alone in the kitchen: 7 unusual lessons on cooking for one

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A few months ago, I finished reading Nigel Slater’s second installment of the Tender series and was on the look out for something good to read.

So I updated my Now Reading page on Stonesoup and put the call out for recommendations in the comments.

But to my surprise, I received something more than a list of great books to try.

There was an invitation to join a book club.

Now I’ve tried book clubs before and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t ever lasted more than a month. You see I love books and reading and I adore the concept of book clubs.

But as much as I would love to be into literature, I just struggle to get into fiction. If the characters aren’t things that taste good, I lose interest real quick.

Yet this invitation piqued my curiosity for two reasons. First this was for an online book club. Perfect for someone who lives in the country.

And secondly, the club name is The Kitchen Reader. At last kindred food-obsessed spirits!

I signed up straight away.

My first book club book was ‘Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant’ by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Something I’d been meaning to track down for ages. Actually since 2009 when someone mentioned it on a blog post I wrote on Stonesoup called ‘Secret single behaviour: how to get excited about cooking for one‘.

It’s a great read. So today I wanted to share a few unusual lessons I picked up from the book and a recipe for single girl salmon, inspired by the book.

7 unusual lessons on cooking for one

1. embrace the one pot rule
Amanda Hesser has a rule for her cooking when dining alone. One person means one pot, no more. I’ve been subconsciously following this rule myself for years. But happy to embrace it consciously now. I mean, cooking alone is one thing. Cleaning up alone is a whole other matter.

2. think of all the people who don’t have the luxury
One of my favourite pieces in the book was by a mother of three, who shared the challenges of cooking for a fussy family. Loved her perspective of just wishing she could have a night to cook her favourite things and eat them in peace. All alone.

3. alone and lonely are not synonymous
At the end of her introduction, Jenni Ferrari-Adler shares this bit of dining solo wisdom. And she’s right, if you have yourself and food that you love for company, you don’t need to be lonely.

4. it’s OK to keep making the same thing over and over
This isn’t something that resonated with me so much. I’m more of a variety girl. But I was surprised to learn that quite a few people in the book love making the same meals for themselves again and again. And they’re happy every time. So if it’s working for you. Go for it!

5. cooking for yourself will make you a better cook
When I’m cooking for myself, I’m far more likely to try something risky or impulsive than when I’m cooking for others. Some of my favourite creations began life as single girl suppers. Freedom to be more experimental can only improve your skills as a cook. Even if it’s a lesson in what doesn’t work.

6. there are three rules for cooking for yourself in a New York apartment
I wish I’d read these before my trip. But apparently it’s important not to cook anything which leaves behind a smell (so our salmon below would be out!). Only prepare things that keep easily because your freezer will be miniscule. And finally involve peanut butter whenever possible especialy in the worlds easiest satay sauce: 1/2 cup peanut butter, with brown sugar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes to taste.

7. sharing stories about eating alone can make you less lonely
Part of the inspiration for the book was Ferrai-Adler spending time living alone during graduate school and finding herself lonely and cooking for one. A lot. Then one day she invited some fellow students to dinner and conversation turned to cooking and eating for one. Everyone shared their favourite solo dinners and rituals. And the next night she found that sharing the stories had helped ease her lonliness.

So if you’re struggling with cooking for one. Or even if you aren’t, this book is well worth a look.

single girl salmon

[5 ingredients]
single girl salmon

takes 5 mins
serves 1

Inspired by Amanda Hesser and Ginia Bellafante

You don’t need to be single, eating alone, or even a girl to enjoy this simple supper. So please don’t be put off if you don’t fall into those categories.

I’ve used smoked salmon here because the nearest fish monger is over an hour away, and as much as I love fresh fish, I find I’m always on the lookout for other fish options. If you’d prefer to pan fry some fresh salmon, instead, that’s fine too. Or turn it into a real pantry meal and use canned salmon or tuna.

Feel free to cook your own lentils while you’re at it. Just boil them like pasta until tender, around 15 minutes.

Preserved lemon adds a lovely freshness but isn’t critical. A little lemon zest would work instead. Although if you’d like to start this recipe a few weeks earlier and make your own preserved lemons, there’s a recipe over here.

Vegetarians might like to try ‘single girl goats cheese’. Just skip the salmon and serve with some lovely soft goats cheese crumbled over at the end.

90g (3oz) smoked salmon, torn into chunks
1/2 can lentils, drained
1/4 preserved lemon, finely sliced (you may not need it all)
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1. Heat a frying pan or skillet on a medium high heat.

2. Add a little olive oil and add salmon chunks. Cook for a minutes or until salmon starts to colour.

3. Add drained lentils and continue to cook and stir until lentils are hot.

4. Add spinach and half the preserved lemon and turn off the heat.

5. When the spinach starts to wilt, stir in the vinegar. Taste and season, adding more preserved lemon if you like.


video version of the recipe


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