April 3rd, 2014
01:00 AM ET
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America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full¬time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook's Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.

For decades, the rule of thumb for recipes has been “serves 4 to 6,” or even more. But many families don’t fit this mold, leaving small households stuck with days of leftovers and lots of waste. Cooks can scale recipes on the fly, hoping they come out right, but kitchen math isn’t as simple as cutting ingredients in half—cooking times and temperatures need to be adjusted, and equipment has to be reconsidered.

Enter our new book, "The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook." Part kitchen manual, part cookbook, it’s the first of its kind to engineer recipes from the ground up for the two-person household.

The test kitchen has spent more than 20 years developing bulletproof recipes for dishes like meatloaf, lasagna, mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake. Like most recipes, ours typically serve four, six, and sometimes more.

But we’ve realized that households change over time or through circumstance. Our readers started to echo this sentiment. Whether they were single parents, empty nesters, or newlyweds, they wanted recipes for the dishes we’d been developing for years, but they wanted them scaled to serve just two.

We understood this challenge; many of our own test cooks cook for two at home. While occasional leftovers can be convenient, eating macaroni and cheese three nights in a row gets tiresome. And even in a household of four, a standard cheesecake often hits the trash before the last slice is eaten. This book is designed to be an all-purpose cookbook for today’s smaller households. We included a wide range of recipes, including everything you might want to eat during the course of the year.

With a clear goal in mind of scaling down our favorite recipes to serve two, we headed into the test kitchen to start revamping. But once we got cooking, we discovered that our mission wasn’t going to be so easy. Often there are amounts that don’t divide evenly (one egg, for example). And even if you cut a recipe down perfectly, the cooking times and temperatures require adjustment - a small roast cooks faster than a larger one.

Sometimes, an entire dish needs to be re-engineered from the ground up. Just how do you make a lasagna for two? You certainly can’t use the standard 13 by 9-inch baking dish. In short, we discovered there are different rules and approaches when cooking for two. And because we have vetted every recipe in our test kitchen, they are just as reliable as our standard recipes - no need to scale recipes yourself and hope they work.

Because households of two can be as time-pressed as larger households, we also looked for new approaches to complicated recipes. So go ahead, make that dish you're craving and bask in the knowledge that you won't have to eat it for lunch for the next five days.

Classic Lasagna
Serves 2

Lasagna is a crowd-pleaser: What’s not to love about a dish layered with tender noodles, meaty sauce, and gooey cheese baked until golden and bubbling? But it’s also time-consuming to prepare. We didn’t think this hearty and satisfying favorite should be off-limits when cooking for less than a crowd. Our goal was a streamlined version for two.

For an easy meaty tomato sauce, we found that meatloaf mix lent more flavor and richness than ground beef. A little cream with diced tomatoes and canned tomato sauce gave us a velvety sauce reminiscent of a Bolognese.

Swapping traditional noodles for no-boil noodles was an easy timesaver. A baking dish made far too much for two, but the noodles fit perfectly in a loaf pan. We simply layered noodles with the sauce and a combination of mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan for a perfectly proportioned two-person lasagna.

Meatloaf mix is a combination of equal parts ground beef, pork, and veal and is available in most grocery stores. If you can’t find meatloaf mix, substitute 4 ounces each of ground pork and 90 percent lean ground beef. Do not substitute fat-free ricotta here.

Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces meatloaf mix
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained with 1/4 cup juice reserved
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

Filling, noodles and cheese

4 ounces (1/2 cup) whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus 2 tablespoons, grated
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 no-boil lasagna noodles
4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

1. For the sauce: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in meatloaf mix and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

2. Stir in cream, bring to simmer, and cook until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juice and tomato sauce. Bring to simmer and cook until flavors are blended, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. For the filling, noodles and cheese: Combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, basil, egg, salt, and pepper in bowl.

4. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of loaf pan, avoiding large chunks of meat. Lay 1 noodle in pan, spread one-third of ricotta mixture over noodle, sprinkle with 1/4 cup mozzarella, and top with 1/2 cup sauce; repeat layering 2 more times. Lay remaining noodle in pan and top with remaining sauce, remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella, and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

5. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Bake until sauce bubbles lightly around edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until hot throughout and cheese is browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Lemon-Herb Cod with Crispy Garlic Potatoes
Serves 2

We set out to develop a simple one-dish dinner of flaky cod and crispy roasted potatoes. For potatoes that would cook through quickly, we sliced russet potatoes thin, tossed them with oil and garlic, and shingled them into two piles in a greased baking dish. We roasted the potatoes until they were spotty brown and tender then added the cod fillets—topped with pieces of butter, sprigs of thyme, and slices of lemon—and slid it all back into the oven.

After just 15 minutes more, we had a perfect dinner of moist, subtly flavored cod and crispy, garlicky potatoes.

