A few months ago New York Magazine cited a stunning statistic: half of New York's households are single. I don't mean marital status -- I mean people who live alone. This was mentioned almost in passing in an article that made the case for New York as anything but a big lonely city (an interesting cultural analysis and so contrary to urban stereotyping but let's get back to cooking).
So if every other city household has only one resident, this has huge implications for how we eat. Certainly for how we cook.
Legendary cookbook editor and author Judith Jones has taken this on in her exquisite, learned, and encouraging new cookbook, The Pleasures of Cooking for One (Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover with color photographs, $27.50). Many of us know Ms. Jones as Julia Child's lifelong editor at Knopf. We may also know her as an author of books she wrote with her late husband, Evan, and of her recent memoir, The Tenth Muse. Or you may know her as a recipient of a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. Or for her pulling The Diary of Anne Frank out of a slush pile of manuscripts when Ms. Jones was a new, young editor.
But in this book you will know her as a home cook.
The Pleasures of Cooking For One
This small but substantial volume is a celebration for the person who not only cooks but also dines alone. The book feels comfortable in your hand, not petite but still akin to a diary that only you will open. The cover shows a single-serve cheese soufflé and a glass of wine, gracefully placed upon an apple green cloth, its color and pattern repeated throughout the book. Just as the cover's place setting invites you to join in this meal, the book invites you to join in its making.
Ms. Jones has specifically not written a book about a single broiled lamb chop and a salad, nor cooking once so to eat leftovers the rest of the week. Instead its 150-plus recipes are full of classic dishes, big flavors, and complex meals that will motivate you to head to the kitchen every night.
She has "for one" recipes for Moroccan-Style Lamb Shanks, Blanquette de Veau with Leeks, A Small Meatloaf, Fish Cakes, Steamed Mussels, Cheese Soufflé, Roasted Celery Root, Braised Endive with Ham and Cheese, and Mushroom Risotto. There's a chapter on soups, another on "Improvising with Vegetable, Salads and Sauces," and an eclectic last chapter she calls "Treats, Sweets and Special Indulgences" that includes recipes for Icebox Cookies and an Individual Apple Tart, as well as Soft Shell Crabs and Osso Buco. While the recipes tilt toward classic French, in fact she serves a global table with flavors from Italian, Indian, North African, Chinese, Greek, and American cuisines.
In addition to recipes, Ms. Jones includes instructions on how to equip a cooking-for-one kitchen and pantry, how to cook throughout the week, and how to make strategic use of your freezer to prevent waste as well as culinary boredom.
What Ms. Jones has achieved is a brilliant compilation of some the most appealing foods we ever want to eat, with recipes written and tested by one of publishing's greatest cookbook editors, and all done for the individual who wants to cook and eat happily without compromise.
We had the great pleasure of talking with Ms. Jones about cooking for yourself, or as she charmingly said, "just me." Please listen to our podcast interview with her (we've added a link).
Japanese Hot Pots
As the weather turns to chill, we change how we eat. It's not just because seasonal ingredients change, but also because we look for a different comfort from our cooking. I think that's why almost every cuisine offers single-pot dishes served warm and with satisfying flavors. But among the most alluring must be from Japan.
In Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals (Ten Speed Press, paperback with color photographs, $25.00) chef Tadashi Ono and food writer Harris Salat give us 50 recipes for making these satisfying and healthy dishes. For western cooks who have more experience eating Japanese food in restaurants than making it at home, the authors demystify much of the cuisine, its ingredients, and its cooking techniques.
- Basic Recipes -- Including Dashi, Japanese Chicken Stock, Napa Cabbage-Spinach Rolls, and Ponzu
- Vegetables and Tofu -- Mushroom Hot Pot, Tofu Hot Pot, Kobocha Pumpkin Hot Pot, and more
- Fish and Other Seafood -- This is the biggest chapter including recipes for Sea Bass Shabu-Shabu, Show Fish Hot Pot, and Crab Hot Pot
- Chicken and Duck -- Chicken Curry Hot Pot, Duck Gyoza Hot Pot, Sumo Wrestler Hot Pot (you'll have to get the book to find out the source for the name), and others
- Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Venison -- Pork Kimchi Hot Pot, Lamb Shabu-Shabu, Beef and Taro Root Hot Pot, and others
The photographs are beautiful and show presentation, always important in Japanese cuisine, as well as details about the ingredients. There's a very helpful "Resources" chapter at the end with places to buy Japanese ingredients across the country, including on-line sources.
If you're someone who on a cold winter night might head to a favorite Japanese restaurant for shabu-shabu, with this book, this winter you can make your own.
The Veselka Cookbook
Veselka is a Ukrainian restaurant in New York's East Village that's been serving borscht and pierogies for more than 50 years. Tom Birchard, who has owned the restaurant since 1975, and writer Natalie Danford have finally turned the menu into a cookbook with The Veselka Cookbook (Thomas Dunne Books, hardcover with photographs, $27.99).
