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The Post Food Section’s Cooking for One was an initially a column that anyone in the right demographic — single and loving to cook alone — could write. It might be a freelancer. It might be a staffer. But since November of last year, section editor Joe Yonan has owned the series, writing on subjects as varied as sweet potatoes and toaster ovens.
So it comes as no surprise that Yonan just signed a deal with Ten Speed Press to write a Cooking for One cookbook. Yonan took a few minutes this afternoon to answer some e-mail questions from Y&H. The Q&A is after the jump.
Y&H: Is this your first cookbook? Have you tried to secure any book deals previously?
JY: I cowrote “The Fearless Chef” with Boston chef Andy Husbands in 2004, but this is my first on my own. It’s a completely different animal to develop recipes according to my own aesthetic and style than it was to channel Andy and his food, although that experience was super fun and taught me a lot. (If you are watching this season’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” you know Andy.) This is the only other book deal I’ve gone for. I’m thrilled that it’s going to be with Ten Speed Press, which is quite honestly my favorite cookbook publisher in the world. I’m not just saying that because they’re about to own me, but it sure helps to feel that way.
Y&H: How did you decide on the cooking-for-one concept?
JY: I’m fascinated by the growth in single-person households; it’s happening on one end of the demographic because young people are waiting longer to get married, and on the other because older people who are outliving their spouses are healthier and more likely to live independently. But really, the CF1 thing is close to my heart because it’s how I cook so much of the time. I cook regularly for friends, family and, sure, for men I’m dating; I throw a mean dinner party. Most nights, though, it’s about satisfying my own cravings after a long day of work, and I want to get the word out that doing so isn’t all drudgery and practicality. This is why I conceived of the monthly column in the Post Food section and why I decided to write it myself.
Y&H: Does the current economy figure into how you will approach the cookbook? Cheaper ingredients? More comfort foods? Anything like that?
JY: Not really. But solo cooking comes with its own particular budget challenges, particularly in shopping decisions. It’s tempting to fall prey to supermarket campaigns to get you to buy precut vegetables, for instance, rather than risk using, say, half an onion and then not storing the other half well enough to be able to use it before it goes bad in what I call the refrigerator’s “rotter” (as opposed to the “crisper”). And I want to help guide cooks toward better strategies. I want to remind single people that cooking for yourself can be so much cheaper than dialing for Chinese delivery. (Not that I don’t do that from time to time; I know you’re a fellow fan of Great Wall Szechuan House, my go-to takeout place.) Mostly, though, my own cooking strategies tend toward the inexpensive every night, when I’m likely to pan-fry a pork cutlet and wrap it in corn tortillas with a quick pineapple salsa, or to take that leftover rice from my Great Wall order a few days before and toss it with mushrooms, scallions and fish sauce and top it with a fried egg. It’s my dinner parties that get expensive, and thankfully I’m not writing about those.
Y&H: What are the qualities of such a cookbook and how would a single person benefit from it as opposed to, say, just buying a “regular” cookbook and cutting down on the ingredients?
JY: I want to celebrate the particular joys of cooking for yourself: There’s no one else’s tastes to have to take into account, there’s no fear that you’re going to look foolish, and there can be an intuitive understanding of how much you want to eat and what you feel like eating that can guide your decisions. I think too many takes on cooking for one make it seem like Miss Lonely Hearts from “Rear Window.” Remember her, the heartsick gal who sets a table and raises a glass to an invisible date? I hope this book can help dispel the myth that cooking for yourself is tragic.
When it comes to scaling, have you tried to take many recipes down to “serves one” territory? It’s not as easy as you might think, especially when it comes to spices (particularly chiles) and, God help you, baking. And sure, you could just go ahead and make that recipe for 4 or 6 and just eat leftovers for days on end, but that deprives you of the kind of variety that couples and families get to enjoy by making something different every night. I certainly consume my fair share of leftovers, often happily, but too often by day 2 or 3 those roast-chicken remains, even if I have plans to rework them yet again, are the last thing I want to eat.
Y&H: Will writing the cookbook take you away from your twin responsibilities of editing the Food and Travel sections at the Post?
JY: No, there’s really no room for that. I’ll put it this way: There go my weekends. Thankfully, I’m not turning the book in until June 2010 (for spring 2011 publication), so even though it’s a lot of work, if I organize things right I can get it done and, hopefully, do it well. One of the biggest jobs will be recipe testing. Tim, are you volunteering by chance?
Y&H: What happens if you find love before your cookbook is finished and you are suddenly cooking for two people all the time?
JY: From your lips to God’s ears. If I were to fall into love and cohabitation before the book is due, here’s how I’d handle it: I’d make two different dinners a night, each of them scaled to serve one person. The recipe development process would go twice as quickly that way, wouldn’t it? Seriously, I’m hoping my book will also be useful to non-single people who are often separated from their SOs because of traveling or work or other issues, or who maybe just want ideas for lunch at their desk. To paraphrase Cher, sooner or later, we all eat alone.