Slow Cooking for One or Two

With a slow cooker, preparing a meal "just" for yourself or for two can be delicious, satisfying and simple.

Five Rules for Healthy Slow Cooking

  • Build a pantry. If you see something at a good price, buy it and, if necessary, freeze it. Then you won't have to bypass a recipe because you don't have an ingredient. But don't go overboard on perishables..

  • Try convenience foods. They're better and healthier than they used to be. Hensperger buys marinara sauce, canned beans and organic frozen vegetables. When we talked, she had just discovered frozen bell pepper strips and wanted to use them in everything.

  • Prep in advance. Slow cooking is not impulse cooking. If you know you'll be busy in the morning, do your chopping the night before and store it in covered containers or zippered plastic bags. You can even brown meat, refrigerate it and put it in the slow cooker the next day..

  • Focus on vegetables. Cut veggies for one dish into uniform bite-size pieces so they'll cook evenly. Put heavier carrots, potatoes, onions and winter squash on the bottom of the pot and lighter corn, peas and zucchini in the middle or on top. Add strong-flavored cauliflower and broccoli only toward the end of the cooking time..

  • Freeze leftovers. Hensperger generally eats refrigerated leftovers within two or three days. Alternatively she freezes them and marks the packages clearly. “I love leftovers,” she gloated. .

Slow Cooking for One or Two
No more leftover Chinese takeout. No more breakfast cereal pretending to be supper. It's time for people who eat alone to take control of their meals, said Beth Hensperger, author of Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Two.

Her book is filled with many healthy, luscious, long-cooked dishes like smoky split pea soup, turkey cutlets braised with yams and even old-fashioned meatloaf. Hensperger designed the recipes to feed one person with leftovers or two people with none. But she hopes they will inspire single cooks, because she knows how easy it is to skimp when you're cooking "just" for yourself. talked to Hensperger about cooking with the new, smaller slow cookers, and how they can help with our plans to eat healthfully. Here's what she had to say: In the age of fast food and instant gratification, why should we try a slow cooker?

Beth Hensperger: Grills and microwaves are fine, but there are things they don't do well. With a slow cooker you can have soups, stews and braises–the kind of hearty traditional meals that feed your body and warm your heart.

But isn't the slow cooker, well, slow? Who has that kind of time these days?
The actual cooking is slow–as much as 7 to 9 hours–but your part is done early in the day. When you leave the house in the morning, dinner is in the pot, cooking. Eight hours later you come home to a hearty meal.

How exactly does this work?
A slow cooker is a stoneware crock that's set inside a metal casing. The heating element in the casing warms the pot to a temperature between 200°F and 300°F. When the lid is in place, it creates a closed environment that draws moisture out of the contents and cooks the food.

Is it a healthy way to eat?
Absolutely, because you cook in liquid instead of sautéing in fat. The slow cooker also makes excellent stocks, broths and soups, which are good staples for healthy eating. It's also great at cooking steel-cut oatmeal and dried beans, which don't need pre-soaking when they're made in the slow cooker.

Why do you think these machines appeal so much to men?
I think it's because the food is so hearty and satisfying. Plus, this is a nice introduction to cooking for someone who hasn't done much. New cooks feel safe; they know they're not going to mess up.

Since you've already written one slow-cooker book, what made you do another?
I fell in love with the new small machines. The old ones were meant for families, but the 1 ½- and 2 ½-quart ones are designed for singles and couples. A 1 ½-quart oval cooker is an ideal fit for two chicken breasts or two pork chops.

OK. You've convinced us. Any suggestions for a good starter recipe?
Here's one that didn't make it into the book. Spray the inside of the crock with olive-oil spray. Make a bed of onions, bell peppers and garlic and then add two boneless skinless chicken breasts. Add 1/4 cup water, a drizzle of oil, and a teaspoon of dried herbs, cover and cook on HIGH for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours. It will have the most gorgeous and flavorful juices and, as you can see, there's basically nothing to it.

As for recipes from the book, here are a few of Hensperger's favorites:

Tomato Lentil Soup

Makes 2 servings


  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz pancetta, chopped
  • 3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp crumbled dried thyme or marjoram
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar


  1. In a medium-size skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until translucent, 5 minutes.
  2. Place the lentils, onion, carrot, celery, water, tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme into the slow cooker. Use a heat-resistant rubber spatula to scrap the pancetta into the crock; stir to combine. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 9 hours, until the lentils are completely soft.
  3. Season the soup with the salt and pepper, then add the vinegar, starting with 1 tablespoon and adding more if desired. Serve hot.


  • Cooker Size, Setting and Cook Time
  • Cooker: 3 quart
  • Setting and cook time: LOW for 7 to 9 hours

Jerked Pulled Pork with Rum BBQ Sauce

Makes 2 servings


  • 1/2 tsp chili powder or smoked paprika
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce of your choice
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum


  1. Combine the chili powder, garlic powder, allspice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle the tenderloin with the lemon juice, then rub the spices into it. Place the roast in a zipper-top plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours, or overnight.
  2. Place the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker. Remove the roast from the bag and cut into 1-inch cubes; place on top of the onions. Combine the barbecue sauce and rum in a small bowl; mix well and pour over the roast. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 7 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. Pull into shreds with two forks and serve hot.


  • Instead of pork shoulder, this recipe calls for low-fat tenderloin, which is amazing in the slow cooker despite how lean it is. When cooked, shred the meat and pile it onto fresh rolls with more barbecue sauce on top, or spoon it over rice.
  • Cooker Size, Setting and Cook Time
  • Cooker: 1 1/2 to 3 quart
  • Setting and Cook Time: LOW for 6 to 7 hours

Creamy Oatmeal with Lots of Dried Fruit

Makes 2 servings


  • 3/4 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried pears
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 2 Tbsp currants
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, evaporated skim milk, or creamy soymilk, plus more for serving


  1. Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours (or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours, until thick and creamy.
  2. Stir well and scoop into serving bowls with an oversized spoon. Serve hot, pouring on more milk, if you like.


  • This combination of oatmeal and dried fruit is so popular that the Scots serve it for dessert.
  • Cooker Size, Setting and Cook Time
  • Cooker: 1 ½ to 3 quart
  • Setting and cook time: LOW for 8 to 9 hours, or HIGH for 3 to 4 hours
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