This book, along with several of Nigel Slater's other volumes, has been on my wish list for a while, so when I saw a hardbound copy in a London charity shop, I snapped it up. At £10 (HK$120) it was a bargain.
In the introduction, Slater writes, "For years now I have kept notebooks, with scribbled shopping lists and early drafts of recipes in them. They are … a scruffy hotchpotch, a salmagundi, of anything and everything I need to remember, from shopping lists and baking temperatures to whether it was two or three eggs that went into the cake …
"More than a diary, this is a collection of small kitchen celebrations, be it a casual, beer-fuelled supper of warm flatbreads with pieces of grilled lamb with toasted pine kernels and blood-red pomegranate seeds or a quiet moment contemplating a bowl of soup and a loaf of bread …
"I have always written about the minute details of cookery, the small pleasures that can make it enjoyable and worth our time … What intrigues me about making something to eat are the intimate details, the small, human moments that make cooking interesting … Between the pages of this book there are those days, hours and moments spent in the kitchen that I enjoyed enough to make notes about."
As with the first Kitchen Diaries, the second volume follows Slater as he cooks throughout the year. The book reveals a lot about the author's unhappy childhood (detailed in his memoir, Toast, which was made into a film of the same name) and the depression he feels on the day preceding the Twelfth Night. He calls January 5 "often the darkest in my calendar".
"The sadness of taking down The Tree, packing up the mercury glass decorations … and rolling up the strings of tiny lights has long made my heart sink. Today I descend further than usual."
But you also feel his joy: on January 6, he writes, "After yesterday's darkness and self-indulgence, I open the kitchen door to find the garden refreshed after the rain. The air is suddenly sweet and clean … There is a new energy and I want to cook again."
He writes an ode to his cook's knife: "Picking up the right knife is like putting on a much-loved pullover. It may well have seen better days but the odd hole only seems to add to its qualities - like the wrinkles on a close friend."
And he's not averse to shortcuts; about puff pastry, he writes, "I sometimes take a quiet afternoon to blend flour and butter and roll, fold, chill, roll and roll again. I use the ready-made stuff from the freezer, too. It's a cop out, a cheat, but really, who cares? It means I can have a pie such as tonight's chicken and leek without making my own pastry."
The weather in England rarely matches that in Hong Kong (the Brits have as much cold, rainy weather as we do hot and humid) so we won't be eating quite as seasonally as Slater does. Recipes that would work now include beetroot fritters with gravlax; salad of spring lamb, lemon and olives; chicken with apricots and coconut milk; and mussel soup with tomato and basil.
Recipes that will have to wait for winter include lentil and pumpkin soup-stew; slow-cooked oxtail with five-spice and tamarind; roast duck with apples, clementines and prunes; and slow-cooked rabbit with herbs.