February 16, 2012

The Pleasure of Cooking for One

Judith Jones. Three years ago, if you had mentioned this name, I would not have known it, nor would I have realized that 90% of what my parents and therefore about 70% of what I think about food can be traced back to Judth Jones. I would not have know that this adorable nonagenarian was responsible for rescuing The Diary of Anne Frank from the reject pile, or that she convinced her bosses to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking after making it's recipe for Beef Bourguignon. Or that she brought the names Lidia Bastianich, James Beard, Julia Child, Marion Cunningham, Marcella Hazan and Jacques Pepin to kitchen bookshelves all over the world.

Nor would I have known that her many, remarkable achievements were in part due to her own deep love of eating well, and living well.

I was introduced to Judith Jones when I saw Julie and Julia in the theaters a few years ago. Contemporary Ms. Jones is supposed to call on Julie, after hearing about her blog project. Meanwhile, in the Julia timeline, we see Ms. Jones laboring over the Beef Bourguignon, and, later, Julia working out the title of her book.  Then I saw her name on the cover of a lovely little book called The Pleasure of Cooking for One.  Then I was intrigued.

The book, dear friends, is marvelous. She wrote it after her husband died, and it is, in cookbook form, a full philosophy of life. Prudence (roasting a whole chicken, and reusing in a million ways), and frugality (saving all the scraps and even pan sauces) is mixed with a deep felt satisfaction in fine cooking and fine eating. Just last night Myrna and Side Car and I were talking about Julia Child's My Life in France, and I said that I loved most Julia's characteristically American willingness to roll up her sleeves and get to work. Myrna countered that it was, in fact, the influence of the French je nes se quoi et joie de vivre that made her so electric. We agreed that it was, in fact, that incredible combination of the two.  So too with Ms Jones.

I honestly would recommend this book to anyone - not just single folks.  The beautiful prose illuminates articulate recipes with just the right amount of detail. And her charming off-handed of-course-I-make-a-soufflé-for-dinner-every-now-and-then makes me want to cook through the entire book, just to learn that balance.

Instead I made her soufflé for dinner, and added the cookbook to my amazon cart (my current copy is from the library.) Biting into this soufflé was truly one of those transformative moments of my limited but enthusiastic culinary career.  If I had known it was this easy and delicious, I'd make a soufflé every week. And now I see organic whole chickens are on sale this week, so I think I'll be tackling those recipes of hers next.  Guys, this cookbook is changing my life.

When I made this, I used a large ramekin, that looked about the same size she described (2 inches high, 4 inches diameter), but I ended up needing two.  So keep the butter out, and grate a little extra cheese just in case.  (You can always put the cheese on your little salad.) I served it with a very simple, light spinach salad.  I was out of cheddar, so used a rosemary machego for the cheese in the soufflé and it was excellent. The cheese is the real star of the dish, so don't skimp here. 

Cheese Soufflé (for one)
from The Pleasure of Cooking for One by Judith Jones

2 1/2 tsp. butter
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or pecorino
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk
Large pinch of salt
Small pinch of paprika
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites
1/3 cup grated cheese: an aged cheddar, gruyere, aged gouda, or manchego

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Smear 1/2 teaspoon softened butter around inside of a soufflé dish, and sprinkle Parmesan over it.
Melt 2 teaspoons butter in a small pot, and stir in flour. Let cook over low heat for a minute, then remove from heat. Pour in milk, whisking vigorously, and return pot to medium-low heat to simmer for a minute, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. Season with salt and paprika. Remove from heat, and whisk in egg yolk.

Put egg whites in a clean bowl and beat until they form soft peaks. Add a dollop of egg whites to pot, and mix in along with about half of grated cheese. Fold in remaining egg whites and cheese; transfer everything to the prepared soufflé dish. Place dish on a baking sheet, and set it in the middle of the oven. Turn heat down to 375°, and bake 18 minutes, until soufflé has risen and top is lightly browned.

Above: My tribute to the charming cover. All photos taken on iPhone and edited with TiltShiftGenerator.

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