Jeffrey Merlot
Mr. and Mrs. M

The Art of Cooking for Two

The number of two-person households are on the rise, and preparing a home-cooked meal for two can seem daunting. Mr. and Mrs. M are here to help.

By - Aug 23rd, 2012 04:00 am
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The 2010 census tells us that two-person families now comprise a growing majority of U.S. households. Baby boomers’ children have left their parents’ homes to create their own homes, many with only one or two roommates.

Preparing a quality, home-cooked meal for two can seem daunting when most recipes are geared toward serving four, six or eight people. A recipe that serves more than two can often result in an overabundance of leftovers, but those recipes can easily be re-engineered for two (or one) by following just a few, simple pointers. The secret? Portion control.

First, keep in mind that a sufficient serving of protein (we’re talking about meat here) for the average adult is only around a quarter of a pound, or four to five ounces. So, when the recipe calls for one-and-a-half to two pounds of meat or seafood, cut it down to eight ounces (around 1/4 pound for each). This rule also applies to vegetarian main-dish components, like tofu and tempeh. With few exceptions, such as with brining liquid and braising sauce amounts, you may then safely cut the rest of the listed herbs, spices and vegetables down proportionately.

For pasta, use only two ounces per person. That’s plenty when pasta is accompanying a square meal or served as a main course, such as spaghetti and meatballs. For rice, use 1/2 cup raw rice, one cup water, a teaspoon of oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt for two servings (mix, bring to a boil, cover pot tightly, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes without removing the lid at any time – fluff with a fork afterwards).

Cutting measurements down is easy when you’re armed with the following handy information:

  • 1/8 cup = 3 tablespoons. When a recipe calls for 1/4 cup for four servings, use three tablespoons to cut it in half.
  • 1/2 tablespoon = 1 1/2 teaspoons. There are three teaspoons to a tablespoon. This of course works not only with reducing a tablespoon measurement by half, but also when you run across a crazy recipe that calls for a “1/2 tablespoon” of something.
  • 3/4 cup = 6 ounces or 12 tablespoons (1 tablespoon equals half an ounce). So half of 3/4 of a cup is 6 tablespoons.
  • 2/3 cup = 5 1/3 ounces, or you can safely call it 11 tablespoons, plus a smidge more. Half of 2/3 cup, therefore, is a tad bit more than 5 tablespoons.
  • 1/3 cup = 2 2/3 ounces, or 5 1/2 tablespoons, plus a smidge more. So half of 1/3 cup is equal to 2 tablespoons plus 2 1/4 teaspoons.

Get a set of measuring spoons that comes with an 1/8-teaspoon measurement (you will need it!), and when a recipe for four or more servings only calls for 1/8 of a teaspoon of anything, just leave it as-is. It’s such a miniscule amount that cutting it will cut the amount that the ingredient contributes to the overall flavor of the dish.

It doesn’t matter if you cut a measurement of flour by half when it’s used to dust/coat protein for frying. That also goes for eggs and breadcrumbs, but it is a cost-saver to reduce these things (“waste not, want not”).

Eggs: When a recipe for four or more calls for a single egg, it’s easiest to divide it in half by first whisking the whole egg in a separate bowl until frothy, making it simple enough to divide in equal proportions. Use this method when a recipe calls for a single egg white or yolk as well; separate the yolk and white, beat whichever you need in a separate bowl to easily divide. Of course, you can always keep liquid egg substitute–like Egg Beaters–on hand and use three tablespoons for half an egg, since a quarter of a cup of that stuff normally equals one, large whole egg.

For an easy example, look at how we cut down the ingredients for the recipe below from four servings to two.

Chicken Marsala is a classic and simple Italian-American dish created by Italians in the U.S.A.

Italy in America: Chicken Marsala

Original ingredients list for four servings:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for coating
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground, black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or red-pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast “Supremes” (halves) – pounded 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 oz. sliced, fresh crimini/baby Portabello, porcini or other mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup Marsala wine (make sure it’s the good stuff imported from Sicily!)
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth

Ingredients modified to serve two:

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour for coating
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground, black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder (leave the same because it’s such a small amount)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or red-pepper flakes (same)
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme (same)
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast “supremes” (halves) – pounded ¼ inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz. sliced, fresh crimini, porcini or other mushrooms
  • 6 tablespoons Marsala wine (make sure it’s imported from Sicily!)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock/broth

(Note again that you don’t have to cut down the quantities of flour, salt, pepper, spices and herbs as they are mixed together to coat the chicken for frying. We cut them here to demonstrate how to do it, though. And, again, it’s good not to waste ingredients if you don’t have to.)

