I’m usually able to hold it in check and walk out of stores, wallet intact. But one day on 8th Street a few summers ago, I saw it. A brightly colored window display of cast-iron Le Creuset French ovens. I was learning to cook; it was almost my birthday. And they were so pretty! So expensive and grown up!
Reader, I bought one, in Cobalt blue. My justification for such swag? To cook a plethora of exciting yet practical meals, served up in the prettiest dish one could own. And it made my kitchen so much more glamorous.
It was a little nerve-wracking to drop some cash when all my other pots and pans were hand-me-downs. New goal: get a good ROI out of the whole experience.
So I started to cook recipes designed for only one pot. As I discovered how straightforward, inexpensive and time-saving it could be, all my home-cooked meals became one pot comfort meals. For a newbie cook like myself at the time, one pot meals were a great way to start: they’re cheap, generally quick, don’t include tons of ingredients and produce enough leftovers that your effort feels worth it. And with or without a 10 lb cast iron pot, it’s something you can do too! A few key steps:
Plan. Cooking at home takes a bit more planning, but it can pay off over an entire week. Single pot meals are generally pretty quick and make large volumes: all the better for leftovers to eat for lunch at work. If you’re not all fancy with your Le Creuset, no worries – you can use a deep skillet or large sauce pan. You can definitely experiment, but with a one-pot meal you’re going to get volume. It should be something you don’t mind eating for lunch the next day (and the next and the day after that), so make sure you’re all stocked up on freezer-safe containers you can bring to work.
Select. We talked a couple weeks ago about finding your inspiration to cook by reading Tumblr, food blogs, cookbooks and browsing Pinterest. Hopefully you’ve been diligently following, favoriting and dogearing recipes, so pick one out and start shopping! Keep in mind that one pot meals are generally simple – you’re not looking for dozens of ingredients. They can also be great for stretching your food budget. Here, carbs are your friend. Start with rice or potatoes or jump to the fun stuff like barley, couscous, farro and bulgur. Add beans, and you have a complete protein. If you’re adamantly avoiding grains, try quinoa. It looks like a grain and tastes like a grain but is actually related to green vegetables like spinach, with tons of protein to boot.
Balance. And speaking of getting your greens, try veggies! If you want your single dish to be a Texan all-beef chili, go right ahead. Cook food you like to eat! But hey: vegetables are good for you. Now’s your chance to be a little bit healthier. Plus they’re pretty colors.
Reheat. I recommend starting a Sunday supper routine. You’ll have all weekend to stop by the grocery store or farmer’s market to pick up ingredients. Come Sunday at 6pm, crack open a bottle of wine, leisurely start your prep work and be back on the couch, dinner in hand, just in time for Sunday night tv. Once you’re all caught up with Hannah, Tyrion, Peggy or Jesse, pull out those little freezer-safe containers and voila! You have lunch for days. If you get tired of straight-up leftovers, mix it up. Throw the lentil stew on a bed of kale: salad! Poach an egg over it: breakfast! Or leave a couple containers in the freezer for next week.
Organize: I used to have a Google docs folder of recipes organized by category (desserts, stews, breads, etc), but it got unwieldy. Although Pinterest is one way to organize and browse recipes, I prefer the nerdier but more flexible notetaking app Evernote. You can add it as a toolbar extension in your web browser and clip recipes you like. Then add your notes or tag. Tagging is Evernote’s real edge over other organizing methods, and the best way to manage searches. When you’re in the kitchen, you can go old school and use a printout, but as a cook in 2012, I almost exclusively use my iPhone to display the recipe.
And that’s really all it takes! I’ll leave you with your one pot to go to it. If the pot isn’t Cobalt blue, that’s okay. You can still try a couple of my favorite one pot recipes:
Collard Greens with Farro
You may not have tried farro, but it’s a great comfort food. Plus collard greens for, you know, greens. This recipe is a bit like a risotto but without the stirring.
Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes
Glamour cookware aside, I can be a bit of a cheapskate sometimes. I once worked this recipe out to 85 cents a serving. But it’s also healthy and tasty. I’ll add 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and a dash of crushed red pepper flakes to spice it up. You can also throw in a cup of rice if you really want to stretch it (be sure to increase the chicken or veggie stock if you do).
*Note: Yes, I know this post has NOTHING to do with the Nas song. But it’s kind of fun to sing along with it in the kitchen, no?