Our Verdict: Superfood Family Classics

Maureen: I think I have fallen out of love with Jamie Oliver.

Kirstin: Oh My Goodness.

Maureen: I still love his old stuff, but it has been such a long time since he’s written a cookbook that I’ve liked or we liked.

Kirstin: You’re absolutely right.

Maureen: In some ways, I feel as though I’m in an abusive relationship because every time he releases a new cookbook I want to buy it, even though I hated the last one, but then I cook from it and he disappoints me yet again.

Kirstin: I don’t know who’s cooking this food, but it certainly isn’t me. What I’d really like him to do– because the question after all is what is he going to do next–  is reissue his good books and then add all the nutritional information and people would love it. He could even call it “The Best of Jamie.” I can see it already.

Maureen: Maybe, but why would you and I buy it? We’ve got all the old books– despite all the stains and splatter marks. We wouldn’t need to buy a repackaged one.

Kirstin: You’re right. Do think this might be the last Jamie book you buy?

Maureen: Probably, but we’ll have to see what he does next. Do you think this is the last one for you?

Kirstin: It may well be. But I’ll also have to look at what it is next and then I’ll decide.

Maureen: The whole thing was ridiculous. All of the curries looked gross just in the pictures, I can’t even imagine how they would taste. And he had how many pages of avocado toast? [Pause to find book and learn the answer] SIX! Six bloody pages on avocado toast. I’m sorry, but that is just absurd. Do we really need that many pages on how to make avocado toast? OK. Now I’m just RAGING. I could go all day.

Kirstin: (Whispers) Numpty.

Maureen: Indeed. It’s just awful. If the first test of any cookbook is does it make good food, this one absolutely falls at the first hurdle. For the most part, this food was gross and no one liked it. This was an Epic Fail.

Kirstin:: I absolutely agree.

Overall Grade (A- F): F (Maureen) F (Kirstin) It failed in every way.
Best recipes: None.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  C
Any disasters? The entire book.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Do we really need to say?
Would you give this to a friend? Only if they weren’t really a friend at all.

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Our Verdict: Superfood Family Classics

“Spaghetti Cake” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_9483I read a lot. (This is germane to this post. Honest. Just stick with me.) For the last several years, it’s averaged out to at least a book a week. I’ve even kept a record of all the books I’ve read, which is either smart or sad, depending on how you feel about keeping track of things. Because I read so much and because I am nearly incapable of giving up on a book I’ve started, I have found myself “Hate Reading” books a few times a year.

Hate Reading is the literary equivalent of Hate Watching a television show. Hate watching is when you’ve devoted time to a series you love, which has taken a turn for the worse but you continue watching it to see how bad it can be. I’ve done the same with books, thus, Hate Reading.

Now I’ve done the same with this cookbook. But instead of Hate Watching or Hate Reading, I’m Hate Cooking from it. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a cookbook on this blog that has forced me to Hate Cook from it. Several times in the past I’ve given up on a cookbook, but I’ve never persevered with one out of pure hate. Until now.

So today’s offering is “Spaghetti Cake.” We love spaghetti cake. I made it before from “Two Hungry Italians” but they called it the far more lyrical, “Frittata di Maccheroni.” We loved it. In fact, if I had to say one nice thing about this version, it’s that it reminded me how much we love Spaghetti Cake, so I will make another [good] version for Meat Free Monday very soon.

Since I was Hate Cooking from this cookbook, I also decided that I don’t have to follow the recipes to the letter anymore. Usually we are pretty strict with ourselves that we stick to the recipes as closely as possible for the cookbooks we’re testing, but given that I already hate this cookbook, there’s no point in giving it a proper test any more. In this case, I ignored Jamie’s entreaties to get wholewheat spaghetti (there’s just no way) and I also used some of the leftover 7-Veg Tomato Sauce rather than making the spaghetti sauce from scratch, as called for in the recipe. But I don’t think following his instructions to the letter would have made it any better.

How was it? It will surprise no regular readers of this blog to find out that it was disappointing. Like I said, we already made a better version once before, but this one definitely fell short. It wasn’t nearly as interesting or fun as the previous version from the two Italians. It seemed that there weren’t nearly enough eggs added to bind it as a cake. It tasted more like reheated spaghetti than a proper spaghetti cake.

Even the photo in the cookbook didn’t do it any favours, because it appears that the food stylist just threw a bunch of rocket on top so people wouldn’t notice how badly it was burned on the underside. No. Just no.

I wish Jamie had given Spaghetti Cake a proper chance, rather than trying to make it all healthy, which just ruined a perfectly good dish.

