If you were to buy just one cookbook this year, my recommendation — unless you routinely cook for a crowd — would be Judith Jones’s tremendously appealing, sensible yet inspiring The Pleasures of Cooking for One. Amid all the coffee-table-sized cookbooks by big-name restaurant and television chefs, Jones’s modest little volume is perfectly, tastefully scaled to its subject. But don’t let its diminutive size deceive you, and don’t dismiss it if you cook for a household of two or even four: this book is packed with suggestions for body- and soul-satisfying sustenance and no-nonsense tips that Jones picked up during her long career at Knopf, where she has edited the crème de la crème of the culinary stratosphere, including Julia Child and James Beard.
Widowed 13 years ago, Jones confesses that it took a while to discover the satisfactions of cooking for one. She points out that with only yourself to please, you can indulge your whims and experiment more freely. One of the challenges is to scale back quantities so you’re not eating the same thing for days on end. Jones offers recipes for quick mini-batches of soups, a treasury of thrifty ideas for variations and leftovers, and advice on cajoling your butcher to sell you a single pork tenderloin (they usually come in packets of two) to prepare several different ways during the course of a week: Lemony Scaloppine, mini Roast Tenderloin, Pork Stir-fry with Vegetables.
The allure of her book — and not just for single cooks — is her wise and economical approach to menu planning and time management. Prepare enough rich Boeuf Bourguignon on a leisurely weekend so you’ll have leftovers to make what she calls Second and Third Rounds on worknights: a quick Beef and Kidney Pie and a meaty pasta sauce. Similarly, Moroccan-Style Lamb Shanks with Potatoes and Peas can become Couscous with Lamb, Onions, and Raisins, while leftover fish is easily transformed into fish cakes or fish salad. Most of her recipes, including a nestful of egg preparations and one-dish meals, can be whipped together in 30 minutes or less.
This is comfort food but not nursery fare, civilized grown-up dining complete with candlelight, wine, and a cheese course — as opposed to scarfing takeout pizza while standing at the sink. Alas, the big problem with cooking for one Jones doesn’t solve is that there’s no one else to do the dishes.