America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full¬time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook's Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.
For decades, the rule of thumb for recipes has been “serves 4 to 6,” or even more. But many families don’t fit this mold, leaving small households stuck with days of leftovers and lots of waste. Cooks can scale recipes on the fly, hoping they come out right, but kitchen math isn’t as simple as cutting ingredients in half—cooking times and temperatures need to be adjusted, and equipment has to be reconsidered.
Enter our new book, "The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook." Part kitchen manual, part cookbook, it’s the first of its kind to engineer recipes from the ground up for the two-person household.
The test kitchen has spent more than 20 years developing bulletproof recipes for dishes like meatloaf, lasagna, mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake. Like most recipes, ours typically serve four, six, and sometimes more.
But we’ve realized that households change over time or through circumstance. Our readers started to echo this sentiment. Whether they were single parents, empty nesters, or newlyweds, they wanted recipes for the dishes we’d been developing for years, but they wanted them scaled to serve just two.
With a clear goal in mind of scaling down our favorite recipes to serve two, we headed into the test kitchen to start revamping. But once we got cooking, we discovered that our mission wasn’t going to be so easy. Often there are amounts that don’t divide evenly (one egg, for example). And even if you cut a recipe down perfectly, the cooking times and temperatures require adjustment - a small roast cooks faster than a larger one.
Sometimes, an entire dish needs to be re-engineered from the ground up. Just how do you make a lasagna for two? You certainly can’t use the standard 13 by 9-inch baking dish. In short, we discovered there are different rules and approaches when cooking for two. And because we have vetted every recipe in our test kitchen, they are just as reliable as our standard recipes - no need to scale recipes yourself and hope they work.
Because households of two can be as time-pressed as larger households, we also looked for new approaches to complicated recipes. So go ahead, make that dish you're craving and bask in the knowledge that you won't have to eat it for lunch for the next five days.
Lasagna is a crowd-pleaser: What’s not to love about a dish layered with tender noodles, meaty sauce, and gooey cheese baked until golden and bubbling? But it’s also time-consuming to prepare. We didn’t think this hearty and satisfying favorite should be off-limits when cooking for less than a crowd. Our goal was a streamlined version for two.
For an easy meaty tomato sauce, we found that meatloaf mix lent more flavor and richness than ground beef. A little cream with diced tomatoes and canned tomato sauce gave us a velvety sauce reminiscent of a Bolognese.
Swapping traditional noodles for no-boil noodles was an easy timesaver. A baking dish made far too much for two, but the noodles fit perfectly in a loaf pan. We simply layered noodles with the sauce and a combination of mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan for a perfectly proportioned two-person lasagna.
Meatloaf mix is a combination of equal parts ground beef, pork, and veal and is available in most grocery stores. If you can’t find meatloaf mix, substitute 4 ounces each of ground pork and 90 percent lean ground beef. Do not substitute fat-free ricotta here.
1 tablespoon olive oil
Filling, noodles and cheese
4 ounces (1/2 cup) whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese
1. For the sauce: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in meatloaf mix and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 2 minutes.
2. Stir in cream, bring to simmer, and cook until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juice and tomato sauce. Bring to simmer and cook until flavors are blended, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. For the filling, noodles and cheese: Combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, basil, egg, salt, and pepper in bowl.
4. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of loaf pan, avoiding large chunks of meat. Lay 1 noodle in pan, spread one-third of ricotta mixture over noodle, sprinkle with 1/4 cup mozzarella, and top with 1/2 cup sauce; repeat layering 2 more times. Lay remaining noodle in pan and top with remaining sauce, remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella, and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
5. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Bake until sauce bubbles lightly around edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until hot throughout and cheese is browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Lemon-Herb Cod with Crispy Garlic Potatoes
We set out to develop a simple one-dish dinner of flaky cod and crispy roasted potatoes. For potatoes that would cook through quickly, we sliced russet potatoes thin, tossed them with oil and garlic, and shingled them into two piles in a greased baking dish. We roasted the potatoes until they were spotty brown and tender then added the cod fillets—topped with pieces of butter, sprigs of thyme, and slices of lemon—and slid it all back into the oven.
After just 15 minutes more, we had a perfect dinner of moist, subtly flavored cod and crispy, garlicky potatoes.
1. Shingle potato slices into 2 piles of 3 tight rows, each measuring about 4 by 6 inches. Gently push rows together so that potatoes are tidy and cohesive.
2. After par-cooking potatoes, carefully place 1 cod fillet skinned side down on top of each set of potatoes. Top fish with butter pieces, thyme sprigs, and lemon slices and return to oven to finish cooking.
Try to purchase cod fillets that are similar in size so that they cook at the same rate. If the fillets are much thinner than 1 inch, simply fold them over to make them thicker. Halibut and haddock are good substitutes for the cod.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush 13 by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil.
