were failing to thrive on kitten-formula tinned food.

That's Buffy licking her chops, and Pluto staring wildly at the camera.

Their Vet prescribed an antibiotic-- a blanket remedy for their intestinal issues. It didn't help.

After harried days worrying myself silly over Buffy (the little female was losing weight, not playing, and looking listless), I considered the following:

When I have tummy troubles, what's most often the cause? Answer: Something I've eaten!

The label on the kitten's tinned food read ground chicken liver, plus a list of added vitamins.

If you've eaten chicken liver pate you'll know that it's highly nutritious and rich!

So I took the kitties off their tinned food surmising that rich liver and all those added vitamins were too much for their digestive systems.

In the effort to keep up their fluid intake, the Vet's assistance suggested feeding them the juice from a tin of tuna packed in water, which I did, but still Buffy's intake was minimal and afterward she'd cower in the corner looking pathetic.

That little kitten pulled on my heart strings!

The last time I'd looked after a baby kitten, I was a kitten myself. My mother would have me cut up meat scraps, either raw off-cuts from our butcher or leftovers from our family meals, i.e. beef, lamb, chicken or fish.

And sometimes I'd feed Mehitabel, my kitten, stale bread soggy with beaten egg and milk.

Her diet was a mix of raw, cooked, and leftover human food -- the majority of which was flesh protein. Only periodically did we give her tinned Whiskas. What I remember clearly is that when Mehitabel really loved her food, she'd growl.

I hadn't heard Buffy and Pluto growl over anything I'd fed them.

Unsure if Burmese kittens need a specific diet, I googled looking for answers and came across information that in short, supported my hunch: When in doubt go back to basics.

With that in mind I rummaged around in Buffy and Pluto's people's pantry and freezer (a family that shops at Whole Foods) and came up with the following:
  1. 365-brand tinned tuna
  2. Whole Catch frozen sole
  3. Canola oil
  4. Egg
  5. Rice
Fish Dinner for Kittens
Separate one egg, cooking white in a small pan.
2) Microwave a small chunk of sole, breaking it into pieces.
3) Into a bowl add ...
a) 1 heaped teaspoon of cooked rice
b) 1 white of egg cooked
c) 1 raw egg yolk
d) Cooked sole pieces
e) 1 teaspoon of canola oil
d) Some tinned tuna water
4) Mix ingredients well, spoon small portion into kitty bowl.

Apparently it's a good thing to add canola oil if you're feeding kittens fish since it will supply the necessary fat present in red meat.

And it's important to cook egg white rather than feed it to kittens raw, but raw egg yolk is perfectly fine.

In the days following I gave the kittens a variation on the above 5 ingredients, swapping out the sole for the tinned tuna, a stinky mix that caused them to growl while eating.

Obviously something was working.

By the third day, they'd put on weight, their tummies were on the mend, their fur condition had improved, their eyes were brighter, and they'd resumed playing about in the manner of crazed jumping beans.

At that point, I reintroduced a heaped teaspoon of their tinned food, mixing it into the fish concoction. They tolerated it well.

The moral to this kitten tale:
  • If you have digestive issues, look to your diet first.
  • Always read the labels on tinned and packaged foods.
  • Antibiotics are not necessarily the answer.
  • Stick to a diet of whole foods, some raw, some cooked.
  • Rich food is a delicious treat, eat it in moderation or suffer the consequences.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chicken and Apple Sausage with Oatmeal & Veggies

Yesterday, I blogged about making small incremental changes to the way we shop and cook rather than sudden big changes.

This is particularly important for people like single dad Brian, my guest this week, who confessed that he shops and eats the same foods out of habit.

So rather than try and change Brian and his way of doing things, I've attempted in my posts to work with his habits and patterns and come up with different ways for him to prepare and eat the foods his buys.

Earlier in the week, I remarked that he's comfortable grilling but not cooking meals from scratch. So I posted a breakfast idea for Brian and his boys using another cooking gadget: the waffle iron.

For some men it's not the food that's interesting, it's the gadget they use to prepare the food that makes meal times fun and potentially less (but sometimes more) habitual.

With grilling in mind, yesterday I suggested grilled tortilla pizza using foods Brian likes to buy, and which he found at Whole Foods at a price he felt was competitive.

