One of the problems with using regular cookbooks to cook for yourself is after doing it for long enough, it's hard to get motivated to cook anything too complicated; no one else is going to know if you have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner.
I contributed a few of my lazy ideas to Neurotic Physiology's "Grad Student Cooking in Style", but a large part of it didn't make it in time for the deadline (she didn't accept my 'you didn't say which timezone' excuse) ... here are the various comments I hade typed up, minus the recipes:
The problem with grad school cooking -- unless you're also supporting a family (in which case, hopefully they'll share in the cooking duties), except for the pre-packaged foods, most of it's not sold to serve one person, and the price breaks seem to be when you buy 3 to 5 lb of meat at a time.
So, my suggestion is to buy the unreasonably sized package of meat, but then prepare it so it can be used in sizes you want.
For instance, when that 'family sized' pack of ground beef goes on sale -- I make most of it into burgers, wrap them individually in wax paper, pop eight of 'em into a gallon sized zip-top bag, and freeze 'em. If you want, add some italian seasoning or steak seasoning as you're forming the burgers for some extra variety. (although, they're more versatile if you leave 'em plain. You can toss 'em onto a George Foreman grill still frozen, and they'll come out fine. (although, you'll want to take the wax paper off first). Or, you can thaw 'em, and turn it into a meat sauce for pasta, a quick-cook chili, or anything else that uses ground beef.
During my undergrad, as I didn't have freezer space, I'd get a package in the 1lb range (maybe a little larger), and cook it together with a diced large onion (maybe softball sized), a few cloves of garlic, crushed, and maybe a bell pepper if they were reasonably priced that week. Tightly sealed, the mixture would keep in the fridge for a week, and I just had to heat some up with either :
- tomato sauce & pasta : meat sauce
- rice & seasonings : dirty rice
- can of diced or crushed tomatoes, chili powder : chili (beans are optional ... but it's great over a baked potato)
... the dirty rice would often find itself with a tortilla, cheese and hot sauce in burrito form. If bell peppers are on sale, cut one in half, vertically, then take out the stem, seeds and membrane. Place it cut-side down in a baking dish and roast at 350F 'til it's softened some (maybe 10-15 min), then remove from the oven, stuff with a mix of dirty rice and cheese, then put back into the oven to bake 'til the cheese melts. (f it's leftover dirty rice, you'll cook the bell pepper less on its own, so that it doesn't completely soften up before the rice is heated through ... or microwave the rice first so it's warm before stuffing)
If you don't have the freezer space, you can also make meatloaf. I don't have a set recipe ... vegetables (carrots, onions, bell pepper, I've even thrown in a thawed package of frozen spinach), ground beef, a couple of eggs, some bread crumbs (or, if it's not stale enough to break into crumbs, tear it up, soak in milk or water, then squeeze it out, and add the damp bread), italian spices, lay on a sheet pan, then bake. If it starts getting too dark before the center's cooked, add some type of sauce to the top (ketchup, tomato sauce, barbeque sauce, whatever).
If you don't have a microwave to reheat it, just cut it into slices, and then pan fry to warm through. You can also crumble leftovers into tomato sauce and serve over pasta.
If you have freezer space, and a large pot (not worth it otherwise), buy chicken when it' on sale, poach it, then freeze it. If you're even more adventurous, make chicken stock, too.
The normal problem with poaching chicken is you have to remember to take it out, or it gets rubbery -- but there's a trick:
- bring a pot of water that'll still fit the chicken to a boil (lid on will boil faster)
- add the chicken to the pot
- put the lid back on, and bring the water back to a boil.
- Wait two to three minutes.
- Turn the heat down to low.
After an hour, the chicken will be cooked ... but it won't be overcooked, even if you leave it in there for three hours. Because we boiled the outside of it, we've disinfected it in case it had surface contamination.
If it's boneless, you can just let it cool, and then cut into chunks later. If there's bones, I take 'em out, and then shread the meat, bag it up, and freeze it in reasonably sized bits. (which for me means filling a quart sized freezer bag part way, then sort of squishing it into two chunks, so it doesn't freeze as one giant lump, and I can take out only half of it at a time.)
If you have some sad vegetables (past their prime, but not rotted, moldy, or mushy ... but we're talking about grad students, you'd have eaten it way before it go to that stage), cut into chunks and toss after you've let the water boil. If you're like my mom, and cut up and freeze stuff for that later batch of stock (along with parmesan rinds, stems from some herbs, etc.), toss it in while boiling, so you don't cool the water down too fast after the boil. Add some salt and pepper, then leave like normal. After deboning the chicken, throw the bones back in, and left simmer for another hour or two ... then strain and cool ... and then after it's spent a night in the fridge, freeze (in ice cube trays or muffin tins, then pop into a zip-top bag, and stash in the freezer for when you need it.
Uses for chopped up chicken:
- While still a little warm, make chicken salad
- chicken noodle casserole -- any left-overs can go into a casserole dish, so you can just bake it the next day. (if you want to top it w/ bread crumbs and extra cheese, feel free)
- chicken pot pie
Uses for shredded chicken:
- Thaw in a pan with a little bit of water; add taco seasonings; serve as a burrito, with beans & rice, roll into enchiladas, or however you like.
- shredded chicken also works great in casseroles.
I'ver never been much of a steak eater, but when either top or bottom round goes on sale as a 'london broil' cut (sale for me is ~$4/lb, sometimes less), I'll splurge, and make it into a variety of things: (note -- not all 'london broil' is the same .... they sometimes try to pass off chuck as london broil).
... so, with the leftovers of the london broil, we can then turn it into other completely different meals for the rest of the week:
- Stir fry
- Salad w/ steak
- Beef Stroganoff