low effort festive food for one

Hello — like loads of people I will be alone this Christmas due to flipping Omicron, the worst ever Transformers baddie.

I can’t really be motivated to buy or eat food on my own but also Christmas is a bit shit if you do anything other than cooking a big meal innit. Here’s a set of recipes you can make for a solo festive tea that should leave you a few but not crazy amounts of leftovers. It’s automatically vegan, with some suggestions for vegetarian or even meaty variants. There’s a ‘lazy option’ for everything. Mostly it’s just me chatting away at you about things you might like to eat I guess, cus this all sucks doesn’t it.

I don’t really subscribe to UK Christmas dinner so it’s not that, for which there are lots of recipes online and none of them very helpful for someone on their own but it is festive. Obviously, if there’s two of you then just double the amounts or whatnot.

All of it should be fairly cheap. I haven’t costed it but there’s store cupboard or frozen options for most fresh ingredients. This is a bit sweary, sorry.

All I want for Christmas is soup

Christmas Day is weird cus even if you don’t celebrate it or don’t celebrate it on the 25th there’s kind of naff all to do. Which is where the more elaborate bits of this come in, later but you do actually kinda need to eat something around like, regular lunchtime. Which is what this is. It’s a really staggeringly low-effort soup that, if you cook it down enough, can also be a pizza base sauce.

It will make two servings and will survive unrefridgerated for a night if leave it out to have on Boxing Day. Don’t tell food standards I said that but it’s true, unless your house is an actual sauna.

You don’t have to do this, you can just have soup out a can or eat three bags of chocolate coins or whatever it’s just there as a suggestion. Also works outside festive hours.

Ingredients:

Quarter of an onion, finely chopped or — if your knife skills aren’t all that or you just can’t be arsed — you can blend or grate it or just use that sort of pre-chopped frozen stuff I am absolutely not here to judge you. Soffrito mix out of a jar would also work if for some reason you have that, not an onion — look, I also have a baffling store cupboard of walnut spice mixes and

Clove of garlic if you can be bothered but the world won’t stop if you don’t, sometimes I just don’t wanna mess around with that stuff and you know what? No one’s arrested me. Not even in Italy.

Tomatoes; if you’ve got fresh you can use fresh and honestly who gives a shit about the seeds or skins, just chop them up and it’s fine or you can blend them if the texture really bothers you and you’ve got a hand blender. Or put the whole thing through a sieve. Honestly, doesn’t matter, it’s your soup, I don’t mind what sort of washing up job you make for yourself. But anyway, if you don’t have fresh you can use a can of chopped tomatoes. If you don’t have a can of chopped tomatoes then canned plum tomatoes is also fine, just — sorry, this bit is gross — tip them out into a bowl or a tupperware or something and squeeze them to bits with your hands, watching out for splashback on your festive sweater.

Some sort of acid. Wine, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice — great options but if you don’t have them then other options include: orange juice, bog standard malt vinegar, lime juice is a bit off piste but it’s not gonna make it too awful, literally cider. For the conventional options you just need a few drops, like a teaspoonful. For the others — well, it’s a bit of a call. You know what let’s call it a teaspoonful anyway, you can always add more if you really like.

Some kind of oil or butter or something. I imagine I’ll be using melted Bertolli spread because well. Fuck it.

Salt, pepper, herbs (basil or coriander fresh, basil and/or oregano dried) you can add half a stock cube or half a tablespoon of Bovril or Marmite or some of that Bouillon mix. I’ll probably put cayenne pepper in, maybe some paprika. Ginger would probably not go wrong. It’s tomato soup man, you can just do whatever.

Water (about two thirds of a pint if you’ve got a pint glass in your kitchen or I’d guess one and a half standard UK tea mugs)

More of the butter or oil or something

Bread or whatever you like to dip into things. Bag of ready salted crisps is fine, it’s not like anyone’s looking is it. You could also use pasta to cook into the soup if you want — although I like to cheat a bit with that and half-cook them before they go into the soup, to make sure they don’t take 87 years to actually absorb the remaining moisture. No idea how gluten free pasta reacts, sorry — I guess it probably still works. If you want to do your best American cooking YouTuber you could make half of the water you add to the soup the pasta water and say it’s enriching the flavour or some shit like that. Do it on stream, people’ll love it.

