Food & Drink

For empty nesters, singles, making a meal at home is worth the

We all enjoy homemade meals but when you live alone, or there’s just the two of you, cooking can seem like a big hassle.

With the variety of pre-packaged foods at our fingertips and fast-food restaurants practically on every street corner, the temptation to grab and go is just too easy. Cooking from scratch seems to take a back seat to these conveniences.

Preparing a meal for so few may seem like a challenge but it really isn’t difficult. I think it’s healthier, more economical and worth the extra time and effort it takes.

After years of cooking for six, I’m now an empty nester. When I find myself falling back into the habit of cooking a full recipe designed to feed a crowd, I implement my leftover plan so the food doesn’t go to waste. I use the leftovers or planned-overs, as I call them, for future meals.

I like to get creative and use them to make completely different meals that don’t relate to the original. For example, the roast I made for Sunday dinner is used as planned-over meat in tacos, stir-fry and soups or on top of a salad.

Other ideas for planned-overs:

Leftover fruit is a great addition to muffin, quick bread or pancake batter.

Extra veggies can be added to a specific leftover container in your freezer. When the container is full, it becomes the vegetable base for a tasty homemade soup or stew.

Use extra bread to make French toast, bread pudding or stuffing.

Macaroni makes a delicious pasta salad or quick casserole.

Spaghetti sauce can be used to make mini-pizzas with English muffins, vegetables and shredded cheese. Or add chopped onions, mushrooms, peppers and cooked meat to canned spaghetti sauce and serve over noodles one day. The next day add kidney beans and chili seasoning and use this sauce to top a microwave-baked potato along with cheese.

Here are a few more downsizing strategies that work for me. Supermarkets offer meat, poultry and other products in quantities suited to large families so, I buy in bulk and then repackage these items into smaller portions and freeze them.

If you do this, make sure you date and label the outside of the packages before freezing so you don’t forget what is in them. If you don’t want to bother with repackaging and freezing, then the butcher is your friend. Ask him to downsize and repackage the quantity of meat or poultry that you want.

The key to fresh fruits and vegetables is to consume the most perishable ones first then work your way to the most shelf stable as the week goes along. If prewashed, precut produce fit into your budget, they may be more convenient for your needs than buying the whole product.

Another way to buy small quantities is to check out the salad bar at your supermarket (some of the larger ones have them). It may cost a little more but you can buy the exact amount of vegetables you need without waste.

I always think fresh is better, but canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are also a great solution. Grocery stores sell small cans of just about everything; if you choose frozen fruit and veggies, it is easy to remove the amount you need while the rest keeps for later.

And, you don’t need to throw family favorites out the window because they serve four, six or eight.

Main dish and side dish recipes can be scaled down with good results; this is done by dividing them in half or by a third. It does take some thought, planning and math but all that goes together with cooking anyway, so what is a little division when the result is a delicious home-cooked meal.

Easy Shrimp Pasta For Two

2 tablespoons Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/2 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined

1/4 pound Fettuccine, uncooked

1 tomato, chopped

2 ounces (1/4 of 8-ounce package) Cream Cheese, cubed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided

2 tablespoons Shredded Parmesan cheese

Pour the vinaigrette over the shrimp in a small bowl. Refrigerate 20 minutes to marinate. Cook the pasta as directed.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium heat; add the shrimp; cook 3 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink, stirring frequently. Remove shrimp from the skillet; cover to keep warm. Add tomatoes, cream cheese and 1 tablespoon basil to the same skillet; cook and stir 3 minutes or until well blended. Add the shrimp; cook until heated through, stirring occasionally.

Drain the pasta. Place on a platter; top with the shrimp mixture, remaining basil and shredded cheese.

For a thinner sauce, stir a small bit of milk into the sauce with the shrimp.

— Kraft

Eggplant Au Gratin

1/2 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 cup spaghetti sauce

3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with oil. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Turn and bake 7-8 minutes longer or until lightly browned and tender. Cool on a wire rack.

Place one eggplant slice in each of two 10 ounce ramekins coated with nonstick cooking spray. Top each with two tablespoons spaghetti sauce and two tablespoons mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers twice. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted.

— Allrecipes

Banana-Oat Muffins

Nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup white flour or whole wheat flour

1/4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dash of salt

1 small ripe banana, cut up (1/2 to 2/3 cup)

1/4 cup fat-free milk

2 tablespoons refrigerated or frozen egg product, thawed, or 1 egg white

1 tablespoon canola oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat six 2-1/2 inch muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or line with paper bake cups and coat insides of paper cups with cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, flax seed meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In a blender, combine the banana, milk, egg and oil. Cover and blend until smooth. Add the banana mixture all at once to the flour mixture; stir just until moistened (batter will be lumpy).

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full.

Bake the muffins for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from the muffin cups and serve warm.

Makes 6.

— Cooking Light

Chicken Divan For Two

3/4 cup milk

3 ounces cream cheese, cubed

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 cup broccoli florets, cooked and drained

3/4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked, cut into medium sized pieces

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and cream cheese cubes over low heat, stir until smooth. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce.

Place the broccoli in a 10x6-inch baking dish. Top with 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, chicken pieces and the cream cheese sauce. Cover with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Cheddar cheese; place back in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted — approximately 3-5 minutes.