Monday, October 12, 2009

Cooking for 2

Is definitely not as simple as cooking for one.

Single-girl cooking was great. I could experiment with all kinds of funky, ethnic, vegan recipes and unknown, new ingredients and not have to entertain for a moment the worry "What if this doesn't turn out so well?" If it didn't taste so hot (which sometimes it didn't -- cue memory of tofu stir fry with lima beans -- GROSS), it was a bag of popcorn and a bottle glass of wine.
A standard (eadible) recipe yielded enough food for me to eat several meals and then some. I would freeze extras of my favorite spicy thai peanut curry and enjoy it for up to a month!

Single-girl grocery shopping was a cinch.I knew how much food would last me how long, and usually I only had to go to the grocery store once a month! And how I loved those trips. I knew my local store like the back of my hand, and could quickly pick up all my staples, then wander around looking for deals, extras, and investigating weird Asian fruits. Ahhhh... my food life was so simple.

A week or so ago, Tanner and I made our first grocery outing as a married couple. I had shopped for groceries with Tanner many times before, but this time was different. I wasn't following him around while he picked out frozen pizzas and hot dogs while trying to persuade him to grab a banana or lettuce while he was at it. This time, we were shopping together for our household, and our bounty was supposed to feed the both of us and satisfy us (no lima bean disasters). Suddently, this confident, adventurous foodie was intimdated, big time.

The stores was arranged weird, I didn't know where anything was. Some of the staple items we needed (Santita's corn chips, hello!!) were totally unstocked. In fact, there were many gaping holes on the shelves (I'm guessing this is because we were shopping on a Sunday night?). I didn't come with a shopping list or any recipes in mind, which was no big deal for Super-Shopper-Single-Girl, but was suddenly crippling for Confused-Uncertain-Newlywed. For how many meals-for-two will this bag of frozen broccoli last? Should I get 2? How many protiens should I get? Will Tanner like tofu? Will we have any leftovers for me to take to lunch, or will hungry man eat eat all the extra servings?

Aside from being suddenly befuddled by all these new adjustments and the realization that cooking would never be the same, Tanner was inexplicably hyper that evening, which although very funny, was a little distracting to my yearning-to-figure-it-all-out-in-one-evening brain. I didn't think I'd be this way, but I think at the center of all my worrying, was this huge (unexpected) desire to please Tanner with my cooking and be viewed as a good homemaker in his eyes. I was insecure, "Will he like what I make? Will he be happy? Will I do a good job?"

So, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, instead of harboring my insecurities (I've slowly learned this is not such a great idea), I blurted my fear of marital and culinary failure to my hyper husband dancing down the canned vegetable aisle. In the grocery store and on the way home, Tanner calmed my fears. "This is supposed to be fun! We get to figure all this out by trial and error." Hmmm... I don't mind the trial part, but the error thing, I'm not so good with. I'm a perfectionist, remember! But you know what, Tanner was right (yep, he often is, funny enough). I don't need to figure all this out the first time around. AND, he assured me every meal doesn't have to be a gold-platter meal straight out of The Joy of Cooking. "I enjoy those nights too every once and a while, when you dine on chips and salsa or hot dogs and tortilla. I was a bachelor before I met you, remember???" OK, so I feel the (self-made) burden lightening.

So this perfectionista has been trying to lighten up and find the fun again in the kitchen. Tanner's not judinging me on a scale from 1-30 with 10 pts possible for use of the secret ingredient, 10 pts for plating, and 10 pts for taste. Some meals are gonna be great, and some aren't. Hey, there's always chips and salsa, and my man's OK with that.

As far as our first shopping trip, I think I did OK. I'm not sure I bought enough different vegetables, and I probably should have bought some more ready-made meals (frozen dinners or mac'n cheese) for those nights when I'm too tired to put together a major masterpiece. I should have gotten some smaller portions of different proteins for variety in addition of the bulk bag of chicken breasts. And, I'll just have to resign my self to the idea of follow-up trips in between shopping hauls for items like creamer or chips that we run out of.

If y'all have any tips for cooking for 2, or any grocery shopping strategies, let me know! In the meantime, we'll be figuring it out as we go. OH, and Tanner DOES like tofu :)


  1. It does help to have a menu plan, but I'm not going to lie, I hardly ever have one. I do buy family packs of meat like hamburger (cheaper) and brown it all at once and freeze 1 lb baggies. That way, I can just thaw the already-cooked meat and add it to whatever I'm cooking (and sometimes that thing is Hamburger Helper! Gross nutritionally, but great in a hurry!) I also almost always cut up vegetables (like carrots and cucubers) the minute I get home from the store, because otherwise, they tend to sit and not get eaten.

    Basically, anything you can do ahead of time or on weekends will help you out when you don't feel like cooking. You can still buy things in bulk or in family packs; just keep quart-sized freezer bags on hand (they usually hold about a pound of meat) take apart the packages when you first get home and freeze them separated like that. It's easier to get only what you need for that night that way.

