I got a little verbal rap on the knuckles from a customer the other day. Although good natured, she rightly pointed out that I have a tendency in this column to concentrate on families or large groups. She accused me of being oblivious to the singles and couples out there who also had to eat. Of course there was no slight intended on my part, but perhaps having a young family myself, that is my personal frame of reference.
Before I sat down to write this week her words echoed in my mind. Couples could be the obvious newlyweds, but there are also empty nesters, flatmates or single parent and child duos along with all those living alone as a one person household. As I looked around me I realised that much of the world is geared towards families. We constantly hear of family discount offers while in supermarkets food is often sold and packed in large quantities aimed at families and the smaller quantity offering can be poorer value by comparison. When you consider the electricity cost of turning on the oven it is as expensive to cook for two as it is for four. Perhaps the group who find it most difficult are the new empty nesters. They may have gone from a crowd to two in a very short space of time and making that adjustment is tricky. If you have been used to cooking for four or five for years and years, reconditioning yourself to two smaller portions can be unnerving. You might find that even your pots and pans are geared towards the bigger numbers.
If you have a freezer I would imagine that you can easily take advantage of meat offers, however vegetables can be a nightmare. They don’t last long and so buying in bulk isn’t really an option. I would suggest keeping all vegetables in the fridge if you can. Shopping at local and country markets is a great option for couples as you can buy as much as you need and no more. Bread also freezes quite well; just make sure it is wrapped properly in cling film, in a freezer box or in a freezer bag. However if you do want to use the bread for breadcrumbs, make them before freezing.
I mentioned the cost of turning on the oven earlier. If you are cooking something like a stew, make enough so you can freeze a few portions for another time. Lasagne, shepherds pie, fish pie and tarts all freeze very well. And don’t forget our great grandmothers would always have stuck in a tray of biscuits or scones if there was room in the oven while the main course was cooking!
Chicken is a great staple of the duo, but rather than buying chicken breasts, why not buy a whole chicken and learn how to joint it? Cut off the legs before roasting and use them in a casserole. If you want to freeze any cooked leftovers make sure they are cool before you do so. Also it is good to freeze food on the day it is cooked.
The good news for duos is that you can occasionally splash out on luxuries without breaking the bank. For most large families fillet steak might be out of the question but as a treat for two it is certainly accessible. One large duck breast is also plenty for two people and items like prawns and scallops (when in season) are easy to throw on a pan when there are only two at the table. Luxury herbs and spices are also available to you.
Trying to do a stir fry for a crowd can be very difficult, but stir fries for two fit an average frying pan quite well. There is also less pre preparation and slicing so it makes these dishes ideal. Use small amounts of meat, thinly sliced with lots of vegetables. Start out with sliced onion, chopped garlic and fresh ginger in olive oil on a medium heat. You can add vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower cut into small florets. Grate carrots and add a few green beans. Quarter a tomato and add it in at the end. Finish it all off with a little sweet chilli sauce. Of course the taste is quite a personal thing so check for seasoning and add a little soya sauce if necessary. Noodles, rice or couscous should all be in the store cupboard and can me measured easily for two. When it comes to pasta invest in spaghetti measuring rings. They are inexpensive and surprisingly accurate with the portion size.
The Italians certainly know how to do meals for busy couples. A common staple would be pasta drizzled with a little olive oil, some Parma ham, peas and a few fresh tomatoes all tossed together. Chopped anchovies, olives or smoked salmon are quick and easy too. Heat them all together for a few minutes (about 6); add some cooked pasta to the pan and just before serving grate over some cheese – bellissimo!
If you are a single or a duo, the freezer is definitely your best friend. You can buy large packs of sausages and divide them into smaller groups for the freezer. At James Whelan Butchers we also do a huge range of pre-prepared individual portions and cuts which make it easy when catering for small numbers.
The main thing to remember is to get the balance right between cost, value and nutrition whether you are looking after yourself, you are part of a couple or a larger family. We really are what we eat. Check out JamesWhelanButchers.com for more ideas when it is just the two of you. I welcome your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers