Wednesday, August 27, 2003




Tired of takeout? Try cooking for one



A story published today by the Houston Chronicle reports that according to a Zagat survey, Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other U.S. city. One probable reason the Houston area is teeming with restaurants is because Harris County is crawling with single people. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, people living alone constituted 25 percent of households in Harris County.

Like many singles, Megan Martin, a 25-year-old Houston research analyst in the health-care industry doesn't cook. She eats takeout, dines out with friends and, if hit hard by an intense craving for a home-cooked meal, makes a beeline for her parents' house.

Even though Martin is never far from a good meal, she recently made the decision that she doesn't have to venture out of her apartment to find it.

After attending a three-hour Central Market Cooking School class on how to cook for one, and shopping for pots and pans with her mom, Martin is determined to actually use the kitchen in her apartment.

The inability to sauté, poach, broil, roast, bake and do anything more challenging than boil water is shared by many singles.

Peg Lee, director of the Central Market Cooking School, says these singles are approaching cooking with the wrong attitude.

"It's an adventure," she insists. "And it can be very gratifying."

Lee, who has been a widow for 20 years, says cooking dinner for herself is her unwinding time. It gives her the opportunity to reflect on her day and relax.

"Many singles don't cook because it can be very lonely in the kitchen," Lee says. "Having background noise helps."

One common complaint single shoppers have is that they end up throwing away most of what they buy because they just can't use it all before it goes bad.

But supermarkets are very single-friendly these days. "You don't have to buy 18 pork chops anymore," Lee says. "You can get single portions from the butcher."

Lee also recommends buying smaller amounts of spices and herbs from the bulk section of the grocery store. Buy only what you think you'll use in the next six months.

While many people living alone are happy to subsist on a steady diet of frozen dinners, takeout Chinese, fast food and expensive restaurant meals, there are plenty of singles discovering the joys of cooking for themselves.

Joining Martin in the hands-on cooking class were 14 men and women who want to cook for themselves.

Sara Van Oss, 18, is about to leave Houston to begin her sophomore year at New York University. She'll be living in a dorm with a big communal kitchen and has every intention of using it.

"As a student, I can't afford to eat out much in New York City," she says. "Also, I'm trying to avoid gaining weight, so I want to stay away from takeout."

As Van Oss rubs a fragrant herb mixture underneath the skin of a chicken breast, she excitedly talks about the 18-piece kitchen set she's hoping to get for her birthday.

At a separate work station, Jean Munnerlyn, a microbiologist, is carefully chopping uniform pieces of tomatoes and cucumbers for a summer salad with a goat cheese dressing.

"I only really started cooking a couple of months ago," she says. She blames the Food Network. Fascinated by Rachael Ray, Sara Moulton and Emeril Lagasse, she began to see that cooking wasn't as difficult as she perceived it to be.

Also attending the class was Mark Eversole, a 41-year-old internal auditor at BMC Software. He's a bachelor, but that doesn't mean he's a slouch in the kitchen.

Although he has plenty of equipment and whips up a hearty egg dish with Canadian bacon, cottage cheese and vegetables most mornings, he doesn't cook dinner that often.

"But I'm really inspired now," he says, waiting for his chicken cooked under a brick to come out of the oven.




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