As someone whose livelihood revolves around cookbooks, I typically head to the kitchen with a spring in my step as I set out to conquer a new recipe challenge. But I do have my burn-out periods when I just don’t feel like cooking at all.
I happened to be in such a rut when “A Cook’s Book” (Ten Speed, $45), the latest offering from Nigel Slater, arrived. A few pages in, my eyes settled on some lines about the British author’s “quiet moments of joy” experienced while stirring onions in a pan, and watching them “slowly becoming translucent gold, darkening to bronze, all the time becoming softer, sweeter.”
Already I could feel my mojo returning.
Soon enough, I was preparing a grocery list for Thai-inspired rice noodles tossed with shrimp; pork meatballs flavored with anchovies and lemon zest; and a chile-spiced skillet meal of ground lamb, broccoli and cilantro. I cooked one after the other for three nights straight, each time feeling more invigorated than exhausted by the meal’s end.
Slater’s seductive writing tends to have that effect on his fans. A food columnist for The Observer for more than 25 years, he’s the author of numerous bestsellers, most notably his memoir “Toast — the Story of a Boy’s Hunger,” which was made into a film; and the two-volume “Tender” cookbooks.
He calls “A Cook’s Book” a “diary of sorts” — a collection of all-time favorites written as if each were a letter to a friend in which he shares the stories of how they came to be. Chapter titles reinforce that zen-like calm: “A bowl of soup,” “Everyday dinners,” “The stillness of cheesecake.”
A former chef, Slater notes how the frenetic pace of a professional kitchen drove him into a lifestyle that allowed for more contemplation. Leaving delicate artistry to the pros, he now focuses on pleasure over perfection, calling for minimal ingredients and only a few basic tools. His most googled recipe of all time, which he saves for last, deliciously captures that ethos: “No nuts, no flavorings, just a 24-carat brownie as dense and fudgy as Glastonbury mud.”
How handy that I have everything I need to start baking.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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