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Cooking for Two : Most cookbooks offer recipes that serve from four to six people, but members of a small household need not despair. You can feed two people without endless leftovers (or high cost) by repackaging and freezing.

May 08, 1986|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

It's a paradox. Almost half the households in this country are now inhabited by only one or two persons, yet most recipes are meant to feed four to six. Particularly those recipes that have been family favorites for years. So what do you do? Eat out a lot? Wear a path to your favorite takeout deli? Completely give up home cooking and turn the kitchen into a walk-in closet?

Whether you are just starting out on your own or cooking for two because the fledglings have left the nest, those who like to cook but live in small households spend a lot of time being frustrated. It's not all that easy to find recipes designed to serve just one or two. And reducing larger quantity recipes to smaller amounts is not quite as simple a project as it seems. The result too often is endless leftovers, appalling waste and a growing hate for the kitchen.

To these frustrations, add the fact that you never seem to be able to buy what you want in small quantities.

Others seem able to cope with the problem, so where are you going wrong?

Relax. You are neither ineffectual nor inefficient. You just need to shift gears a bit and learn to revise and renew your recipe collection.

In the first place, just because you're cooking for two doesn't mean you have to buy for two. If you spot a good-looking pot roast that would obviously feed an army, don't hesitate for one moment. Buy it. Then plan to turn it into a whole collection of meals. Merle Ellis, who writes "The Butcher" column for The Times, is a master at turning a large piece of meat that will serve eight amply at one sitting into an appetizing series of meals for two. Not similar meals, mind you. He turns a single purchase into a variety of meals that in no way resemble each other. (On Page 12 you'll find some of his suggestions as to how to do this.)

From a single four-pound pot roast, Ellis recommends you plan on one meal for two people of breakfast steaks, one based on a quick stir-fry, one of small dinner steaks and one of beef kebabs or stew. In addition, he freezes the bones and scraps to combine with other beef trimmings for a rich soup or stock. Not bad for a single pot roast, right? Particularly when one realizes that doing the cutting up oneself means monetary savings enough to make one feel exceedingly virtuous.

The way to handle this type of menu planning is as simple as the shopping. Allow time to cut your purchase into meal-size portions as soon as you get it home. Decide at that point on the various menus. You don't have to put them into any particular schedule. Just package them with specific recipes in mind to be prepared when the whim strikes.

It's also not a bad idea to make a list of what you are freezing and tape it to the refrigerator. That way you can tell at a glance exactly what's there, and who knows what sort of inspiration that can provide. It makes no difference whether you are buying poultry, pork, lamb or any other type of meat. Buy what looks good and repackage it to suit your situation.

Many markets feature good buys on what they call "family packs" of chicken parts, pork chops and other meat items. Again, the easy way to take advantage of such bargains is to break up the packages the moment you get them home and repackage them in amounts suitable for serving two. After all, if the kids or friends drop by, it's just as easy to thaw two or more packages as it is to thaw one.

Packaging food in meal-size portions for two before it's cooked is only one way to win this challenging battle. Some recipes, usually family favorites, simply don't lend themselves to small quantity cookery. Soups, casseroles that call for numerous ingredients, even pies--both meat-based main dishes and desserts--just don't taste the same when you try reducing the recipes. The seasonings and other ingredients balance perfectly in larger quantities but there is something lacking when you try to cut down.

In these cases plan to freeze the excess in meal-size portions after they are cooked. Then work them into your menus over the next month or two. Just think of all the menu planning and preparation time you will save.

A favorite recipe in my household is a simple old-fashioned chicken and biscuits casserole. It's one of those that just isn't the same when reduced in quantity and the original recipe serves six to eight. And, since mine is one of the increasingly common two-person households, we long ago had to make up our minds to give up on the dish unless we had guests, or to figure a way to enjoy it without dining on it night after night. Once again the freezer was our solution.

A Simple Recipe

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