If you eat them:

I’m going to write ‘mascarpone’ here but you know literally any cream cheese is FINE just stir it in. I’m also damn certain a spoonful of brandy cream could only enhance, well. Anything. (more on that story later)

If you eat meat and you fancy it, you could put a couple of strips of bacon in a hot oven (180C fan) and let them cook until they’re crispy, on a baking tray. Then crumble them into the bowl of soup like croutons — it doesn’t matter if you do them first and they’re cooling while you’re making the rest of the soup.

Method: (which is shorter than the ingredients)

  1. Put butter/oil/whatever into pan on medium heat. Don’t care if it’s stick or nonstick, again, it’s your washing up — if it’s stick though then err on the side of lower heat.
  2. Once butter/whatever has melted or oil is looking very flowing and glossy, add the onion and garlic if you’re mucking about with that. Give it a few minutes to soften, make sure it’s not blackening (you basically want it to go see through, not fry) and then add some salt, pepper and if you’re using dried herbs and spices, them.
  3. Throw in your teaspoon of whatever acid you’re using. Turn the heat up just a little.
  4. Add your tomatoes in whatever format, stir.
  5. Add your water and stock cube or Bovril or whatever, pasta, idk. Whatever you have leftover that isn’t the optional extras, put it in now. Fresh basil can go in at this point, if you’re using fresh coriander just stir that in at the end. Honestly, fresh coriander is a weird option here but I quite often have it so idk, go wild.
  6. Ignore for 10–15 minutes (originally wrote the amazingly specific 13 here, which I can’t really explain the science of being right but is) while it bubbles away. It should be at a low simmer not a quick boil, so basically shouldn’t be spitting red stuff all over your hob — if it is, turn it down.
  7. You’ve made soup! Eat it however the hell you want.

The main event

I don’t vibe with roast dinners. I know if Priti Patel reads this then that’s gonna be the last straw in me losing my UK passport but look, if you weren’t fed them by your mum so you’ve got a pavlovian comfort response then they are just a meal. But I appreciate they’re a meal that people eat at Christmas, so this is not a roast dinner but it’s not a thousand miles away.

Smashed, seasoned chickpea or lentil or bean thing

Ok if you want to eat something with meat, then that’s fine by me it’s Christmas do whatever you like. But meat tends not to be in the store cupboard and you’re isolating for ‘rona so I’m not gonna lead on that but if you want to roast something then a chicken leg works pretty well for one or a couple thighs (leave the skin on, it’s delicious). Rub them in oil, season them and pop them in the oven for 40 minutes on 180C fan. Or you can do the same with slices of butternut squash, if you want to keep it vegetal — make them about as thick as your index finger and they should cook in that time.

For seasoning, go with what you like, it’s christmas! Just make sure you do use some salt cus it needs it to cook. The cops can’t stop you putting cumin on it if you like! If you want to keep it traditionalish then sage goes well with both chicken and butternut squash and a bit of grated lemon peel will be fine. If you want to be a fancy person and you’ve got brandy in your house, you can deglaze the pan after you’ve roasted it with a tablespoon of that. Deglazing is a fancy word for cleaning so just try and get all the fat and burned on bits into it then you can add a teaspoonful of butter (unless there’s a LOT of fat — might not be necessary for the chicken but it will be for the squash) and melt that in and you’ve got a lovely rich sauce.

Anyway, if you’re making smashed, seasoned chickpea or lentil or bean thing here’s roughly how.

Ingredients:

Honestly. I mean, it depends what you’ve got in at this point doesn’t it? So if you’ve got some chickpeas or beans then that’s a good start. If you’ve got a can of them, great. If they’re dried then you’re gonna have to start an annoying process a few days earlier. You could also use lentils, which if they’re the orange sort can just get thrown into this dried and add a bit more water.

If you’ve got onion or garlic or garlic paste or yeah, sure, that anachronistic jar or soffrito or spring onions or something then any and all of that’s good. If you’ve got none of that then a jar of curry paste or even sauce is FINE don’t let anyone tell you differently we’re doing what we can with what we have, here. Probably bolognese sauce would be fine at a push. I mean, it’s not gonna be ideal but what is. If you have tomato paste that’s also fine.

