Sunday, May 9, 2010

How To: Cook For One (or Two)

As a student, or single person, it is difficult to cook for just one or two people... I learned to cook mostly from my father and it was always cooking for an entire family so I had to learn "cooking for 1" the hard way... trial and error. For a really long time I made WAY WAY WAY too much food. It has taken me nearly 4 years... but now that I'm graduating college I pretty much have it down! Warning: it takes some getting used to.

This is actually another big reason I don't use recipes very often: recipes always make 4-6 servings... splitting a recipe in sixths is not practical... nor is it practical for me to eat the same dish for 4 days straight until I hate everything about it.. A lot of times I will get ideas from recipes and then estimate at amounts or improvise based on the ingredients I have available. So, in hopes of helping some others catch on more quickly, I have compiled a list of a few things I have found to be very helpful tricks.

Cooking for One 101:

1. Plastic baggies and cling wrap will save your life!

When you buy meat at the grocery store (chicken, sausage, hamburger), while it is still thawed individually wrap it up and freeze it in single portions. Chicken is easy: one breast per bag. You can freeze multiple breasts per bag, just make sure they don't touch each other so you can break out of freezer more easily, instead of them freezing in one big lump. For sausage or hamburger, portion out 1/4 or 1/5 of the meat into balls and freeze. The sausage balls are easier to do with cellophane or press and seal wrap... you can wrap them individually with cling wrap and the press and seal can wrap a bunch of them in one sheet and just seal off individually in between (just press... to seal)! This makes meat for pasta or burgers so much easier to use when you don't have to thaw a giant 2 pound block of meat!

2. When in doubt, BUY LESS

Don't buy too much at will go bad... I promise. You may be thinking, "But I cook every night, I will use 3 peppers, 2 onions, a head of lettuce, and 1 bunch of asparagus.: But let me tell you, NO YOU WONT!!!

Ok, yes, you might have to make a second trip to the grocery store at first, while you are getting used to how much to buy, or for something more specific, but that is better than wasting food by letting all of your produce rot in your refrigerator! Not to mention, since produce is probably the most expensive thing on my grocery list, rotting produce is not good for the student budget!

On the same note... don't be afraid to freeze produce (especially vegetables). If you buy a bundle of asparagus and know you wont eat the whole thing in one week (before it starts getting soggy), freeze half of it (or 2/3) and thaw it out as you need it. Veggies freeze and thaw well! It will still taste fresh!

You can cut peppers and onions into strips for stir fry and throw them straight in the pan, frozen they thaw evenly and quickly! See #1... plastic baggies will save your life; although, I will recommend (for the environment's sake) that you use Tupperware some of the time, or re-use the baggies for more frozen vegetables!

3. Know what you should not freeze

Freezing can be a great thing... some things just don't freeze well, though. They wilt and lose flavor, get soggy, etc. Things with thin leaves, like most lettuce, will wilt easily after freezing because of ice forming in their leaves...same thing goes for Brussels sprouts. Buy them fresh and don't freeze them.

If you're going to freeze fresh herbs layer them in between dry paper towels and then seal them inside a plastic baggie (again... RULE #1) to keep as much moisture out as possible and prevent ice crystals and wilting!

4. The rules of Onion and Garlic

I love onion and garlic... I put them in pretty much everything that I make. Neither of them go bad too quickly, which is nice, but at the same time you don't need 5 onions lying around for one person. Also, you don't use near as much onion in a single dish as you would for multiple servings.

My general rule is one onion can last a whole week (sometimes longer). Garlic, keep it in the refrigerator it will last longer there, but don't buy more than 2 heads of garlic at a time. 1-2 cloves is plenty of garlic for any 1 person dish. See rule #1 for how to store partially used, previously cut onion.

Ginger root: I'll add this here, because I don't know where else to put it. I cook a lot of Asian dishes, and lots of those use fresh ginger. Ginger root, though is a strong flavor, and you can't use a lot of it quickly. The best way I've found to deal with this is to peel the ginger root while it is fresh from the store. Then freeze it (see rule #1 again). you can take it out of the freezer anytime you want and grate off however much you want, then pop it back in the freezer.

5. Keep a well stocked Spice Cabinet/ Pantry

BARE MINIMUM: salt, black pepper, red pepper flake, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, olive oil, vinegar (balsamic, white whine, cider), vegetable oil, flour sugar, eggs, milk, butter, vanilla, rice, noodles

HIGHLY SUGGESTED: chili powder, blackening seasoning, poultry seasoning, ground ginger, cumin, chocolate chips, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, 5 spice blend (Asian), paprika, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice whine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemons/ lemon juice, Parmesan cheese

6. Don't be afraid to improvise!

This rule is the most important rule (Even more important than #1). Use what you have and get creative! Use the same ingredients in different ways. Even if you only have a fourth of a bell pepper left: bell peppers-Asian stir fry, stuff them, Italian style pasta, soups, sauces, pizza, sandwiches, pita, etc. The list is never ending!


  1. very helpful. have never mastered this art...

  2. Since when do you like onions???? If that is true I don't know if I have ever really even met you!!!

    (you know who....hates onions more than you!)