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The Vine: September 2, 2015

Submitted by on September 2, 2015 – 9:07 AM43 Comments


I recently moved out on my own after 11 years of living with roommates, and while I really love the chance to cook creatively and without the picky restrictions of others, I'm finding that I'm starting to make a lot of the same things over and over again.

I was hoping to get suggestions on "Cooking for One (or Two)" type cookbooks.

I don't mind have a little leftover, which can be used for lunch the next day. And they also don't have to be too gourmet. I'm just looking for easy-to-make, not too time-consuming recipes to broaden my horizon.



Dear Leah,

I had a lot of luck with the back-page recipes in Better Homes And Gardens. If you aren't keen on the "make the dish Sunday, eat it all week" sort of plan, maybe that isn't for you, but I've found that those dishes scale really well, up as well as down. Here's a modded Nicoise from BHG that I make all the time during the summer, and you can browse around the other recipes if that one's not your jam.

The internet might serve you better as a resource for this than a traditional book, in fact; no doubt those exist and the readers will have recommendations, but I can't remember the last time I cracked one of my cookbooks, versus having Sirus read me a recipe I had sent to my phone. Propping your tablet or Droid against the peppermill and using a recipe/cookbook you Kindled, or an Epicurious bookmark, is often easier. (I found an article on weeknight solo cooking, with recipe recs, on Epicurious if that's helpful at all.)

Readers: Books? Sites? Magazines with varied scaleable recipes? Let's hear from you.

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  • Amy says:

    My favorite sources for small recipes is Taste of Home. They publish a "Cooking for Two" series which is just recipes scaled for 1-2 servings.

  • Laurel says:

    I loved a book called "Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant" – it's essays and recipes about the pleasure of cooking for yourself. I also like "Going Solo In The Kitchen" which is more of a straightforward cookbook.

    I do use the internet almost exclusively for recipes, though, and I swear by Paprika, which has desktop and iOS apps and will sync between all three. You can import recipes straight from the web and it will scale the ingredients up or down for you. I have it on my phone, iPad, and MacBook. I use the iPad in the kitchen – Paprika also has timers that are integrated into the recipe interface. It's awesome.

  • Halo says:

    As a single person, I will be stalking these comments. I am totally not a person who can eat the same thing over several days. Except tacos. I like to slow braise a pork shoulder with roasted green chiles and shred, then enjoy true bliss. You can use the pork in burritos, tacos, over scrambled eggs, in sandwiches, in salad, etc.

    Personally, I can come up with lots of good ideas for meals and make them, but good recipes often don't scale down well. I hate wasting food and shopping inefficiently (I hate grocery shopping in general). I'm also terrible at meal planning for a week or so, which seems like the only way to avoid waste. The Everyday Food magazine used to do these weekly shopping lists with five recipes, and I've found I can modify those pretty well. Otherwise, I am not skilled with the planning.

  • Sue says:

    Food52 is a great resource, and has columns geared towards weeknight/leftover-friendly cooking. Genius recipes are as promised and their round-ups of recipes help highlight specific offerings. If you really want a cookbook, try Donna Hay's. I can't find the specific one I have (and it might be a different title for a different audience) but she has a lot of easy, quick, flavorful recipes that can feed one rather than four.

  • Liz says:

    any recipe can be scaled up or down but more complex recipes do sometimes require more attention to detail. However, if you are cooking something like say, a Chinese stir fry just scale the amount of vegetables and protein and make the same amount of sauce – worst case you have extra sauce left in the bottom of the pan.

    Also, don't feel hemmed in because you don't have every exact ingredient a recipe calls for – sub peppers for broccoli in your stir fry, for example. Use lean center cut pork if you like that better than bl/sl chicken breast. Focus on paying attention to the techniques of the recipes you like and then you'll be able to make your changes and it won't seem like the same dish (because it won't be).

    That said, if you like to bake, there is a great book called Small Batch Baking that scales cookies, cakes, and all sorts of baked goods for 2-4 servings. It should be available on Amazon.

