Croque Madame from  Solo: The Joy Of Cooking For One by Signe Johnasen


When cooking for one, we need to banish the "why bother?"  feeling

Croque Madame from Solo: The Joy Of Cooking For One

You are worth it, says Signe Johansen

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By Signe Johansen on

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At the risk of incurring the wrath of virtuous cooks up and down the land, I don’t think you should always make an effort to cook when you’re alone. Cooking solo is something I approach with joy when I have the time, energy and I’m in the right mood.

Let’s face it, the pace of modern life is exhausting enough without adding even more pressure by making yourself feel guilty for not cooking wholesome meals every day. I work in the food and drink industry and believe me, I feel zero shame in resorting to the path of least resistance when I’m crabby and overworked. Making compromises and taking shortcuts are both essential to staying sane in our hectic lives, which is why there’s nothing wrong with a Sunday night takeaway or delivery when it’s pouring with rain outdoors and you just want to mooch in front of Netflix. Grabbing a pot of soup from the chiller aisle of the supermarket and slurping it while shoving some bread and cheese in your mouth on a Monday evening is a deliciously simple pleasure for any modern-day slattern.

But here’s the thing:  if you find yourself asking “Why bother?” cooking when it’s just you, then let me offer the following rejoinder:

Why bother? Because making the time to cook for yourself on occasion is an affirmation of your self-worth. It’s an act of kindness to yourself, one that nourishes both mind and body. Some elect to call this act of gentle empowerment “self-care” – a term that sounds faintly onanistic to me – but much like a restorative afternoon nap, reading a great novel or getting outdoors and doing some exercise, cooking solo can be one of the best ways to refresh and reset. Spending a bit of time creating a dish while catching up on your favourite podcast, dancing like a loon in the kitchen to Missy Elliott’s "Get Your Freak On" or letting your mind ponder a problem is definitely worth the effort – I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager and to this day I find cooking solo to be immensely liberating –it keeps me grounded when work or life becomes stressful.

You don’t have to be a martyr to the idea of cooking every day, but reframe your thinking to the notion that you are worth the effort 

By doing something active with your hands, you allow your brain to do some much-needed decluttering, which is why cooks often talk about how meditative making a dish can be. We only have so much "mental bandwidth" we can tap into, and given how distracting social media, the endless drip of shitty news and the constant barrage of emails can be – stepping back and cooking for ourselves is one of the most constructive and rewarding acts in our hectic lives.  I genuinely believe it doesn’t have to be done every day for you to reap the benefits, that cooking whatever you damn well please is one of the more satisfying pleasures in life –  after all you don’t have to adjust the amount of garlic you add to a dish to accommodate someone else, and you can play with ingredients according to your own mood and cravings. If I want to cook scallops for myself I never question whether it’s indulgent – nor do I hesitate in having a glass of wine while cooking solo.

When I told someone recently I was working on "Solo: The Joy of Cooking for One’" they laughed and said “Oh yeah, a cookbook for saddos?” – leaving aside how eye-rollingly rude this response was – it made me realise how stigmatised solo living, or even just cooking for yourself still is. Yet one in three UK households is a single one, and most cookbooks cater for families of 4 or even 6 people. That’s madness. The prospect of cooking a meal for one should be something to relish, which is why you’ll find a few recipes featured from the book here on The Pool, and I’ve included simple dishes in chapters such as "Easy Weeknight Suppers", "One-Pan Wonders" and "Lazy Weekends" to linger over. You don’t have to be a martyr to the idea of cooking every day, but reframe your thinking to the notion that you are worth the effort – I assure you the solo kitchen is most definitely not for saddos.

Croque Madame


  • Butter, for frying
  • 2 slices of sourdough bread, country loaf or spelt bread, one slice lightly buttered on one side
  • Handful of grated cheese – a mix of Gruyere, Parmesan and mozzarella (or use whatever you have/like)
  • 1 tsp crème fraîche
  • ½ tsp Dijon or English mustard
  • 1 egg

For the creamy spinach:

  • 100g baby spinach, washed
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp crème fraîche
  • Nutmeg, to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground
  • Black pepper
  1. This Croque Madame eschews a traditional béchamel sauce topping for the simple reason that, given the choice between taking time to cook delicious, creamy spinach and a boring, bland sauce, spinach wins every time. I’ve cheated by using crème fraîche, but you can leave it out and add a little mustard and nutmeg to the cheese as a final flourish before grilling.
  2. Start by making the creamy spinach. Put the spinach leaves in a small saucepan to wilt over a low heat, then place in a sieve and drain away all the excess liquid, pressing it with a spoon.
  3. Heat the butter in the same saucepan over a medium heat until foaming, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until it becomes translucent and turns lightly golden. Stir in the crème fraîche, then season with a grating or two of nutmeg. Fold in the drained spinach, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a frying pan or skillet over a high heat until foaming. Add the unbuttered slice of bread to the pan and smear the creamy spinach over it, then add about half of the grated cheese. Top with the buttered slice of bread (butter-side up), then, when the first slice is golden brown and crisp on the bottom, turn the whole thing over carefully and repeat the frying on the other side.
  5. Preheat the grill to medium, place the Croque Madame on a baking sheet or in a roasting dish, top with more cheese, the crème fraîche and mustard and grill until bubbling and slightly caramelised.
  6. Fry the egg in some butter in a small skillet or frying pan, place it on the Croque Madame and eat immediately. Variation: Add a slice of good-quality ham or smoked salmon with the spinach for extra flavour and protein.

Cherry, almond and dark chocolate tiffin


Sometimes known as the rather prosaic "Refrigerator Cake", this Tiffin ticks all the boxes: rich, dark chocolate, crunchy biscuits, nutty almonds and the mouth-puckering dried sour cherries. Some days you just need chocolate. When you don’t want cake, or indeed a plain bar of the dark stuff, make this instead.

  • Cuts into 8–10 slices
  • 150g dark chocolate (I use Green & Black’s 70 per cent cocoa solids cooking chocolate), broken into pieces
  • 100g unsalted butter,  softened
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 egg
  • Handful of dried sourcherries (about 75g)
  • Handful of toasted flaked almonds
  • 6 digestive biscuits
  • 4 shortbread fingers
  • A sprinkle of fleur de sel or sea salt (optional)
  • A sprinkle of cocoa nibs (optional)
  1. Line the base and sides of a 450g loaf tin with cling film (if it doesn’t stick, greasing the base with a little oil will act as an adhesive).
  2. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, then remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the golden syrup and vanilla for a few minutes until pale. Add the egg and beat rapidly. The mixture may split but it will come together again when you add the chocolate.
  4. Add the melted chocolate, fold everything together and add the cherries and almonds. Roughly crumble the biscuits and shortbread into chunks (if they’re too crumbly you won’t get that nice crunch when biting into the Tiffin) and fold them in to make a lumpy, chocolatey mess (that’s the beauty of Tiffin).
  5. If you’d like a little extra crunch, sprinkle the salt and cocoa nibs on to the bottom of the prepared tin, then spoon the tiffin mixture into the tin and press it down with the back of a spoon or spatula to level out the surface.
  6. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Cut into slices or smaller bites and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

‘Solo: The Joy of Cooking for One’ available here


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Croque Madame from Solo: The Joy Of Cooking For One
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