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.

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video version of the recipe

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Learn to make delicious meals in 15 minutes or less

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Short on time in the kitchen?

Like to learn more complete meals that can be made in less than 15 minutes?

Then 15 Minute Meals can help!

Click here for more information:
http://stonesoupvirtualcookeryschool.com/landing/15minutemeals/

Cheers
Jules

ps. And students who sign up before Saturday 3rd Sept 7pm EST will receive a 25% discount on their membership.

Here’s the discount page:
http://stonesoupvirtualcookeryschool.com/landing/15minutemeals/

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{ 30 comments }

Nathalie (@spacedlaw) August 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I actually love cooking for myself. I can eat the weirdest things, use as many spices as I like, and (most important) eat when I am hungry (about 06:30 in the evening instead of 08:00), which avoids me snacking on the sly…

Simon Food Favourites August 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm

15 minutes is great timing. half the timing of the Jamie Oliver 30 minute recipes which actually take about 45 minutes if you’re lucky i think :-)

Rossella August 29, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I love cooking for myself too. It helps me to understand myself, my tastes and to challenge me with unusual food.

jules August 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Nathalie & Rossella
Lovely to hear that you guys are already converts of solo cooking!

Simon
Yes 15 minutes is great. Although you can get a lot done in 10 minutes too as I learned when I was writing 5 Ingredients 10 Minutes

Liz W August 29, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Thanks for the tip about the Kitchen Reader – that looks awesome. I’ve sent an e-mail asking to join.

I like cooking for myself, too. Most days I have between 2 and 6 people to cook for, but I’ve learned that when it’s just me, I should still prepare something nice rather than just settling for toast. Nothing cheers me up as effectively as cooking does.

kylieonwheels August 29, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I completely agree on the risk taking. Just lately I’ve found myself alone a few nights a week and coming up with fantastic creations. Add being a little on the poor side helps too – you dig deep into the realms of creativity to make something yummy and nutritious with what you’ve already got.

Michelle August 30, 2011 at 2:04 am

I’ve had that book on my list of ‘to reads’ for awhile. I’m usually cooking for two these days, but when the other half is off traveling for work I look forward to cooking for myself. I don’t mind leftovers and I love getting extra creative. There is just some things I’ll eat that he won’t!

Andi August 30, 2011 at 2:36 am

I have to check out that book because this list really resonated with me. My foodie mother looked at me like I was crazy when I said that I always try to cook one pot meals.

Jen August 30, 2011 at 2:44 am

Wow, you are on it! Still working on my first review for the club, excited to post it on Wednesday. I’m really enjoying the book as well, it has definitely made me more conscious of what I do when I’m alone. I enjoyed your 2009 post, too – also newly single! :)

Rachel Stone August 30, 2011 at 3:16 am

This is a great post. I never cook for just me, but no longer will I assume that an odd night alone must = no cooking! Thanks for the inspiration.

jules August 30, 2011 at 8:52 am

Liz,
Look forward to seeing you at book club! Glad I could help spread the word.

Kylie,
Yes! Feeling a little broke can do wonders for creativity too.. love it.

Andi
I think you’ll love the book – there’s a story in there by someone with a food obsessed mother who hasn’t inherited the gene… good laugh

Jen,
Look forward to seeing your review!

Thanks Rachel… happy it inspired you :)

Sarah @ studiofood August 30, 2011 at 11:04 am

I actually agree with the idea of it being OK to eat the same things over and over. I am the most boring person when it comes to this. I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch 5 days a week and then when it gets to the weekend I promise myself I’ll try something different… and I end up making the same things with tiny variations!

PS just wanted to let you know your blog was getting talked up on the Michelle Bridge’s 12 Week Body Transformation forums as a good source of easy, healthy recipes. Thought you might like to know!

Tammy August 30, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Awesome – I’m going to do the salmon dish with kale but know I’ll love it just the same.

Rowena August 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Hi Jules!

I was wondering if you would like to share your preserved lemon recipe? :)
I can’t wait to try the single girl salmon!

Rowena August 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Oh, nevermind! Found it at the Maroccan basics :)

jules August 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Sarah
Lovely to hear form someone who is happy eating the same thing – you’ll love some of the stories in the book – there’s a lady who eats asparagus every day while its in season.. and thanks for for letting me know about the Michelle Bridge mention!

Tammy
Kale would be even better.. enjoy!

