Having endured Melbourne's long lockdown coupled up, I now find myself flying (and cooking) solo for lockdown 5.0. As my living situation did a major pivot, so did my home cooking habits with it. Here are some thrifty tips and tricks for batch-elorette cooking and food shopping.
Use your maths
While there aren't a lot of recipes designed for one, many are easily divisible. Watch out for eggs, but most other ingredients can be halved using scales and measuring jugs. Keep those half-measure measuring spoons handy for spices, and save any surplus stock, even if it's a measly 100ml, to add to future risottos or top up a soup that's reducing just that little bit too quickly. Oh, and weigh your dried pasta – I find about 90 grams is a good guide.
Cook once, eat twice (or freeze thrice)
I'm not much of a meal prepper, though I do have a chest freezer in my bunker, I mean, garage. My mantra is to avoid eating the same meal more than twice in a row. Dinner and the next day's lunch, sure, but I'll either halve a recipe that serves four, or make a batch of something freezer-friendly.
Big batch-elorette cooking favourites include cream-free stock-based soups (such as this Sri Lankan spiced soup, pictured top), miso ramen broth, curries, soupy one-pot pastas, weekend ragus, buttermilk waffles, risotto (and/or mozzarella-centred arancini), tomato and fennel pasta sauce, and shredded beef burritos, swaddled in jumbo tortillas and foil.
Slice a sourdough loaf exactly to your liking and be sure to split bagels and English muffins before freezing – things-on-toast is a totally legitimate dinner (tapenade, scrambled eggs and parmesan on olive sourdough is on high rotation). Trim sourdough ends into a fine dice and store in a ziplock bag in the freezer door, ready to become pangrattato, the poor man's parmesan that adds crunch to pastas.
Seek out little loaves at the supermarket bakery and bread aisle – Tip Top makes a "mini loaf" that's perfect for a jaffle fix or few. At the other end of the scale, some artisan bakeries, such as Falco and Baker Bleu in Melbourne, offer half loaves (tip: keep them fresh-ish in a thick cotton bread bag).
Make it nice
Set the table, light a candle, put on a playlist and pour yourself a glass of sparkling water (or something stronger) – just because you're home alone doesn't mean you can't set the mood, and little touches like this might help improve your general mood. So use the top-shelf teapot and give those good wine glasses a guernsey. Create a ritual, whether it be pausing for a morning flat white or a little something sweet for afternoon tea (many slices will keep in the fridge for a week or so, self-restraint pending).
Just (silver)beet it
A big bunch of silverbeet or rainbow chard might look intimidating, but it definitely suffers shrinkage. Add a good glug of olive oil and a crushed garlic clove, sprinkle of chilli flakes optional, to a small frying pan over medium heat, then wilt a huge handful of shredded leaves for 5 minutes or so, they should stay a nice vibrant colour, and you'll have tasty garlicky greens – great alongside a piece of spanakopita – and they reheat like a dream (add an optional squeeze of lemon juice to perk them up). You can continue to cook them down for half an hour and cool, ready to add to an omelette or salmon brown rice bowl.
Or simply throw some shredded greens straight into the pasta pot for the final 2 minutes of cooking time, strain, return to the pot and stir through cubes of roasted pumpkin, a knob of butter, some gorgonzola and toasted walnuts.
Love thy neighbour
I am a keen home baker, but unlike that Tina Fey meme doing the rounds, I do not need to bury my head in an entire cake. Instead, I distribute my baked goods among my neighbour and lockdown walking buddies. Bonus points if you can arrange a trade, say toasted muesli for still-warm-from-the-oven pecan buns. Pilfer reciprocal or communal gardens for lemons and herbs, and don't forget street rosemary and nature-strip bay leaves.
Tweak takeaway leftovers
Think outside the takeaway box. I recently toted home surplus Sichuan lamb shoulder from Supernormal. Rather than a white bread sandwich, as suggested by the waitstaff, I picked up some giant Taiwanese bao from my Asian grocer. Ten minutes in a steamer basket and I had a "sandwich" of epic, floofy proportions. A scattering of fresh herbs or finely sliced spring onion helps revive reheated noodle dishes, and if it's a bit light on, slide a fried egg on top.
One tub and done
Learn to love natural yoghurt – that way you only have one tub to get through. A dollop or two is at home with granola for brekkie as it is swirled through soups and stews. (Sceptical? Give creamy St David Dairy natural yoghurt a try.) While we're on tubs, find a happy medium: resist the bulk tub of hummus, avoid those individual pots (so much packaging!) and opt for the standard size instead.
Shop savvy and sassy
- Don't have a herb garden? Don't buy all the herbs! Choose one bunch and commit to using that across recipes for the week.
- It's OK to ask for small quantities at the deli – I have never received blow back for asking for a few slices of smallgoods.
- You don't have to buy in bulk at the bulk food store. Make a list of what you need and roughly weigh out small quantities of grains, dried fruit, nuts, oats etc – they'll be fresher and you know you'll use them. (Add a handful of smoked almonds for snacking.)
- Opt for loose salad mix and store in a breathable reusable produce bag in the crisper, ready to wash and spin dry as needed.
- Alliums freeze really well – slice surplus spring onions ready to throw into fried rice or miso soup; ditto leeks for the base of a risotto.
Three Blue Ducks' creamy mashed potatoes (recipe here). Photo: Christopher Pearce
Make a monster mash
Because who can be bothered making a pot of mash every time the need arises? Portion and freeze your mashed potatoes – scoop into individual takeaway containers, leaving as few air pockets as possible. You don't have to go as far as Guillaume Brahimi's decadent Paris mash, but as long as there's a good ratio of cream and butter to potato, it won't get icy. Dutch creams are my preferred potato.