Dining for One, Please!

The Please is All MineI was thumbing through my bookshelf the other day and came across this great cookbook by Suzanne Pirret called The Pleasure Is All Mine: Selfish Food for the Modern Life. It’s part memoir, part cookbook, and goes where seldom cookbooks dare to go—creating a meal for one! This book is truly a guilty pleasure—no “7 ways to eat a leftover chicken breast” here. Suzanne covers a wide range of dishes from making your own takeout (General Tso, anyone?) to decadent meals for one (Mushroom and Vegetable Stuffed Squid).

I found the introduction to be hilarious, as the author explains how dining alone is frowned upon in our culture but goes on to explain how dining in groups can also be a disaster! Check it out.

“I’m not sure why eating alone has gotten such a bad rap. With the number of singles, loners, and suicide bombers out there, you’d think it would be fairly acceptable. The images in most cookbooks and cooking shows nowadays help perpetuate the feeling that eating alone—especially eating well alone—is not really an option. The requisite denouement for almost all cooking shows includes a fantastically happy group of friends and family, heads thrown back in laughter with the mandatory Mmmmmms, Oohs, and Ahhhhhs, as they feast on the perfect spread—all in blissful, panoramic Technicolor. Your only hope is to be a part of that life one day—or at least experience it with some regularity. But until then, it’s antidepressants and beans on toast for your sorry ass.

But to be perfectly honest, some of my best meals have been eaten on my own and some of my worst with other people. Recently, a colleague begged me to join her for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in London. As we sat at the bar facing into the magical kitchen, the small plates of perfection began to arrive in front of us. Immediately, she began to dump portions of her food onto my plate and then scrape mine onto hers. All of the exquisitely crafted flavors and meticulously detailed presentations morphed into…Iberico ham thrown over langoustines with foie gras smeared in; chorizo oil dripping over frogs’ legs and into osetra caviar; and all infused with a potpourri of summer truffles, quatre épices, jasmine, garlic, seaweed, and something spicy.

I love sharing, but this was desecration.

She then gesticulated loudly and in graphic detail about the outrageous sex acts of her torrid affair as she continued to destroy each plate. The man seated half an inch to her right pretended not to notice. In fact, everyone around us pretended not to notice. No one was really that interested, and all were embarrassed by her selfishness.

As she slobbered on, food spilling out of her mouth, licking her fingers, hair dangling over and into her plate, I can honestly say I did not enjoy my meal. The simple and great pleasure of sharing had been ruined. I kick myself for not just taking her to McDonald’s.

How do you say to your dining companion that they’re making you sick? I swallowed my American Express bill and vowed never to dine with her again, but only after casually pouring a glass of water down her leg and gracefully knocking back the stool. With her on it.”

Reading this disastrous account got to me thinking about my own horrible dining experience while on vacation with a friend in Puerto Rico. After months of anticipation we finally embarked on our journey of fun in the sun only for her to complain/comment at every meal on how she couldn’t eat this or that and how many calories such and such might have in it. Who does this on vacation?! When the question came up on whether I’d like to go on another sunny getaway, I kindly passed. In this situation, dining solo definitely would have been preferable.

Share your best solo dining experience or worst group dining experience with us here at The Secret Ingredient. The reader with the funniest story will get a copy of The Pleasure Is All Mine to add to their cookbook library!

And last but certainly not least, here is a delicious recipe featured in the book.

 COCONUT FISH CURRY

A traditional fresh curry for one person is just too much work—too many ingredients—and the prepared curries just don’t compare, so I bagged the idea. But this humble curry dish does the trick for me. It’s very delicate, light, and wispy and best served with rice (page 30).

 Rub a little sea salt and turmeric on both sides of a fresh sea bass fillet. Heat a little grapeseed oil in a pan and sweat a small handful of finely sliced onions, a minced garlic clove, a minced small green chile, and several curry leaves until translucent and soft. Add half a cup (125ml) coconut milk and a good teaspoon of turmeric and gently simmer.

 Meanwhile, pan- fry several curry leaves in a little grape seed oil till crisp and set aside. In the same pan, roast the fillet, skin side down, until crispy. Turnover and cook for a few more minutes. The fillet should be slightly firm but give a little. Remove from the pan immediately. Spoon the sauce onto the plate. Place the fillet on top and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and the crispy curry leaves.

 Bon appétit.

For more great recipes and anecdotes, check out Suzanne’s blog.

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