The Pleasures of Cooking for One

I hadn’t planned to write another book after The Tenth Muse, which included at the end about fifty recipes that represented different phases of my life in food. The final items in that recipe section reflected some of the ways I go about cooking for myself today; in “The Nine Lives of a Leg of Lamb” and “Wanna Buy a Duck?” I was trying to show how many reincarnations a roast leg of lamb could have, and that the single cook who indeed wanted to buy a duck could have a great time using every part of the bird in different ways.

The response to that section convinced me that I ought to share more of my experiences cooking alone. People would come up to me full of questions—from how to make chicken breasts taste good to what to do with all the leftover food that you’re invariably stuck with because supermarkets force you to buy more than you need. Young people on their own for the first time are lost; they don’t know what equipment to buy for one, what essentials they need in the fridge and the freezer and on the limited shelf space their first tiny kitchen offers. And they want to know what book I would recommend to help them. There I was stumped. A number of books have been published aimed at the solo cook, but they are mostly made up of recipes for one and don’t deal with all the strategies involved in cooking for oneself through the week.

So I decided to meet the challenge and to give myself a year to record my own cooking and to experiment with new ideas that would be useful to any cook preparing small amounts. Thus was born The Pleasures of Cooking for One.

The first important principle is not to think of just a single dish at a time but instead understand how one dish leads to the next. So when you’re doing your major shopping, think through the week ahead and visualize how you might use that skirt steak you brought home: how good it will taste not only the first night but later in the week in a hash or a Provençal gratin layered with breadcrumbs and garlic and mushrooms, or just chilled and sliced and slathered in a pickly Sauce Gribiche.

Instead of shunning leftovers I make a point of having extra cooked foods on hand so I can improvise a meal out of whatever may be lurking in the refrigerator. When I make a tomato sauce or a cream sauce or a pesto, I make extra so that I can put small amounts away in the freezer for easy access when I want to whip up, say, a soufflé.

As I was finishing the book, I had lunch one day at the brasserie Cognac, across the street from the Knopf office. I saw on the menu a single cheese soufflé and it seemed so long that I’d had a good soufflé I couldn’t resist ordering it. As the last cheesy, foamy bite slipped down my throat, I thought what fun it would be to go home and make a soufflé—just for me. So I bought a small mold, whittled down the proportions from Julia’s classic recipe, and in about forty minutes (yes, I did have the necessary white sauce all ready-to-go in my freezer), out of the oven came a perfect little puffed-up cheese soufflé. I knew as I put it on the table and poured a glass of chilled white wine that that should be the image on the cover of the book because it represented what I want the book to say.

Not that I think you’ll want to make a soufflé every night—most of my recipes simply represent good home cooking done with care. That means they’re not for the faint-hearted or the people who only think they want to cook but really just want quick and easy shortcuts. That lovely soufflé represents doing something creative, treating yourself well, and, above all, enjoying.

I always feel that a good cookbook is like having someone right there with you at the stove. The kitchen can be a lonely place without that stimulation, so let’s share ideas and empower one another.

23 Responses to “The Pleasures of Cooking for One”

  1. Fran says:

    The book is wonderful and the moment I opened the box with my copy of the book and saw the Soufflé shot I became determined to make one for myself for dinner last week. And when I stumbled upon the proper sized ramekin the following night, I made it again. My photos aren’t as alluring and inviting as your cover shot, but the resulting soufflé extravaganza was delicious! http://frantasticfood.com/?p=377

    I recommended the book to a customer the very next day when she stood at the counter lamenting her “newbie” cooking skills and her embarrassment at claimed inability to cook for herself. I thought your new book would be a great step in helping her overcome her kitchen fears.

    Cheers on the new book! I look forward to many more great meals with your inspiration.

  2. Kevin says:

    Judith,
    I’m the About.com guide to Cooking for Two. And although, like you, I cook for one – but cooking for two has the same difficulties. I would love to review your book in Cooking for Two.

    And I too know the pleasures of individual souffles: http://cookingfortwo.about.com/od/pastabeansandgrains/r/basicsouffle.htm

  3. Abigail Pantaleon says:

    Thank you, Judith!

    This is the perfect slice of inspiration delivered at just the right time in my life as a single cook for one :) .

  4. I’m going to go out this evening and look for your latest book. Though I love cooking for other people, I live alone and frequently cook for myself. My freezer is well used and is full of parts of bigger dishes I made, then froze in single sized portions for later use. I think one of the biggest challenges for the single cook is motivation – it’s harder to motivate to cook for yourself than it is when you know that someone is waiting on you for dinner. Your book sounds both motivating and inspiring, so I can’t wait to get a copy.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Thank you, Judith! This sounds perfect for me. I often eat more than I should thanks to recipes intended for four or more diners. (Of course, a little self-restraint would go a long way!)

  6. Rebekah says:

    Judith, your book sounds fabulous. Think I could still use it for my family of 4? =)

    Also, thought I’d put it out there that Martha Stewart’s small magazine “Everyday Food” has a section for cooking for one or two people which also utilizes the idea of one-dish-leading-to-another. My recollection is the recipes tend to be relatively simple — not extravagant. So maybe not always exciting, but certainly helpful on those days you want a tasty home cooked meal quickly.

  7. Monique says:

    I am just about to check out the book..I just read about it today.I am excited!