Today, I've come up with another meal idea based on Brian's love of steel cut oats and his habit of cooking up batches at the beginning of the week for upcoming breakfasts.

Now oats are not just a breakfast food. This I discovered directly when living and working with a Scottish girl while cooking in France. And let me tell you if you think that scenario sounds rather odd, hearing French spoken with a Scottish brogue accent was odder!

Leslie managed to put oats in just about everything she cooked. I'm sure for many readers the classic Scottish dish, Haggis, will ring a bell -- boiled sheep intestine filled with oats, ground offal, onions and seasoning, or a variation on those ingredients.

Personally, I preferred the Whiskey-soaked-oats and heavy-cream dessert she made over the Haggis.

Anyway, the point is oats are versatile, and since Brian finds the ease and convenience of steel cut oats a plus, and since he cooks oats in big batches for later consumption, I played around with a simple dish I've made in the past, and included ingredients Brian purchases, and came up with the following:

Apple Sausage with Oatmeal & Veggies
1) To 4 cups of boiling water add 1 cup of steel cut oats. Stir till oats begin to thicken, then reduce heat to low and gently cook for about 30 mins
2) At the 15-min mark, add a cup of frozen peas, frozen corn, or your choice of a frozen veggie (Brian's boys like frozen string beans and broccoli florets) to the pot of cooking oats. Stir the veggies into the oats and replace the lid.
3) Slice up several of your favorite sausages. Brian had eyed the chicken and sweet apple in the pic above, and I think their slightly sweet flavor goes well with this dish.
4) Toss sliced sausage into a hot pan and cook, or of course if you prefer to grill, throw several whole sausages onto a grill & cook through, then slice into chunks.
5) At the 30-min mark, oats should be tender, and veggies will have steamed cooked.
6) Season with S&P or your choice of a hot or a spicy sauce, or a fruit chutney.

To Serve: Scoop a couple spoonful of cooked oats and veggies into a bowl. Top with grilled chicken and apple sausage. Decorate side of the dish with sliced apple or chopped beetroot -- I used golden beets, but red beets would add color and eye-appeal. If you decided not to add sauce or chutney during the last phase of cooking, serve as condiments instead.

Note: This dish could be served as a brunch, lunch or as a main evening meal. And chances are children, like Brian's two young boys, might just enjoy it too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Convenient Meals for Single Dads

This week I've been blogging about Brian, a single dad who values convenience food and low cost when he grocery shops.

He makes every effort to feed his two boys nutritious meals so he might heat them a packaged meal, like the cheese pizza he had his eye on (pic below), and serve it with some cooked, frozen broccoli or beans which his boys love, or fresh corn, which they also enjoy.

Corn is in season and so it's a great price right now. I mentioned to Brian that one way to conveniently cook corn is this:

Microwaved Fresh Corn
1) Simply peel the outer layers, leaving the inner husks in place.
2) Run the corn under the tap to moisten the husks and
3) Put corn in the microwave for 5 minutes; it will steam cook in the husks.
5) Remove from microwave and let cool a moment, then remove remaining husks and serve topped with butter.

I did mention to Brian the cost-saving and nutritional benefits of picking fresh produce and whole foods over packaged items, but he doesn't cook and he's a self-professed creature of habit, and as I said a number of weeks ago, our habits and patterns around food are hard to change.

With that in mind, it's always best to make small, incremental changes particularly when it comes to scared cows, like the way we shop for food and eat.

So though I have concerns about regularly feeding children frozen meals, I've written a number of posts about keeping Amy's Organic frozen meals on hand and WFs often has Amy's on sale.

Served with veggies on the side, like a green and some fresh corn, periodically, Amy's Cheese Pizza is a yummy meal for children.

A few months ago, I posted a recipe for mini pizza using corn tortillas, a great alternative to the boxed and frozen kind.

Brian eyed the tortillas, and the price, saying he uses them for wraps with sliced turkey breast for the boy's lunches.

Given that he already buys these two items, one way to build on that habit and his ease with grilling on the barbeque is this:

Grilled Tortillas Pizza
1) Toss several tortillas on the grill.
2) Slice deli turkey breast into pieces, scatter over tortillas.
3) Overlay turkey with sliced tomato, grated cheese and dot with unfrozen broccoli florets.
4) Close lid on grill till cheese melts and bottom of tortillas has crisped.

