It's no secret that many households are smaller these days. Americans are delaying marriage and waiting even longer to raise children or simply opting for none at all. The US Census defines the average household as a mere 2.6 persons. The number of baby boomers facing retirement and empty-nesters is growing by the hour. And with all these pared-down lives have come smaller living spaces and dinner tables regularly set for two.
In theory, rustling up a meal for two seems easy: Turn to a well-loved recipe and divide it in half or thirds. Or cook a favorite meal that serves four or six and eat leftovers for the rest of the week. But leftovers can mean days of tired food. And how do you halve a whole egg or divide 1/8 teaspoon of a spice? Frozen prepared meals aren't always a tasty and healthy alternative. These are some of the issues addressed in EatingWell Serves Two: 150 Healthy in a Hurry Suppers by Jim Romanoff.
"A 'family pack' of chicken parts or a 2-lb. bag of spring greens [isn't] going to work for two people sitting down to dinner on a Tuesday night," writes Mr. Romanoff in the cookbook's forward.
In reality, cooking for two involves a shift in everything from how to grocery shop to what size pan to use. "Serves Two" suggests finding markets that offer loose produce so you can select as few green beans as you need, seeking out deli counters that can wrap smaller portions of meat and fish, and using smaller pans to sauté so that sauces don't evaporate too quickly.
Tips like these are the result of three years of shopping and recipe testing at EatingWell magazine, where Mr. Romanoff is editor-at-large. He says the idea for the "Serves Two" cookbook was in direct response to reader correspondence.
In 2002, shortly after EatingWell resumed publication after a three-year hiatus, baby boomers and other empty-nesters began writing in saying they appreciated the magazine's focus on healthy eating, but wished there were more recipes for just two people. Soon similar requests began coming from young adults living on their own or with a roommate. So, editors and staff at EatingWell decided to accept the challenge to create recipes that didn't serve a crowd.
Instead of working backward from a finished dish, the EatingWell team began at the grocery store. Knowing what is routinely available in a supermarket is one of the staff's specialties, says Jessie Price, food editor of EatingWell magazine.
Test kitchens at EatingWell buzzed with conversations about smaller-sized cans and what kinds of items come in smaller packages. For example, "a five-ounce bag of spinach is great for two people," says Ms. Price.
Armed with a working list of readily available and appropriately packaged ingredients, the EatingWell staff tackled recipe development. Ingredients that were hard to find in smaller packages, simply weren't considered for recipe choices. The same principle applied to meal preparation time (everything can be made in 45 minutes or less). All the recipes had to be "healthy," visually appealing, and foolproof – even for cooks with two left oven mitts.
As a result, "EatingWell Serves Two" includes ordinary, sophisticated, and comfort-food fare that will appeal to a wide range of tastes and cooking abilities.
The cookbook's practical approach to meal creation is evident on every page. There are shopping tips about easy-to-find food items home cooks may not have known about before. When a recipe does call for a more obscure ingredient, a note describes what it is, where to find it, and, if necessary, what makes an appropriate substitution.
A tip index offers such advice as how to store and find other uses for those occasional leftovers. Extra chicken broth, for instance, keeps for several days in the refrigerator and is a tasty alternative to using water to cook rice.
Most of the "Serves Two" recipes are for entrees, but there's a "Quick Sides" section, too, with delicious ways to cook and serve grains, bread and potatoes, and vegetables. There's even a chapter on vegetarian main dishes.
Every recipe sits on just one page, so cooks don't have to turn pages while they work. One testament to the book's user-friendliness and creative flair was its nomination for a 2007 James Beard Foundation award, one of the premier awards for cookbooks.
If cooks encounter roadblocks – such as hard-to-find ingredients – then they won't try the recipe, says Romanoff. But "Serves Two" promises to clear the way for even the most tentative cook to move toward feeling like gourmet chef, even if it is just for an audience of one.
Salt & Pepper Shrimp
Rice flour is the secret ingredient in this dish. But if you can't find it, cornstarch is a fine substitute. Serve with rice noodles or brown rice and a sprinkle of chopped scallions. Time: 30 minutes. Difficulty: easy.
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 cups thinly sliced cabbage, preferably napa (about 1/4 head; see note)
1 small red or orange bell pepper, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons rice flour (or cornstarch)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder (see note below)
10 ounces raw shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and minced
Whisk lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar in a large bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage and bell pepper; toss to combine.
Combine rice flour (or cornstarch), salt, pepper, and five-spice powder in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook, stirring often, until they are pink and curled, three to four minutes. Add jalapeño and cook until the shrimp are cooked through, about a minute more. Serve the slaw topped with the shrimp. Serves two.
Notes: Cabbage can be refrigerated for up to one week. Add it to salads or soups. Look for rice flour in Asian markets or in the natural-foods section. Five-spice blend (often cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns) may be found in the supermarket spice section.
Pomodoro Pasta with White Beans & Olives
Capture the flavor of vine-ripened tomatoes with this elegant, yet quick, fresh tomato sauce. Although it's an uncooked sauce, the beans are heated briefly in the olive oil and garlic to infuse them with flavor. Time: 30 min. Difficulty: Easy.
4 ounces whole-wheat pasta shells, tubetti, ziti, or rigatoni
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 ripe medium tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons oil-cured black olives pitted and chopped (see note)
1/4 cup sliced fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, eight to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add beans and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the beans are just heated through, two to three minutes. Remove from the heat. Add tomatoes, olives, basil, and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Divide the pasta between two plates and top with the bean mixture and cheese. Serves two.
Note: Small amounts of olives can be purchased from bulk bins and salad bars.