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Cooking for two

Updated: Apr 3, 2023


Lucky dip time and an old Australian Women's Weekly book called Cooking for Two. If you are a couple you may well have realised by now that you only spend a few years really - maybe 20 depending on how many children you have - cooking for more than two. Then you have the rest of your life - in my case around 30 years after the boys left home and about six between marriage and children. So almost 40 years cooking for just two people. Occasionally just one - me - when David was away on business of some kind. But he hasn't done that for 20 years or so now. Anyway - long enough you would think - for me to be really in the swing of cooking for two. But I'm still not. I always have far too many leftovers.


Now I think I have written about this problem - a long time ago - so I have no idea what I said then. Cooking for one is another problem as well, but a different one I think and hopefully not one I shall be confronting for some time.


In the meantime here are a few thoughts on the joys and woes of cooking for two.


Number one problem. If you are into cooking from recipes most of them are for four. I guess it's based on the average family size. Usually it's easy enough to just halve the quantities, but not always. You can make small quiches after all, as long as you have the right size tart tin, or pizzas. Cakes are trickier - now that I'm talking tins - but not impossible. And, as I said, mostly you can just halve it. Mind you, these days I find that even if I do that we have leftovers. Mostly I think because David eats very small portions, but I think even I don't eat as much as the recipes seem to expect you to eat. A whole chicken breast for one for example? This might have been OK in the past, but have you seen the size of the average chicken breast these days? You could feed three people at least with some of them.

Number two problem - the more ingredients there are the more difficult it is to scale back. I suppose this is Ok for stew like things because they often actually taste better when reheated. However, things like lasagne are more difficult. Not that they are that difficult to reheat, but somehow they are really difficult to cook in small quantities, although now that I think about it I wonder why? I mean you can make just a small batch of your filling, use just a small amount of lasagne, and use a small dish. In my house I think that might be the main problem. My dishes are not small enough for two people, one of whom one has a very small appetite.


Then there are the roasts. Very hard to find a piece of meat small enough to roast without any leftovers.

Of course there are things you can do with the leftovers but with a roast you might have to dream up at least two more different dishes.


I am beginning to see that really my problem, or at least perceived problem is the leftovers. On a good day this is a stimulating problem. It's a creative activity to devise something even more delicious than the original dish, even if it is just good old Shepherd's pie, fish cakes or a stir fry. And I know the Asians would despair at us westerners using leftovers in stir fries. Nevertheless it's an easy option. To be honest there are masses and masses of options and people offering suggestions. Some of these are admittedly very ordinary but some are not. And let me give a shout out here to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Love Your Leftovers. It's one of my very favourite cookbooks - not always for the actual recipes but more for the ideas.


On a bad day though it's a pain. I simply cannot bear to throw out uneaten food and it's very rare that I do. But at the moment I am facing at least three different sets of leftovers in the fridge, and some declining in quality veg. And lurking at the back, I think, are two sets of leftovers that are simply too old to be eaten safely and which will have to be thrown out into the green bin. I will console myself with the thought that at least it will end up as compost somewhere.


Problem number three. It's very difficult to use up, before they go off, some vegetables - cauliflower is the current example. I have at least half of one sitting in my fridge at the moment - slowly decaying on top. It's certainly not as pristine as when I bought it. Yes I can buy a half cauliflower, but even this would last a long time for two people. Besides it costs more by weight, which doesn't matter in terms of being able to afford it, but it bugs me. And it would certainly be a problem for a single poor person. I try to console myself with the thought that this is not America. All those years ago when I visited the USA Carole and I often found it difficult to buy small enough quantities of food for two people on a very low budget.


Number three. Speaking of cost, if you want to cook for two with no leftovers, you will find you are frequently dealing with expensive cuts of meat - steaks, chops, etc.


Well I suppose you don't have to. Perhaps my major problem is that I do not use my freezer well. If I do, by chance, do the right thing and just freeze some leftovers for later, I then forget all about them and eventually have to throw them out. Or I buy a large piece of meat and freeze it without cutting it into smaller pieces first. In fact I'm only efficient like that with chicken pieces and mincemeat.


So fundamentally it's all my fault anyway. Tonight I have to deal with Ottoelnghi's wonderful Sausage tray bake with plums. I think I'm going to try a stir-fry with some leftover rice, and maybe an extra vegetable or two. Maybe not. Then over the weekend I shall have to deal with the tray-baked chicken with chickpeas and carrots - maybe a pilaf/biryani kind of thing with that. Then there's the half pizza that David left when we went out for lunch yesterday. He got them to wrap it so he could bring it home. But he was moaning about it not having enough tomato so maybe I shall have to make some tomato sauce and add that.


So that's at least three leftover meals in the near future. Fortunately - or not - I can splash out with 'new' food tomorrow when friends are coming for dinner. But, oh dear, that will probably leave me with more.

Back to my lucky dip book though and the recipe I randomly picked - Satay beef spare-ribs. The recipe is not online. This is an old book, but it's pretty simple - just marinade and grill or barbecue. The marinade is:

180ml can coconut milk, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter, 3 cloves garlic, crushed and 1 small onion finely chopped. For 6 beef spare ribs.


It's the sort of dish that we all know about now and which you will find in supermarket magazines. No skewers required because: "They have a built-in skewer: the bones." But have you seen the price of beef spare ribs and the amount of beef on them? So there are unlikely to be any leftovers. Spare ribs are a cut of meat whose price I simply do not understand. These are the rubbish bits of a carcass. The sort of thing that used to be thrown to the dog. Like lamb shanks and ox-tail. How times do change. Not that fillet steak is now poor man's food.


I have almost forgotten the biggest problem - the other person. This is a person whom you love and you therefore want to make happy. You want to please him (or her) with interesting, delicious food. And yet he/she is a difficult person because you know this person's likes and dislikes inside and out. You know that you will never cook prawns, anything with coconut, or anchovies - in my case. You will have other things to deal with. If you are cooking for relative strangers, it doesn't matter as much really. Well you obviously don't want to poison them, and you need to attend to allergies and diets, but otherwise whether they like it or not doesn't really matter. It only matters to your ego, not to your heart - the metaphorical one that is.


Well I have basically had a moan about leftovers. Honestly though, as I said, I enjoy leftovers - either for the opportunity to create something that is all mine, or to create some of the comfort foods of my youth. It's just that sometimes you seem to be doing nothing but dealing with leftovers. Which can be depressing.

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