One of the biggest non-emotional adjustments in the empty-nesting phase is learning to cook for fewer people. Cooking for three when one of those is a growing, teenaged boy is more like cooking for four, and a half. In addition to the challenge of avoiding a week’s worth of leftovers, I’ve had to learn the balancing act of often cooking for one as my schedule more closely resembles 9-5 whereas Keifel is on the seven days a week, nearly round the clock schedule of retail. I’m not adverse to cooking for one but I often don’t feel like making a big production out of it. One of my favorite dinners for one is spinach or arugula (depending on mood and availability), half a small avocado, maybe a little crumbled bacon, and a fried egg all drizzled with a mustardy vinaigrette kissed with a little honey. If left to my own devices for an extended period of time, I would probably eat it almost every night occasionally throwing in some roasted asparagus or some warmed butter beans or chickpeas.
When I’m not in a salad mood or want to putt around the kitchen a little more (cooking is most often my Zen-like state), I’ll make an oven pancake. They go by several monikers: Dutch babies, German pancake, souffléd pancake… We’ve always called them Dutch babies despite the potentially disturbing visual. If I’m dining alone, I generally make an unsweetened or barely sweetened one with a mix of whole grain and white flour. I like mine with tart lingonberry jam, but they are equally good with a dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon. They can also be a vehicle for something a little less like an American breakfast option. Just add a pinch of sugar in the recipe given below and then top your oven pancake with sautéed vegetables, a bit of leftover beef stew, wilted greens with a bit of feta or other crumbly cheese, or even a barely warmed lentil salad. May sound odd but it’s very satisfying. If you wanted to do something like it for more people and fancy it up a bit, you could make the pancakes in individual pans or baking dishes.
Victoria’s Dutch Baby
Preheat your oven to 425°F.
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk (just about any kind will work, I’m partial to local, whole, non-homogenized)
2 large eggs (local are best, if you are using particularly small eggs you might want three)
1/2 cup flour (all purpose or a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat or spelt, or all whole-grain – though it will be heavier)
a large pinch to a 1/4 cup of sugar (depending on desired level of sweetness)
a pinch of salt
Melt the butter in a 8″ cast-iron skillet or something similar over medium heat while you mix up the batter.
Keeping an eye on the butter, add 1/2 cup milk to a two-cup glass measuring cup. Crack in two eggs. The amount of total liquid should be about a cup. If it’s much less than that, add a third egg. Beat the eggs and milk together. Add the flour(s), the sugar, and salt and beat together (I have a small French whisk, the long skinny kind, that works with my wide-mouthed measure cup. You may have to use a fork in a smaller measuring cup) until only small lumps remain and the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream.
The butter should have melted and may be bubbling in the pan. If it isn’t bubbling, turn up the heat to medium-high and swirl the butter in the pan to coat the bottom and about an inch or so up the sides. Once the bubbles have started to die down, pour the batter into the pan and let it cook on the stovetop for about a minute. Transfer the pan to your hot oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, until puffed and golden.
If you’ve got a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, there should be no sticking if you swirled the butter around well. In other pans, your mileage may vary. Top with your heart’s desire. Will feed 1-4 depending on the topping and how hungry everyone is.