2. Toss potatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Shingle potatoes into baking dish in 2 rectangular piles measuring 4 by 6 inches. Roast potatoes until spotty brown and just tender, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating dish halfway through roasting.
3. Pat cod dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Carefully place 1 fillet skinned side down on top of each potato pile. Top fillets with butter pieces, thyme sprigs, and lemon slices. Roast cod and potatoes until fish flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife and registers 140 degrees, about 15 minutes.
4. Slide spatula underneath potatoes and fillets and gently transfer to individual plates. Serve.
Easy Skillet Cheese Pizza
We wanted to come up with an easier, quicker way to make pizza at home. Our idea was to build the pizza in a skillet, give the crust a jump start with heat from the stovetop, then transfer it to the oven to cook through—no pizza stone required. We oiled the skillet to keep the dough from sticking and to encourage browning, then we added the dough and turned up the heat. A simple no-cook sauce of diced tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic and a combination of mozzarella and a little Parmesan were all the toppings this easy pizza needed.
You can substitute 8 ounces of store‐bought pizza dough for the dough in this recipe. Let the dough sit out at room temperature while preparing the remaining ingredients and heating the oven; otherwise, it will be difficult to stretch. Feel free to add simple toppings before baking, such as pepperoni, sautéed mushrooms, or browned sausage, but keep the toppings light or they may weigh down the thin crust and make it soggy.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Adjust oven rack to upper‐middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Grease 12‐inch ovensafe skillet with 2 tablespoons oil.
2. Pulse tomatoes, garlic, salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon oil together in food processor until coarsely ground, about 12 pulses. Transfer mixture to liquid measuring cup and add reserved tomato juice until sauce measures 1/2 cup.
3. Place dough on lightly floured counter. Press and roll dough into 11‐inch round. Transfer dough to prepared skillet; reshape as needed. Spread sauce over dough, leaving 1/2‐inch border at edge. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over sauce.
4. Set skillet over high heat and cook until outside edge of dough is set, pizza is lightly puffed, and bottom crust is spotty brown when gently lifted with spatula, about 3 minutes.
5. Transfer pizza to oven and bake until crust is brown and cheese is golden in spots, 7 to 10 minutes. Using potholders (skillet handle will be hot), remove skillet from oven and slide pizza onto cutting board. Let pizza cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Basic Pizza Dough
It’s easy enough to buy pizza dough at the grocery store, but the standard 1‐pound bags mean lots of leftovers when cooking for two. We wanted a recipe for a great‐tasting pizza dough that would make just enough for a small pizza or couple of calzones. The first key was getting the right ratio of flour to water. High‐protein bread flour ensured our dough baked up chewy with a crisp crust. A little olive oil added richness and made the dough easier to roll out.
All‐purpose flour can be substituted for the bread flour, but the resulting crust will be a little less chewy. If desired, you can slow down the dough’s rising time by letting it rise in the refrigerator for 8 to 16 hours in step 2; let the refrigerated dough soften at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
1 cup (5 1/2 ounces) bread flour, plus extra as needed
1. Process flour, yeast, and salt in food processor until combined, about 2 seconds. With processor running, slowly add oil, then water, and process until dough forms sticky ball that clears sides of bowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If, after 1 minute, dough is sticky and clings to blade, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed until it clears sides of bowl.)
Everyone loves brownies, but a full pan of brownies for two is way too much for even the most ardent brownie lovers. To scale back our batch of fudgy brownies, we ditched the large baking dish in favor of a loaf pan, which made just eight brownies—perfect for two people to enjoy over a few days. Two types of chocolate—semisweet chocolate and cocoa powder—gave us plenty of fudgy flavor.
To make our batter easy to mix by hand, we melted the semisweet chocolate quickly in the microwave. A whole egg plus an extra yolk made our brownies rich, moist, and chewy. The deep sides of the loaf pan made it hard to cut the brownies neatly, so we lined the pan with a foil sling that allowed us to lift the brownies out in one piece before cutting.
1. Place 2 sheets of aluminum foil perpendicular to each other in loaf pan, pushing foil into corners. Smooth foil flush to pan.
2. Use foil handles to lift baked brownies or bars from pan.
Be careful not to overbake these brownies or they will have a very dry, cakey texture. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches; if you use a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness 5 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe.
3 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Make foil sling for 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil; first sheet should be 8 1/2 inches wide and second sheet should be 4 1/2 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.
2. Microwave chocolate, butter, and cocoa in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 1 to 3 minutes; let cool slightly. Whisk sugar, egg and yolk, vanilla, and salt together in medium bowl until combined. Whisk in melted chocolate mixture until combined. Stir in flour with rubber spatula until just combined.
3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 24 to 28 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let brownies cool completely in pan on wire rack. Remove brownies from pan using foil, loosening sides with paring knife, if needed. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Brownies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)