I have to say, despite his preference for packaged and frozen, Brian was pretty adamant that his boys not have lots of sweets and candy. In fact he said they made their Halloween candy stretch the year! Now that's impressive.

He does buy ginger cookies, and he also bought a packaged WFs coffee cake (top pic) both of which would make a delicious dessert served with a bowl of microwaved, frozen blueberries (which Brian buys in bulk for his smoothies) topped with a dollop of yogurt and perhaps sprinkled with some chopped nuts.

Making quick and easy meals and healthy desserts from packaged foods is possible.

By adding veggies to main dishes--whether fresh or frozen--and fruits and yogurt to cookies or cakes means single dads, like Brian, can feed themselves, and their children healthily, and on budget, and without having their habits and patterns too challenged.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seed and Nut Waffles

Brian, my guest this week, is a single dad who doesn't like to cook.

So I was relieved to hear that one of the things Brian does enjoy is grilling for his two young boys on his barbeque.

I think every man not comfortable in the kitchen should invest in a barbeque, because if there is one blokey gadget that will make cooking fun and easy, it's a barby.

You can grill meat, fish, burgers, brats, veggies, potatoes, mushrooms and bread ... the list goes on. I mean there's almost no reason for a bloke to be in a kitchen if he's comfortable on the patio with a barbeque.

In addition to the barbeque, there's another gadget that came to mind when I wandered around WFs with Brian looking at food he and the boys would enjoy, and that's the waffle iron.

You see, Brian expressed interest in finding another breakfast item for his boys, something they'd enjoy and something he could prepare quickly and easily.

He saw WFs 365-brand organic, flax seed waffles and was impressed by the price, plus he's comfortable heating them up and serving them with grilled sausage, and or some of his frozen fruit, which as
I mentioned yesterday, he keeps on hand for his Zone smoothies.

Now, this might be a bit of a stretch for blokes like Brian, but it is easy to make your own waffles. And with a waffle iron on hand (either in the kitchen or you could plug it in on the patio) all that's involved is whipping up the batter then pouring it into the iron.

Cindy, who I featured last week
, loves to make waffles for her college-age boys when they drop in on the weekend for brunch. That's her waffle iron and cooked waffle in the pictures above.

And here's Cindy's waffle recipe:

Nutritious, Seed & Nut Waffles
1) In a large mixing bowl mix your own combination of the following dry ingredients:
1/4 cup of whole wheat flour, unbleached white flour, quinoa flour and oat or brown rice flour (2 cups of flour in total).
2) Add 1 and half teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon of salt.
3) In another bowl, whisk 1 egg (or 2 egg whites). Add one & quarter cups of your choice of soy, rice, cow, goat milk or a combination of any of the above.
4) Add to milk a quarter cup light oil or for low fat diets, apple juice. If you use apple juice, you may need to oil the waffle iron.
5) Pour wet ingredients into dry mix, stir, add more liquid if too thick, add more flour it too thin.
6) To batter, add flax seeds, sesame seeds, and or any ground nuts for protein and fiber.
7) Pour batter into hot waffle iron and cook till golden brown.

To Serve: Top with fresh berries, maple syrup and a dollop of yogurt, or breakfast sausage.

Note: Making your own waffles is more economical than buying frozen or boxed waffle mix, and you can freeze the extras for later use.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Single Dad Grocery Shops

This past Saturday I met Brian, an entrepreneur and single dad of two young boys, for a shopping trip around Whole Foods.

Like lots of people, he feels "whole paycheck" is an apt nickname for WFs.

In other words, he thinks it's too expensive for the budget-conscious, and because of that, he hadn't perused the store and done a cost comparison.

Instead, he just assumed WFs prices would be higher than King Soopers, where he usually shops.

Brian is a self-professed creature-of-habit -- his reason for never having tried grocery shopping at WFs. Plus, he doesn't cook, and he's all about convenience and low cost.

So many of the tips I share on this blog site for saving on groceries and cooking simple-gourmet meals, were not of interest to him.

But he said that he does like to eat nutritious food, hence his love of the Zone-Diet, and he said he is trying to be conscious about the food he eats-- whether it's organic or conventional -- and the food he feeds his boys, who spend three alternate nights a week with him.