Preparation:

  • Place each chicken breast half (called a chicken “supreme”) between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Use the side of a rolling pin or a meat mallet to pound them out thinly.
  • In a small, paper bag or shallow dish or bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper and spices/herbs. Coat chicken pieces in flour mixture by either shaking well in the sealed paper bag or by simply dredging them through the mixture on a shallow plate (we prefer the bag-shaking method).
  • In a large skillet, melt half of the butter in the oil over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in the pan, and lightly brown on both sides. Transfer browned chicken to a plate and set aside.
  • Add the remaining butter to the pan and add the mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms until golden and liquid is given off. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil; deglaze pan with the wine. When the wine is reduced by half, add in the broth and cook until the sauce has reduced by one-third to an half, just until thickened slightly.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low, return the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer 10 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. Swirl in the remaining butter and check/adjust seasoning.
  • Serve immediately – goes great over fettuccini pasta (remember, you only need to boil two ounces of pasta per person)!

Here are a few more of our favorite recipes that we’ve engineered for two. Enjoy, and create your own!

Aussie Meat Pies – an Australian late-night, after-bar favorite that makes a very nice main dish for supper.

Main dish or late-night snack: Aussie Meat Pies

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 medium-small, yellow/Spanish onion (a good cup’s worth), finely chopped
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef sirloin, or other lean, ground beef
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup beef stock or bouillon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ketchup (Aussies use a less-spicy and thinner “tomato sauce” for this)
  • 11/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegemite or substitute 1 vegetable-stock cube, pulverized
  • 2, 9-inch diameter sheets of frozen, ready-rolled pie pastry, thawed (or make your own)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • salt, ground, black pepper, ketchup to taste

You’ll need two aluminum pie tins about 5” in diameter and 1” – 2” in height for this recipe (you know, the kind they sell frozen pot pies in) which are available in most super markets.

Preparation:

  • Combine the cornstarch and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cold beef stock; mix well and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, season with a little salt and pepper; fry until nicely caramelized. Add beef, cook until browned, stirring and crumbling well; season with a bit more salt and pepper. Add remaining beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and Vegemite/vegetable cube to beef. Stir well to combine. Add the cornflower mixture and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 425° F.
  • Tip a pie tin over on the first pastry sheet and cut a circle around it. Repeat process to make another circle (these are the pie lids). Place pie tin on second sheet; cut a circle slightly larger than the tin (about 1/2 inch larger for the pie base). Repeat process. Depending on what brand is used, you may have to either roll the second pastry sheet out with a rolling pin or utilize scraps from the first sheet and roll them all together to make a large sheet in order to make larger circles.
  • Press base pastry into pie tins and press up the sides. Fill with meat mixture. Brush rims with egg mixture. Place pie tops over meat. Use a fork to press edges to seal. Trim edges if necessary. Brush tops with more egg mixture (don’t bother cutting any steam-vent holes in them – these pies don’t need them).
  • Place pies on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve with ketchup, to pour over the top (like the Australians do – they call it “sauce”), and French-fried potatoes (which they call “chips”).

Arroz con Pollo (oh-so popular, Latin-American Chicken & Rice)

Arroz con Pollo (aka Latin-American Chicken & Rice)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. chicken breast or tenders, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/8 inch-wide, long strips
  • 1 small-to-medium sized Spanish/yellow onion, finely diced/minced
  • 4 – 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1, 14-oz. can whole tomatoes with juice, crushed by hand
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sliced, green olives (with pimentos), to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons dried paprika
  • Olive oil (to brown the chicken in)
  • Salt, ground, black pepper and garlic powder to taste
  • Jalapeño slices (optional)
  • Red-pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup cooked, white rice (1 cup cooked rice = cooking 1/2 cup raw rice)

Preparation:

  • Cook 1/2 cup white rice ahead of time. Add 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a bay leaf (optional, but adds a nice Creole touch). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid. Do not remove the lid for 15 minutes. Uncover, fluff rice with a fork and set aside after it steams for 15 minutes.
  • Wash the chicken in cold, running water; season well with salt, garlic powder and black pepper.
  • In a large skillet, place just a little olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Brown chicken in skillet on all sides. Add onion and garlic, cook down until translucent. Add bell pepper, cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients, including cooked rice, mix well, cover and simmer over very low heat one half hour.
  • Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed.

