Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan

This quick book review will most likely be biased. I’m cool with that. And I’m owning my bias in a big way, here’s why:

  1. My husband works out of state several weeks a month.
  2. I am from Texas. Mr. Yonan is from Texas.
  3. Mr. Yonan is affable, sweet and smart, and has a chapter on tacos.
  4. Tacos.

While 1 through 4 are major reasons why I love this book so much, they’re not the only reasons why Joe Yonan’s Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures In Cooking For One. is currently rocking my kitchen. I met Joe, the Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, in person last year at IACP when I was presenting a talk on food photography. You can imagine my surprise when we started chatting about being from small Texas towns, and if you’re from a small Texas town there are some things that only others could from Texas could understand and appreciate. Plus Joe spent time in Austin, my 2nd hometown, so you can see the affinity I have for Joe.

But let’s talk about his book. Beginning with a very amusing story about a Facebook comment Joe received about his “Cooking For One” column in The Washington Post, this book celebrates something many of us do on a regular basis when we sit down to a meal created for ourselves. And I’m of Joe’s mindset: there’s nothing wrong with having a wonderful group of friends and family to share meals with, but when you are alone you needn’t be without good food. And this is why (along with #1 above) that this book resonates so much with me. I cook for myself more than you would possibly realize.

For me, cooking solo relies on some of my favorite things to cook: stir fries, grains and beans, anything with tortillas and plenty of roasted or grilled vegetables. Now that Joe’s written a book on this subject, well, I’m elated that I’ll be able to cook from it and still be treated to so many of my favorites: sandwiches, tacos, a whole chapter on eggs (YES!) as well as pizzas and pasta. I’m a huge fan of making pizzas when I’m home alone and plan on diving into the pizza chapter today while the other half is working in Chicago.

And yes, the recipes are written in quantities meant for one, with plenty of information on ways to put leftovers to great use and how to dress up the meal with condiments.

Did I mention there’s a chapter on tacos?

I still haven’t decided what I love most about Serve Yourself: the variety of stellar recipes or Joe’s humor that opens and closes the book. I couldn’t stop laughing about the stories of his relationships past, all shared with humility and humor and I’d probably be the first person to buy a book he wrote on that subject alone. Joe is hilarious.

Joe’s Spicy Hummus

With all my banter about tacos you’d think I’d pick a recipe from that chapter. Nope. I can’t get past his recipe for Spicy Hummus which I not only had at the studio when I photographed it for this post but have made 2 times since then. It’s delicious with a slight kick, I’ve been digging it with sliced cucumbers as my choice of dipping vessel, spread on toasted lavash and also on everyday sandwiches. I am officially in chickpea mode and this hummus is perfect.


Makes about 2 cups

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
2 cups cooked chickpeas, preferably homemade (page 45), rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chickpea cooking liquid or water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons tahini, plus more as needed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 plump clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Pour the oil into a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and pimenton. Cook, stirring or shaking the pan frequently, until the spices are very fragrant, about 30 seconds. (Be careful not to let the spices burn.) Turn off the heat and let cool.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, cooking liquid, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Pour in the oil and red pepper flakes from the skillet. Process until smooth. Taste, adjust the salt if necessary, and add more cooking liquid or water if you want the hummus thinner or more tahini if you want it thicker.

Eat immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Reprinted with permission from Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One by Joe Yonan copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.



  1. says

    I used to cook for a family of five, now we’re empty nesters, but I still find myself cooking a larger portion. As a cooking teacher, food writer and bloggger, I work from home and love having leftovers for lunch. But I do agree 1000% that just because you’re cooking for yourself doesn’t mean you should be eating second rate food!

  2. Jean Marie says

    Here in DC, we are blessed to be able to read Joe Yonan almost every week in the Wash Post food section. He is lovely. Even though I’m cooking for more than one, I’m getting Joe’s book because the recipes sound so good and I figure I can double them.

  3. says

    Recipes that are written in quantities meant for one, with leftovers info…awesome! Sometimes I dont want a 9 x 13 pan of something or a huge amount…nice to know he wrote the book for those feeding less than a full army!

    How cool you met him at the IACP. Which is something I’d love to attend one year.

    GREAT hummus shot! The smoked paprika just goes BAM off the page! Ok, and the oil drizzle too :)

  4. says

    Sold! I have been considering buying this book, but I’m overwhelmed by the size of my cookbook library and was holding off. Not any longer. You’ve sold me! I cook for one more than 90% of the time and while I’ve pretty much learned how to control myself and not cook like an army was coming to stay I can always use inspiration.

    From what I’ve seen written about this book the past couple of weeks, this book is going to be perfect for me — especially since in the past 12 weeks of this Weight Watchers journey I’ve made tacos a minimum 24 times. As a matter of fact, tonight is Korean taco night! LOL

  5. Terry C says

    Matt, I so appreciate you posting this and talking about what you do to cook for yourself when you are alone. I’m single, my last kid is moving out in a few months, and I have been wondering how to adjust my cooking, especially as I want to eat more healthfully, and not be depressed by sitting down to eat alone. So thank you! This book looks wonderful. Love your blog, your humor, your openness, and your photography!


  1. […] from a book review I read at Monica Bhide’s A Life of Spice and came across it again at MattBites and with both endorsements, I knew I had to have this book.  I know Matt and trust his reviews, […]

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