A cookbook without photographs is a rare find. Today, most food writers seem to capitalise on the market for food porn; no recipe can be published without a zoomed, cropped and embellished photo of the final dish. If Nigella is involved in the cooking process, the resulting image can essentially become page 3 territory. Somehow, the joys of retouching and editing have transported us to an age where beans on toast can be made to look seductive- as such, the concept of a hand-illustrated cookbook is actually pretty refreshing.
“Recipes from the Kitchen Drawer” is Helen Ashley’s first publication, and takes the form of a “graphic cookbook.” This is a comic strip collection of recipes, a kind of Batman for the Blumenthal generation. It’s also entirely in black and white; think fifty shades of grey (literally), just with more bolognese than bondage. Consisting of a series of 52 meticulously illustrated recipes, this is a great guide for any cook wanting to get to grips with the basics in the kitchen.
Described as “feel-good comfort food” by Ashley, recipes are grouped into categories including “soups”, “pasta and rice”, “main courses” and “puddings.” Each page is filled with beautifully detailed sketches of every stage of dish, complemented by easy-to-follow instructions. The combination of clear images and a scarcity of lengthy descriptions immediately makes the cooking process less intimidating.
In Ashley’s introduction to the book, she clearly states that the recipes are not for the “dedicated domestic chef”. And she’s right; this is not a book for anyone looking for a challenge in the kitchen, and it’s not exactly bursting with ideas for those wanting to experiment with molecular gastronomy. Yet for the first year- student heading off to university, this is a great cooking companion.
It covers all the classics, from tomato soup and risotto to shepherd’s pie and gooseberry crumble, as well as providing recipes for more exciting choices, like fish in foil parcels and ile flottante. Other than inclusions like aduki bean burgers (your chances of finding an aduki bean in Durham Tesco Metro are on a par with locating Justin Bieber in store) and syllabub (ginger syrup definitely wasn’t knocking around in my student cupboard last time I checked), these are recipes which generally utilize easy-to-find ingredients. It’s also a great buy for any veggie students, who are likely to be tempted by offerings including pumpkin and chickpea curry, lentil soup and fresh pesto.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a good value buy; at only £10, this is a lot cheaper than your average cookbook. It’s also light, which means it stands a chance of making it on the home-to-university trip in the first place. The same can’t be said for a publication like Heston’s “The Big Fat Duck Cookbook”, which weighs in at a casual 11.6 pounds (the size of a small turkey, let alone a big fat duck).
Ashley’s recipe collection may lack glamour and high-res images, but that’s likely to be reassuring for the amateur chef; ultimately, our pear cake is never going to look like Lorraine Pascal’s, so why build expectations in the first place? “Recipes from the Kitchen Drawer” is a book which, in its sheer understatement, makes it an outright winner for first time cooks.
Recipes from the Kitchen Drawer is published by Square Peg and is out now, priced at £10.
Photographs: Recipes from the Kitchen Drawer