Beef Wellington for Two – you heard right!

Puff pastry + meat = Beef Wellington

Ingredients:

  • 2, 4-to-6-oz. beef fillet-steaks (top sirloin works great)
  • 1 sheet from a 17.3-oz./1.1 lb packet ready-made puff pastry, thawed
  • 3/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 small shallots, peeled and minced
  • 8 oz. baby portabella/crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup good sherry (the kind you would actually drink)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 1 egg, beaten with one teaspoon water
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons butter
  • 8 oz. heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and ground, black pepper
  • garlic powder
  • all-purpose flour (to dust work surface)

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 400° F.
  • Rinse dried mushrooms in cold water, then put them into a bowl of hot water – make sure they’re covered with hot water. Soak for at least 20 minutes.
  • Heat oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot. Season steaks on both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Sear steaks one minute on each side; remove from pan and set aside.
  • Place shallots into pan and fry until softened. Add butter and crimini mushrooms and cook until thoroughly softened and reduced.
  • Drain and finely chop dried mushrooms, then add to pan with sherry. Increase heat and cook until most of the sherry has evaporated.
  • Add thyme, cook for one minute, remove pan from the heat and set aside. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Take refrigerated pastry to a work surface dusted with flour. Roll the pastry out quickly so as to be able to cut it into two, equal rectangles to wrap the steaks. Spread mushroom mixture (enough to equal the size of each steak) onto the centers of each pastry-sheet half.
  • Place a steak on each bed of mushroom mixture, then brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg glaze. Fold the edges of the pastry so they overlap slightly in the center of the top of each steak, trimming excess pastry as you go. Turn each over so that they rest seam-side down.
  • Place each on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cut three, diagonal slits across the tops of each Wellington and brush with remaining egg-water glaze. Bake for 13–14 minutes for medium-rare.
  • About 10 minutes before the Wellingtons are done, reheat remaining mushroom mixture. When it is hot, add cream and simmer on medium-high heat until it is reduced and thickened. Remove the pan from the heat, season with salt and pepper.
  • Plate each Wellington with an equal portion of the sauce along the side of each (not on top of the pastry!). Serve with simple, buttered peas and a green salad.

Spicy Asian Stir-Fried Tuna & Vegetables

Spicy Asian Stir-Fried Tuna and Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. fresh tuna steak, cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 medium-small, yellow bell pepper, cut into 1” pieces
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1”-long pieces on the diagonal
  • 5 oz. fresh snow peas
  • 1, 5-oz. can sliced water chestnuts
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry wine
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hot Chinese chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 4 – 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 thumb-sized knobs fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • Fried, Chow Mein noodles (you know, like the kind Chung King sells!)

Preparation:

  • Combine Sherry, soy sauce, chili oil, corn starch, garlic and ginger in a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk thoroughly. Put the tuna chunks in a bowl or plastic container, pour over the marinade, mix and cover well (we like to put it all in a plastic quart-sized, Ziploc bag). Let it marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Heat 1–2 tablespoons chili oil in a hot wok or large skillet over high heat. Wait for oil to start smoking, then add the tuna from the marinade with chop sticks, tongs or a slotted spoon; stir-fry one minute, or just enough time to sear on all sides, but leave some pink in the middle; remove to the side.
  • Heat another tablespoon chili oil in the same pan. Add bell pepper, scallions and snow peas; stir-fry for about two minutes, then add water chestnuts and cook until they’re warmed through. Add back in the seared tuna and cook quickly until everything is good and hot.
  • Serve over Chow Mein noodles or steamed, jasmine rice.

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