Cooking for Two

Over the years we’ve discovered that scaling down a recipe isn’t as simple as cutting the ingredients in half.

O

ver the past few weeks, I’ve been trying harder than ever to cut down on food waste. That means shopping smartly, planning wisely, and using scaled-down recipes that can feed my family of two. (I usually consider ours to be a family of three, but our dog, Ollie, has her own meal plan.) Although I’d love to just cut my favorite recipes in half, it’s not that easy. Cooking times, temperatures, and equipment need to be adjusted as well. I love cooking from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook because I know that each of its 650 recipes has been re-engineered by my coworkers at the test kitchen to serve just two people. It also contains equipment recommendations for small households and clever ways to use items you probably already have. My favorite: a loaf pan can double as a baking dish for lasagnas and casseroles. Read on for more tips on cooking for two. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, Reviews

We loved this pan’s solid construction and slick nonstick surface. Scrambled eggs slid out of the pan without hesitation, steaks flipped easily, and the pan performed effortlessly as we moved it from the stovetop to the oven when making shepherd's pie. The actual cooking surface is only about 7 inches wide, so we had to be extra-careful when sautéing a skillet full of vegetables for shepherd’s pie; some pieces flew over the sides as we stirred. However, our scaled-down recipes for two people fit well in this pan, and we loved its long, sturdy handle.  More on this test

We loved how deeply this pan browned foods: The steak had a dark crust and the fond made a flavorful pan sauce. It came preseasoned, but some scrambled eggs stuck to the surface, and we saw traces of black cast-iron seasoning on the crust of apple pie. (It’s worth noting that this pan will become more nonstick with use over time.) Plus, it requires seasoning after every use. However, these are minor quibbles. It’s a great pan at an excellent price, and it will last a lifetime.  More on this test

This pan has an excellent, durable nonstick surface that released everything we cooked in it with ease. The shape is ideal, with a broad cooking surface and gently flared sides that allowed us to move food around without spilling and easily flip eggs, steaks, and fish fillets. The simple brushed-metal handle stayed cool and was comfortable to hold, whether we were tossing cauliflower florets or tilting the pan to turn out a frittata. The pan scratched and dented lightly in our abuse tests, but we deemed it acceptable.  More on this test

This little OXO skillet bested the rest for three simple reasons: superior nonstick ability, a comfortable handle, and a nicely shaped body. It cruised through 50 eggs at the beginning and end of testing, indicating a slick, durable nonstick coating. Testers found its rounded, brushed-steel handle “grippy” and liked that it gave “options for where to hold.” Construction-wise, it was “lightweight but sturdy” and perfectly balanced, making it especially pleasing to cook with.  More on this test

Like our favorite highly recommended full-size Dutch oven, this smaller pot’s light-colored interior and low, straight sides allowed us to easily monitor browning, and its large looped handles made it easy to move, even when filled with 4 pounds of short ribs. It had excellent heat retention, and French fries emerged golden brown and crispy. The one drawback? Its shorter stature meant that a pile of short ribs were slightly cramped; however, the end result was still excellent.  More on this test

This budget-friendly pot aced nearly every test: White rice was fluffy, meatballs were browned, and French fries were crispy. We liked its light interior, which allowed us to easily monitor browning. Though its helper handles were a bit smaller and the pot was nearly a pound heavier than the Le Creuset, it was still fairly easy to lift and maneuver. The Cuisinart’s smaller size and cooking surface did mean that a full batch of short ribs were a bit too snug and we could fit fewer meatballs. Overall, though, this is an excellent Dutch oven at a bargain price.  More on this test

This extremely sturdy, warp-resistant baking sheet turned out evenly cooked and browned chicken, cauliflower, and focaccia. Its lightweight, compact size made it easy to maneuver into and out of the oven. Its size is ideal for preparing recipes that serve two and for kitchen tasks that require only a small amount of space, such as toasting a handful of nuts or a few tablespoons of sesame seeds.  More on this test

Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.  More on this test

Still the best—and a bargain—after 20 years, this knife’s “super-sharp” blade was “silent” and “smooth,” even as it cut through tough squash, and it retained its edge after weeks of testing. Its textured grip felt secure for a wide range of hand sizes, and thanks to its gently rounded edges and the soft, hand-polished top spine, we could comfortably choke up on the knife for “precise,” “effortless” cuts. Update: November 2013 Since our story appeared, the price of our winning Victorinox Swiss Army 8" Chef's Knife with Fibrox Handle has risen from $27.21 to about $39.95. We always report the price we paid for products when we bought them for testing; however, product prices are subject to change.  More on this test