Tool Tips for Two
"It's all about getting dinner on the table" is more than a mantra, it's a must when you're pressed for time but want to serve tasty and fast meals for two. Keep those smaller pans handy when cooking for two and store the larger ones away for the days when company’s coming.
Using large pots and skillets for small amounts of food means that liquids may evaporate too quickly (hey! where’d the sauce go?) and that foods will burn more easily.
Here are a few good tools that can change you from harried cook to composed chef and master of menus and meals for two.
1. Measuring Spoons and Cups: One full set of measuring spoons, two full sets of measuring cups. We like having one set measuring containers for liquids, the kinds that come complete with handles and pour spouts, and one graduated set (1⁄4 cup, 1⁄3 cup, 1⁄2 cup, etc.) for dry ingredients that can be scooped up and/or leveled off. Remember that measuring is vital for taste and portion control, and can be critical when working with just enough food for two.
2. Cutting Boards: Ideally, there should be one that you use for produce and one for protein to avoid cross-contamination. Some cooks use a full range of colored cutting boards—the yellow one always for onions and garlic, the red always for chicken and beef, the blue for fruit.
3. Knives: A 2- or 3-inch paring knife, and an 8-inch chef’s knife. Don’t try to buy your knives on-line; it’s essential that you hold them in your hand to test the “feel” of the knife. Buy the best heavy-duty knives you can afford. Cheap, lightweight models make for harder work, slower prep times and even less safety for the cook. We recommend carbon-steel alloy blades, which do not require sharpening as often as nonalloy blades.
4. Nonstick and Stainless Steel Skillets: Small, medium, and large skillets in both stainless and nonstick are essential tools for the well-equipped cook. Non-stick cookware is essentail when cooking with little or no fat, but tt can be nicked or scratched by metal utensils, rendering it unusable. Never expose non-stick cookware to high heat without ingredients in the pan. Use the nonstick only when a recipe requires it. Each skillet, ideally, should have a cover, although you can often jury-rig one with a baking sheet or a pot lid.
5. Saucepans: Store your stockpot for cooking for crowds; for just the two of you youu want a 1-quart and 2-quart saucepan. We prefer multi-ply, stainless-steel, copper-core pots. While they’ll set your budget back a notch or two, no amount of fancy cooking techniques can overcome poor-quality cookware.
6. Bowls: We love our nesting set of three stainless-steel mixing bowls (small, medium and large). Glass mixing bowls, while beautiful, chip and break. Stainless-steel bowls are relatively indestructible and have a natural nonstick and nonreactive finish. Lately, we’ve seen rubber-coated bowls on the market; these are great because they don’t slip while you’re mixing. And even though you’re cooking in smaller quantities it’s good to have a big bowl on hand for messy mixing jobs.
7. A kitchen scale: Healthy cooking is calibrated cooking—you want exactly what the recipe calls for. Buy a kitchen scale with a “tare function”—in other words, it can “zero out.” You can set a small plate on it or a large measuring cup, reset the machine to zero, and then measure what you add without subtracting the weight of the container.
8. An instant-read thermometer: The only way to follow recommended temperature guidelines for food safety is to accurately measure the internal temperature of foods. A thermometer with a simple dial gauge, available at supermarkets, will work as well as a fancy digital one. Sometimes when you are cooking with thin cuts - a cutlet or cube steak for example-a thermometer may be hard to use, so visual cues (slicing the chichen to see if it's still pink, for example) are useful.
9. Spoons: Two or three wooden spoons for stirring; a plastic or metal slotted spoon for draining.
10. Colander: Look for a sturdy one that fits in your sink, stands up well to heat and is easy to clean.
11. Storage containers: Of course all cooks need these for leftovers, but the Cooking-For-Two cook will want them for unused ingredients, Many of your needs can be met with resealable plastic freezer bags, and by freezing foods in ice cube trays or mini-muffin pans; remove them when frozen and bag them in those freezer bags for later use.