Cooking for two
February 9, 2020 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for semi fancy recipes that two people of wildly different cooking expertise can prepare together. Sure, for Valentine’s day...and beyond!

My partner doesn’t cook, though they take kitchen direction well. On average nights I’m not in the mood to give direction or teach someone how to read a recipe, but this means I end up preparing all the meals (they are a very good chopper, and I utilize this ability when needed). I hate going to restaurants on big “eating out” holidays, and think it’d be nice to make something tasty together both so I don’t have to make the whole damn meal and so we have a fun activity for the holiday of loving togetherness.

Take something off my (ahem) plate and tell me what we can make! My kitchen is juuuust large enough for two adult humans to prepare nearly any type of food, cost is probably no object, however I do have to sleep about 15 feet away from the cooking spot, I prefer it take less than 2 hours to prepare and I cannot consume gluten :(

Any dish that can be made in tandem works—I’ll make the other pieces of the meal on my own, to spare Partner endless chopping. I do enjoy cooking, I just hate picking what we’re going to eat every day and want some fun-duo made meals.
posted by zinful to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This Baked Cod with Crunch Miso Butter Breadcrumbs (NY TImes Cooking)seemed so much more swanky than the preparations would suggest. Very easy and feels very special.
posted by brookeb at 9:20 PM on February 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Maybe crab legs and a spring vegetable risotto? With a bright salad on the side?
posted by stellaluna at 9:36 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

If cost is really no object, then I suggest that (if you don't already have one) you buy a sous vide circulator and cook chicken leg quarters (or maybe faux confit). Your non-cooking partner can surely handle bagging the meats up with some herbs and oil, and then, four to eight hours later, searing them in a hot skillet while you attend to slightly more demanding side dishes. This is my go-to when I want effortless entree fancybusiness. Serve with a rice pilaf and glazed carrots or broccolini or whathaveyou.
posted by mumkin at 11:47 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Whole roast chicken with chopped potatoes cooked under it?
Steaks and roasted veggies with a side salad or pilaf?

Curry and rice? Partner can help chop veggies, monitor the rice if you don't have a rice cooker, help add curry paste/powder, taste test the curry with you.

You could also do a "make-your-own-X" meal, such as tacos, burrito bowls, poke bowls, grain bowl with toppings, etc. You prep the more difficult ingredients, your partner cuts veggies, puts toppings in little bowls, etc. Shop for the ingredients together and pick a few more expensive or unusual ones. Then set everything out like a mini buffet.

I don't know if this is fancy enough, but what about a casserole? I just made a delicious gluten free lasagna with corn noodles. Might be fun for you and your partner to alternate adding layers.

Besides chopping, I often ask my boyfriend to prep things like washing veggies, gathering spice jars, defrosting anything frozen, heating something in the microwave, toasting and buttering bread, grating fresh Parmesan for topping, plating finished food, or setting out condiments.
posted by Red Desk at 11:57 PM on February 9, 2020

I think a zucchini “noodle” (or other gluten free noodle equivalent) lasagne might be fun as a couple. You can do the filling, they can shred cheeses and mix the ricotta mixture. Then you work together to layer it all together.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:59 PM on February 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've been cooking a bit for my mom lately and we've really liked these new salad kits that seem like a step above the kits in the recent past. It's not scratch or anything, though.
posted by rhizome at 2:04 AM on February 10, 2020

There are entire web sites devoted to this topic, some complete with "date night dinners" sub-sections. I've been perusing them a lot lately, and have just found a couple on the web site "Dessert for Two" - they have a "Dinner for two" section, and two recipes from there would be easy, elegant, and PERFECT options.

This salmon with a parsley sauce involves simply seasoning salmon fillets, searing them on one side in a skillet, and then popping the skillet in the oven to finish off - you don't even flip the fillets - and then you make a simple sauce by chucking things into a blender. The side dish, bacon wrapped asparagus, just involves dividing a pound of asparagus spears into eight little bundles and wrapping a slice of bacon around each bundle, then laying them on a baking sheet and baking them. The asparagus and salmon bake at the same temperature in the oven and take the same amount of time (15 minutes in the oven), so one of you could be on salmon duty and the other on asparagus duty - asparagus person takes care of baconing the asparagus bundles while the salmon person is doing the initial sear, and then they both go into the oven at the same time. Then you have fifteen minutes to get the salmon sauce done. A simple salad, some pureed vegetable soup, or a simple side of rice or buttered noodles would be good to round this out. Or even just really nice bread.

And best of all - like I said, those recipes are on a web site called "DESSERT for two", so there are ample recipes for a dessert you could make ahead and have ready when you're done with dinner. She has an entire "fancy desserts" section, with small-quantity recipes for things like tiramasu, chocolate mousse,
and creme brulee, as well as cakes and pies. She even has a sweet idea called a "dessert board", where you use the cheese board or charcuterie board approach with an assortment of different pre-purchased things all arranged on a fancy platter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe one of the meal kit delivery services would work for you? My husband and I have done Hello Fresh for several months, and the simple instructions with photos have really helped him help me! Plus, we pick the dinner together and then the shopping is done for us - it takes a lot of pressure off me to meal plan something he will like.

The meals aren’t super fancy but they often use interesting ingredients I wouldn’t think to purchase and emphasize garnishes and finishes that make it taste so much better .