After hearing about his desire to eat healthily, I was a bit concerned to learn that Brian will sometimes drink three, fruit soy milk, & protein-powder smoothies a day rather than cook a meal.

That seems like a lot of cold, raw food to me. However, smoothies are convenient food because they're easy to make, easy to eat, and you can pack a lot of nutrients into them with supplemented powders.

Brian feeds his boys differently: he'll make them eggs and sausage for breakfast and a ready-made, frozen meal for dinner, or he might grill them fish, bratwurst or hamburger served with cooked, frozen broccoli florets, which the boys love.

With his habits and patterns in mind, I wandered around WFs with Brian, looking at the prices of the food he likes to eat and the food he chooses to buy for his children.

As we stood in produce, he confessed that he didn't buy fresh veggies (I grimaced) and only occasionally fresh fruit, like apples, and then only for the boys who like apples. (I'm sure I grimaced again.)

Then he volunteered that he wants to eat more greens and more organic fruit and veggies. (Maybe he saw me grimace--twice.)

Moving from produce into dairy, he found that WFs 365-brand cage-free eggs and 365-brand soy milk (pic above) are cheaper than King Soopers (he was surprised & pleased).

But WFs frozen fruit was considerably more than KSs where he buys 3, 4lb bags of non-organic frozen fruit for around $8.

In addition to his smoothie for breakfast, he'll sometimes make steel cut oats, which he prepares in bulk in advance, scooping a serving from the prepared batch each morning and adding nut butter and chocolate protein powder.

WFs bulk-aisle organic oats were priced lower than what he's used to paying; he was surprised & pleased.

Remembering that he said he likes to grill fish for the boys and that they especially love salmon, I pointed out WFs, fresh-frozen Whole Catch fish. Because he stressed the convenience of having frozen foods on hand, for when the boys are with him, I thought the Whole Catch option would work for him. And it did! He liked the price: $8.99 for 2, 6oz fillets.

Considering the convenience factor, I pointed out that he could buy any fresh fish and have it skinned, marinated and steamed while he waited -- a service WFs offers at no extra price. I could see I'd alerted him to a service he'll probably take advantage of at some point in the future.

Because fish is something he likes, his boys like and something he will cook and eat with his boys, I also introduced him to WFs 365-brand tinned tuna and salmon. He couldn't get over the great price on the tinned salmon. He bought several tins, saying he could cook up eggs and tinned salmon for a new a different breakfast for the boys, and for himself.

As we finished up, he commented that his egg and fish purchases were about to increase, and that except for their price on frozen fruit, WFs prices were competitive to the extent that he would change his pattern and shop at WFs maybe twice a week, and King Soopers once a month for his frozen fruit.

Tomorrow, I'll post some meal ideas for single dads, who like Brian, are short on time, big on convenience and not that comfortable in the kitchen, but adept tossing a burger on the barby.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meals for One You Can Serve for Two

I've been featuring yoga teacher, Cindy Lawrence, this week.

Cindy's two boys have moved out of the house and so as of this year, she's now shopping and cooking for one instead of a family.

The last couple of days I wrote of the challenges she's facing paring down, and the new found joy she's experiencing grocery shopping with only herself in mind.

I left off yesterday with the comment that I'd post a couple of her favorite meals, dishes she'd make for herself and dishes she'd stretch to feed two.

Cindy is big on eggs for breakfast, though more often than not she eats them for brunch after her first, early-morning yoga class. She picked up a dozen, cage-free brown eggs when we were at WFs -- the boxes were 2 for $5 or 1 box for $2.50

Last week I posted a note stating that there is no difference between white and brown eggs bar the color of the breed of chicken from which they come. Prior to researching that post, I was not aware of this.

