The Kitchen Magpie is just what it sounds like: a miscellaneous collection of kitchen facts, a magpie’s collection of tidbits, gathered together and roughly sorted by category. “Its content,” Steen writes, “is inspired by the modern-day kitchen and the items that we take for granted as conveniences: oven, fridge, freezer, kettle, wine rack, even a fork.” The book includes includes information Steen has gathered on these varied topics, essays by others (Matthew Fort, Doug Sohn, James Martin, etc), a variety of answers to the question “What is the food of love?” from various people, plus a handful of “How to stop a bore” fact lists. In all, it is a fun book for lovers of food to dip into at odd moments.
The information in each chapter roughly fits the chapter heading “The Teapot” covers tea facts, for example, and “The Coffee machine” coffee, but within the chapters, the work is more a scattered collection, a jumbled kitchen drawer rather than a carefully displayed array, the work inspired by association rather than strict hierarchies or guides. Steen will also occasionally cheerfully veer away from the chosen topic of the mood strikes; “The Vegetable Rack” contains a section on walnuts, for example, once the subject of calories comes up.
The one consistently placed feature throughout the book is the end-of-chapter answers to the question, “What is the food of love?” These vary tremendously as the speakers define love and thoughtfully describe what food would be the best for the situation. These being chefs, some of their ideas for “simple” foods (which they often claim to prefer) do not match most ordinary cook’s idea of “simple.” They are delightful to read about, however.
Recipes are also often included and frequently are of historical interest. The calorie conscious cook is unlikely to make most of them as they often feature large quantities of butter and/or full cream. Should the temptation be too great, however, it will be possible for both US and UK cooks to follow the instructions; measurements are given in both countries’ preferred forms. A favorite of mine comes later in the book when Steen suggests that, if you find snails in your window box “You must eat them. Why not?” and proceeds with a page of history followed by a seven set list of instructions for preparing and eating snails. There is even the additional comment “Slugs: prepare the same way as snails.”
In The Kitchen Magpie Steen has collected a set of culinary facts and laid them out for the readers to peruse at their leisure, making it the perfect book for snacking on, for picking up at odd, idle moments during the day, reading in line, waiting for bread to come out of the oven, or sitting down for a rest before rushing off to an important meeting.
Published May 1st 2014 by Icon Books
ISBN 1848316631 (ISBN13: 9781848316638)