I know some services (Sun Basket, maybe?) have gluten-free options specifically.
posted by itsamermaid at 6:17 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

My go-to when roping my husband into cooking is to use any recipe I want (preferably something I've done before / isn't too complicated), and give him the easy parts. The ones that work best are where I end up doing a lot of the sous chef work, and he mans the stove. However he's a not great cook with little to no knife skills who isn't interested in learning, so.

I imagine some sort of long-cooking bolognese would would really well, as the initial prep is chopping the mire-poix, sauteeing, and then occasionally checking liquid amounts/stirring, which you could take turns with, or romantically cuddle while breathing in the aroma. The pasta bit is easy at the end, and you could prepare dessert together while the bolognese is cooking.

This is my favorite bolognese recipe -- though you will end up with some extra, it's just as good the next day. Bonus: you get to drink the rest of the wine you don't need for the recipe while you're cooking!

For dessert, these chocolate pots de creme would pair well, I think would be the right amount of work for 2 people, and require 2 hours in the fridge before eating so would be perfect to prepare while the bolognese is on the stove.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:24 AM on February 10, 2020

Buy desert from someplace; since it's VDay, you may have to order ahead. Splurge. I'm a believer that if the desert is great, the rest of dinner just has to be good.

Cheese and gluten-free crackers to start? Raw vegies and dip? It's winter: a cream of something soup, like winter squash, spinach, or... Cream soups are dead easy.

Then think less of a recipe than of what you consider luxury: fish or shrimp or crab or lobster, beef rib roast, roasted chicken. Cooking any of these can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Add potatoes or rice as plain or as fancy as you wish.

A simple mixed green salad with crusty (gluten-free) bread is always nice, before the entree or after.

It's your holiday: why sweat over the kitchen?
posted by tmdonahue at 6:50 AM on February 10, 2020

Best answer: First, America's Test Kitchen has the Cooking For Two cookbook which should get you recipes of an appropriate size. We find the portions generous for two. Most recipes are not really hard, but not simplified, either.

Second, I think working side by side in the kitchen is more about menu planning than recipes, e.g. one makes the entree, the other makes the salad. If you do want to work on the same dish, I recommend Chinese food with plenty of veggies to chop.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:03 AM on February 10, 2020

If you can spring for it, try Blue Apron or one of the other meal services. A lot of the meals are similar, but modified to suit what's available/in-season. Many of the methods can be ported to your own creations - once he's deglazed the pan a couple times, he'll get the hang of it.
posted by notsnot at 8:44 AM on February 10, 2020

You might like exploring From Simple to Spectacular by Mark Bittman & Jean-Georges Vongerichten. They begin with a simple recipe, "a few ingredients combined for maximum effect, followed by fully detailed, increasingly elaborate variations. For example, a recipe for Grilled Shrimp with Thyme and Lemon leads to Grilled Shrimp and Zucchini on Rosemary Skewers, Grilled Shrimp with Apple Ketchup, Thai-style Grilled Shrimp on Lemongrass Skewers, and Grilled Shrimp Balls with Cucumber and Yogurt."

It might be nice to choose one of the simple recipes and then cook through it multiple times, escalating the sophistication level.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:20 AM on February 10, 2020

Seconding the America's Test Kitchen Cooking For Two and this recipe (chicken with Israeli couscous, spinach and feta) is outstanding! - I use thighs, don't flour and it's always amazing.
posted by heartquake at 10:46 AM on February 10, 2020

Best answer: For dessert, this simplified recipe for chocolate pot de creme is very easy and could be handled by someone with limited kitchen skills. It is also very delicious and amendable to modifications.
posted by mmascolino at 12:16 PM on February 10, 2020

This is my favorite bolognese recipe -- though you will end up with some extra, it's just as good the next day. Bonus: you get to drink the rest of the wine you don't need for the recipe while you're cooking!

It is indeed good, and it looks like the classic Marcella Hazan recipe (milk+white is the tell), adding pancetta and beef stock along the way. Umami? Umam-YOU! I bet that joke is old

1½ lbs. of meat should be enough for about a month of weekly pastas for two, so freeze into a few different containers, individuals if you prefer (1-1½C sauce should be enough for two peoples' worth of pasta). Then you can pop some out whenever you want, because it freezes well (if it lasts). This is drifting off into "how do we two keep good food around?" territory, though.

OK, anyway, get the Hazan cookbook, there's a shitload of ideas in there, and a shitload of chopping!
posted by rhizome at 3:28 PM on February 10, 2020

Best answer: Nobody's mentioned it yet, so I'll also throw in panna cotta, which is almost as easy to make as Jell-O.
posted by rhizome at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2020

Best answer: My partner was the same. It turns out that what has worked for us is giving him full 100% ownership over one recipe while I cook all the other parts of the meal. He feels ownership and builds confidence/skills; I’m there to answer questions but I don’t micromanage, give direction, or intervene barring true disaster. He reads the recipe and it turns out is pretty good at following directions in writing, not just from me! Perhaps he could flip through a book of simple easy dinner recipes and pick something he think looks good!
posted by amaire at 5:17 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I best answered those which gave me good ideas for my partner in dinner crimes, but everyone gave me a lot to...chew on. Keep em coming because y’all are planning the next month of meals for me, and thank you everyone!
posted by zinful at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2020

You can make a meal romantic with a composed or plated dessert. The partner who doesn't do the heavy lifting with the rest of the meal could be responsible for keeping the elements in stock. It doesn't have to be that big or fancy: a couple I stayed with impressed me with nightly desserts consisting of ice cream, a square of chocolate stuck into it and sauce or fruit.
posted by BibiRose at 10:26 AM on February 13, 2020

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