Good morning. I was flying solo there for a couple of days, cooking only for myself. This was not as simple as I’d thought it might be, as many over the years have pointed out to me in letters and messages, at cocktail parties, at the end of news meetings, once at a funeral. The business of cooking dinner, for me, for a lot of us, is inextricably linked to the idea of service, to the notion that by feeding others we are offering pleasure as a kind of gift, a sacrament. Left to our own devices, we might fall into traps: eggs all the time, toast, cookies. One night I found myself spooning peanut butter into my mouth over the sink.
That’s not a good place to be, and particularly during this pandemic, when so many are spending so much time alone. I resolved to do better. At the market, I found a skirt steak about the length of an iPhone, and I grabbed a single potato. I bought a thatch of watercress. I wedged the potato into eighths and showered the slices with salt and neutral oil on a small sheet pan, then slid it into a hot oven to roast. I sprayed salt all over the steak and seared it in an oil-slicked cast-iron pan, flipped it a couple times, then took it off the heat and basted it in butter and thyme, with a single clove of garlic. I let it rest.
The potatoes were golden and crisp by then, and I put them on a plate beside some watercress, sliced the steak and drizzled everything with a little of the basting butter. Ate that at the kitchen counter watching “Pretend It’s a City,” and it was a pretty good night.
But the next morning? Eating the leftover steak with soft scrambled eggs and sautéed watercress while reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of tea? That was glorious stuff, self-care at its highest, and I was determined to tell you about it because all of us at some time are going to need a prompt to cook, for themselves and for others. I’m here to provide it. Cook. You’ll find in the meal, or the leftovers that follow, something approaching grace.
Cook what? I’ve got loads of ideas. Take a look at this creamy cauliflower soup with rosemary olive oil (above), and at these crisped chickpeas in spicy brown butter. Consider this fish with sizzling olive butter and, in a riff on my solo meal, these steak mock frites.
If you’re like me and dining alone, consider quartering this recipe for trout. You don’t need a fireplace in which to cook it, but if you have one, it’s an adventure for sure. Try this cauliflower chaat. Make a small chicken soup. Turn to the omelet. It won’t let you down.
There are many thousands more recipes to make for yourself or others awaiting your attention on NYT Cooking. Go take a look and see what you find. Then save the recipes you like. And rate the recipes you’ve cooked. Leave a note on that recipe, if you’ve come up with a hack or ingredient substitution that you’d like to remember or alert to your fellow subscribers.
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Now, it’s nothing to do with those sharp Japanese mandolins or how often I think about buying a countertop pizza oven, but Jericho Brown wrote a poem for The Times to commemorate the inauguration last week of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris, and I think you should read it. It’s called “Inaugural.”
Here’s a fascinating tale in The Atlantic on efforts to save the corpse flower, of which very few are left in the wild.
This is Novos Baianos, “A Menina Dança,” from 1972.
Finally, you need a book? Hit the library for “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” by Paul Torday. Comedy, tragedy, satire — it’s all there. Enjoy, and I’ll be back on Wednesday.