The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater has sat within easy reach in our house for years; a book to pick up and consult, to inspire, to enjoy for its lovely photographs, or simply to relax with for a brief few moments.
The Kitchen Diaries II is - thankfully - more of the same. Nigel Slater doesn't seem interested in being ground-breaking; not for him the outlandish laboratory experiments in haute-cuisine, or indeed the how-quick-can-we-cook-it achievements of other recipe books from the celebrity chefs. No, this is a contemplative and quiet - but often revelatory - re-consideration of food: of natural ingredients and how to prepare them into something simply special.
When I picked up this book in a local bookshop, it took just one recipe to convince me that I had to take it home, it's called The best sandwich ever and here's a little bite:
"We cut a baguette into four, split each piece open, cook a couple of boneless lamb steaks till they are brown and lightly charred, then slice them thickly. A little garlic leaf butter is melted in a pan and poured over the pieces of split baguette, then grilled till crisp round the edges. We then spread on a generous slather of mayonnaise and some slices of Taleggio, place the slices of hot lamb steak on top, then a little more garlic butter. The baguette pieces are closed and we tuck in, the melted garlic butter, mayonnaise and meat juices dribbling out of the crusty bread as we eat. We decide later that it is probably the best sandwich we have ever eaten."
This little recipe beautifully illustrates the reward to be had from taking time to re-imagine something mundane and transforming it into something out-of-this-world. It's not difficult, but it does require a loosening of the shoulders, and couple of deep breaths and the realisation that there *is* time; there's a whole world to discover out there (and actually it doesn't all have to be tackled at break-neck speed). Instead, Kitchen Diaries II offers us a look over Nigel's shoulder as he muses on everything from finding just the right wooden spoon to why he can't be "fiddle-arsing" around with little parcels of food, and would far rather have a simple salad and piece of grilled fish instead.
As in volume I, the book is arranged into the diary of a year, and again like the first volume is accompanied by exquisite photographs which have something of the quality of still-lives. The book is heavy and beautifully bound and the paper is re-assuringly thick. The end papers are marbled in effect, and even the type-face is carefully chosen (there's an interesting note about it in the back).
The book is humorous, engaging and difficult to put down. It's a sensory treat, just like the food it describes.