Thursday, November 1, 2012

Table for One

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.

Bon Appetit!


  1. That mushroom risotto sounds and looks delicious, Sunday. I will definitely have to check out Judith Jones' book! Ina Garten's Roasted Butternut Squash Salad is a favourite in our house and we make it at least once a month through the fall and winter, usually serving it alongside roasted chicken but I am sure it would be perfect with risotto too.

  2. Sunday, I am home alone many weeknights; I tend to snack. I am going in search of this cookbook when I return home. I feel it is calling my name. Thanks for sharing. Bonnie

  3. Sunday,

    I too am a great fan of cookbooks and Ina is one of my favorites! Elizabeth David is my new favorite! I have spent the last few days reading her cookbooks one page at a time to relax.

    I do not know of this cookbook for 1!! I love these recipes and I am going to Amazon to buy this now.

    Thank yo for coming by to visit! Have a beautiful weekend!


  4. What a lovely post, reminded me of my grandmother when she was still cooking she'd cook the most amazing meals for herself. On a side note having had a delicious lunch at Ottolenghi's I now want his new cookbook Jerusalem.

  5. I love risotto and have never ever attempted making it...
    perhaps this recipe will nudge me.

    Thank you Sunday!

  6. Sunday, once again it is like you are writing my story. Our nest became empty in September when both kids moved out within a week of one another. Dinners have become simple and basic. I'm anxious to check out this new cookbook and get back to a little more creativity in the kitchen. Thank you. Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. Sunday....I am often home alone at night and need something to eat. It is difficult for me to get inspired to cook anything for myself. I often just eat a baked potato or some fruit and cottage cheese (easy). However, you have inspired me to use this recipe and have a grand meal. Thank you

  8. One of my favorite food memoirs is The Tenth Muse: my Life in Food by Judith Jones. It is a really great book. Her life and work has been so fascinating. I think my library has this cookbook - one I will definitely be checking out now!

  9. Oh, yum. This would also make a great side dish for two as well, though I can see me eating it on evenings I'm alone. How wonderful it is to dine elegantly, even if only one at the table. This was a very inspiring post, Sunday. Thank you.

  10. The risotto looks great and I would definitely make it for two. On the rare nights I'm home alone for dinner, I love to take a glass of good wine, a chunk of bread and cheese up to bed, and watch TV or read, while slowly nibbling on my "dinner". I could actually have that same dinner every night, but David likes real food...always.

  11. Cooking is great stress relief for me. I think I would find cooking for one enjoyable with all the inherent freedom of suiting oneself. That roasted butternut squash salad looks like just the type of thing I would enjoy eating.