Possibly more daunting than cooking for a cattle-call 10-person dinner?
Cooking for a family of one. Or one and a baby. Or two adults.
Sweet Corn with Zucchini, Romano Beans and Herbs
2 small or 1 large ear of corn, shucked
1/2 a small onion (about 2 ounces), diced
1 teaspoon picked fresh thyme
1 small zucchini (3 or 4 ounces), diced
3 or 4 ounces Romano beans, cut in one inch pieces on the diagonal
2 to 3 teaspoons minced chives
1 to 2 tablespoons basil butter or plain unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut the kernels off of the cobs. Scrape the cobs to release the milky “scrapings.” You should have about 1 to 1 1/4 cups corn. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and thyme along with a pinch of salt and cook until tender — about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and continue to cook until just tender — another 5 minutes or so. If the pan seems dry, add a bit more oil.
While the onions and zucchini are cooking, cook the Romano beans in boiling salted water until tender — 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and set aside until ready to use.
Meanwhile, add the corn and corn “scrapings” to the onion and zucchini and continue to sauté until the corn is tender — this should only take a minute or two. Add the beans and cook for a minute. Add the chives. Add the basil butter and cook, stirring and tossing to coat the vegetables with the butter. If the pan seems dry, add a splash of water and continue to toss until the vegetables are just coated in a light film of butter and herbs. Taste and correct the seasonings and serve immediately. Serves 2.
— Recipe by Paige Vandegrift, www.Acookinglife.blogspot.com.
Pasta with Asparagus and Spring Onions
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter or a combination
2 to 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
Grated zest of half a lemon (optional)
2 to 3 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon, thyme or sage
6 to 8 ounces trimmed asparagus, sliced on the diagonal into 3 pieces
6 to 8 ounces linguine, fettuccine, penne, gemelli or farfalle
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
1/4 cups arugula chiffonade (optional)
2 tablespoons minced chives or Italian flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino
2 chive blossoms, if available
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the oil in a wide skillet over low heat. Add the spring onions, the zest and herbs (if using) along with some salt; cook slowly, stirring occasionally.
When the water boils, add the asparagus and cook until partially tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop it out, add it to the spring onions, and continue cooking. Cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the vegetables along with more oil if the pan seems dry. Increase the heat and stir in the pine nuts, arugula and chives, if using. If the pasta seems dry, moisten with a bit of the pasta cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta among individual plates and sprinkle with a little grated cheese and the chive blossoms. Serves 2.
— Recipe by Paige Vandegrift, www.Acookinglife.blogspot.com.
Sure, cooking for so few shouldn’t be hard on paper, but the challenge can come in avoiding several land mines, including: food waste, days of the same meal and the temptation to rely on prepackaged meals and mixes.
We asked small families who are making it work just how they do it.
Keep it simple. The first rule of cooking for a family of one or two? Don’t overdo it, says Erin Shafer, single mom to baby Abbi and an experienced cook-for-one.
“I think that is the biggest problem with just cooking for yourself or cooking for just one other person is that you tend to waste a ton of food if you don’t eat it all,” says Shafer, whose staples include salads, chicken and pasta with homemade sauce.
Paige Vandegrift, a private chef based in Kansas City and member of a two-person household, says the best way to keep it simple is to use the three-part meal rule — protein, vegetable and starch — and then use the components later in the week for something completely different.
Get creative to keep things fresh. Lawrence bachelor Wayne Larson says that while he has his go-to meals — MCTP (mac and cheese, tuna and peas), tofu-veggie stir-fries and “anything with tilapia,” he says he’s not afraid to go off-course if it means changing things up.
“When you’re cooking by yourself, don’t be afraid of anything because whatever you put in there, you’ll be eating and you don’t have to impress anyone else,” says Larson, who prefers to make small single meals rather than one large one to eat throughout the week. “The other day, I decided to put carrots in my already white onion-spinach-and-green bell pepper (stir-fry) and I was like, ‘Uh, not going to do carrots again in that stir-fry.’ I figured it out and went from there.”
Portion control in shopping and eating. Shafer says that her biggest tip for cooking for a small family is to break up grocery shopping into small trips throughout the week. She says a big trip doesn’t work for her — ingredients turn too quickly. Instead, she keeps staples on hand and picks up other ingredients throughout the week as she needs them.
Meanwhile, Lawrence’s Cimmy Redmond says that she finds it helpful to pay attention to portion sizes so that if she makes something with eight servings, she’ll actually get eight servings out of it.
“I have an European background, and portion sizes are way smaller than you’ll find in America. All of our plates are eight inches, whereas most American plates are twelve,” Redmond says. “I find paying attention to the listed portion size to be an excellent tool.”
Make friends with the freezer. Shafer says she constantly uses the cook-and-freeze method. For example, she’ll cook a chicken breast and then freeze the leftovers, or she’ll make her own pasta sauce and freeze it in small portions. Vandegrift goes a step further and freezes sweets — everything from coffee cake to cookies to brownies — to ensure that she won’t overeat them but also that she’ll have them on hand when she wants them.
“You can’t really make a cake for two,” says Vandegrift, who freezes cakes and brownies as well as cookie dough that has been formed into balls and frozen individually before being stored in a freezer-proof plastic bag. “Whenever you want a warm cookie, you just take out half a dozen of the balls and put them on a small cookie sheet and bake them from frozen. It keeps you from making five dozen cookies and eating them all.”
Empty nester? Adjust your thinking. Vandegrift says that sometimes it’s hardest for empty-nesters to learn to cook for two. Over the years they’ve cooked for themselves plus children, and dialing it back can take some getting use to.
“Learning to cook for two for the empty-nester is wrapped up in a whole host of other issues they’re struggling with. And that is learning how to live in a household that’s not filled with people anymore,” she says. “I think the tendency is to think it’s not worth the time to spend cooking and washing dishes if there’s just one or two of you, but I think that that’s part of this learning how to enjoy an activity for (yourself and not others).”
Don’t shortchange yourself. And it’s not just the empty-nester who should avoid the trap of thinking it’s not “worth it” to cook for such a small number of people. It’s worth it, Vandegrift says, and you owe it to yourself to at least try.
“I personally think that no matter what size your family is, whether it’s just you or if it’s just you and another person or if it’s a family of a dozen, that feeding yourself is a valuable activity,” Vandegrift says. “Feeding yourself is living your life.”