  • Jenny says:

    This isn't exactly what you are asking about, but I'll throw it out there anyway.

    I'm single and tend to cook one thing per week and eat it all week. But I found myself in a pretty bad rut where I was eating a lot of starchy things and not good for you foods. I was terrible about vegetables. My portions were too big.

    I'd been reading a lot of sponsored Blue Apron blogs. I know the deal with sponsored blog entries (i.e. take with a HUGE grain of salt), but I was kind of intrigued and figured that there were worse things to waste money on.

    So I committed to trying it for 4 weeks to see if it was worth it and if it wasn't a huge money suck.

    I'm 3 weeks in and I really like it so far. I've tried a lot of things that I would have never, ever cooked for myself. I am really enjoying the fact that I'm only getting the amount of ingridents that I will use for that meal. The food quality has been good. I've tried 12 recipes and 3 were amazing, 5 were good, and only 2 were ones that I wouldn't mess with again. The portion sizes are good–big enough that I'm not tempted to eat more, but smaller than I would probably eat on my own. Sometimes I can stretch a meal (2 servings) to 2 dinners and 1 lunch. The cost has been OK….I don't think I'm spending that much more than I would have buying groceries.

    This is probably starting to sound like an ad, but if anyone has any questions, I'll answer them. I also think that the other programs that are similar are probably as good as the one I happened to pick.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    How To Cook Everything has been my jam for over a decade. Not only is it filled with recipes that can scale up or down, Bittman also provides shopping lists of staples to keep in stock so you can always make something, etc. There's also a vegetarian version.

    I highly recommend casseroles as well, since they involve a quick and tasty way to use up leftover this and thats. Many freeze well, too. There's tons of cookbooks on Amazon that cater to every taste.

    My husband and I got a subscription to Cuisine Magazine from my sister one Christmas and never looked back. A lot of their stuff is "fancy," but many of the recipes are perfect for just two to four servings. Welsh Rarebit and tomato soup is a super easy to prepare/keep the cheese sauce in the fridge lunch, for example.

  • Lizard says:

    A lot of my cookbooks are family hand-me-downs from the 1960s and feature lots of intensive Thanksgiving-type meals for 6-12, so I sympathize. I recommend "In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World." It's aimed at young 20-somethings just learning to cook, but if you ignore that part of it, there are lots of easy and interesting recipes for 1 or 2 people, and lots of suggestions for potlucks, parties and so on.

  • ErinPage says:

    America's Test Kitchen (sidetone: great podcast!) has a Cooking for Two cookbook that has recipes scaled down, and would be perfect for dinner and a leftover or lunch. I find they have good tips and are usually pretty time-efficient and tasty.

  • bluesabriel says:

    I've been using Budget Bytes a lot lately and really like it. I cook for myself, my husband, and a two-year-old who only eats dinner when the planets are aligned correctly. They have a lot of recipes that do well as leftovers. They also tend to be cheap (hence the name) and quick and easy to make, which is my biggest requirement these days (see above re: 2-year-old). I've also found that, while the recipes you find get redundant after a while, Pinterest is a good source of information. I almost never do the projects or ideas I pin, but I DO actually cook the things I find once and a while.

  • bluesabriel says:

    Probably should have mentioned that Budget Bytes is a website. Sorry!

  • Tyliag says:

    Two recommendations:

    1. The Skinny Taste cookbook. I bought it in January and it's been a lifesaver. Lots of easy, good for you recipes that can be whipped up in a cinch. The roast beef sandwich with sour cream horseradish spread? To die for. The gnocchi soup? Killer. Ever wanted to cook quinoa? There's two recipes in that book that are perfect. Want to know what pearl couscous is and how to cook it? This works in a pinch.

    2. Try the tumblr site No More Ramen. The whole premise of the site is to provide fast, cheap, easy but also somewhat healthy and nutritious meals usually for one or two people. It doesn't just provide recipes, but also explicitly states what tools you are going to need or if there's an easier way to do things. Great tips and tricks all around. I used the Pita pizza recipe they posted and it was delicious!

