Having just dropped our daughter off in New York for her first year of college and sent our son back to Chicago for his last, both the house and the dinner table seem empty.

It’s been over 22 years since I’ve routinely shopped and cooked for just the two of us. I need to recalibrate my mindset about both of those routines in order to avoid overeating and food waste and to maintain the local and organic pledge I took in August. I’m also eager to avoid the expense of food waste since we’re footing the bill for two kids in college.

What I am (re)learning is that cooking for two is not as simple as cutting any standard recipe for four in half (How do you split an egg in half?) or committing to eating leftovers (it’s been said that the definition of “eternity” is two people and a ham).

Rather, the process involves balancing the quantities you buy at the market with their ability to be used right away or be stored in parts; tweaking recipes to avoid having bits and bobs of perishable ingredients lying about; getting a firm grip on plausible ingredient substitutions; and adjusting pan sizes to keep cooking times in line with desired results.

Grocery stores push customers to buy in bigger quantities with buy-one-get-one (free) deals and lower prices on “family-sized” packages. When you don’t need all that food, it’s best to buy food where it’s sold loose, and by the pound. Farmers markets and organic produce aisles are good places to go to buy a single small onion (or a large shallot) and exactly as many carrots as you need for dinner for two. Bulk bins give you the option to buy just a cup of rice, a half-pound of beans or 300 grams of whole wheat flour, a product that can go rancid if it sits in your cupboard for too long. And at the meat counter, they’ll be perfectly happy to sell you a third of a pound of ground beef or three slices of bacon if that is all you need.

If you just can’t pass up that special on bacon or boneless chicken breast if bought in larger quantities, freeze the extras individually so they are accessible when you are cooking for two. America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Complete Cooking for Two Cook Book” list several techniques for longer-term storage for many of these items until you need them. Individual strips of bacon can be rolled to be frozen for easy retrieval. Greens that have been washed and dried thoroughly in a salad spinner can be stored directly in the spinner between layers of paper towels. Chili peppers will hold their flavor for weeks if stored in the refrigerator in a brine of 1 tablespoon of salt to every cup of water.

This book also highlights several easy substitutes for perishable ingredients a pair of eaters may not keep in the house because they’d go off before getting used up. For example, if you don’t have the ½ cup of half and half a recipe calls for, substitute ⅜ cup whole milk plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream or ⅓ cup skim or low-fat milk plus ⅙ cup heavy cream. On the baking side, no brown sugar? No problem. Combine ½ cup granulated sugar with 1 ½ teaspoons of molasses for the light brown variety and 1 tablespoon for the dark one. As a general swapping-out reference, I keep a book called the “Food Substitution Bible” by David Joachim, which outlines substitutions for over 6,000 kitchen ingredients, techniques and single-use gadgets.

Standard recipe development typically yields four servings. For weeknight meals, I’m working with a formula that fits two bills: It both reduces our meat consumption and leaves just enough leftovers to satisfy my husband’s packed lunch the next day. I halve the animal protein, hold the other ingredients steady and cook whatever I’m making in a slightly smaller pot, pan or baking dish. Most savory recipes yield three perfect portions, none wasted even if the table is set for only two.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

 

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige adds potatoes to her Easy Choucroute Garnie for two. Her children are both now at college, so she is (re)learning to downsize her cooking. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Easy Choucroute Garnie  

In the fall of 2011, my husband was teaching in Lyon, France. We took the kids to Strasbourg to see the famous astronomical clock in the cathedral and the European Parliament buildings. The kids loved the region’s pizza-like Flammekueche, but my husband and I preferred its sauerkraut, sausage and potato specialty. This recipe is adapted from Carla Snyder’s “One Pan, Two Plates.” I use Morse’s Sauerkraut, a local smoked sausage and a dry Riesling, which also pairs well with the finished dish.

Makes 3 servings

2 whole cloves

2 allspice berries

4 black peppercorns

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 bay leaf

2 slices bacon, cubed

1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion

1 1/2 cups drained sauerkraut

1 apple, cored and cut into ½-inch dice

6 small new, red potatoes cut into ½-inch dice

8 ounces smoked sausage, sliced on the diagonal into 6 pieces

Minced parsley

Mustard

Combine the cloves, allspice and pepper in a mortar and pestle and grind them to a powder. Combine the wine, stock, freshly ground spices and bay leaf in a measuring cup. Set aside.

Place bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and cook until the bacon is crispy, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add the reserved spiced liquid, sauerkraut, apple, potatoes and sausage. Stir to combine. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, 18-20 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with mustard.


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