REVIEW Recipes From The Kitchen Drawer: A Graphic Cookbook, by Helen Ashley

_Recipes From The Kitchen Drawer_ is the aptly named new graphic cookbook which features drawings of the recipes in a ‘how to’ fashion, based on author Helen Ashley’s own that she used to send to loved ones to encourage them to cook.

Almost retro in its cover design and the ideal size for positioning among pots and pans, there’s a sense of immediate nostalgia for the book; as if your mum has sketched it all out and popped it in the post for you after you her a text saying you missed her lasagne.

The recipes themselves following this homely feel – ideal for the homesick student: shepherd’s pie, chilli con carne, bread and butter pudding; the warm, friendly classic of post-school day suppers are all here. These are joined by kedgeree, king prawn stir fry and aduki bean burgers for the more intrepid cook.

Beginning with the suggested ‘general principles of cooking – like Cooking Commandments, though there are a friendly seven, rather than ten – it reads like poetry, with simple but firm points such as “Parmesan cheese should be freshly grated. Pepper should be fresh, coarsely ground”. Given that the last cookbook I bought suggested you should keep “pomegranate molasses” in your “larder”, Ashley’s modest suggestions that you should, if at all possible, find unsalted rather than salted butter, were music to my ears.

With the cookbook now my guiding light, Ashley’s early gems of wisdom and confidence-restoring principles will, obviously, instantly turn me into Nigella Lawson. That I would also need breast implants to fulfil this dream is no hindrance to my newfound cooking passion.

However, it must be said, these Nigella ambitions instantly hit another obstacle. The measurements given under the ‘general principles’ heading are, for want of a better word, American. I have, right under my very eyes, “American spoon measures”, “American solid measures” and “American liquid measures”. This very much upsets my confidence, primarily because, until now, I had always believed that a pint in England would be just the same as a pint in America, that a cup of rice could transcend international barriers, that a spoon would unite our metric vs. imperial rivalry in one, foolproof amount. BUT NO. Even after making the recipe I am still clueless as to the difference. On the other hand, I am encouraged by the idea that, when I throw in ‘a spoonful’ of mustard and my family members consequently die it will not be because I put 5 tablespoons rather than 5 teaspoons in, it will be because the Americans are weird.

Aside from that, or perhaps because of that, the cookbook is a delight: the soups are a perfect selection of delicious sounding numbers, the fish section exquisite as much for its simplicity as its tastiness and the puddings scatteringly tweaked to perfection (crumbly flapjack, syllabub with white wine).

Ultimately, the drawings are the most important aspect of the cookbook and very much the thing that makes it stand out from the rest. And you can immediately see why: they are beautifully sketched and very cleverly laid out, encompassing the whole worktop panorama and yet fitting neatly into instruction boxes. Although sometimes confusing –whether due to the monochrome colour palette or their small scale – this doesn’t detract from their charm. And in fact they occasionally acted as a fairy godmother (who can cook), illustrating (quite literally) the method needed, and regardless of their practical use they are a joy to study.

What’s more, the cookbook really wouldn’t feel as homely or as comforting without it. Because, at the end of the day, this cookbook is the next best thing to having your actual mum in the kitchen.


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