Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review - The Kitchen Diaries

I check out a lot of cookbooks from our library.  Some of them I even cook from.  That sticky spot on page 26 of Tartine Bread?  Nope, that wasn't me!  At any given time, I have four or five or more in my stack of library books.  This is just to say, I read a lot of cookbooks.  I never really met a cookbook I didn't like.  But I haven't met very many that I really love.  I can't even remember what prompted me to check out The Kitchen Diaries.  It wasn't easy to get.  It had to be ordered on a special Interlibrary Loan because our system doesn't carry it.  (When I return it, I hope to convince them of the error of their ways.)

The Kitchen Diaries, a year in the kitchen with Nigel Slater, written by British cookbook author and columnist Nigel Slater (photographs by Jonathan Lovekin) is the quintessential slow food cookbook.  The first sentence of the book—"Right food, right place, right time"—sums it up perfectly.  Slater goes on to say, "There is something deeply, unshakeably right about eating food in season…Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable."  For me personally, chocolate is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable, but I do agree—eating food at its peak of perfection nourishes the soul as well as the body.

As the title implies, the cookbook is laid out in diary form, starting with the obvious January.  He chronicles his year of eating with 15 to 18 entries each month.  Some of them are complete recipes; some are merely descriptions of what he ate and how he fixed it.  All are written in a friendly and inviting manner that makes one want to cozy up and settle in for a long winter's read.

I really love his writing style.  He's so much more than just a cookbook author.  His writing is intimate and works splendidly with the diary format of the book.  He welcomes you into his kitchen and his life, and you feel as if you're sharing the meal with him.  Some of the delicious meals that Nigel and I shared:  A really good spaghetti Bolognese in January; Shrimp and cilantro rolls in March; Clams with ham and sherry in June; An extravagant supper of rare beef, red salad, and cheeses in August; and last, but definitely not least!, poached pears with ice cream and chocolate sauce in November.

The Kitchen Diaries makes the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite slow foodie.  Did I mention I don't have my own copy yet?

Poached Pears with Praline Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
4 pears
2 T golden caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
200 g fine dark chocolate
Praline ice cream
1 T lemon juice

Pour a litre of water into a deep wide pan, add the sugar, vanilla pod and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Peel the pears, tug out their stalks, then halve them and scoop out their cores.  Drop them into the sugar syrup and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the pears are translucent and tender.  Leave in the syrup to cool.  During this time they will become silkily soft and soaked through with syrup.

Get the ice cream out of the freezer.  Chop the chocolate. Bring 200ml of water to a boil, then whisk in the chocolate, removing from the heat as soon as it has melted, just a matter of seconds.  Place two pear halves on each of four dishes, add the praline ice cream, one ball per person should be ample, then pour over the warm chocolate sauce.

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