1. Shingle potato slices into 2 piles of 3 tight rows, each measuring about 4 by 6 inches. Gently push rows together so that potatoes are tidy and cohesive.

2. After par-cooking potatoes, carefully place 1 cod fillet skinned side down on top of each set of potatoes. Top fish with butter pieces, thyme sprigs, and lemon slices and return to oven to finish cooking.

Try to purchase cod fillets that are similar in size so that they cook at the same rate. If the fillets are much thinner than 1 inch, simply fold them over to make them thicker. Halibut and haddock are good substitutes for the cod.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (8-ounce) russet potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 18 slices)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
2 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless cod fillets, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 lemon, sliced thin

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush 13 by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil.

2. Toss potatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Shingle potatoes into baking dish in 2 rectangular piles measuring 4 by 6 inches. Roast potatoes until spotty brown and just tender, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating dish halfway through roasting.

3. Pat cod dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Carefully place 1 fillet skinned side down on top of each potato pile. Top fillets with butter pieces, thyme sprigs, and lemon slices. Roast cod and potatoes until fish flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife and registers 140 degrees, about 15 minutes.

4. Slide spatula underneath potatoes and fillets and gently transfer to individual plates. Serve.

Easy Skillet Cheese Pizza
Serves 2

We wanted to come up with an easier, quicker way to make pizza at home. Our idea was to build the pizza in a skillet, give the crust a jump start with heat from the stovetop, then transfer it to the oven to cook through—no pizza stone required. We oiled the skillet to keep the dough from sticking and to encourage browning, then we added the dough and turned up the heat. A simple no-cook sauce of diced tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic and a combination of mozzarella and a little Parmesan were all the toppings this easy pizza needed.

You can substitute 8 ounces of store‐bought pizza dough for the dough in this recipe. Let the dough sit out at room temperature while preparing the remaining ingredients and heating the oven; otherwise, it will be difficult to stretch. Feel free to add simple toppings before baking, such as pepperoni, sautéed mushrooms, or browned sausage, but keep the toppings light or they may weigh down the thin crust and make it soggy.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained with juice reserved
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 recipe Basic Pizza Dough, room temperature, or store-bought dough
4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to upper‐middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Grease 12‐inch ovensafe skillet with 2 tablespoons oil.

2. Pulse tomatoes, garlic, salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon oil together in food processor until coarsely ground, about 12 pulses. Transfer mixture to liquid measuring cup and add reserved tomato juice until sauce measures 1/2 cup.

3. Place dough on lightly floured counter. Press and roll dough into 11‐inch round. Transfer dough to prepared skillet; reshape as needed. Spread sauce over dough, leaving 1/2‐inch border at edge. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over sauce.

4. Set skillet over high heat and cook until outside edge of dough is set, pizza is lightly puffed, and bottom crust is spotty brown when gently lifted with spatula, about 3 minutes.

5. Transfer pizza to oven and bake until crust is brown and cheese is golden in spots, 7 to 10 minutes. Using potholders (skillet handle will be hot), remove skillet from oven and slide pizza onto cutting board. Let pizza cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Basic Pizza Dough
Makes 8 ounces dough

It’s easy enough to buy pizza dough at the grocery store, but the standard 1‐pound bags mean lots of leftovers when cooking for two. We wanted a recipe for a great‐tasting pizza dough that would make just enough for a small pizza or couple of calzones. The first key was getting the right ratio of flour to water. High‐protein bread flour ensured our dough baked up chewy with a crisp crust. A little olive oil added richness and made the dough easier to roll out.

All‐purpose flour can be substituted for the bread flour, but the resulting crust will be a little less chewy. If desired, you can slow down the dough’s rising time by letting it rise in the refrigerator for 8 to 16 hours in step 2; let the refrigerated dough soften at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.

1 cup (5 1/2 ounces) bread flour, plus extra as needed
3/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
7 tablespoons warm water (110 degrees)

1. Process flour, yeast, and salt in food processor until combined, about 2 seconds. With processor running, slowly add oil, then water, and process until dough forms sticky ball that clears sides of bowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If, after 1 minute, dough is sticky and clings to blade, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed until it clears sides of bowl.)

Fudgy Brownies
Makes 8 brownies

Everyone loves brownies, but a full pan of brownies for two is way too much for even the most ardent brownie lovers. To scale back our batch of fudgy brownies, we ditched the large baking dish in favor of a loaf pan, which made just eight brownies—perfect for two people to enjoy over a few days. Two types of chocolate—semisweet chocolate and cocoa powder—gave us plenty of fudgy flavor.

To make our batter easy to mix by hand, we melted the semisweet chocolate quickly in the microwave. A whole egg plus an extra yolk made our brownies rich, moist, and chewy. The deep sides of the loaf pan made it hard to cut the brownies neatly, so we lined the pan with a foil sling that allowed us to lift the brownies out in one piece before cutting.

