Okay, I feel rather stupid asking this, but here it goes. When it comes to halving recipes, I understand that cooking times don't always have to be halved (like when making something like cupcakes). But when cooking things involving meats or anything else, do you have to cut the cooking time in half since you're using less of everything? Or does it just depend on what you're making? I often find myself intimidated by this question and end up making entire recipes just because I am afraid of ruining the entire dish if I screw up the cooking time. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
I would recommend using a thermometer, especially with meats. And things like baked goods, I always use the toothpick coming out clean to judge. Use the same methods to determine doneness that you would use if you were cooking the recipe in its entirety. What I've found in my years of cooking is that just because you have less ingredients, the cooking times are pretty close to what is specified, (especially true with meats). Cooking is all about trial and error. I can't name how many times I've screwed something up, but you learn from it and make notes for next time. Experiement with store brands and cheaper ingredients if your not 100% sure about your results. Hope this helps! Happy cooking!
I think the timing differences would be most significant if the mass of the ingredient changed. In other words, a single 10-lb piece of meat would take longer than a 4-lb piece, but if you are braising smaller pieces where the heat can penetrate each separately, then the time wouldn't change once simmer temperature is reached. Similarly, if you are doing scalloped potatoes, spreading them out in a wide flat baking dish would take less time than massing them in a higher more compact dish because the heat would penetrate more quickly. However, you would still have to allow for enough time to cook the potatoes after the cooking liquid became hot. Jillian's advice is good. Just remember to check more closely if halving the recipe changes the mass of individual pieces cooked. Also the ingredients themselves can affect cooking times. Different varieties of potatoes cook differently, and older vegies may cook more quickly than very fresh ones. Don't be afraid to experiment, and have fun.
There's some good advice here on the halving, so I won't add to that. I will suggest that you find some good books on cooking on a smaller scale. I have a Listmania! list with several that I use for my husband and myself. It's called "Cookbooks for One or Two".