I love cookbooks.  I love to read cookbooks just to get ideas, but one of the most frustrating things is finding a recipe that I think looks wonderful, but it’s for 6 people.  Sometimes it’s something that will freeze well, so I can make it and not have to eat it for a week.  On the other hand, since I am cooking for one (and the cat) I don’t want to pay for the ingredients to make servings for six or eight people, or have so much in the freezer.  (More on freezer use later.)  The dilemma for the single cook is scale the recipe down, not make it, or eat it for a week.  Personally I don’t do left-overs well; I guess I’m easily bored or they begin to taste like something that’s been in the fridge for five days!

Downsizing recipes can be treacherous, especially in going from six to one–the consistency can come out wrong, the seasonings may not be right.  If you are determined to do THAT recipe, perhaps you need to invite friends.

You’ve gotten ideas from those huge recipes that you can use for one.  The problem now is that you need to get away from depending on a recipe slavishly.  You need to move on to improvisation and perhaps some food science to help understand how some specific ingredients react to the application of heat, i.e. cooking.

First improvisation is a must for cooking for one–and it’s not hard–it’s just taking that first step that seems difficult if you’ve always used recipes. A book that I’ve found immensely useful is How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson. This author has provided a wonderful review of various cooking techniques as well as recipes in ratios that promote improvisation of various types of dishes:  stews, salads, an such.  While the proportions given in this book tend to be for 4 people, you can scale them down to something manageable for one person.

I have to admit to being a Kindle addict.  I admit this because I might not have found this cookbook had I not been browsing the Kindle store.  The book is  Ratio: The simple codes behind the craft of everyday cooking byMichael Ruhlman.

My grandmother taught me to cook and one of the things I remember learning from her was the “four parts cake”–frequently referred to as “pound cake” for equal parts of eggs, flour, sugar, and butter.  I was taught to vary the size of this cake by starting with the eggs.  You want a small cake, you use fewer eggs, and that “egg weight” determined the weight of each the other three ingredients.   It was many year before I discovered that this recipe was actually in something published in a cookbook.  While browsing through La Cuisine, by Raymond Oliver I found a recipe with the title pâtè à quatre-quarts which translated as “four parts cake”.  In the English edition this was translated as pound cake, but it was the French title that caught my eye.

In a manner reminiscent of that cake, Ruhlman gives recipes by proportions so that they are easily sized up or down.  This book gives ratios for batters, doughs, stocks and sauces, roux, and even sausages and many other things in ratios so that you have the base ingredients, and then add things like seasonings or “minor” ingredients (seasonings, et cetera) in order to have a finished dish.  This is the kind of technique that can allow cooking for one.

If you don’t want to contemplate doing the math of the ratios (and have an iPhone), there is an app for that.  The cookbook by Michael Ruhlman is now an iPhone app that will help you do the calculations.  Makes me wish I had an iPhone!

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3 thoughts on “Serves how many?

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