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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dinner for One, Please

In spite of the fact that I have a fairly constant stream of friends, relatives and neighbors at my dinner table and I eat out at least two evenings a week, I do dine alone three or four nights. I know some people who live alone have weird dining habits—like eat an entire pie in the afternoon and forget dinner or have cold cereal with milk for dinner. Not me.

Sometimes I raid the fridge—if I did that now, I’d find a stuffed half zucchini and the makings for ham salad plus a bit of cold, chopped brisket that would make a delicious sandwich on rye with mayo. Other times I have leftovers from a lunch or dinner out. The other day at lunch I was suddenly grabbed with a longing for the bacon cheeseburger (I rarely eat such fatty things). It was served with a Thousand Island-like sauce on it—more heaven. But it was the biggest thing I’ve seen in forever, and half of it became my Friday night supper (I love cold hamburgers).

Saturday night I wanted to fix myself a real dinner, and I decided on sea scallops and the aforementioned stuffed zucchini.

I’d seen a recipe for stuffed zucchini in Southern Living, but didn’t save it because I was confident I could stuff a squash. Pride goeth before and all that. This was different, and when I tried to recreate it I couldn’t exactly remember how it went. I ended up with a half zucchini with prepared bread crumbs (first mistake), scallions and Parmesan. Okay, but not great. My usual way is to sauté scallion and chopped celery just a bit, add to scooped out zucchini with home-made bread crumbs and cheddar cheese; stuff the zucchini shells and then sprinkle with Parmesan. More work but much better.

I love scallops but I never get them quite right—in my fear of overcooking and turning to rubber, I don’t let them get that good initial brown crust. A friend told me her grandson, a budding chef (as she described it “not even up to sous chef level yet”) told her the secret—rinse, pat dry, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. I didn’t quite let them sit overnight but for about six hours, covered only by a paper towel—which meant the fridge smelled of scallops every time I went in it. The budding chef’s advice was to rinse and dry a second time, but I figure if they had already dried to a certain extent, why do that? I used salt and pepper and sautéed in a fairly hot and generous amount of butter and olive oil. (Butter burns; olive oil splatters and spits; the combination avoids these hazards). Result was a pretty good crust—just needed a little more patience on my part. But it was a good dinner.

There are other great things to do for dinner alone—a single loin lamb chop with something green (if you feel fancy put a chunk of goat cheese on the chop for the last few minutes); scrambled eggs—add whatever suits your fancy, from scallions and tomatoes to diced smoked salmon. One slider makes a good dinner for me; make a meatloaf and freeze it in single-size servings. Do pasta for one—tomato sauces are easy and quick.

Please! Don’t eat cold cereal. If you treat yourself to a good dinner, you’ll feel better about yourself. I admit I never go as far as to set the table with linen (I eat at my desk) but it’s a thought.

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