Glad you found it Rowena – preserved lemon is one of the most rewarding (and easy!) things to make

Stephanie August 30, 2011 at 9:46 pm

That’s fantastic! I especially liked the NY kitchen rules, as I spent years learning to cook there. I’ve a little more space now, but it’s a great reminder about limitations varying across the country.

Glad to have found your blog~

Stephanie

Fran {The Flavorful Fork} August 31, 2011 at 8:40 am

Jules, thanks so much for this post and the information about the online book club. That sounds like such a fun idea! I have to admit when I was a single gal, I didn’t often have the desire to cook for myself. So I love the “one pot” strategy. Quick prep, quick cleanup. Look forward to seeing more of your book reviews in the future…

Stephanie August 31, 2011 at 10:56 am

I just stumbled across your blog today, and I’m so glad to have found it! I’ve been wandering around my kitchen for an hour… also newly single (read your 2009 post too & found that very encouraging) and I’ve been strangely/pathetically lost cooking because I’m so used to cooking for two. Thanks for sharing the benefits of cooking for one- always good to see a silver lining & have a new perspective. Now I can eat pancakes for dinner if I want to and don’t have to worry about someone else not being happy about it…& I get to experiment with my favorite foods!

foodnutzz August 31, 2011 at 9:23 pm

A brilliiant blog again Jules. Funny my ‘alone’ dinner tonight was also salmon….though a salad with grilled salmon, fennel, rocket, mint & olives and have to say I shouldn’t cook it as I have no rangehood so the house smells of salmon!

Great to know I’m not the only one obsessed with reading books linked to food (much to the pain of many of my friends). My last was Blood, Bones & Butter and so thanks for the insight into the Kitchen Reader club am v intrigued. I have emailed them to join up.

My next book is A family in Paris. Stories of food, life and adventure…a gift birthday gift from Mr G.

sarah, simply cooked August 31, 2011 at 11:59 pm

I found the “cooking in a NY apartment” essay quite beneficial, since my Hong Kong apartment is also minuscule! I’m really glad you liked the book, Jules. Welcome to the club.

anni September 1, 2011 at 11:36 pm

i’m glad you enjoyed the book. welcome to the kitchen reader!

i enjoy points 2 and 3 immensely. over the past year, i’ve eaten alone so frequently that it’s become the norm (in a completely non-depressing way), but at the beginning i used to get really down on myself when i didn’t have company for dinner, be it a roommate, a friend, a family member, or a significant other. slowly but surely, i’ve begun to enjoy this time to myself, to eat what i want (or, rather, what my body wants), when i want it, how i want it, without any interruptions.

from now on, when i’m feeling lonely and wish i had a dining companion, i’m going to remind myself that in 15 years, when my life is chaos (as i feel lots of people’s are at 40?), i’m going to look back on these quiet moments with just me and my food fondly… perspective, yes? :)

Stacy (Little Blue Hen) September 2, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Welcome to The Kitchen Reader! What a great introductory post. =)

I think your second point is so important. I loved the stories where the author refused to be intimidated by the concept of eating alone, that it was a choice and not a sad circumstance. Can’t wait to read more of your reviews!

Margaret September 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

What a great way to summarize the book. It was a good read with good recipes.

perudelights September 3, 2011 at 1:47 am

Hi Jules. Great post. I liked it because I am one of those persons that donĀ“t enjoy to eat alone, and when I do it, I choose very simple food.
I also want to share with you that in Peru we have a Stone Soup… yes, a real soup that comes from the time of the Incas. Old and nourishing. That name was the first thing that caught my attention about your blog, and now I am a fan. Just love it.
Keep up the good work.

jules September 3, 2011 at 8:09 am

Perudelights,
I didn’t know about the Inca Stonesoup… I’ll have to do some research!
Thanks for letting me know

perudelights September 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

I will be more than happy to send it to you. It was quite a revelation for me when I knew about it.

Eleni Drinks Tea September 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Hello, I found you through Casual Kitchen. When I get a night to cook just for myself I spoil myself! Steak! Tuna steak! Not always affordable when feeding more than one, but yeah, if I only need to buy one, I can justify the expense… :)

Linda I December 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Hi Jules,

My daughter and I are thoroughly enjoying your recipes thank you so much! We were wondering however where we can get Sherry Vinegar? We are from Sydney but the large supermarket chains don’t seem to stock it.

Many thanks,
Linda

jules January 2, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Hi Linda
Any good deli will have it… like Norton St Grocer.. or even David Jones Food Hall. My second favourite is rice wine vinegar which you can get in the Asian section in Woolies… will substitute well for sherry vinegar.

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