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September 22, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Cooking for one? Here are some ideas. Yours?

Call me self-centered, but the three people I like to cook for most are me, myself and I.

Back when that unfussy trio was all I had to cook for, I had a repertoire that included a few of my favorite things: mussels, steamed in white wine with olive oil, garlic and dried pepper flakes. Simply sauteed sea scallops, caramelized in butter. Fresh ravioli stuffed with cheese or squash — sauced with browned butter and sprinkled with salt and sage (if I had a plant on my windowsill). But that was then and this is now. And now I’m usually cooking for three, two of whom aren’t hot on mussels, can’t stand scallops and wouldn’t eat squash ravioli if you paid them.

Of course, like most folks, they will eat roast chicken, so when I saw the recipe for Pineapple-Juice-Can Hen with baby potatoes in Joe Yonan’s new book “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One,” I figured, “Who wouldn’t love a tiny chicken with a can shoved up its carcass?” (wait, don’t answer that). And I got to work, doubling his recipe, offering food enough for three hungry chicken lovers.

These Cornish game hens look prettier in their “after”-shot than they did in their “before” photo, when they were buttered, salted and peppered and perched upright in two pans, wings aflappin’.

Want proof? I’ve got it:

Next time, I’ll put them both in my ginormous cast-iron skillet, but for science, I used single pans for this recipe.

Yonan, food and travel editor at The Washington Post and “Cooking for One” columnist, isn’t the only one who agrees with me that cooking for one can — and should — be a pleasure (just ask Judith Jones). And if you’re looking for inspiration (“Personal Paella with Squid and Scallions”) and not a few sexy-Tex-Mex specialties (“Benedict Rancheros”), I’d encourage you to buy this cookbook:

Serve Yourself? Don’t mind if I do.

As for that mini-butt-can chicken? Go on, give it a try. And do tell me: When you’re treating yourself — and only yourself — to a home-cooked meal, what are your go-to dishes?

Pineapple-Juice-Can Hen and Baby Potatoes

(Serves 1)


1 guinea or Cornish hen or other small bird (preferably no bigger than 3/4 pound)

2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 sprigs rosemary

1 (6-ounce) can pineapple juice

3 very small potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse the hen under cold running water, then pat dry with paper towels. Remove the packet of giblets, if there is one, and discard or save for another use. Rub the hen with 1 teaspoon of the butter, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper inside and out. Loosen the skin over the breasts and tuck 1 of the rosemary sprigs under the skin on each side.

Shake the pineapple juice well, remove the paper exterior from the can, rinse, and dry the can. Use a can opener to completely remove the top of the can. Pour half of the pineapple juice into another container and reserve for another use. (Or drink it while you cook!)

Spray the can’s exterior with cooking oil spray. Set the can in the middle of a small ovenproof skillet and set the hen on top of it, carefully working the can into the hen’s cavity without spilling the juice. Scatter the potatoes around the hen, season them with salt and pepper, drizzle with the olive oil, and scatter the leaves from the remaining sprig of rosemary around them.

Roast the hen for 30 to 40 minutes, until it is nicely browned, the juices run clear, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads at least 165 degrees. [Nancy’s note: I used two 24-ounce Cornish hens, because that’s what I found at the store. It took 50 minutes to get them to the right temperature/bronze.] Remove from the oven, use oven mitts or tongs to remove the hen from the pineapple juice can, and transfer it to a serving plate. Let it rest for about 10 minutes. If the potatoes are not fork-tender, return them to the oven to continue cooking while the hen rests.

While the hen is resting, pour the contents of the juice can into a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the lime juice and remaining 1 teaspoon butter. Bring to a boil and let it bubble away until it has reduced to a syrupy glaze, about 10 minutes.

Cut the hen in half with a sharp chef’s knife or kitchen shears, and scatter the roasted potatoes around it. Drizzle the hen with the pineapple-lime glaze and eat it while it’s hot.

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