mastering the art of cooking for one
Last night, I went to an event hosted by the Metropolitan College at Boston University. It featured Judith Jones, who was discussing her latest cookbook The Pleasures of Cooking for One. After she lost her husband, she wasn’t sure how she would be able to cook again. Cooking was an activity she and her husband did together; an activity they honored together. She decided that although she would now be eating alone for the most part, she wanted and deserved to have good food each night.
The entire night was, if I may indulge myself here, very inspirational. Admittedly, it is a struggle to always be creative when cooking for yourself so as not to lose interest in the art completely. Her message is simple:
If you like good food, why not honor yourself enough to make a pleasing meal and relish every mouthful? Of course, we want to share with others, too, but we don’t always have family and friends around.
Yes. It is about honoring yourself, isn’t it? After all, when you are cooking, you’re really creating something substantial. It is an art form unto itself. Why lose the inspiration you have around others when it’s just you?
For some, it’s less about losing inspiration and more about portion sizes. How can you possibly cook for one when you are forced to buy more than you can use at the grocery store? Well, this book is her strategy for “beating the system,” as she puts it. She offers a compendium of strategies for making the most of your leftovers. She teaches how to make the ingredients you buy work for a variety of meals. Most basically, she teaches the lone cook how to enjoy food once again.
At this seminar, there were cooking demonstrations of three recipes selected from the book. I must say, it was a very enjoyable meal despite lamb being involved (I try to avoid lamb at all costs).
The first course was corn and salmon pancakes with sauce gribiche. She explained she was rummaging through her refrigerator one night trying to find something to have for dinner when she spotted leftover salmon and corn. She thought it would be an interesting combination, and as it turns out, she was right. I would never have thought to pair these two ingredients together, but for some reason they just work. Salmon is one of my favorite fish, and the sweetness of the corn adds something to the rich salmon flavor. The dish came together in all of 5 minutes making it rather well-suited to most lifestyles. It could be a meal unto itself if paired with a hearty salad or couscous.
The second course was braised shoulder lamb chops. This cut of lamb is fairly inexpensive, and is ordinarily tough. She recommends putting parchment paper over the lamb before putting a lid over the casserole dish you use to roast them in to keep them juicy and tender. This is more of a weekend dish because it involves slow roasting in the oven for a long period of time (which means you have a lot of idle time to do other things while the cooking perfumes your house). The meat literally fell off the bone, there was absolutely no need for a knife. It was very well done. I have never had fava beans before, and I fell in love with them last night. I will definitely be cooking with those more often!
Finally, the night ended with a panna cotta with maple syrup. I am not a huge fan of custardy desserts (except creme brulee, perhaps because it’s a rather firm, thick custard) but this was good. Vermont maple syrup is used, and as anyone in the Northeast US knows, people in Vermont take their maple syrup seriously. Probably more seriously than Canadians take theirs. I’ll give it to them, their syrup is very very good. Ohhh…warm maple syrup…..Anyway. Because they multiplied this recipe by 80 in order to feed all the people who showed up for this event, the custard came out a little runny. It needed more gelatin, which the culinary students admitted. Nevertheless, it tasted so good! It was a light finish to a very fulfilling night.
I will definitely be cooking from this book over and over again, so expect to see some recipes in the future. The Metropolitan College has events like this fairly often, and I believe most are open to the public. There is usually a fee for the seminar, but I feel it’s completely worth it. I’m disappointed I didn’t start going to these sooner (especially since Julia Child made some appearances). Then again, I probably would not have appreciated them as much as I do now.