Have a look at your seasoning options. I, personally speaking, am gonna use some paprika some hot madras curry powder, some coriander pesto, obviously some salt and pepper. Maybe half a teaspoon of Marmite? Don’t think I’ve got any stock cubes. Bit of tomato paste for colour I reckon. If you’re using curry paste or sauce you probably don’t need to do this bit.

You will need butter or oil or something. Coconut oil could work quite well here? Don’t use the stuff for your hair, cooking grade only.

I’m gonna shove a load of greenery in. Frozen peas will do. Frozen sweetcorn, too. Anything about that size probably. If you’ve got stuff like fresh chilli to chop in then grand, that’ll be delicious. Get creative.

Right so, whatever you’re doing, start with butter or oil or something in a saucepan. Then, as before, add the onion and garlic (you’ll need let’s say like, a whole onion if it’s not crazily sized, chopped as finely as you can be bothered with and let’s call it a teaspoon and a half chopped garlic) and then let it cook for a bit. If you’re using some onion alternative then you probably don’t need to let it cook for a bit, just stir it in until the butter or oil or something emulsifies. Don’t cheat yourself on the butter or oil or whatever, use a big ass tablespoon or even more. Nigella would want you to do it.

Add your seasoning options and stir them in, then open your can of chickpeas or beans or whatever — actually I should probably just say here I really don’t think this will work with baked beans, save them for having on toast or ready salted crisps or whatever you’re resorting to. Anyway, drain off the water if they’re in salted water, if they’re in just water then you might as well throw it all in.

If you did drain the water then you’ll need to replace that with a canfull of water (from the tap) and lob that in, too. You can add your additional greenery at this point, too. Then let it cook down. Idk how long it will take, prob not long, get yourself a glass of wine and keep half an eye on it while singing Mariah Carey (or you could make the veg thing) and then when it’s getting fairly like, non-liquid, get a spoon or a spatula and kind of smash everything against the side of the pan until it’s all mixed up and smushed. Then turn the heat right down and leave it for the last bit of cooking until the water’s basically gone. The bottom will begin to lightly caramelise and almost burn a bit but that’s ok — don’t let it actually burn but it’ll get a little crispy, hopefully the fat content will stop it really making problems and if the heat’s low enough it won’t stick. You want that crispy edge cus that’s what’s going to make it really tasty when you turn it out onto a plate.

If you’re nervous about doing that in a pan you could throw it into a greased dish and pop it in the oven for the last 20 minutes I’m just too lazy for that shit. Either way, you wanna get a bit of a golden crust on this thing — basically, the whole process has been kind of making a meatlike thing to act as the uh, meat bit of your dinner, so like threading the flavour and fat through it and then smushing it all together.

It would be delicious with an egg or a load of cheddar grated on. I won’t tell anyone if you do. Throw some bacon or something in if you’re like that.

Vegetable thing

I’ve got a bag of sprouts and chestnuts in the freezer from Lidl, so I’m gonna use that for this but let’s have a rummage in your store cupboards and fridge and whatnot and see what you come up with. Aubergine or peppers or cabbage would work for this, so would broccoli (fresh or frozen) and you’d need to cook squash or pumpkin or something a bit first (let’s say the method above but for half the cooking time) as you would parsnips or carrots cus they’re just tough buggers unless you grate them, in which case you’re good to go.

Right, for this you need a frying pan. If you’re using frozen veg, do whatever your preferred defrosting method is first (I go for a quick boil but maybe you like steaming it or the microwave or whatever) and if, like my sprouts, anything’s chunky then give it a chop.

There’s no big secret here. You just mix up a load of veg that could go with each other and then fry it. Season it however you want — if you’ve still got garlic and onion then that’ll be lovely in here, too and a bit of chilli paste or whatever, IMO, goes a long way but the main thing is this isn’t complicated, doesn’t take any time at all and results in a load of veg to go on your plate.

If you really, absolutely, cannot be fucked you can also just part-cook/defrost things and pop them in the oven to get a bit more cooked/crisp up a bit. Keep an eye on stuff though.