  • Tina says:

    i love the book "one pan, two plates"–it's full of tasty recipes broken down by season as well as ingredient. It has really helped me to try new things, highly recommend it!

  • AnnMargrock says:

    Lots of good suggestions already here.
    You say you like some creative options. This Giada "Pork-With-Fig-Sauce" was my go-to recipe for company:
    LOVED THIS. I've gotten a smaller roast and made a 1/2 recipe that would give me just a little leftover the next day (fig sauce even better on Day 2). Company loves this, but it's great just on a Tuesday. Read it through – it's not actually very hard to make because you toss everything for the sauce in a pot and just keep an eye on it. The roast needs to be turned every so often, but you don't do anything else to it.
    Extremely tasty for meat eaters.

  • Annabelle says:

    Speaking as a recently divorced woman whose ex had a couple of food allergies on top of some generalized pickiness, and who is now reveling in the amazing freedom to cook whatever I want, I whole heartedly second the recommendation for Blue Apron. I've been using it for about five months now and I love it. It's a little spendy, but you will never get bored and I've made so many things that I would never have come up with on my own. It also guarantees that you're eating a good amount of fresh produce without wasting a ton (which has always been a challenge for me when cooking for one) because they only send you as much as you need for the particular recipe.

  • S says:

    I also find it hard to scale recipes down for one person. So I make a lot of stews, soups, curries, etc and freeze most of it. If you freeze everything in containers that hold 1 or 2 servings, you can defrost that morning for dinner that night and maybe lunch the next day. Plus it cuts cooking and washing up to maybe one day a week.

    Oh, and eggs. Easy, fast, built-in portion control.

  • Leah says:

    OP here – Thank you for all the suggestions! I've added quite a bit to my Amazon wishlist and to my web bookmarks. I'll be taking some time this weekend to sit down and search for some new recipes. I can already tell that several of the cookbooks mentioned are going to make onto my shelf very soon.

  • C says:

    I use It gives you the option to resize the number of servings, see how the recipe was rated by others, and in the reviews there are lots of tweaks that people made that made the recipes even better.

  • KateeBar says:

    Another loner who loves Blue Apron as an option. I get two, three or even four portions out of many of the meals, and I'm on the two-person plan. I plan on doing it every other week or so, and they make it really easy to do that. I just really like that I get the spices, the produce, etc. portioned for the recipe so there's very little waste. And I've found all the meals were really good. Only one was in the okay category but that was because I don't love green beans. You can do some menu management if there's a meal you're not into for that delivery.

  • Jo says:

    How to Cook Everything is also an app! I think it's expensive — like $10 — but it's awesome. Easy to search and well-organized.

    I only cook for two, which is almost as hard, and we either eat leftovers all week or I have to do the math to scale down.

    One thing I like to do is make a roast chicken (This is my favorite: and it's delicious on its own as leftovers, but you can do so much with it. You can eat just a drumstick or two one night, then the next day, use it to make something like alfredo, then maybe make fajitas the last night. And you can boil the carcass to make broth and freeze it in servings small enough for your purposes. You can do something similar with any kind of meat, I imagine. I don't like pork and beef is expensive.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Bittman's Kitchen Express. The recipes are meant to take 20 minutes (I have poor cooking skills so they take me a relaxed, unstressful hour) and they are written in a purposefully loose way (they are very forgiving recipes) that teaches you how to cook and how to vary recipes.

  • Kendra says:

    I second Going Solo in the Kitchen – I got it as a college graduation gift when I moved out on my own for the first time. It's also got tips about what to have on hand, what freezes easily, what is easy to scale up, substitutions, etc.

  • Nicole says:

    Someone else mentioned the America's Test Kitchen cookbook, Cooking for Two – I second or third it. That's a great cookbook and it has recipes for almost anything you want to cook. Lately, I've been finding some good recipes on Buzzfeed – they compile recipes around themes from a bunch of cooking blogs. When I find a recipe I like, I will poke around that blog to find others.