1. Place 2 sheets of aluminum foil perpendicular to each other in loaf pan, pushing foil into corners. Smooth foil flush to pan.

2. Use foil handles to lift baked brownies or bars from pan.

Be careful not to overbake these brownies or they will have a very dry, cakey texture. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches; if you use a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness 5 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe.

3 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 1/3 ounces) sugar
1 large egg plus 1 large yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Make foil sling for 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil; first sheet should be 8 1/2 inches wide and second sheet should be 4 1/2 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.

2. Microwave chocolate, butter, and cocoa in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 1 to 3 minutes; let cool slightly. Whisk sugar, egg and yolk, vanilla, and salt together in medium bowl until combined. Whisk in melted chocolate mixture until combined. Stir in flour with rubber spatula until just combined.

3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 24 to 28 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let brownies cool completely in pan on wire rack. Remove brownies from pan using foil, loosening sides with paring knife, if needed. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Brownies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

More from America's Test Kitchen:
The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook
Crème Brûlée For Two
Peach Cobbler For Two
Perfect Scrambled Eggs For Two
Equipping Your Kitchen

Previously:
Holy sheet! Primo pan pizza
Sop up this biscuit wisdom
Carve the way to roast beef enlightenment



soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. FoodMan

    A trick I learned about making individual portions of lasagna was to cook the noodles, spread cheese mixture, basil and/or spinach and meat (prociutto, ground beef, etc) over 3/4 or so of the noodle and roll it up. Put some Béchamel sauce in a glass baking dish and place these lasagna roll-ups on that. Cover them with some red sauce and more cheese and bake. Each noodle is a decent sized portion and you can make exactly what you want. Looks pretty sharp too when serving from the dish.

    April 9, 2014 at 11:25 am |
    • Ed G.

      Thanks, this is a great idea.

      April 9, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Jan

    Left overs are wonderful, some even better than when freshly prepared. Cooking in large enough quantities to supply several meals encourages me to cook more time & labor intense foods from scratch. And we should all be able to do the simple arithmetic and reasonable estimation of cook times based on quantity to let us choose how large or small a batch we wish to make of most recipes.

    April 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
  3. KieranH

    Don't eat leftovers as it is now. Garbage can!

    April 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm |
    • Ghost of Leftovers

      You always were a wasteful, spoiled brat.

      April 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
  4. Ally

    I do love leftovers but the article makes a good point. My fiance and I both love to cook. Most of our recipes are scaled for 4-6 people. We make them and freeze some leftovers and eat some over the next day or two. The problem comes when we want to cook more often than every 2 or 3 days. Then the food piles up.

    In January I cleaned out my freezer and was sad to see so much waste. We had actually forgotten some of the leftovers that were in there! This year I'm determined to stop wasting so much food. Recipies for 2 will be cooking in my house more this year!

    April 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm |
    • OCD

      Lists are our friends. If you maintain a grocery list, it might be just as easy for you to start a leftovers list. As you put a container of leftovers in the fridge or freezer, make a note (electronically or otherwise) of it close to where you keep your grocery list. We use the Out of Milk app for all our lists. Groceries, hardware, children (kidding) and leftovers.

      April 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
  5. palintwit

    I've often wondered what it would be like to live in a Palin-free world. Utopia? **sigh**

    April 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
    • Moses@palintroll

      Please killeth thyself. Do it forthwith...

      April 4, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
  6. lindaluttrell

    I usually cook enough so that I don't have to cook the next day. Meat loaf and lasagna always taste better the next day. I cook 6 quarts of spaghetti sauce in the crock pot and freeze it. The sauce always tastes better after "aging" in the freezer. Let's hear it for leftovers!

    April 4, 2014 at 11:31 am |
  7. Leigh

    I love leftovers.

    April 4, 2014 at 10:06 am |
    • Bob

      Agree. Sometimes the leftovers taste better than the original meal because the flavors have time to mesh. The stigma against leftovers is just silly–and wasteful.

      April 4, 2014 at 10:58 am |
      • JellyBean

        Totally agree with you.

        April 4, 2014 at 2:09 pm |
  8. Thinking things through

    I seriously do understand the idea of making lasagna for two. I also know a good lasagna requires work and that the remainders are freeze-able. So if I make it, it will be for way more than two, and I'll freeze the rest. Uncomplicated meal ideas will be made for two or maybe even one...

    April 3, 2014 at 10:05 pm |
  9. AleeD®

    That lasagne looks good enough to eat.

    April 3, 2014 at 1:28 pm |
  10. TNT

    Mmmm, brownies. I'll have to give that a try, sounds easy & so good!

    April 3, 2014 at 9:34 am |

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