Anyway, with the eggs Cindy purchased, she made one of her eggy brunch dishes:

Vegetarian Frittata
1) Crack 4 eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork till fluffy.
2) Chop spring onion, and your choice of greens, i.e. spinach, arugula, chard, saute until transparent. Add to beaten eggs.
3) Boil one small sweet potato or a large red potato then mash, add to eggs and greens, stir well and season.
Note: Sometimes potato frittata calls for grated or sliced "raw" potato but I find using either leftover mashed potato or even leftover potato salad, more convenient since the frittata won't take as long to cook if the potato is already cooked.
4) Optional: You could add your choice of grated cheese, and or some cooked turkey or pork bacon to the egg batter.
5) Heat a well oiled skillet or solid fry pan over med heat. Pour egg mixture into skillet, turn heat to low and allow the base and sides to cook -- you'll see the egg begin to set.
6) The frittata will cook all the way through on the stove top if you put a lid on the skillet, or you can put the skillet into the oven and finish it under the grill, which will brown the top nicely.

To Serve: Slice into pieces and plate with either a little side salad, or bacon or breakfast sausage and perhaps a little tomato salsa.

Note: According to the number of people eating the frittata adjust the number of eggs you use. For example, if you've making it for one, use 3 eggs and a pan that's smaller in circumference (if the pan is smaller, the frittata will be thicker).

I made the following dish as an impromptu lunch when Cindy popped over to visit me last weekend. I knew she'd enjoy it, because she was making something similar one Sunday when I dropped by to see her. She successfully stretched it to feed two, and I did the same.

Chinese Veggies with Shrimp
1) Pour a couple tablespoons of oil into a skillet, heat till oil is smoking.
2) While oil is heating, peel and chop about a tablespoon of fresh ginger root, and a couple of shallots. Toss into smoking oil.
3) Quickly add a couple of portions of 365-brand, frozen Chinese Vegetable mix. If you have any other veggies in your fridge, like a bit of red pepper, or a zucchini, add those now.
4) Add a cup (more or less is fine) of 365-brand frozen shrimp or scallops.
5) Stir fry veggies, shrimp / scallops over high heat for about 2 mins.
6) Pour in half cup of water (or chicken stock if you have it), and quickly put lid on skillet, steam for about 10 mins.

To Serve: Spoon into individual bowls as is, or over boiled rice (pic at top). Drizzle with Soy or Tamari, or Braggs, if you wish, or perhaps spoon a little chili sauce or hot sauce on the side.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Paring Down

From shopping and cooking for two hungry boys, who have grown into young men and left home, to shopping and cooking for herself.

My guest this week, yoga teacher Cindy Lawrence, is learning how to pare down.

Yesterday, I wrote that Cindy is now likely to grocery shop several times a week because these days she has the energy and the time to look around for deals, picking up just what she needs to make simple, healthy meals for one.

As a 16-year old teen, her mother gave Cindy the car keys and sent her to King Soopers to do the grocery shopping for their family of six. At 24 she married, and a year later had her first son.

When we lunched and then walked through Whole Foods together, she remarked that this is the first time in 30 years that she's no longer responsible for shopping and meal planning for a family.

Learning how to pare down has its challenges. Yet her parents are thrifty folk from Kentucky who taught her to look for sales and BOGOF (buy one get one free) deals, a tip she employed shopping for her own family, and still employs shopping for herself.

As we perused the Good Stuff for Less items in produce, she went straight for the butter lettuce: 10 for $10 or $1 a head, and since she's on her own and no longer buying quantity, she picked one lettuce

In the dairy section she chose a dozen of the competitively priced 365-brand cage-free brown eggs and 2 packs of the 365-brand unsalted butter, which is not organic, but it does not contain synthetic growth hormones.

Now 2 packs or two pounds of butter might sound like a lot of butter for one person, but Cindy makes ghee with her butter; it's a staple in the Ayurveda diet which she follows as part of her yoga practice.

Read the article I've linked to for 10 healthful tips on using ghee. You might find that you're suddenly curious to try it. It's very simple to prepare:

1) Add a box of unsalted butter to a pot on the stove, turn heat to med.
2) Butter will melt and begin to boil.
3) Allow butter to boil then turn heat to low and let it simmer very gently for maybe 15 mins. You'll notice the white butter-solids disappear leaving only the butter oil, which is often referred to as clarified butter.
4) Once all the butter solids have boiled away, remove pot of ghee from the heat, allow to cool slightly, then pour into clean glass jars with screw-top lids.
5) The ghee will solidify once it's completely cooled. At this point, screw lid onto glass jar and store either in a dark, cool cupboard or in a cool spot in the kitchen out of direct sunlight.

