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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 11/12/2010

Cooking for One: Project Downscale

By Joe Yonan

Paella is meant for a crowd: Does that mean you can't make it for yourself? (iStock)

As a single guy with a little cookbook addiction (who sees just about every cookbook that comes into the office, at least until Bonnie Benwick grabs it), flipping through them often reminds me just how few recipes out there are truly aimed at solo households like mine.

That's why I tend to divide them up into categories at first glance. I usually react one of four ways:

Save it for a dinner party. It's not just the "Serves 6" notation that strikes terror in the hearts of us solo cooks. It's the appearance of food in quantities that can't be easily divided, especially when they add up to something that will never taste as good on day two (or three, or four, or God forbid, five) as the night that it's fresh.

Exhibit A: Gerard Nebesky's Paella from "Bobby Flay's Throwdown" (Clarkson Potter). Not only does the recipe say it serves 6 to 9 (who can divide by 9?), but by my quick read, even if you settle on the 6-servings idea, making it for one would cause you to include a single chicken thigh, one lonely littleneck clam, one just-as-lonely mussel, a single jumbo shrimp and 1 1/2 ounces of rockfish, among other things. Just thinking about it is depressing. Instead, call up your friends, ask them to bring apps, salad and booze, and cook for yourself another night.

I'd make it, but then I'd transform it. Sometimes the idea of a large cut of meat slowly cooked in rich, complex sauces cannot be resisted.

Exhibit B: Beef Shank Stew With Celery Root, Turnips, Rutabaga, Parsnips and Fingerling Potatoes from Laurent Torondel's new "Fresh From the Market" (Wiley). It's a three-part recipe that involves a six-hour marinade and a multi-hour braise, but maybe it's worth it. And just seeing it might bring to mind the possibility of eating it one night the way it's intended, perhaps repeating once as leftovers, but then riffing. Separate meat and veggies. Puree the veggies with a splash of sherry for soup. Shred the beef and make a quick salsa for tacos one night, then drizzle with a little Sriracha and fish sauce and fake a bulgogi the next.

You get the idea. The point is to change the meat enough that it doesn't feel so much like leftovers as it does a headstart.

Divide and freeze. I'm tempted by casseroles as the nights get cooler, but even when they're on the smallish side it's hard to imagine how practical they'd be for me, myself and I. Until I think about how well they usually take to freezing.

Exhibit C: Butternut Squash Lasagna from "500 Casseroles" by Rebecca Baugniet (Sellers). Since those big lasagna noodles are cooked, I might be tempted to cut them to fit four smaller dishes, and then I'd bake one and freeze the other three. The morning I plan to eat another one, I'd transfer it from freezer to refrigerator, then bake it when I got home.

How easy is that? To quote Ina Garten, of course. These are recipes whose main protein is single-serving size, multiplied, so the division on the face of it looks pretty simple. You know, it serves four and calls for four fillets of cod, four lamb chops, four chicken breasts. Or the math is otherwise easy to figure: 2 pounds of shrimp becomes 1/2 pound. And all else seems relatively simple.

Exhibit D: Chicken Paillard With Tomatoes, Fennel and Olives from Eric Ripert's new "Avec Eric" (Wiley). Almost all his measurements, even for produce, are in tablespoons and cups, which can pose a little bit of an obstacle: How many shallots make up 1/2 cup minced? But otherwise this doesn't pose much of a challenge.

A bit of a challenge, frankly, is what I'm after, because that's the only way I'll understand how better to adapt these things. Which is why I'm going to make you a deal. Single cooks (or those who find themselves wanting/needing to cook for one for whatever reason), send me your favorite serves-way-more-than-one recipes. Each week I will pick my favorite candidate for downscaling, I'll test the results until I get the dish where I want it and report back. Hopefully, along the way, we'll all learn more about what does and doesn't work when recipes go through the magic shrinking machine.

To play along, e-mail me with "PROJECT DOWNSCALE" in the subject line, and please include:

  • Name.

  • Age.

  • Town of residence.

  • Full contact information.

  • Complete recipe, or link to recipe.

  • Recipe source (cookbook, Web site, etc.).

  • A description of your general solo-cooking experience and challenges.

  • Your specific thoughts about this recipe: why you chose it, what concerns you have about downscaling it (if anything), any previous experience you have had making it.

I'll aim to write about these recipes once a week. As soon as I get a good selection of recipe candidates in the hopper, I'll get cooking.

-- Joe Yonan
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By Joe Yonan  | November 12, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cooking for One  | Tags:  Joe Yonan, Project Downscale  
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Joe - you're a hero-in-the-making to a gazillion cooking-for-one wanna-bees.
Hope they overwhelm you with favorite serves-way-more-than-one recipes.
Pray you have the strength/intestinal fortitude to keep this inspirational project going.
Marya Charles Alexander

Posted by: solodining | November 12, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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