  • Sandman says:

    I second the recommendation for Mark Bittman — I have a couple of his books — Kitchen Express is full of tasty things that are streamlined to prepare; The Minimalist Cooks Dinner is equally useful and stress-free. Bittman's authorial voice is instructive and calm without being in the least condescending. It's great for novice and nervous cooks. I also use the app version of How To Cook Everything quite often, though not every day. It's full of things that ought to be in everyone's kitchen repertoire, and it's usually pretty easy to scale things up or down. (I think the hardcover edition runs to two or three times the price of the app currently, and it was more when I bought the app, so it seemed like a good buy.) Coolest thing about the app: Tapping any reference to timing in a recipe brings up a built-in timer!

    I like Food 52 a lot, as well.

  • Dawna says:

    Some great website suggestions here, and I'd like to add a recommendation for the Eating Well and Cooking Light sites. Both are a great source of ideas, if you prefer to wing it yourself, or recipes that can be easily modified to your own tastes. Both have decent recipe-finder tools and interesting browsable collections. I'm not a huge fan of the "clean eating" rhetoric on CL, but it's not too in-your-face.

    I have a tiny fridge and even tinier freezer, but I do like to use it to advantage. Whenever I make chili con carne, for example, I usually put three cups-worth in a container in the freezer, which is the exact amount I will need to make chili-mac a couple of weeks later (just add elbow noodles, water, extra tomato sauce, and sprinkle with cheese at the end). Leftovers that you can easily convert to something else are the best!

  • Leah says:

    Oooh, thanks Jo! I've always wanted to roast a chicken, and that looks really easy. I'll be giving that a try too!

  • Bessa says:

    I don't have any explicit recipes to rec, but partner-in-crime and I are in the same boat – just the two of us, and a propensity to eat starchy, heavy foods.

    One thing that helped us was to join a vegetable co-op thing, where you pay $X a week and get a bag of produce. We didn't get much choice in what we got and it was just expensive enough that we didn't want to waste any, so it really forced us to expand our cooking horizons. A giant head of cabbage had us making pork dumplings, tons of mini cucumbers got us to try pickling, a load of tomatoes had us improving a new pasta sauce, etc. It was a good way to get us out of our comfort zone.

    That said, the weekly veggies might get overwhelming for one person. A good alternative would be what my friend calls the "I've never cooked this" game. Every time she goes to the store she buys one protein or produce item that she's never cooked before, and then she goes home and googles recipes. Some of them have turned out really well, and it's broadened her cooking horizons a lot.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I'm going to vote against joining a CSA if it's just you. If you have a friend nearby that you can split it with, that's better, but at least around here, you really get the same vegetables over and over again. By which I mean kale in the winter and zucchini in the summer, which is why this household quit after two months.

    It does work for some people, obvs, but talk to a friend using that CSA about what you can realistically expect to get. Not getting much choice is actually kind of fun; it's that, depending on where you live, you won't get much RANGE either.

    …this comment brought to you by Well NOW I Hate Kohlrabi: The Sarah D. Bunting Story

  • Jody says:

    I've just bought 'single serve' by Penny Oliver. It's an awesome little book with lots of cook's notes and freezer recommendations on individual recipe and ideas of what to do if there are extras leftover. Her other cookbook 'one-dish dinners' is great if you're not keen on lots of washing up!most dishes serve 4 but they'd be easy to scale down. She uses lots of ingredients that you'll already have or that are easy to find.

  • --Lisa says:

    I can recommend "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker cookbook, for two."

    It helps keep me out of a rut.

  • Jo says:

    @Sandman: Whoa! I never realized that about that app. That's awesome. I'll have to try it.

    @Leah: You're welcome! The friend who recommended that to me is a chef (who knows how to do all kinds of fancier things) and she said people always request it when she makes it. It's the best! Take the directions seriously — don't open the oven at all until it's been 45-50 minutes. I usually have to cook a little longer to get the temperature right. And use lots of salt. It makes the skin super salty and crispy. Yummmm.