From dairy we transitioned to seafood, where Cindy noticed the fresh whole trout on sale.

I alerted Cindy to the service WFs offers whereby they will skin, fillet, marinade and steam cook your chosen fish right then and there while you're waiting, and for no extra charge.

This is a great value-added when you're on your own and can't be bothered preparing a whole fish for yourself.

Cindy's grocery budget for a week is $80 and yesterday we learned that she shops maybe 3 times a week, often leaving her wallet in the car, taking a $20 bill with her and buying only what she needs with that twenty.

She said this helps her stick to her budget -- I love this tip for singles!

Given that Cindy's boys, their girlfriends, her mum, and friends drop by for impromptu meals, she stretches her $80 and sometimes, depending on whether the boys come for the weekend, her budget might increase to $120.

So she's paring down, but still providing food and family meals for drop-ins.

Tomorrow, I'll post some of her favorite meals for one and I'll include a couple of meals she's stretched to feed drop-ins, like me!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Grocery Shopping for One

In contrast to last week's guest Amy Menell, a working mum shopping and cooking for a family of 6 to 7, this week I'm featuring empty-nester Cindy Lawrence.

Cindy has two boys, who as of this year are both in college, which means for the first time in 25 years Cindy is living on her own.

As soon as Cindy's younger son went off to college, she turned his bedroom, with its separate entrance to the house, into a yoga therapy room.

She took the dust cover off the living-room sofa -- because Andrew had taken Lucy, his shedding dog with him, and then she turned the other spare bedroom into her home office.

On any given day her home is hardly empty, rather, it's bustling with the coming and goings of her yoga clients, her myriad women friends, her mother and her brother and his family, and her sons, who still pop by on weekends and holidays with their girlfriends and at last count, three dogs.

Nevertheless, despite that her home is Grand Central to family, friends and clients, Cindy is more often than not shopping & cooking for just one these days -- herself -- and therein lays a challenge, particularly when for so many years she shopped and cooked in quantity.

Though in my professional-chef days I was ordering food and cooking for as few as four or as many as a 1000 people, today I don't cook professionally. In fact, I cook just for myself mostly, which means I've become an expert in shopping and cooking on a budget for one.

With the above in mind, paring back and shopping for one at the grocery store is the theme this week.

And when I met Cindy over a salad-bar lunch at Whole Foods, she had a number of things to say about what that's like for her.
  1. 1. Because I have the time to enjoy the aesthetic of a store like WFs, I'm more likely to drop in several times a week and pick up what I need instead of doing one enormous shop for the kids and me at one of the big-box stores.
  2. So I don't go over budget shopping several times a week, I leave my wallet in the car and just take in a $20 bill. That way I have enough money on hand to pick up just what I need, i.e. I look at what's on sale, like a protein item and some fresh produce and buy only that.
  3. These days I'm more likely to buy made-up items like boxed soups, a frozen entree or food from the salad bar and use these items as meal starters.
  4. If I shop only once a week, buying quite a bit, so the food I've bought doesn't deteriorate before I eat it, I freeze stuff.
  5. Because I'm simplifying my life and my diet, if I'm getting a head of lettuce, I'm not going to get a lot of other greens just for me. I don't want to end up throwing stuff out and wasting food.
  6. For a single person, I don't feel weird getting my lunch or dinner and sitting in WFs cafe and eating amongst the other single people; it saves me cooking and cleaning up and it costs no more to buy a meal than it would buying the food and cooking it at home.
  7. I used to go out weekly to eat with a girlfriend but I'm reluctant to pay $25 or more for lunch these days. But you can't beat $6 for a WFs salad-bar lunch!
  8. I can now buy myself treats, like small, on-sale gourmet containers of ice-cream (pic below) instead of the huge tubs I used to buy for the boys, which I then never got to eat because they demolished it so quickly.
  9. I feel like I've come full circle, back to the more simplified life I had during my college days when I went looking for great meal deals just for me.
Tomorrow, I'll talk a bit more about what Cindy bought after our lunch, and what she tends to buy when she grocery shops for herself.

Like Amy, Cindy is incredibly comfortable in the kitchen, cooking fabulous family-style meals, so this week, I'll also post some simple and delicious meals she can make for one, versus a tribe.