Part of living by myself means I need to cook my own food. I’ve been able to cook decently to some extent for a long time, but I never had to cook every meal myself until living here in Chicago. I either lived with my parents, who did most of the cooking, or was in college, where I got most of my meals at the dining halls. Despite living as a single guy just out of college, I made sure to actually eat well and not just be reheating frozen meals all the time (I have had a total of one frozen meal, a Giordano’s frozen pizza, in the entire two months I’ve lived here so far). Here are some of my creations:
Not exactly the most interesting, but I got a free waffle iron that someone in my building left in the laundry room with a sign saying “Free”. Waffles are one of the first things I ever learned how to cook, and they’re always a delicious classic. I don’t go for the cheap fake syrup either, I get real maple syrup. It’s worth the cost.
Yes, of course I need to make some Chicago-style pizza if I’m in Chicago. For the record, I also love New York-style pizza. But Chicago-style pizza has one key advantage: I can make it easily in a normal oven and don’t need to get it crazy hot for it to come out really good. I can cook one a Chicago-style pizza at 425 degrees and it comes out amazing. My first attempt followed the recipe in the Joy of Cooking:
Not bad for my first attempt. It came out tasting pretty good, but did leave some things to be desired. The crust was too fluffy, the cheese didn’t melt quite all the way (I used shredded mozzarella, and it still was definitely noticeable that it was shredded when I was eating it), and something just didn’t feel quite right. A few weeks later, I tried again using a recipe from King Arthur Flour:
This came out a lot better. There were a few important changes from the first time here. First, I used a different recipe for the dough specifically designed for this use, not a slightly modified version of standard pizza dough. This dough didn’t rise quite as much and was easier to stretch out, so it wasn’t as fluffy and provided the right outer edge for my pizza. Second, I used the stuffed pizza approach. I formed a bowl with the outer crust and placed sausage and cheese on as normal, but then I placed another layer of dough on top before putting the sauce on top, and topping it off with some Parmesan. Further, I used sliced mozzarella rather than shredded, and it made a big difference. in getting the right gooey texture for the cheese. Also, I topped it off with some grated Parmesan, which I didn’t do the first time. Finally, I made sure to coat the pan with butter before baking, which made a surprisingly big difference. I’m definitely going to try this again at some point, and probably keep it more or less the same as how I did it this time.
Ah, challah. A truly amazing bread. I grew up with challah every Friday night and always loved it, so I continued that tradition living independently. When I first moved here I had no yeast and yeast was not available at the grocery stores (seriously), so I was kind of out of luck. However, with some help from family and the internet, I was able to get some yeast shipped to me. Once I had that, I got to work. The first time I made challah was right when the yeast got here, which was mid-afternoon, limiting how much time the dough had to rise. The result was definitely not bad, but a little too dense and crumbly.
In subsequent weeks I would make the dough first thing in the morning and let it rise all day, giving a much fluffier result. Here are some from later weeks:
I definitely got some pretty good challahs (challot?) out of that. I’m still getting the braiding technique down, but regardless of how they looked they all tasted delicious. Also, leftover challah makes great toast, which is now my standard breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays.
I also made some enchiladas using a family recipe I grew up eating. The key components are mole sauce, chicken, chicken broth, corn tortillas, and lots of cheese.
I don’t have any pictures of this one, but I made some good old-fashioned chili. I wasn’t all that imaginative with this one, and just put a few kinds of beans, some ground turkey, and a few spices in a pot. It was pretty good, though the flavor was kind of weak. Before I make this again I will make sure to get more spices so I can give this a stronger flavor.
Ah, a classic, chocolate chip cookies. Easy to make, yet delicious. I made a whole batch of them, following the recipe here. In the past I’ve used the recipe on the Nestle chocolate chip package, but I wanted to see how other recipes were. I liked this one better, the cookies had a better texture and a slightly better flavor. I did make a slight tactical error though. I didn’t consider how many cookies the recipe made (about sixty) when compared to how many people would be eating them (one). Now, there are much worse problems (who doesn’t want a ton of cookies), but I did have to find a way to store them when I don’t have all that much tupperware. However, my grandparents sent me a bucket of popcorn a few weeks prior, so the bucket made a perfect cookie container:
The earlier batches were a bit undercooked and didn’t quite hold together, so I had a lot of cookie crumbles in that bucket. However, those crumbles still tasted good, and the later ones did hold together just fine.
I made some lemon chicken as well, wanting to try something interesting. I used yet another recipe from the internet. That was delicious, but also probably the messiest meal I have ever made. I managed to get flour and cornstarch all over my kitchen, and this used a ridiculous amount of preparation dishes, and I only got two dinners out of it. Next time I make this, I will definitely make more, since for all the trouble it is I want it to last a while.
To celebrate memorial day and then later independence day, I made burgers. Nothing particularly special about this, I just make a patty from ground beef and put it in the oven until it’s properly cooked, and add on some cheese at the end. Still, always a delicious option.
Cheese blintzes were surprisingly difficult. I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, and the first night it was kind of a disaster. The outer wrappers I made didn’t hold together, and then the filling was way too runny, getting all over the place. They tasted good, but probably half the filling didn’t actually stay in. This was a total mess in my kitchen.
With the leftover filling from the previous night, I gave it another shot. I made another batch of the wrapper batter, having already used all I made the previous night. The second night was definitely an improvement. I changed a few things up that made a big difference. First, do not be bashful in coating the pan with butter. It really does help crisp up the wrappers and hold the finished product together. Second, pour the batter directly from a pitcher instead of using a spoon. That made a big difference in how the wrappers turned out, since it was easier to pour the batter thinner and more evenly. Finally, make the filling the day before and keep it in the fridge since it will solidify somewhat. These held together much better and tasted amazing.
So I think I have been eating pretty well for a single guy in his 20s. I have a collection of recipes under my belt, and I’m always looking to learn more.