Jane Hornby: What To Cook & How To Cook It

British cookery book writer Jane Hornby‘s What To Cook & How To Cook It (Phaidon 2010) is mesmerizing.

Maybe it is because the step-by-step photos by Angela Moore are so clear and instructional, and yet at the same time, the food looks so artistically photographed that it escapes the tediousness of a typical instructional cookbook (Betty Crocker or the like) and appears to be a Realist Art picture instead. In French Toast with Poached Plums (pp. 32-25) the four eggs are arranged neatly in a line, beneath which are two rows of plums, six in all, and then slices of bread, and dishes and spoons of the other ingredients. It is a study in roundness, in numbers, and in contrasting textures. The geometry is exceedingly pleasing as if this was a study in the Zen of Cooking.

For the recipe Cheese Nachos with Guacamole (pp. 184-187) three avocados appear in different stages of deconstruction with the knife laid horizontally on the rectangular cutting board below a circular bowl. There are rarely any hands, and yet everything proceeds from photograph to photograph until the concluding photograph showing the stunning food.

The chapters are organized around meals: Breakfast & Brunch, Light Lunches, Simple Suppers, Food for Sharing, etc through to dessert. The recipes are mostly comfort food with many standards from the American kitchen as well as a few international dishes. It is the kind of book that will lead even the most hopeless cook through a handy repertoire of dishes for practically every occasion.

The recipe runs in a column along the side of the photographs. The first page shows all the ingredients needed, laid out with perfect symmetry. If you don’t feel like reading the list of ingredients to see if you have them all in your cupboard, the photograph is a great cheat.

On the next page the recipe’s steps are clearly written, with three or four illustrating photographs. Even the simplest dishes, like Green Salad with Vinaigrette (pp. 3-8-9), get the same treatment. The method works well to de-mystify what seems to be a complicated dish like Shrimp & Mushroom Laksa (pp. 80-84). The photographs are also an added aid in the sense that when a recipe calls for a certain size eggplant, as in Ratatouille (pp. 310-11), one only needs to consult the photograph which shows the relative size of eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, to understand what amount will do. The photographs will guide you to choose the right kind of noodle for Shrimp Pad Thai (pp. 164-167).

What To Cook & How To Cook It is a wonderful book for anyone who is beginning to explore the kitchen, or who needs inspiration for creating masterful dishes.

(Image of Jane Hornby from Twitter)

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