Cookbook review: 'Cooking for One'

A cookbook that offers delicious recipes and successful kitchen strategies for the solo cook.

By , The Pastry Chef's Baking

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    Asparagus salad with crispy prosciutto from "Cooking for One" by Mark Erickson and Lisa Erickson.
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In their cookbook “Cooking for One,” Mark and Lisa Erickson, a husband and wife team who both graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, postulate that there's no reason people who only cook for one should shortchange themselves on cooking delicious, complete meals.

Because of their busy schedules, they are also practitioners of “cooking for one” so they know the issues that face busy single cooks: lack of time, lack of enthusiasm for eating the same dish four times in the same week, and the seemingly monumental effort to cook a variety of dishes for one person. They offer more than just recipes to address these issues; they also offer strategies and suggestions to combat the ennui single cooks may face.

The recipes are organized into seasons and at the beginning of each chapter, there’s a listing of all the ingredients best found in that season and the recipes are based on those ingredients. Asparagus is listed as a springtime favorite and is used in Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto* in spring’s chapter. For summer, traditionally a season of fresh fruit and berries, there are accompanying recipes for Baked Fruit Galettes and Blackberry Clafouti. The Ericksons urge cooks to become familiar with what’s in season and shop their local markets for the freshest ingredients to make healthy, satisfying meals.

They also recognize that many single cooks often skip side dishes, soups or salads so they include recipes that enable the single cook to prepare an entire meal that enables them to enjoy a full dining experience. Blackberry Barbecued Pork Tenderloin is accompanied with Sweet Potato Salad and can be followed with Baked Apple with Oatmeal Crunch.

A lot of emphasis is given to mise en place, a common cooking term that essentially means having things at the ready. For the Ericksons, this doesn’t just encompass having your ingredients prepped and chopped at the time you’re cooking. It also means planning your menu and shopping trip ahead of time so you know when you make the Basic Bean recipe for Grilled Chicken with Black Bean Sauce and Mango Salsa, that you also plan to make enough to use for Black Bean Chili later in the same week.

"Cooking for One" is an impressive array of diverse recipes with easy to follow suggestions and preparation instructions. Some recipes even have “his” and “her” versions that allow the single cook to choose which one to follow. The tips and notes at the beginning of most recipes from Mark and Lisa clearly showcase how much the Ericksons enjoy cooking and their desire to impart that to other busy, single cooks. Whether you’re a novice cook or a master chef, this book can easily increase your cooking and dining repertoire and you may find yourself enjoying cooking for one.

– Carol Ramos blogs at The Pastry Chef's Baking and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America's pastry program.

*(See next page for Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto recipe)

Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto
From "Cooking for One" by Mark and Lisa Erickson

This easy appetizer salad is at its best when the asparagus is crisp, bright, and in season. It is quick to make and should be tossed together just before serving. The quantities for the salad dressing make more than a single salad serving, so save any extra dressing to use on salads or as a marinade for chicken or fish.

MARK: Slender asparagus looks pretty, but the best flavor is found in more substantial stalks. If you have a choice, opt for thicker asparagus.

LISA: If you’ve never tasted crisp, raw spring asparagus, you are in for a revelation. Use a mandolin or Japanese slicer, if you have one, to cut the asparagus very thin.

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
1 slice prosciutto or pancetta
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
8 spears asparagus, peeled and sliced thin on the diagonal
1/2 ounces Parmesan, shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted

Place the shallots in a small bowl with the lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a few twists of freshly grated pepper. Let the shallots macerate for 15 minutes. (This will reduce any harsh bite in the shallots.)

Sautée the prosciutto in a dry, nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat until crisp and browned on both sides, about 1 minute on each side. When it is cool, tear into irregular pieces and reserve.

Add the olive oil and lemon zest to the shallots and lemon juice. Whisk until the dressing is slightly thickened and well blended. Add the sliced asparagus and toss to coat evenly.

Mound the asparagus on a plate, scatter the prosciutto and Parmesan pieces over the top, sprinkle with the pine nuts, and serve.

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