OK so guess what! This lady was like, hey, do you want to read this cookbook and I was like yes I do! And then she was all do you want to give someone a copy and I was like yes also!
Alright, serious hats¹. Rarely have I sat down with a cookbook and analyzed it, cover to cover, for balance. I have never cooked from a recipe without changing things to my taste, except for the rare baked good that intimidates me too much. For someone to ask, earnestly, can you review this? Empirically? I find myself hesitating. Can I? Is it possible for me to avoid hyperbole? NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS.
So here is the experiment. I read Jamie Oliver’s newest cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, from cover to cover. I made several recipes without changing a thing. Recently I have had a rash of magazine recipes (not of Mr. Oliver’s) turn out to be written sloppily and likely without having been tested before print (FINE COOKING I AM LOOKING AT YOU), and despite this failure fresh in my mind, I stood my ground: to test this book, for realses, by doing exactly what it instructs.
So far? Three out of three recipes tested are high-five level great. The kitchen felt like an 80’s movie success montage. We are training and getting stronger!
Which is not to say the book didn’t earn some side-eye from me. It’s a handsome book – no dustcover, good styling. But do I need to be told how to make a sausage sandwich? The chaper on vegetables is little more than how to cook asparagus and how to fry some vegetables with meat. I mean, I understand this is supposed to be traditional British food, and you can’t pull a pony out of a duck’s ass, but one can dream. And there are repeats here: kedegree and half a dozen variants of mashed potato in The Naked Chef, steak sarnie and toad in the hole in Happy Days with the Naked Chef — I am sure there are more, but it wasn’t intended to be a vicious point. Also those are the only two other Jamie Oliver cookbooks I own.
Lastly, there are some hard-to-find ingredients as well: Atora suet, ginger in syrup, and strawberry blancmange powder as examples. I am not sure if this adds a pleasant authenticity to the book (at this writing, I lean towards this sentiment) or if I find it a bothersome and intentional effort at making the book foodie-er.
Despite this I have a good-sized checklist of things I want to make from this book, a longer list than the average cookbook gets. And as I mentioned, the best endorsement I can offer: In the short few days I’ve had the book, we have found every recipe a repeat-worthy success. I find myself wanting to find strawberry blancmange powder, whatever the hell it is. The fact is that I like Mr. Oliver, or at least his ghostwriter, stylist and photographer. Recipes are not overinstructed, the flavors are never rebooted or tweaked for any reason other than to make the recipe actually better (toad in the whole is a great example – it may be a repeat recipe, but it is changed, and the reason for the change it clearly communicated). It is, despite my best efforts to be a grouch, a solid cookbook.
SO YOU WANT A COPY FOR YOURSELF:
Make a comment in this post. Do not make more than one comment. Only US and Canadian entries only (not my preference, but they’re the ones shipping the book – sorry overseas buddies). Contest ends 12pm Saturday the 13th, Pacific Standard Time. I will get your information from you and pass it along to the book promo people, who will ship you the book. Godspeed.
YOU ARE TOO LATE.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE:
Over the next several days there will be a few recipe reviews. That’s all. I didn’t mean to make it sound more exciting than it is.
¹ Mine looks like the Pope’s. Mike the Viking’s is made of metal, obviously.