Room in the Fridge: Portion Contortion

Is there such a thing as meatloaf for two?

I grew up in a big ol’ family: two parents, four kids, and two grandparents—my dad’s mom and my mom’s dad—who lived with us and called one another “Mrs. Hingston” and “Mr. Norvell” till the end of their days. Yeah. So when my mom went back to work (hey, it beat staying home with everybody) when I was 10 and I learned to cook, it was in quantity: vats of chili, stockpots of pepper steak, miles of meatloaf. I never saw any use for a saucepan that held less than three quarts. In college, too, my cooking was large-scale: my roomie and I would get everybody on our floor to chip in a buck for Sunday-night meals of spag-and-balls or ground-beef stroganoff. I liked this sort of lady-of-the-manor largesse.

Once out in the real world, I didn’t bother to adjust much. I’d make a bunch of cashew chicken and eat it for a week; it was the way I was used to cooking. Then I met my husband, who adores leftovers, and things got even better; Doug vacuumed up everything extra for breakfast and lunch. Our two kids made four, I went on cooking for eight, and life was good.

Then the kids went off to college, and all of a sudden, there was too much left over.

Doug tried his best, but you can’t really eat at 50 the way you can at 25. So I’ve been trying to adjust, to buy less and cook less, and it’s surprisingly difficult. I don’t really think about how I make what I make after all these years; I’m on autopilot in the kitchen. Only now I can’t be, or we’d be swimming in vodka sauce.

It all starts in the grocery store. Buying just one chicken breast feels so stingy—won’t someone go hungry? Half a box of pasta at a time produces loads of leftovers; loaves of bread go on forever. I’m reminded of the line in The Joy of Cooking that defines eternity as “two people and a ham.” Where once I filled shopping carts to overflowing, now the little handbasket is all I need.

There’s a good side to this. I’m saving heaps of money—so much that I feel justified in springing for, say, the good balsamic vinegar, or the free-range, no-hormones chicken. There are downsides, too, though: a fridge full of tiny little leftover containers, with just two tablespoons of mashed potatoes or three brussels sprouts, and a lot of math to try to figure out how to make a meatloaf for two. Here’s my best approximation of my mom’s recipe, sliced down. Be warned: This is straight-out 1950s meatloaf, nothing fancy. Doug wouldn’t want it any other way.

Meatloaf for Two
4 slices white bread
1 egg
1/8 c. milk
½ c. onion, chopped fine
½ tsp. salt
A few good grinds of pepper
1 lb. ground beef (I use 80/20. I’ve tried it with turkey. Not the same)
1 can Campbell’s tomato soup

Preheat oven to 325?. Pull bread into small pieces in a medium bowl; add egg and milk and stir with a fork. Add the onion, salt and pepper, stir again, then take off your wedding ring, add the ground beef, and mix well with your hands. Shape into a loaf in a baking dish that’s big enough to leave space around the edges. Put your wedding ring back on. Bake for 40 minutes, then pour off fat from the pan. Cover the loaf with the undiluted soup, return to oven, and bake for 20 minutes more. Makes enough for supper and a couple of sandwiches—on white bread with mayo, please.

SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.