January Book Review: The Pleasures of Cooking for One
I have not always been a good cook. In fact, I didn’t even know that I liked to cook. I knew, however, that I liked to eat, and living in New York City after college meant that I had constant access to really delicious and well prepared food. There was not a lot of motivation to learn to cook with the cuisines of the world cuddled around me in my tiny apartment kitchen.
When I moved back to Vermont, I realized I had to learn to cook if I wanted to keep eating in the manner to which I had become accustomed. There are some fine eateries here, but it was simply not feasible to eat out all the time. I began to collect cookbooks, attracted at first by shiny photos of promising meals, and then by types of cuisine, exploring old favorites from my urban life, and then finally by author, making imaginary friends with famous cookbook writers I had never met, enjoying their company in the kitchen as if they were my co-hosts for private dinner parties. It was a great education, but there always seemed to be the problem of leftovers. There was simply too much to eat after I had finished my meals and I felt odd about making such a huge amount of food for just one or two.
I wish that back in those days I had owned a copy of The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by the truly famous cookbook author, Judith Jones. While the title of the book might indicate that the portion sizes are small enough for one, I found that I could get a meal and a half out of most of the dishes. If I had a slightly larger appetite, they still would have been plenty. However, as the dishes were so delicious, I found it easy to take a few more bites of this one or that one, leaving precious little behind.
The book is structured so that many of the recipes have a premiere – the original preparation, and then re-imagined meals – second rounds and even sometimes thirds. For example, the un-eaten portions of the succulent Broiled Chicken are revived as Chicken Divan, Minced Chicken on Toast, as Croquettes, as Wild Rice Pilaf with Chicken, and the list goes on.
A pair of lamb chops cover two meals, the first as Braised Shoulder Lamb Chops, and the second as a luscious pasta sauce. A Skirt Steak becomes Beef with Sauce Gribiche and/or a Gratin of Beef, Mushrooms and Breadcrumbs. A recipe for French Bread also yields a small Pizza Crust during the course of day-long rising and preparation. This bread was declared by my husband to be some of the best French Bread I have ever made.
Measurements for cooking up a handful of rice or of dried beans (instead of the whole bag) are very helpful, and the dishes made from these smaller portions are delicious, including the Winter Bean Soup, and the Indian Leftover Rice with Mushrooms.
There are also suggestions for using up ingredients that seem to linger too long in the single cook’s refrigerator – uses for stale bread, for utilizing milk before it turns and a warm and immensely satisfying Welsh Rabbit to use up extra cheese. Leftovers never had it so good.
“The Pleasures of Cooking for One” by Judith Jones. Published by Alfred A Knopf, 2009. 273 pages, color photos.