‘Cooking for yourself is cooking for someone you love’

Solo cooking doesn’t have to be a lonely hearts club, it can be an opportunity for self-care

Discussion around solo cooking has become less patronising. Photograph: iStock

Discussion around solo cooking has become less patronising. Photograph: iStock

 

In 1985 Delia Smith released cookbook entitled One is fun! brimming with recipes designed for the single cook. The exclamation mark in the title feels a little laboured, along the lines of “I love being alone! I’m not lonely at all! ONE IS FUN, OKAY?!?”

We talk about the joy of cooking, but what about the joy of cooking for one? Tejal Rao wrote about this topic for the New York Times last year. “Cookbook covers can be like optical illusions,” says Rao. “Take Microwave Cooking for One, which features the author, Marie T Smith, alone with some platters of colour-saturated food.

“Some readers may see desolation and gloom behind her smile. Some, a dusty meme. But others see a triumphant model of practicality and self-care.” The piece tied in with the publication of the American chef Anita Lo’s cookbook Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One.

Delia Smith’s 1985 work, with a laboured exclamation mark
Delia Smith’s 1985 work, with a laboured exclamation mark

According to the 2016 census, there were 399,815 people living on their own and more than 1.5 million single people in the State. That’s a lot of people trying to figure out how to measure out just the right amount of pasta for one, a feat that is about as tricky as judging your compatibility with someone based on their Tinder profile.

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It’s true that some solo cooking can be funny, whether intentionally or not. If you’re in need of a boost of confidence when it comes to your cooking abilities, you might get what you need from chef Steven Reed. His video recipes for Weber State University in Utah are considered to be among the most endearingly sorrowful on the internet.

Reed is a microwave “cook” and his recipes include tips on preparing nachos, canned soup and spaghetti. Reed connoisseurs recommend searching on YouTube for “Weber cooks chilli cheese sad music” to get the full impact of this sombre chef at work.

On BBC Good Food’s website risottos, miso soup and jacket potatoes all make the cut for their Meals for One section. Jamie Oliver has a collection of accessible single-portion recipes such as toasties, omelettes and roast chicken breasts in the same category on jamieoliver.com.

Last month, the Guardian ran a four-part cookery supplement entitled Cooking For One, aimed at the slightly more advanced and adventurous solo home chef. Recipes include cashew nut pulao rice, coddled eggs, and a veritable brood of roast chicken leftover ideas to last the better part of a week.

The tone around the skill of cooking for one has changed in recent years, with a move away from patronising lonely hearts cooking clubs to empowering recipes for one. In a 2012 piece for the Guardian, food writer Jay Rayner said that “cooking for yourself is cooking for someone you love”. Ah, to have the confidence of a man like Rayner. But perhaps this sentiment of self-love is one that many of us could do with digesting.

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