After over a decade with only a handful of cooking for one cookbooks, we finally got our first major work. Cooking for One by America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) isn’t a chef’s manifesto or a collections of scaled down recipes from sixty years ago. There’s no diet focus or convoluted premise. ATK actually understands the single cook. They know that we need flexibility, hate food waste, and that a great meal is the best form of self care. Cooking for One is modern, general, and accessible. It’s the well-considered, all-purpose cookbook I’ve been waiting for.
If there’s one word I’d use to describe ATK’s style, it’s rigor. A recipe is tested ten, twenty, forty times to get the best version of a dish. Every aspect of a method is pretty much talked to death, every measurable quality evaluated and evaluated again. They apply that same kind of rigor here, with so much material beyond the actual recipes. Front pages tell you exactly how to set up your pantry, how to improvise, how to use leftover ingredients. Each recipe tells you why it works with sidebars on substitutions and optional additions. No stone is left unturned here… They’ve thought of absolutely everything so you don’t have to.
Every type of dish is covered: You’ve got mains, sides, soups, salads, sandwiches, one-pan dinners, and desserts. There are also flavor enhancers like sauces and seasonings to ramp up simpler dishes. Recipes range from components (a salmon fillet or plain rice) to complete dishes so you can mix and match, riff as you like, or just pick a dish and go. Ingredients are easy enough to find and relatively inexpensive.
The gems here are the techniques ATK has discovered for cooking smaller portions. The trick to a perfect single serving of white rice? Rinse the grains first, then let the cooked rice steam with a dish towel under the lid to catch extra moisture. How do you get one juicy, golden chicken breast? It’s a specific (though very easy) dance of lid off, lid on, a little liquid, and timing.
If you’re used to putting next to no effort into your meals, know that this book will ask more of you. As someone who usually wings it or takes the path of least resistance, that extra effort was usually worth the end result. ATK hacked dishes I’d never make because of the effort cleanup, and leftovers involved. I’m now making enchiladas or risotto on a weeknight without sweating a thing. I think this is one of the book’s biggest lessons: You deserve to eat well, and wanting a great meal for yourself is reason enough to do a little more in the kitchen.
A few quibbles: There were a couple times where the dish felt a little scant or incomplete considering the effort involved. It’s worth noting too that many recipes are pictured with the optional, “level up” elements that aren’t in the main recipes. Be sure to read these if you want to match what you see. Recipes aren’t very forgiving (a symptom of all that rigorous testing) so pay attention to heat levels, the thickness of veggies and proteins, etc.
Here’s a list of what I’ve made so far. I’ll continue to update this list as I cook more from the book.
Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup: Took a bit of effort and made a lot, but couldn’t be a meal on its own. Supplemented with sautéed tofu and greens. Also thinned some yogurt with the blended soup instead of using cream.
Crispy-Skinned Salmon Fillet: The fillet was a little overcooked for my taste, so I shorted searing by a minute on each side the next time. Loved the crispy skin.
Crispy-Skinned Chicken Breast: Worked just as written. It’s really important to pound these to an even thickness or they won’t cook through.
Easy Cuban Black Beans: Great flavor. Used a red bell pepper instead of green. Got two meals out of this with all the trimmings (loved the plantain chips for scooping).
Glazed Meatloaf for One: I made both variations—the garlic-ginger with hoisin glaze and the classic with ketchup glaze. Used ground turkey instead of pork and made them a little bigger, so needed to cook for the full time. Really tasty.
Pan-Seared Boneless Chicken Breast: Worked perfectly.
Risotto Primavera: Took a long time. I felt like the method could have been hacked more somehow, like a no-stir, oven-baked method? Also missed the white wine!
Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges: These burned long before the suggested cook time, but maybe they weren’t cut thick enough? I’d cook at 400°F for 10-12 minutes per side instead.
Sweet Potato–Bacon Wrap: Felt pretty scant for the effort involved. I ate another meal after this.
Simple Ratatouille: I stirred in some thinly sliced zucchini and served over quinoa with a fried egg. Skipped the 1/8 teaspoon anchovy paste and it still tasted great.
Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas: Loved this so much I made it twice in one week, which is pretty rare for me. I added a little crumbled tofu to the filling. Worked just as written.
White Rice: Worked just as written.