  8. Kate Clark says:

    I haven’t made a souffe in years and tonight one emerged from my oven that looked and tasted manifique, as Julia would say. Thank you for given me the courage to do something special for myself. Perhaps I will do for you what Julie did for Julia, do a meal each day from your delightful book. Being along doesn’t have to be joyless, especially when we can still taste, smell and cook. An aside: as a newly wed I watch Julia childs on PBS and took notes of while watching her shows. Subsequently, I bought her “mastering the art…” and while I can’t say I have mastered it, the process is still in progress…..
    Keep up your wondrous work

  9. Maya says:

    Hi, Judith,

    Loved your interview with NPR’s Leonard Lopate. My mother, a fabulous cook, who never used any measuring cups or spoons, never taught me cooking because since it’s a survival skill she decided that when the need arose I’ll learn and hopefully master it on my own. She was not a mean person. It’s just that she wanted me to spend my time getting an education and mastering music, which I am trained in since I was nine.

    Now, I cook like there is no tomorrow because somebody has to think about the family’s health. Cooking is a fabulous sensory process and, of course, so creative. Especially, as a vegetarian, the vegetables and spices (both fresh and prepared) I handle are a source of such a wholesome feeling.

    I feel that part of the reason why in today’s world people often find their lives coming up empty is because modern life has denied them the sensory experience of cooking the “right” way. Also, they often lead a one-dimensional life (I laughed at what you said about our penitentiary lives in your Wall Street Journal interview).

    Anyway, thank you for your shining a light on what a wholesome activity cooking is for more than one reason. But you may also be right that like in anything else, a cooking gene is a requirement to appreciate this aspect of cooking.

    Three cheers to you and to Epicurus!

    Peace!
    Maya.

  10. Selma Miriam says:

    Dear Judith, I heard you talk yesterday on the Leonard Lopate show. You said that you wanted a recipe for beef heart and that no one sent you one. Well, I made one over 30 years ago, since I have been a vegetarian for at least that long I have not done it since! It was for anticuchos, from Peru, from the Time-Life Foods of the world series edited by Michael Field. It was marinated at least overnight, as I remember, and came out very tender and not like most organ meat. I can look it up if you like. We carry your biography in our bookstore / restaurant (Bloodroot)

  11. Kate Higdon says:

    Mrs. Jones,

    Thank you so very much for this treasure! I come from a family of foodies representing the world of chefs along with those who enjoy the meals as a “common diner”. And yet, I have never had a talent for cooking. I have tried to learn but as a young, single girl I have been deterred by the large serving quantities most recipes prepare.

    I look forward to learning more about food and creating wonderful meals to be savored alone! The photography is lovely as well and I have enjoyed each image; they are all so inspirational.

    Again, thank you for your work. It is most appreciated!

  12. Kristin says:

    Hi Judith,

    I just made (and ate) the broiled chicken recipe from “The Pleasures of Cooking for one”, and I have to tell you, it was absolutely a revelation. Perfectly moist, flavorful, surrounded by nearly-caramelized gorgeous vegetables…. I couldn’t be happier. I sat on my porch with a glass of wine after I ate and just reveled in the warmth and coziness of the meal I had just enjoyed. Thank you so much for creating this book; you’ve given such a tremendous gift to those of us who live and cook alone. Tomorrow- onward and upward to chicken divan!

  13. Debbie Cox says:

    Mrs Jones,

    I have been cooking since the age of 10, but fell in love with cooking when I found “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child. It became my bible for cooking. Now, many years later, I find myself not cooking much because the children are grown and it’s just me. I found your book today and it has given me a renewed love for cooking. Just what I needed. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank God for you and Julia.

  14. I saw the segment on Sunday Morning CBS this morning and immediately went to amazon.com and ordered your book. Watching you was such a pleasure – your environment – your philosophy of cooking – all very inspiring. I like cookbooks for bedtime reading and look forward to staying up late with your nw book. Thank-you! Bethanne Elion, Vermont

  15. Ann Griffin says:

    Great book for those of us who love to cook, but lose momentum as the family moves out. A reminder to love yourself because you’re worth it!
    Ann Griffin
    Ft. Lauderdale, FL

  16. ann christofferson says:

    I saw a review of your “For One” book and immediately put it on my Christmas list. When I opened the book I quickly ran thru it to see what I could make with holiday leftovers. The Strata on page 113 sounded perfect(except for the ham, as a vegitarian I replaced it with a slice of Swiss cheese). But — the instuctions are a bit confusing. After you mix up the bread with the milk, when do you add it to the baking dish. Doesn’t say. I put it on the top just under the grated Parm but the result wasn’t exactly perfect. But I look forward to making many more of your dishes. Thanks for writing the book. Ann Christofferson, Orinda, Ca.

  17. scrivener says:

    Ann:

    I have good news and potentially bad news for you concerning the the instructions concerning when and how to add the bread to the strata. The good news is that my edition is also lacking ANY instructions as to when you add the bread to the dish.

    The BAD NEWS is that my father, after hearing from me how much fun testing the recipes was, bought a copy and his copy has an extra line of text concerning when to add the bread. I guess you and I are among the luck few who have copies with misprints.

    My Dad related to me (both of us made strata on Sunday) that his copy of the book provides that the bread is added to the dish after the asparagus, before you dump in the egg and milk + cream mixture.

    scriv

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