  • Kari says:

    I add my hat for the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. Go ahead and get the cooking for two, if you want. Or just get the big, every-recipe-of-every-season-of-the-show book that will give you just about everything you need. Either way, great recipes, tested for quality. It's our go-to for day-to-day cooking. Enjoy.

  • Nanc says:

    Late to to commenting party, but I'll thumbs up suggestion of Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker.

    Also, before you buy cookbooks check out your local library–they may have your wish list as well as other options. They may also subscribe to cooking magazines, although if they're like mine, each one comes with a wee label saying if you cut out recipes, the dish will burn to a crisp when you make it!

  • SorchaRei says:

    Research CSAs. Mine is a clearing house for several local organic farms, and every week, I can go in and swap out things we are tired of for other things. I can also look at what's available this week and hold the delivery without charge or penalty if I want. This works because it's a collective of many farms; single farm CSAs don't scale this way. The downside is not supporting a farm as directly and knowing that some of my fees are going for overhead to support things like swapping and holding. Still, it's been a good compromise for us, especially since my mobility issues make the Farmer's Market harder and harder for me to use.

  • Mathilda Moo says:

    OMG I KNOW A THING: The mini- cookbook that got me through college was: Cookery for One or Two; by Barbara Swain, and it is out of print but the ISBN # is 0912656956. It has every thing from breakfast to desserts in tiny-size recipes, and also good advice on stocking your pantry, what to freeze, etc. Excellent stuff.

  • Fred says:

    My wife and I collect cookbooks, but as our schedules get hectic, we find ourselves relying on a few tried and true favorites, with occasional forays into the time-consuming and challenging stuff on the weekends. I'll put in yet another +1 for anything by Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen – a lot of our go-to dishes come from their books.

    Another couple that we've found useful over the years are "While the Pasta Cooks", which is a collection of sauces that can be prepped and cooked in just about the amount of time it takes to boil a pot of water for about a pound of pasta, and "The Working Stiff Cookbook" which utilizes a 'vocabulary' of common pantry items to work up quick meals that are still satisfying (both currently not in print, but available from used/reseller outlets, or possibly on the shelves at a physical bookstore).

  • beth says:

    i'll throw in with a website called dessert for two ( – which does have non-dessert recipes as well, despite the name. we cook for 2 and a half (kid only shows up for dinner sporadically), so we're enjoying these scaled down treats.

  • Leonie says:

    Donna Hay's Fast Fresh & Simple does what it says on the tin, and all recipes are for two (and delicious).

  • Soylent says:

    Do you like Japanese food? I love bento cookbooks and sites because they're designed to be prepared quickly for lunches, so they make for speedy dinners. Books like Bento Love and 10-Minute Bento generally feature recipes for one.

    Plus the website has heaps of tips for setting up "freezer stashes" indiviually portioned staples like rice and meat dishes that can be thrown together quickly.

  • sarah says:

    Moosewood Cooks at Home. The dishes are mostly better than their parts – meaning they really work. It's a favorite for us when our brains are thinking: stirfry? Again? And our stomachs want something different.

  • Tracy says:

    In the UK, I swear by Nigel Slater's Real Fast Cooking (actually, by all of his cookbooks). He always cooks for two, and his food is always simple, seasonal and LUSH.

  • Bronte says:

    You've probably thought of it, but Freezer meals. I would make a lot of things that freeze well then pull them out an eat them with a salad. Bolognese and Lasagne were my favourites, but curries and anything with enough moisture works well.

    The other thing which may be what the Blue Apron thing is, but here in New Zealand (and now moving into Australia) is a thing called My Food Bag. It delivers food and recipes to your door each week, so you still cook, but the thinking about what to cook is done for you. They have family and cooking for one options and they are loaded with seasonal vege. Maybe you could find something like that?

  • Christine says:

    Nobody has yet mentioned Smitten Kitchen, so I will. ( I find more and more of what I cook comes from here, and I've yet to find a dud. As a bonus, she's also an entertaining writer.

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