Blue Kitchen
Pan-seared steak and a microwaveable potato means dinner for one can be ready in minutes.

Pan-seared steak, quick side hacks, and the pleasures of dinner for one

A simple pan-seared steak gets support from store-bought cheats for a solo dinner that got cooked quickly and lingered over. 

Various events have us all in different cities tonight, with me home in Chicago. Often in this situation, I’ll take the opportunity to work late, then grab some takeout on the way home. That was the plan tonight. Until a fire alarm went off in our building, sending the last three of us at work down 13 flights of stairs to a lobby filled with firefighters. We didn’t smell any smoke (so I probably have an office to show up to tomorrow), but it was clear we weren’t going back upstairs tonight.

So we walked out into a steady rain (did I mention there was a tornado watch?) and made our separate ways home. Tonight would have been a perfect night for scrambled eggs, canned soup or whatever else I could scrounge in the kitchen. Except I had a necessary errand – one that took me close enough to a grocery store. And what I really wanted was my favorite home alone dinner: a steak, a potato, and a salad.

In my true ideal version of this meal, the potatoes are crisp, salty frites, and the salad is lightly dressed with a subtly garlicky vinaigrette. And it’s served to me in a little French bistro. But my semi-homemade version you see above wasn’t bad at all, and I was literally sitting down to it 10 minutes after walking in the door post-errand.

I ate sitting at our kitchen island, to me one of the simple luxuries of our new kitchen in our new old house. Not shown in the photo is the recent copy of New York magazine I paged through as I ate; the tea lights flickering on the windowsill (I often light them when I’m working in the kitchen); and the kitchen boombox playing the Chicago classical station. 

Too many of us won’t cook for just ourselves, and I think that’s too bad. I’ve written more eloquently and at greater length about the pleasures of cooking for one here, complete with the hows and the whys. For now, I’ll just say do it. Choose something you like, something simple, and make it even simpler.

The salad above is bagged spring mix topped with store-bought dressing. For more than a decade, we never bought dressing – it’s so simple to make. Then one of our daughters brought some into the house. Now it’s back in rotation. The baked potato is a microwavable one that comes wrapped in breathable plastic, one of the genius inventions of our time. It’s done in 6 minutes, using far less energy than firing up the stove to bake a single potato.

The steak is steak. It doesn’t get much easier. For this one, I tried a technique I’d just read about on the Bon Appétit website: Instead of adding oil to the pan, you brush the steak itself liberally with oil. I generously seasoned the steak (half of an eight-ounce strip steak, perfect for one) with salt and pepper and heated a dry stainless skillet over medium-high flame, letting the pan get good and hot. I put the steak in the pan and let it cook for 3 minutes on the first side, turning the heat down to medium about 2 minutes in. I flipped the steak and cooked it another 2 minutes on the flip side. Done – as in nicely charred on the outside and pink inside.

Next week, we’ll probably be back with a legit recipe, with measurements and all. But for now, just a reminder that food is more than fuel, even when – especially when – dining alone.

Oh, and no tornado so far, but it is raining pretty good.

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