Up until three years ago, I rarely ever cooked for just myself. If I was doing anything more complicated than toasting a bagel or making ramen, there was a good chance I was sharing–with my college roommates when we moved beyond the dining hall into suites with kitchens (bliss), with the boyfriend who could eat enough for four, or with my family when I was home and eager to show off my skills. I love cooking with and for people–it feels like one of the best, most comforting and concrete ways to show care. But pulling out multiple ingredients and making dinner (and a mess in the process) just for myself is a different story.
When I started living alone for the first time in the fall of 2009, one of the biggest adjustments was how to approach food at home. How much to buy at the grocery store so I wouldn’t continually waste food, something I’ve become fanatical about–even now, when I do think I have a system that works, my fridge usually looks, as one friend put it, like I just got back from vacation…all the time. What I really wanted to eat when it was just up to me. And, how to prioritize making actual meals for myself instead of relying all the time on insta-food and delivery. To my delight, I’ve learned that when I actually take the time to do it I really enjoy cooking just for me. Standing at my counter, sipping wine and snapping the ends off of green beans feels, just as it does when I cook for someone else, like a concrete way of showing care.
But, it’s just too easy not to do it. To instead have a cliched one-off meal of popcorn (one of the true joys of living alone), to order Thai food yet again, to just go out every night of the week. What makes actually taking the time to cook easier, I’ve found, isn’t so much about the meal in the moment–it’s about the leftovers that will make my life easier for the rest of the week. So often, what I have for dinner is motivated by what it will turn into for lunch. Like a recent Monday, when it was just me for dinner but I made a whole pan of Jane House chicken, enough to serve four. At the end of my meal I packed up three little boxes, and just having them in the fridge made me feel so on top of the week.
This recipe, for chicken baked in a ridiculously easy sauce, is one of the best ways I know to make a dinner that feels like a lot of care for just a little work. I’ve made it for myself, for my sister when she visited me in New York during her freshman year of college and I wanted her to have a taste of home, and for guests. The sauce comes together in minutes, and then all you have to do is let it bake, with an occasional basting. And if you’re a person like me who rarely cooks meat and always wonders if it’s done, this recipe is very forgiving–the sauce keeps the chicken so juicy that you can definitely extend the cooking time (as you check yet again to see if it’s maaaaaybe still just a little bit pink?) .for as long as your worry requires.
Jane House Chicken
(before posting this, I checked in with my mother about where the recipe came from. She reckons that she first came across it around 20ish years ago, in the Washington Post. The origins of the name “Jane House” remains a mystery.)
3/4 to 1 lb boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbs curry powder
1 tbs soy sauce
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup honey
Preheat oven to 350. Combine sauce ingredients and pour over chicken in an oven-safe dish. Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, basting occasionally, until chicken is cooked through. Done! I love it over couscous, which soaks up the sauce perfectly, but any favorite grain would do.