I've not yet put my hands on this cookbook -- it's being published in late October -- so I can't vouch for its recipes. Plus it's not usually our practice here at The City Cook to give much focus to restaurant cookbooks since there are so many other places where NYC restaurants and their chefs get their due. So why mention it?
First, Veselka is a New York institution and we like to cheer on the home team. Second, this food -- borscht, kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, goulash, and bigos -- is loved by many and having new recipes for these dishes may inspire cooking them at home if you can't make it to Second Avenue and 9th Street. And finally, despite my Irish name, I have a Ukrainian mother and grew up eating this food so I am being a culinary sentimentalist. I wouldn't buy any cookbook sight unseen but I intend to take a look at this one.
And admit it -- wouldn't you love to have a pierogi right now?
Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites
Mary Ann Esposito is the host of PBS's "Ciao Italia," television's longest-running cooking program. She has a loyal following which isn't surprising given her warm and enthusiastic style, support for the home cook, and dedication to authentic Italian cuisine.
Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites (St. Martin's Press, hardcover with color photographs, $29.99) is her 11th book and this time she's giving us practical lessons in how just five ingredients can make satisfying dishes with big flavors. There have been a few other variations on "five ingredients," including a line of ice creams from Haagen-Dazs and a Food Network show. But in Ms. Esposito's book, this is no gimmick. Instead she builds on one of the core characteristics of Italian food: lots of flavor can come from very few ingredients.
Her approach is also budget cooking because Ms. Esposito makes sure that every element makes a difference. She has fun with a "Big Five" chapter each for Antipasti, Soups, Pasta, Sauces, Meat and Poultry, Fish, Vegetables, Salads, Sweets and Seasonal Five-Course Meals. Throughout there are also "Five Tips" that will increase your skill in buying, storing and working with the core ingredients.
The 75 recipes include Italian Cheese Fondue, Prosciutto and Pinenut Pizza, Tuscan Bean Soup, Little Parsley Gnocci, Pasta Bundles with Pears and Taleggio, Steak with Caper Sauce, Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbs, Scallops and Fried Tomatoes, Mixed Sweet Pepper Casserole, Beet and Orange Salad, and Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Vanilla.
Ms. Esposito has been kind enough to let us share one of the recipes, for Polpettoni al Formaggio -- Cheesy Stuffed Meatballs. See our link.
I still remember my first taste of salty and sweet. I was in France and had an ice cream, or glace, called caramel fleur de sel at the famous ice cream shop Berthillon. Just as I encountered my first lick of its intense caramel sweetness I got hit with a fabulous confusion of saltiness. This perfect after-taste came from fleur de sel, a rare salt harvested from the sea marshes along the coast of Brittany. The name comes from the violet-like fragrance the salt develops as it dries after harvesting. While there was no violet scent to that forever-remembered ice cream, its saltiness was more soft than tangy, making the flavor even more complex. And memorable.
Ever since that first taste I've always craved more salty-sweet but never found much more than an occasional recipe for a salted caramel sauce. But suddenly it seems like salty-sweet is everywhere! It's funny how flavor fashions can take years to take hold and then abruptly become almost viral in their popularity.
To help us make this flavor combo at home, Christie Matheson has written a cookbook with that finally gives us many ways to mix these flavor contrasts in perfect balance.
Salty Sweets: Delectable Desserts and Tempting Treats with a Sublime Kiss of Salt (The Harvard Common Press, hardcover with color photographs, $19.95) is a dessert and baking cookbook that really brings something new to the sweet cookbook library. I mean, how many recipes for fruit cobbler or panna cotta do we need? But this volume is different because it offers sweets and flavor adventures you won't find elsewhere.
First, it has a primer on salt. If you think they all taste the same, Ms. Matheson will explain the differences -- and when to use which in your cooking. Second, the 75 recipes range from complex showstoppers to old-fashioned favorites to what she calls "little treats" such as Salty-Sweet S'Mores or Old-Fashioned Kettle Corn. There's much to choose from in seven chapters: candies, cookies and bars, cakes, puddings, fruits, ice cream, and dessert sauces.
My favorite thing about this book is how she puts a fresh twist on some sweets that we may have become a bit bored with, such as Butterscotch Brownies (she adds fine sea salt and pecans), Kickass Carrot Cake With Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting, and Peanut Butter Ice Cream.
The recipes are more homey than fancy but there's enough that's special, although come to think of it, what dessert isn't?
Ms. Matheson has let us tempt you with her recipe for Pecan Squares which I made last weekend for a friend's birthday dinner. He ate three (I didn't mean to count) and then was gladly sent home with the little that was leftover. See our link.
It's a delicious new season of cookbooks and whether you're making Boeuf Bourguignon for one or Snickerdoodles for a crowd, there is much to explore and enjoy -- both in the making and the eating.