I love to cook for my family and friends. I have my favorite cookbook authors whom I always rely on for recipes and inspiration. Julia Child, Elizabeth David, James Beard, and M.F.K. Fisher are iconic food writers of the past whose cookbooks are on my bookshelves. I also adore Laurie Colwin's books Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. She was a food writer for Gourmet Magazine and her warm and funny essays on cooking have been collected into two books. Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten, Claudia Roden, Dorie Greenspan, and Nigel Slater are favorite food writers of today who give me great inspiration. The owners of Ottolenghi in London have written the fabulous vegetable cookbook Plenty which is now one of my go-to sources for inspiration. I am cooking meat less and less and love to discover interesting recipes for vegetables. But recently I have discovered another food writer -- Judith Jones, whose book The Pleasures of Cooking for One has become one of my favorites.
As Judith Jones writes in her book, there are nights when we are home alone for dinner and we don't feel like bringing in prepared food. We just want to cook a good meal for ourselves. Getting into my kitchen and cooking just for me is something I enjoy. The problem is finding recipes that work for one person. I had heard of Judith Jones' book The Pleasures of Cooking for One and decided to order it. Judith Jones is the legendary editor of Julia Child and is famous for her role in publishing Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as her other books. (Did you know that she also discovered The Diary of Anne Frank while working for Doubleday in Paris and was responsible for it being published?) When I heard about this cookbook, I was intrigued and interested to know what Jones' cooking routines were when she wanted to cook for herself. The best cookbooks are always about more than cooking; they reflect a philosophy about life and Judith Jones' book is no exception. Her excitement about the pleasures of cooking and treating herself well are contagious. What an inspiring cookbook this is!
She writes about organizing her cooking so she has something good to eat all week. She gives us great tips about portions, cooking equipment, and planning ahead for the week. Many of these recipes will have some leftovers and she has interesting ideas for using them in new ways. After trying her Mushroom Risotto, I recognized that it is really enough for two normal portions (though you might want to double it if you want more substantial portions) and that this book could also be useful for the "empty-nesters" out there. When the kids move away and it is just the two of you at home, these recipes would work beautifully. Her photos show that she sets a lovely table and pours herself a glass of wine even when it is just for herself. I love that.
I decided to make her Mushroom Risotto. I was not used to cooking risotto with only 2/3 of a cup of Arborio rice and just two cups of chicken broth. But it worked, and the risotto was delicious. It also felt relatively healthy since it did not call for much butter or oil, and no cream.
Mushroom Risotto from Judith Jones' "The Pleasures of Cooking for One"
Roasted Butternut Squash Salad from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics"
I also decided to make Roasted Butternut Squash Salad from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. The two dishes made a great vegetarian (if you use the vegetable broth) combination. With a glass of sauvignon blanc, I was in heaven.
The great English food writer Elizabeth David in the book Elizabeth David's Christmas wrote about eating alone during the hectic build-up to the holiday season:
"On at least one day during the 'Great Too Long Stretch' I stay in bed, making myself lunch on a tray. Smoked salmon, home-made bread, butter, lovely cold white Alsace wine. A glorious way to celebrate Christmas."
She makes it sound elegant and oh so civilized. And that is exactly how it should be. Judith Jones' book will give you many delicious and elegant ideas for cooking for one (or two).
Here is Judith Jones' recipe for Mushroom Risotto
1/4 cup dried mushrooms, such as porcini, morels, or hen of the woods
1/2 cup warm water
1 and 1/2 cups of flavorful broth (chicken, duck, goose or vegetable) -- I ended up using 2 cups broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2/3 cup Arborio rice
A generous splash of white wine
1/4 cup fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
A sprinkling of grated Parmesan
Soak the dried mushrooms in the warm water for 30 minutes. Strain over a small pan to catch the soaking liquid, then pour in the broth, and heat just to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small, heavy pot, and saute the shallots slowly for 4-5 minutes. Add the rice, and let it glaze as you stir it - about 1 minute. Pour in the wine, and reduce it until it's absorbed. Now start adding the hot broth liquid about 1/3 cup at a time, stirring and scraping the rice from the bottom. After each addition of liquid is absorbed, add the next, stirring frequently.
Meanwhile, in another small pan, saute the fresh mushrooms in 2 teaspoons of the butter. When they have released their liquid, add the drained dried mushrooms and stir together. When the rice has cooked about 20 minutes (I cooked it for about 25 minutes) and has absorbed most of the hot liquid, toss the mushrooms in with the rice. Add the remaining liquid, and let everything cook together for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and fold in the remaining teaspoon of butter and the Parmesan. Spoon into a warm bowl, and relish every mouthful of this creamy, earthy dish.