Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
When I look at my collection of cookbooks it’s clear that there’s one truth that isn’t being universally acknowledged; they’re all geared towards cooking for family and friends despite the growing number of people who live alone. Despite spending most of my time cooking only for myself, I hadn’t given it much thought, which is why this book has been a total light-bulb moment for me.
I picked it up because I know I should be eating more of Johansen’s kind of food (lots of vegetables, bold bright flavour combinations, a healthy Scandinavian influence) and less of the lazy standbys I rely on (too much pasta, too much meat, not enough vegetables). Part of my laziness is because, and I suspect this is true for most of us, I find cooking for one a chore in a way that cooking for others simply isn’t. Where does that ‘why bother for one’ attitude come from?
Wherever it originates it’s unhelpful, so a book that encourages a wider repertoire of things to cook for one – or for two, because scaling recipes up is much easier than scaling them down – whilst still understanding how short of both time and energy you might find yourself is pure gold.
I was curious enough on the back of this to have a quick look for other solo cookbooks, thinking I just might not have noticed how many there were, but they weren’t really there to notice (there are a few, but nothing to reflect the number of people who live alone, and like it). Something else that I’ve noticed is how badly supermarkets serve the single cook who doesn’t fancy a week of recycled leftovers. It’s a lot easier if you have good local butchers, fishmongers, and grocers, where you aren’t bound by family-sized prepackaged quantities.
Back to Solo, the chapters are broken down into: Light Bites and Things on Toast, Easy Weeknight Suppers, One-Pan Wonders, Make Ahead, Salads, Mezze and Tapas, Simple Pleasures, Lazy Weekends, and Sweet Things. There are also sections on useful kitchen kit, kitchen staples, and Johansen’s favourite fresh ingredients. I particularly like that in the Sweet Things chapter there’s more emphasis on how long things keep than on how many slices or portions they make.
What really made the difference for me though was a recipe for scallops in sherry, and another one for mussels with fennel. Why I haven’t been making a habit of buying scallops, which I love, when I happily buy steak is beyond me. Why it has never occurred to me to cook mussels, which are both cheap and quick, is an even bigger mystery. I really like that there are both American-style pancake and crepe recipes that come in manageable quantities too, as well as all the salads I could wish for (if I was writing this when it wasn’t freezing outside I’d have more enthusiasm for salad, right now however warm pancakes sound amazing!).
Altogether this is a really useful book to have if you’re faced with cooking for yourself for the first time, have got into a rut cooking for yourself, are looking for quick grown-up things to eat after cooking for small children, are adjusting back to cooking for one, or two, after children have left home… Well, you get the idea. And finally, based on the compliments it got me at work, the book is worth the cover price for the tiffin recipe alone, which is spectacular.
Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader.
Signe Johansen, Solo (Bluebird, 2018), 978-1509860593, 207pp, hardback.
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