For cookbook fanatics, Judith Jones needs no introduction. She is the editor who shaped the writing of some of our favorite cookbook authors, including Julia Child and James Beard. She also co-authored three books with husband Evan Jones, including “The Book of Bread: Knead It, Punch It, Bake It!”
But when Evan died in 1996, she found herself in a void when it came to cooking. Food had, for a while, lost its flavor for her because there was no one to share a meal with day in and day out. “I was not sure that I would ever enjoy preparing a meal for myself and eating alone,” she writes. “I was wrong, and I soon realized that the pleasure that we shared together was something to honor. I found myself at the end of the day looking forward to cooking, making recipes that work for one, and then sitting down and savoring a good meal.”
So, Jones set out to create “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95). Her audience for this book extends beyond the recently widowed like herself. More than half the population of New York lives alone, Jones writes. The rest of the country is not entirely different. There are students, young professionals starting out and even some married folk who prepare meals regularly only for themselves. Then there are those of us, myself included, who enjoy living alone. We are all potentially part of Jones’ target circle.
But Jones doesn’t want all of us. She is only interested in the serious home cook. “It isn’t a cookbook for what Julia Child used to call ‘the flimsies’ – that is, people who aren’t genuinely interested in cooking and want fast and easy recipes and shortcuts at the expense of taste. This book is for those of who want to roll up your sleeves and enjoy, from day to day, one of the great satisfactions of life.”
So, be prepared, single foodies, to make a Small Meatloaf With a French Accent, Fillet of Fish in Parchment, Osso Buco With Gremolata, or Steamed Mussels. Dessert lovers will flip for the Individual Apple Tart, Pear Crisp or Summer Pudding.
If you don’t want to tackle a new dish every day, Jones offers a series of recipes where you cook a large cut of meat one day and either reheat the remainder or use it in different ways until it’s gone. So, imagine stewing Boeuf Bourguignon for one, then incorporating the leftovers in a Beef and Kidney Pie or a meaty pasta sauce. It’s a technique that reminded me of Robert Farrar Capon’s “The Supper of the Lamb” from the 1960s, and it still works today.
The book is sprinkled liberally with cooking tips and hints on topics such as “Ways of Using Up Milk” or “Duxelles: A Way of Preserving Your Mushrooms.”
Here’s her advice on cleanup: “One of the complaints I hear about home cooking is that it’s so messy and time-consuming, particularly all that washing up. And just for one? Most recipes call for more bowls than you may have on your shelf. I find that if you line things up on a work surface close to your stove, you don’t need all those bowls. And in making recipes for breads, pastries and the like, wax paper comes in very handy. You can toss the dry ingredients together on a large piece of wax paper, then pick it up carefully, and funnel the dry ingredients into the bowl of your mixer while it is running.”
What I’m most grateful for in this book may come as a surprise. It’s Jones’ recipe for mayonnaise, which uses a food processor. I was once told not to use this method because the motor overheats the mixture and it never sets up. Yet her version works, and you don’t have a great deal left over, so there’s no waste involved.
No matter how many people you’re feeding – and Jones’ recipes can be easily doubled or tripled–“The Pleasures of Cooking for One” proves to be pure pleasure for mind and for palate.