The other day my girlfriend Pris commented...
Pris: dear, among all my girlfriends, i think you cook most frequently
me: actually i don't cook VERY frequently, maybe 1-3 times a week for dinner and more for lunch.
Pris: isn't it expensive to cook for two? i find that i spend more than if we just eat out
well, that depends on what you cook and what you compare with when eating out. For example, it costs me only about $10 to cook a meal of chicken ginseng soup, steamed pomfret and xiao bai cai. If we were to eat the same dishes at a hawker centre or restaurant, it will definitely cost more. Of cos, it's that "cheap" cos I only need to buy the fish, chicken, veg and tomato. I have the ginseng, mushroom, ginger, chilli, sauces etc at home. You can't compare your cooking one veg, one meat and one soup meal with eating a bowl of fishball noodles outside, that's not a fair comparison.
Some ways to make cooking for two more economical are:
1. Cook more frequently
The reason why some people find that cooking for two is expensive is because they cook once in a blue blue moon. You will buying many ingredients because you don't have anything at home. If you need to buy a bag of garlic, ginger, chili, mushrooms etc etc EVERY time you cook, of cos it will add up to a lot. Then before you can use the ingredients again, they'd have gone bad and you throw them away and buy new ones =(
2. Shop at a market rather than supermarket if possible
At a market, you can buy ONE carrot, ONE cucumber etc... This i find very difficult to do. I still buy from supermarts and minimarts. It's a good thing that the minimart near my house tries to pack the portions smaller. They're probably aware than my neighbourhood consists of mainly small families.
3. Try to cook the same type of cuisine
Although it's nice to be adventurous and try new things, don't be pattern more than badminton. Mon Italian, Tues French, Wed Korean, Thu Mediterranean etc... -.-
I stick to Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Italian. For that reason, I always have important ingredients like mirin, sake, soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, olive oil, dried pasta etc. in my kitchen. That way, I don't need to buy something special just to cook it once and then never use it again. Japanese stuff are really expensive so I try to use up as much as I can (for soy sauce, sake and mirin, I always do).
4. Plan and be creative with the use of ingredients
For example, if you had to buy a bag of carrots, onions and potato for Japanese curry, you can cook carrot, onion and potato soup another day. And if you buy a pack of 3 Japanese cucumbers to make sushi, you can use them for salads and sandwiches. as for the seaweed, i try to make onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed) to use them up. Very often I use the same ingredients in different ways for the day's dinner and the next day's lunch =)
5. Try to make Japanese sauces from scratch
Most Japanese sauce are made from the following main ingredients: dashi powder, soy sauce, mirin, sake, vinegar, sugar. If you have these, you can make many sauces, from soba dip to teriyaki sauce to chilled noodle dip to japanese salad dressing (needs oil too), or oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice) and gyudon (beef on rice) sauce. It's just a matter of different proportions and different combinations. You can also easily make sushi vinegar using rice vinegar, sugar and salt. That way, you won't end up buying many different sauces and not being able to finish using them. Like you buy a bottle of soba dip and use it like once then it turns bad =( but i can never remember the proportions LOL i need to refer to my cookbook =P
6. Choose recipes carefully
I try only those recipes for which I have most of the ingredients and just need to buy the main stuff. If you buy EVERY single ingredient on the list... it's gonna cost a lot more than if you just buy the finished product.
7. Improvise the recipe
If I want to try a new recipe and I don't have a particular ingredient, i will either improvise or just leave it out. chris has not tasted the real thing with that ingredient so he wouldn't know haha but this does not work as well for baking ha! haha
8. Keep it simple
If you cook something like ayam buah keluak for TWO -.- it's really not worth the effort. I find that most nonya food is very labour-intensive which is why i'd rather eat it at a restaurant. I usually just cook simple home-cooked fare like steamed fish, braised chicken, baked chicken, sauteed different kinds of veg, different kinds of soups etc. For the cheem ones, just eat at a restaurant (or mum's or mother-in-law's place if they can cook =D).
9. Have dried or frozen stuff on hand
For a quick additional dish if you need. I find that dried shiitake mushrooms are awesome. Frozen prawns and veg are great too =) By the way, your freezer works better if it's not too empty you know?
Hope this helps and motivates you to cook for your small family =)