    Freezer cooking is so nice - I have some basics I like to freeze that work as wonderful meals to just put in the oven and have a from-scratch meal. A few I like: My mom's lasagna (my recipe is at, chicken and rice (, and crab stuffed pork tenderloin (

    Crock pot cooking is also great (if you don't screw it up like I tend to!) It's so nice to come home to an already-cooked dinner. A simple beef stew is pretty easy in the crock pot.

    It also helps to follow recipe blogs - I like but there are a lot out there. Those will supply inspiration. And yes, usually the recipes are for more people, but I take advantage of the extra in the recipe and just have leftovers or freezer meals out of those.

    Just play around with recipes and find what works for you. I always have go-to recipes that Jack and I both love - spaghetti, tacos, sloppy joes, etc. They're simple but they do the trick.

    And don't worry! Not everything has to be a gourmet meal! And Tanner will still think you're a great wife if you screw up dinner. Trust me. :)

  2. Oh yeah, and in man world? Cereal is acceptable for dinner sometimes.

    Also - (Man I talk a lot) - find a seasoning you both like and use the heck out of it. For us, it's "Slap ya Mama" cajun seasoning. It's great on everything I grill. If I'm not feeling inspired, all I have to do is get out some chicken breasts, coat them in that stuff, and grill them. Super-easy and we love it every time!!

  3. My husband is the cook in our family! He's a natural, whereas I need to measure all the ingredients out EXACTLY. We use a lot of recipes out of the magazine "Simple & Delicious." I'm usually the 1 who reminds him we need a veggie and fruit, but he really is an awesome cook (and yes, I'm lucky! :-).

  4. Mandy, I LOVE that you talk a lot, because your tips are great! :) I can't wait to implement them! By marrying Tanner I also acquired a deep freeze (stand-alone freezer). It's in Tanner's shop and I'm thinking its going to come in VERY handy for some of these more bulky frozen meats, frozen casseroles, etc. I'm getting more excited!

    Kate, you are lucky :) Tanner usually sits in the kitchen with me and "entertains" me while I cook.

  5. At the beginging of our marriage, I used to cook a fresh meal every night with a protein, starch and veggie and would have it ready when shawn came home from work. Daniel was living with us at the time and that did make it a little easier because I was cooking for two guys and myself so there were hardly ever any leftovers. Cooking for just the two of us now is a little bit of a different story. Here are a few things that make a variety of dinners with not much effort because needless to say, now, I have other things on my mind and don’t always have time to cook a full meal from scratch.
    We always keep potatoes. They can be baked in the microwave by putting them in a paper sack and cooking them for 5-8 minutes, depending on the microwave power and the size of the potato. I have found that if you cook them at about 70% for a longer amount of time, they are a bit tastier. I serve them with a variety of things, leftover BBQ, chopped chicken, salsa, sour cream or broccoli and cheese sauce.. be creative, almost anything can go on a potato. When I go to the store, I buy bulk hamburger meat and instead of cooking it like your friend does (I don’t like the way cooked frozen meat sometimes tastes after being frozen and re-thawed), but what I do is portion it out while raw and wrap each portion in plastic wrap and store the portions in a gallon zip bag. This way you can grab what you need that morning, set it in the fridge thaw and it will be ready to cook, fresh when you get home. I do this with pork chops and steaks too. But with those, I wrap 2 steaks in plastic wrap since I always cook two at a time. Other items I’ve found helpful for quick, easy side dishes are packaged pasta and rice dishes. Uncle Ben’s wild rice is a fav. On the subject of veggies, I used to find myself buying them because I knew we needed to eat them, but they would go bad too quickly and I ended up tossing them out. For celery, you can cut it up and keep it in the fridge in water and it will stay crisp and fresh for a little longer than in the original package. Broccoli tends to wilt quickly too. Cut the stems a bit shorter and store them, standing up, in a shallow bowl of water. They will stay stiff and fresh for quite a bit longer than normally would in their original packaging. This also works if you forgot to hydrate them and the stocks get wilted, water those babies and they will perk right up. I haven’t tried this one, but Alton Brown says to keep carrots in bubble wrap to keep them fresh.
    Keep in mind too that if you spoil Tanner with gourmet every night, he will quickly forget about his bachelor days and fending for himself and will grow accustomed to the personal chef. Sometimes I’ll make small salads to eat before dinner and one night, I made shawn and I some larger than normal salads (intending on that being our dinner) and after eating his salad, Shawn walked in the kitchen and said, “What are we having for dinner?”
    Also, something else to keep in mind, in order to not waste food, try cooking things that you can be creative with leftovers. Hamburger meat tacos one night, mashed potatoes as a side for another night.. put them together with a can of corn for hamburger casserole the next night. Make stir fry with chicken and veggies you need to use up and make extra white rice, then use the rice a day or two later to make fried rice with pork, beef, shrimp or chicken. This is handy since good fried rice is made with day old, cold white rice.
    Well, that’s all for now. Hope you can use some of these suggestions.

  6. Um, I'm still figuring this out. Rob seems to change what he wants weekly, and I never know how much to buy. I try to console myself that when I do cook for him, it's better than what he would have done by himself, which is probably Taco Bell. :) Is that helpful?? PRobably not.



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