Basically what I’m saying is: yes, it is very depressing but it will be more depressing if you don’t have vegetables. And they do make your dinner look more instagrammable.

Thing to eat later

Right this is actually very important, you need to make yourself some leftovers right now or you’re going to be the wrong side of half a bottle of Baileys and sad later.

Now, I don’t know what you have in your house but let’s assume you’ve got some kind of carbs like pasta or rice or something. That’s kind of going to be the basis for this. You need to cook that now, even though you’re not gonna eat it with the other things (well, idk, you can if you want but the point here is leftovers)

Basically, once you’ve served yourself the crushed chickpeas or whatever thing and the vegetable thing, throw them in with the rice or pasta. Add a bit of oil if it’s pasta, to keep it glossy. Make a call about which the flavours pair up better with — if you’ve made something truly incomprehensible, you can always cut bread into cubes and lightly fry it to make a rough panzanella salad. Toss it all together and you can microwave it or fry it to heat it up later. You can add extra stuff if you like obviously — if you go with pasta and the flavours aren’t totally jarring, you can throw the leftover soup in and add a bit of cheese on top and have a pasta bake.

I’ll prob go with rice or something, given the palate of what I’m likely to make. This is not like, great food. But it will be there later and tomorrow, when you don’t want to have to cook again and you’re depressed and everyone’s fucking instagramming everything and you’ll still have a body you need to feed. This’ll do that.

Who knows, maybe you’ll invent something incredible. You can obvs do this with the roast chicken/butternut squash too, if you went that route.

Here’s how to make roast potatoes if you really want to

I don’t want to. It’s too much effort. I might find myself doing it anyway out of some unhinged sense of social obligation so if you want to then I don’t blame you. Roast potatoes are like — look, they’re just a phenomenal amount of faff, in my opinion but your mileage on whether that’s worth it will vary.

Step one: put the oven on. 180C fan as always although actually I sneak it up to 200C for roast potatoes. Dunno why, no science about it, just feels right.

Assemble the amount of potato you want to roast, peel them. I am so anti-peeling potatoes that I will refuse to do it for mash (mash! The queen of ways to serve potatoes) but unfortunately if you do not do it for roast potatoes they will simply be shit, so you must.

Cut your potatoes into avante garde rhomboid shapes like you’re designing the pattern for a cinema carpet in the mid-90s. Then place them into a great big pan of boiling water — this tends to splash so take care or use a spoon, no one wants burns in isolation.

Let the potatoes boil for 10 minutes, then like 2–3 minutes longer than that because. Just do it.

While the potatoes are boiling, put what feels like an obscene amount of your chosen sort of fat into an oven tray. You can use butter here but you’ll need to pop some vegetable oil in with it to make it work properly. You can also use lard, dripping, olive oil (people say you can’t but you can, if you’ve got nothing else) and plain old vegetable oil. Duck fat if you’ve got it I guess.

Anyway, fat in the deep roasting tray, season it (salt and pepper a minimum, it’s super tasty if you add some dry herbs — maybe thyme and rosemary, for tradition or you can keep cracking on with sage or go off piste and do oregano, who’s gonna know?) and then put it in the now-hot oven, while the potatoes boil.

Now: drain the potatoes in the pan and then give them a good shake, so their edges all get bashed up. Those are the bits that are tastiest and crispiest.

Take your roasting tray with the fat in it out of the oven very, very carefully and then even more carefully tip the potatoes into it. Do not get burned with hot fat, it’s so bad. Then once the potatoes are in, use a spoon to turn them over in the fat for a full coating.

Pop it back in the oven for about 15 mins. Might need a bit longer, depends how it’s all going, there’s no real accuracy to it. And there: you have roast potatoes.

An extremely not vegan suggestion

I try to be vegan, it’s an environmental thing. But I invented this thing a few years ago and it’s so fuckin good man, it makes me weep. So I might have some of this at Christmas just as a treat. It’s called: making cauliflower cheese the regular way and then putting brandy cream in the roux.

There’s a full recipe here and I have to warn you, making and eating this might change your life irreversibly.

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Hazel Southwell

Hazel Southwell

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Professional motorsport journalist who puts things here when I know nowhere will really take them but think they need writing.