Solitary dining
Meals so special you’ll be glad they’re yours alone

This is a time of uncertainty and unrest for all of us. It makes me think of my career as a food stylist and how frivolous it seems given what is happening in the world today. How important is it to write about food amidst such turmoil? I started to fixate on these and other issues in my life and a feeling of anxiety swept over me.
It took me awhile to regroup and realize I cannot control life’s circumstances but I can change my perspective and attitude. We all need techniques for centering ourselves and feeling peaceful. Whether dealing with a stressful job, relationship, or family matters, it is important to distance oneself in order to gain a proper outlook. My release is to create a wonderful meal for myself. It centers me.

Here is how I make it happen. I bring out my colorful tablecloth, buy flowers and place them in a vase, light several candles, and turn on peaceful music. I always have staples in the freezer and refrigerator so I can easily make a special and quick dinner for one. When I shop for food, I pamper myself. I buy the best-quality meats and fish and the freshest vegetables. And I never forget a good glass of wine

A favorite simple pasta dish is my Chicken Ginger Stir-Fry. If I do not have all the vegetables in the recipe on hand I make substitutions like zucchini, or yellow squash, or even asparagus instead of the snow peas. I also like serving it over rice instead of pasta.

I save the more elaborate Rock Cornish Hen with Curried Fruit Stuffing for the weekend, usually Sunday. It’s always nice to spend a relaxing Sunday at home without a throng of hungry guests to feed. This hearty recipe fills the house with good cooking aromas. I serve it with a vegetable like asparagus, couscous tossed with a little butter, a crispy green salad and a slightly fruity white wine to complement the stuffing.

If I am not very hungry, I might make the simple but flavorful Carrot Orange Soup and have it with a piece of warm crusty bread and a fresh green salad.

Remember when making a meal for yourself, following the recipes and preparing the food can be a kind of meditation. If you are properly focused, the required level of concentration can transport you out of our chaotic world to a calmer, inner-world. Cooking is wonderful therapy.

Chicken Ginger Stir-Fry

3 quarts water

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ounces farfalle (butterfly) pasta

2 tablespoon peanut oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 pound boned chicken breast, NOTE: chicken tenders work well in this dish.

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 stalk celery, diced

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1 small red pepper, diced

1/4 pound snow peas

1/4 cup water chestnuts

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cashews

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add the olive oil, salt and noodles. Cook until al dente (cooked so they are still slightly firm to the bite). Drain and keep warm.

Lightly pound chicken to a uniform thickness (about 3/8 inch) and cut into 1-by-2 inch pieces.

In a 10-inch non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, than remove and discard. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 3 or 4 minutes, until opaque throughout. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Heat the remaining tablespoon peanut oil and stir-fry the ginger, celery, scallions and pepper for 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan, add snow peas, water chestnuts, and cashews. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.

In a cup combine water, cornstarch and tamari or soy sauce stir until smooth and add to the pan. Stir a minute or two until sauce thickens slightly. Serve over cooked noodles. Serves one

Carrot Soup With Orange

This recipe makes four servings. I would suggest making the whole recipe and freeze the rest in small containers for other meals.

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cumin

4 to 6 medium carrots (about 1 pound), thinly sliced

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Chives, chopped for garnish

4 tablespoons sour cream

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onions until they are translucent. Add cumin and cook 1 minute longer. Add carrots, orange rind, chicken broth, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and then cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until carrots are tender. Remove from heat.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade or in a blender, puree the mixture in small batches until smooth. Put back in saucepan on low heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and serve with a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with chives.

Rock Cornish Hen With Curried Fruit Stuffing

1 Rock Cornish Hen

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 whole scallion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 cup peeled, diced apple

2 tablespoons currants

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 small Italian plum, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons pecans, finely chopped

1 cup apple cider plus 2 tablespoons

2 tablespoons melted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the scallion and the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Next, add the apple, currants, lemon zest, tomatoes, pecans and 2 tablespoons cider. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously, until flavors are well integrated. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Lightly salt and pepper the inside cavity of the hen. Loosely stuff the hen with the fruit mixture and skewer closed. Rub the hen with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the hen on a baking rack. Roast for about 45 to 50 minutes, basting alternately with the cider and melted butter every 10 minutes. Serve with pan juices as a sauce. Serves one.

John F. Carafoli, a food consultant, stylist and author of “Food Photography and Styling,” lives on the upper Cape. Carafoli’s Oxford Symposium paper is being published in the May issue of “Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture.”

(Published: April 2, 2003)

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