Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cooking for One: Part 2

Cooking for just one or even two people is not as simple as merely cutting a recipe into halves or fourths or whatever. Food preferences as well as cooking experience and preferred style of cooking all play roles in cooking whether for one or 10.
When I went away to college, I knew very little about cooking even though I was majoring in home economics. Sure, I had taken home economics in high school, but those courses were a far cry from deciding what and how much to buy, which utensil worked best and the list goes on from there. Many find themselves in this boat when leaving home for the first time or moving into their own place.
Empty nesters sometimes have difficulty in cooking for just two again. Similarly, if divorce or death strikes, one spouse is left to cook maybe for the first time ever or suddenly cooking for only one—again. Thus, back to the subject of cooking for an individual; however, there is one tiny caveat. Please keep in mind the guidelines provided here are very general because there simply are no hard and fast rules.
Why no rules, you may ask? Good question! Age, gender, activity levels, metabolism and size all contribute to the exact amounts of food a particular individual requires for optimum health; therefore, the individual size portion for one person varies from one person to another. I live with a good example of just that. Rick eats probably two to three times as much as I do, thus never any left-overs at our house; planned-overs have to be guarded or they too will be disappear.
The single complaint I hear most often is “I hate left-overs.” Are you one of those tired of eating leftovers because all of your recipes prepare enough food for four, six or more people? Life would sure be easier if we could simply reduce that recipe to a single or double serving size; unfortunately that is not always the case. To be honest, it is not usually the case.
Some ingredients simply do not lend themselves to being halved, quartered and so fourth. Let’s take an egg for example. An egg is an egg. The nuance is that one small egg is about one-half the size of a large or extra large egg depending upon the particular brand. A can of soup does not divide very well either; you have to measure the contents first using a precise set of scales and then figure out what to do with the half, or fourth, you did not use. Actually, you can follow the same process for halving an egg, but who wants to get into splitting hairs over an egg? I know that I don’t.
Speaking of that half of a can of anything, unless you have a specific use for that particular product the next day, the second half more than likely with end up going to waste. Packages of gelatin and pudding mixes do not behave well either when using only a portion.
As you have noticed, I talk a lot about recipes because 90 plus percent of the foods I prepare are cooked with a stack of recipes at my side. If you are a beginner in the kitchen, a well-written recipe is your best friend. Rick, on the other hand, can go into a kitchen, begin to throw things into a pot or two and come out pretty darn quick with a meal for one or two people.
All this talk about ingredients that are difficult to divide brings up the subject of how to evaluate a recipe. First, most folks don’t want to spend their entire day or evening in the kitchen only to fall asleep over a home cooked meal at midnight. Look for recipes with few ingredients with short preparation and cooking times. Second, read the recipe for cooking methods. Terms such as stir or pan fry, grill, broil and steam usually signal a fairly short cooking time. If you run across terms such as braise or roast, you might want to pass on those dishes until you have a little extra time. Marinate is a term that I like a lot. Why? I can begin preparation one day and finish the dish the next evening with minimal effort.
Third, pick out recipes that speak to your taste buds, are at your level of skill and take advantage of your cooking style. Why cook something that you don’t like or will simply frustrate you in the process? Trust me; those of us who experiment a lot in the kitchen run across our fair share of those recipes accidently.
Lastly, let’s look at the number of servings and the amount of each ingredient included. If the numbers are easily divisible by two, three or four, go for it. Personally, I have not had good luck paring recipes down from say 12 to two servings. The ratio of one ingredient to another often gets lost in such huge reductions.
One last thing—slow cooker meals. Unless you have a really small slow cooker, most require too much food to cook properly and safely for one. On the other hand, if you plan to freeze individual portions for later or to share with others, then slow cookers are good friends because this appliance is designed to be left alone, plus you cook once and have several meals.
We are going to take a little different direction now with respect to types of food that just plain make preparation a meal for one or two much easier. Grains and pastas make cooking for one a snap. The portions are so easy to control, and all you have to do is follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Fresh, frozen and dried vegetables are all winners in my book. Just because you purchase a head of cauliflower or an entire bag of frozen corn on the cob doesn’t mean you have to cook the entire amount at one time. Simply prepare the amount you need or want. Approximately four to six ounces is one serving of most veggies, depending upon appetite.
Many cuts of meat in addition to fish and seafood, again both fresh and frozen, also make cooking small amounts easy. For example, a couple of brands of poultry producers, aka Tyson’s at Sam’s and Purdue at Publix, have individually frozen chicken breasts, making cooking a chicken breast for one oh so easy. Individually frozen shrimp are also super nice to have on hand, giving you the flexibility to get out just the right amount for you. 

Author: Dr. Jacquelyn P. Horne
Copyright: 2013

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