When Randee asked me to review The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones I was a little hesitant. You see, I don’t follow recipes, because I’m so stubborn that I resent instructions of any kind. After 62 years I can’t tell you how many times this attitude has not served me well. So I kept an open mind and discovered that The Pleasures of Cooking for One takes a relaxed and creative approach to cooking, with detailed instructions (for those who need them) but with plenty of space for improvisation.
In an article for Eater 1 Jones writes, “To me, cooking is an art form, and like any art form, you first have to learn the fundamentals. And then, once they’re there, once they’re just part of you, and you get up and do a little dance or something, you don’t follow somebody else’s formula. You can take off on your own, and you learn through doing. Then you can let go of some of these strict rules, and make your own rules. I don’t even think level measurements are such a big deal these.”
Jones provides recipes and tips for strategic shopping, cooking and dining toute seule. There’s an engaging intimacy here that makes the reader feel as if he or she is with Jones’ in her kitchen cooking along side her. Each night Jones says that, she sets a place for one with a cloth napkin in a family napkin ring. “I open up the wine and light the candles, turn on some music, and give thanks.”
There’s a distinctly French influence here – with a nod to Julia Child whose Mastering the Art of French Cooking Jones edited, thus helping to start start the home cooking revolution of the 1960s. Friends and fellow chefs Lidia Bastianich and James Beard whom Jones worked with a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf, lend their expertise as well.
The book emphasizes an ongoing process with one meal leading to another — last night’s Pan-Seared Salmon becomes tonight’s Corn and Salmon pancakes.
A particularly attractive recipe is Jones’ Baked Polenta with Vegetables that she said was “inspired by one that Marion Cunningham created for her book Cooking with Children, when she found that the youngsters in her cooking class didn’t have the patience to stir and stir for 40 minutes.
Baked Polenta With Vegetables for One
• 1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 1/2 small onion, or 1 shallot, chopped
• 1/2 small tomato, chopped
• 3 tbsp. chopped cooked spinach, Swiss chard or beet greens
• 3 or 4 strips roasted red pepper, chopped, or other cooked vegetables (asparagus, zucchini,
• 1/2 tsp. salt, or more if needed
• 1/3 c. medium-grain polenta
• 2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in small skillet, and sauté the onion for a few minutes; then add the tomato and cook another 2 minutes. Mix in the additional cooked vegetables, salt lightly and remove from heat. Put polenta in a smallish, rather shallow baking dish, and stir in 1 cup warm water and remaining olive oil. Add the sautéed vegetables, sprinkle on the rest of the salt, and stir everything together. Bake for 25 minutes, then sprinkle Parmesan on top. Bake another 5 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Most importantly Jones reminds us of how dining well can nourish our souls as well as our bodies – and we deserve it!
Originally posted 2017-05-15 17:58:56.