Look What’s Cookin’

Look What's Cookin'

It’s not impossible to find passable Italian sausage in Alabama.

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Pathetic Single Dining at Home

Let me be perfectly clear:  Lifelongnewyorker is no stranger to the kitchen.  She began preparing family meals at age 12, won recognition in the Staten Island Advance Recipe Contest on more than one occasion (Meat Winner, 1979), and can tell a roast is done with a touch of her hands.

Despite her considerable culinary experience, however, there is one thing Lifelongnewyorker does not like to do:  cook for one, especially when the one is herself.  In fact, it might be said that her kitchen competence is in direct proportion to the number of people being served.  Cook for a crowd?  Bring it on.  Cook for one?  Where’s the take-out menu?

Before he left, Mr. NYer reminded me to eat.  We went to the supermarket together, and he pointed out the many healthy things I could easily whip up for one.  Were he in my shoes, his nightly meal would include a lean meat or fish, salad and a vegetable.  It would be home-cooked.  He would eat it at the table, not standing over the counter or sprawled on the couch.

I tried the square meal approach, but confess that the salad was the first to go.  A bag of baby carrots (just who exactly do they think they’re fooling with that label?) seems to do the trick just fine.  Munching on them as I nuke my frozen entrée provides my daily dose of fresh veggies.  Alternatively, scattering them around the bowl of heated-out-of-the-can soup offers a dash of color and a crisp alternative to crackers.

Speaking of crackers, there’s nothing really wrong with the occasional meal of carrots followed by cheese and crackers, is there?

Alas, tonight I luged down the slippery slope, bottoming out — I hope — in the land of the pathetic, suddenly single person-who-must-eat-to-survive. You’ve heard of shopping on impulse?  I combine it with eating on impulse.

My intentions were good when I stopped at Publix on the way home from work.  A scribbled shopping list included sweet potatoes, milk, cereal and wine.  Just the basics.  Back home at the apartment, I knew had a choice of two tasty frozen entrées.  I planned to supplement one of them with a hot baked sweet potato.  Nothing beats a sweet potato if virtuous eating is your goal — it’s full of fiber, beta carotene and probably potassium.

After choosing my yams, I realized I was hungry and that I really didn’t want to wait the hour or so it would  take to bake tonight’s tuber.  Mr.  NYer often cooks them in the microwave; sometimes he starts them there and finishes them in the oven.  I wondered just how he did that?  He’s been cooking nightly dinners since we started using a microwave, so this is a trick I haven’t yet figured out.  I would have to call him.

Wandering the aisles, I found myself in front of the frozen pizzas, where a Publix-brand white pizza with spinach looked rather appetizing.  Microwaved  sweet potatoes, I reminded myself, are never as good as the baked ones.  I don’t have time to bake them tonight.  I’ll bake one tomorrow night and just have this pizza tonight.  Yes, that’s the ticket.

At home, the package directed me to preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  No problem, even if it was electric.  Now, it got complicated:  I could choose between a “crispy crust” and a “softer crust” version.  Since my preference is for brick oven thin-crust Neapolitan pizza, I opted for crispy.  Besides, it baked directly on the rack.  No baking sheet to wash.

“Remove both the wrapping and the cardboard tray and place the pizza directly on the middle oven rack. Bake for 12-15 minutes.”

This oven only had two racks, but since I wanted a really crisp crust, I placed it on the bottom one, right above the glowing electic heating element.  I put up a wash and watched the clock.  After 13  minutes I cracked the door.  The crust was brown verging on burnt; it looked crunchy but edible.

“Turn off the oven and wait 3 minutes.”

OK, then.  I executed a full turn on the dial and set the table with an actual plate, fork and knife.  I folded a paper napkin and filled a glass with ice and water.  I returned to the oven, opened the door, and wondered why the heating element on top looked so red.  And the pizza looked so … black.

Yes, rather than turn the oven off I had turned the broiler on.  Undaunted I cut into the hardened disk and tried it out: crisp and snacky.  Three-quarters of a pie later (it was smallish!), I felt full.  Now a new dilemma:  could one put a quarter of an overcooked pizza in the disposal?  I thought not.  Save it?  Not unless I needed bricks the next day.  Put it in the trash?  No — I just threw the trash out, and since I do that only once a week or so, I try to avoid putting  food in it.  Best to just polish it off.

Which I did.

Right on schedule, the junk-food guilt began. “I can’t believe I ate an entire, overcooked frozen pizza,” I thought.  “No salad, no sweet potato.  I wonder just how many calories it was?”

Right.  Apparently I didn’t feel as bad as I possibly could.  Might as well pile it on.  One serving — a third of the pie — was 270 calories.  I’ll let  you do the math, but I’m wondering:  does turning the crust into carbon cut the overall caloric load?

I’m hoping I’ve hit bottom.  How much worse could it get, really?  Please.  Don’t answer that.  I don’t need any ideas.