When I was asked to look at Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan’s book a few months back, I was initially impressed. I gave it gave it a quick look and a thumbs up. Serve Yourself, I said is “brilliant for those who cook and dine alone, but his hip, sensible approach works equally well for couples looking to eat simply and well.”
I got a real copy of Yonan’s book a few weeks ago. Once I picked it up and started reading, I was hooked. His style is at once friendly and sophisticated, self-revealing, and entertaining. There’s little fluff in his chapter and recipe introductions. Instead the book is filled with useful information and informative stories. Did you know, for example, you can heat corn tortillas directly on a gas burner, or that you can substitute lower-fat coconut water for milk to make coconut rice? There are also tips for storing unused ingredients and shopping for one.
His inverted cast-iron skillet and a broiler technique for making pizza is brilliant as is his pineapple can-roasted Cornish hens (a la beer can chicken). Many of his great tips come from colleagues to whom he generously gives credit.
Yonan’s sophisticated, yet friendly style extends to his recipes as well. Knowing what specialty ingredients bring to a dish, he doesn’t shy away from them—crumbled pasilla or ancho chiles, for example. But there’s usually a readily available alternative—hot red pepper flakes, in this case. He also defines potentially mysterious ingredients. After “mirin” he’s quick to add “Japanese cooking wine.” “Pimenton.” he reminds us is “Spanish smoked paprika.”
I was enlightened by Yonan’s information-packed book and lively recipes, but he also charmed me with his stories of looking for love, disastrous dates, dining alone, shopping for one, and his lovely, complicated family.
It’s always brought me joy and satisfaction to bring people together with food. But as my nest has emptied, I find myself cooking more often for one or two these days. Joe’s book has enlivened my weeknight repertoire. Imagine my husband’s delight when I walked into his office with two of Joe’ Pastoral Tacos and a beer!
In the last few years I’ve started to see food as a pleasurable way of taking care of myself, and I’m mostly pretty good at it… except when it comes to cooking just for me. So thanks for the inspiration, Joe. Now instead of opening a bag of potato chips on my solo nights, I’m making Shrimp and Potato Chip Tortilla. I’m learning how to “Serve Yourself.”
We’re giving away a copy of Joe Yonan’s Serve Yourself. Just tell us what dinner looks like when you’re cooking for yourself. I’ve already admitted that I tend to grab a bag of something salt and crunchy, so we’re looking for honesty here!
Deadline for entering is midnight Monday, May 23rd.