Cooking for two has its pleasures and its difficulties. One of the great things about my and my husband's current situation is that we tend to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want. I can try out new recipes on a whim, using flavors and ingredients from around the world, and though I may get the occasional raised brow from my husband, the freedom is exhilarating. Every day is different.
But we still have our own challenges, even after all these years. You know, the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” text, when the last thing I actually want to think about is what's for dinner. That's when I fall back on meals like these: ones that are guaranteed to be satisfying and let me accept a little help from the supermarket.
Here's the deal: I teach cooking classes and develop recipes full-time, and spend the rest of my waking hours trying — mostly unsuccessfully — to keep up with the rest of my life. And while I love my job, sometimes the last thing I want to do after teaching a class of 16 students the French mother sauces is to worry about what to make for dinner.
My Dinner Secret: The Recipe Bible
To combat this, I've had to get a little creative, which brings us to “The Recipe Bible." Basically, it's a giant three-ring binder that has a printout of every recipe my husband and I have ever declared a "keeper.” (Technically, it is two large binders now.) The “bible” is organized by category so that any particular protein, genre, or type of cuisine is easy to find. For those days when my brain isn’t working, I point my husband to the binder and he calls out recipes until something hits the spot.
Cooking for Two: The Leftover Dilemma
Once we have our recipe, one of the other challenges we run into as a household of two is having an abundance of leftovers. Because here’s the thing I really, really hate to admit (I am shuddering as I type this): neither of us care for leftovers. It's not that there is anything wrong with them, but for some reason we just don’t eat them; the leftovers just get pushed to the back of the fridge, where they stay until I do a purge and guiltily scrape the forgotten contents into the trash can.
The Answer? Buy Less. Obviously.
Buying smaller quantities has really helped with this. I know this isn't rocket science, but I feel like I had been brainwashed into all of the "bigger is better" marketing. I'm kicking that habit to the curb.
For proteins like steak and fish, I now purchase one larger piece, which we split between us, instead of buying two and having leftovers. I also stopped buying the larger economy containers of things like sour cream and shredded cheese, half of which I would need to toss before using them and thus losing any savings I might have gained by buying in bulk.
My Other Dinner Secret: Supermarket Shortcuts
Another thing that has helped is to take advantage of store-bought shortcuts with every meal. Simple helpers like frozen French fries, frozen rice, a few hoagie buns picked up at the deli counter, and even store-bought salad dressing help save me some time and avoid food waste. I buy only what I need, or in the case of frozen foods, I only warm up what will be eaten that night.
Once I became okay with not making everything from scratch, dinner for two got a whole lot easier. And as a bonus, these changes have inevitably helped us cut down on food waste (which has always been a challenge for leftover-haters like us).
So those are some of my thoughts on the matter. I'd love to hear your tips, tricks, struggles, and dilemmas if you cook for a household of two. Let me know in the comments!
Supper for Two with Supermarket Shortcuts
Your Meal Plan
→ Using frozen tortellini and with an easy spinach salad tossed with store-bought vinaigrette on the side.
Be sure to let the sausage really sear before you start to break it up into smaller pieces — this is a key component to the hearty flavor of the finished soup! This recipe does make more than one serving, but leftovers are even better the next day, or can be frozen for easy meals later on.
Tuesday: Cheesy BBQ Chicken Calzone
→ Using store-bought pizza dough and rotisserie chicken.
This recipe makes one big family-style calzone, but you could make smaller, individual calzones if you prefer. Be sure to set the pizza dough on the counter to warm while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Serve with a knife and fork!
Wednesday: Easy Lamb Kefta Skewers
→ With a side salad made with canned chickpeas and served with store-bought naan or flatbread.
The skewers come together so fast that you'll have plenty of time to make the simple warm chickpea salad served alongside. Serve everything with a yogurt sauce and plenty of flatbread!
Thursday: Weeknight Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches
→ Made with store-bought hoagies and served with freezer french fries on the side.
The secret to these sandwiches is thinly slicing the steak before cooking it — put the steak in the freezer to firm up for a few hours to make this easier. Pick up your hoagie buns from the bulk section at the bakery so you don't have to buy a whole pack; if a pack is your only option, freeze the extras for another night.
Friday: Korean Barbecued Beef
→ Served with freezer rice on the side.
Get the beef for this recipe marinated the night before if you can remember! Otherwise, a 30-minute soak in the marinade is fine. Warm up some frozen rice to serve alongside.
Your Shopping List
Buy at the store:
- Yellow onion (2 medium)
- Red onion (1 medium)
- Green onions (1 bunch)
- Garlic (1 head)
- Parsley (1 small bunch)
- Cilantro (1 small bunch)
- Mint (1 small bunch)
- Ginger (1-inch piece)
- Spinach (1 10- to 12-ounce bag)
- Lemon (1 large, or 3 teaspoons juice)
- Smoked gouda cheese (3 to 4 ounces)
- Parmesan cheese (enough for 1/4 cup grated, plus a knob or rind for the soup)
- Provolone or American cheese (4 to 6 slices)
- Plain yogurt (1/2 cup)
- Rotisserie chicken (1 cooked chicken, or 2 to 3 cups cooked chicken from another source)
- Fresh or frozen tortellini (9 to 12 ounces, any kind)
- Pizza dough (1 8-ounce ball, or make your own)
- Hot or mild Italian sausage (1 pound bulk)
- Ground lamb or beef (1 pound)
- Rib-eye steak (1 to 1 1/2 pounds, thick-cut)
- Flank steak (1 pound)
- Whole, peeled tomatoes (1 28-ounce can)
- Pizza sauce (1/4 cup)
- Barbecue sauce (1/4 cup)
- Low-sodium chicken stock (2 1/4 cups)
- Low-sodium soy sauce (1/2 cup)
- Chickpeas (1 15-ounce can)
- Harissa paste (1 teaspoon)
- Toasted sesame seeds (1 tablespoon)
- Rice vinegar (2 tablespoons)
- Toasted sesame oil (2 tablespoons)
- Pineapple juice (1/4 cup)
- Dry red wine (1/2 cup, or substitute chicken stock)
- Naan or flatbreads (1 package)
- Hoagie or sub rolls (2 large)
- Freezer french fries (1 package)
- Freezer rice (1 package, or make homemade rice)
In your pantry (double check to make sure you have these on hand):
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Black pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- All-purpose flour, for rolling out the pizza dough
- Cornmeal or semolina, for dusting the pizza dough
- Balsamic vinegar (1 tablespoon)
- Brown sugar (1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon)
- Cumin (1 3/4 teaspoon)
- Pimentón (1 1/4 teaspoon)