Thank god this month is nearly over. I should have known better. I was Hate Cooking, after all.

“Spaghetti Cake” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“7-Veg Tomato Sauce Packed with Hidden Goodness” from “Superfood Family Classics”

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Tomato Sauce or Vegetable Soup? You decide.

Sadly, this is yet another example from this cookbook of “Recipe You’d Give To Someone Who’s Just Had A Major Medical Intervention to Trick Them Into Thinking That It’s Just As Good As the Original.”

But here’s the thing: what’s so bad about fresh tomato sauce? I’ve got three basic recipes I make, depending on how much time I have (no time at all, one hour, a few hours). My go-to recipe, this one from Polpo, has both fresh and canned tomatoes and is full of goodness. There’s minimal fat (some olive oil to fry the onion) and the rest of it is tomatoes. What’s so bad about that?

In the description of this tomato sauce, Jamie writes, “Jam-packed with nutritious veg, this has to be one of the easiest ways to get extra veggie portions into our diet, as well as all sorts of brilliant micronutrients.”

Putting aside the term “micronutrients”– which sounds ridiculous to me because doesn’t every food have micronutrients in it?– why feel the need to put leeks, celery, carrots, courgettes, peppers, and butternut squash in a “tomato” sauce? And if you guessed that putting all those additional vegetables into a tomato sauce would make it taste more like vegetable soup and less like tomato sauce, you would be absolutely right.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here– obviously this cookbook has not won me over– but this is just stupid. Fresh tomato sauce is pretty good for you too, so why not just make that instead?

As it happens, I was paging through “Jamie’s Dinners” from 2004 where he includes a recipe for tomato sauce. It is his fifth cookbook, and many of us would argue this was in the Golden Age of Jamie. Jamie HIMSELF says, “I’m a great believer in a simple tomato sauce.”

[Emphasis added. Obviously.]

What’s happened to that Jamie of old? Please come back, Jamie. We miss you.

“7-Veg Tomato Sauce Packed with Hidden Goodness” from “Superfood Family Classics”

Why I’m not cooking anything else from “Jamie’s Superfood Family Classics”

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Kirstin: I’m going to admit it. I have given up on Super Food Family Classics. There will be no more recipes cooked from it and it will go directly to the charity shop. Our family eat healthily, but we also like to eat tasty food, and the superfood book just wasn’t doing it for me. It was just too bloody boring, and was making me depressed as I thought about what food I was serving to my children. So instead, here’s an old Jamie Oliver recipe which I have recently resurrected from his second book and love. Why? Because it’s healthy, it’s tasty, it’s easy to make. It’s everything I used to love about Jamie. Food is not some kind of drug that is going to instantly make you live longer. It’s something that should be enjoyed, cooked with love, shared with others, looked forward to all day—a way to try new flavours and experiences, and a way to keep those memories.  And if you love food as much as we do, then it is this that makes you happy (provided it is in moderation). This is the trick of it, to living life and happiness, and this is what I call superfood.

Why I’m not cooking anything else from “Jamie’s Superfood Family Classics”

“Tandoori Chicken Salad, Minty Yoghurt Dressing and Poppadoms” from “Superfood Family Classics”

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I hope you’re sitting down, but guess what? We ate something from the new Jamie Oliver cookbook AND WE LIKED IT.

Actually, that might be an overstatement, but only because I was so excited to make something that wasn’t greeted with a round of groans when I placed it on the table. But still.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should also tell you that we ate this dinner in darkness at the table outside, because I am desperately clinging on to concept of outdoor eating, even though the sun sets at 7:15 p.m. now. So I’m suggested that perhaps my family also liked this better because they couldn’t see it. I will never know.

Everyone liked the chicken, covered in tandoori paste and then grilled. Yum. The adults liked the brown (obviously) rice with the minty yogurt dressing, but the teenagers were less keen. (I could see myself making this for lunch on a very ambitious day without the chicken.) Poppadoms always go down a treat in this house and I’m a bit surprised they were included in a healthy eating cookbook, since there’s really nothing healthy about them. But we all scarfed them down nonetheless.

Would I make this again? I might, actually. I just hope we won’t have to eat in the dark so that my family would like it.

“Tandoori Chicken Salad, Minty Yoghurt Dressing and Poppadoms” from “Superfood Family Classics”

NOT “Italian Superfood Burgers” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_9461The weather on Sunday in London was absolutely glorious. It was a day begging for a barbecue, particularly when you consider we probably don’t have many barbecue days left. Consequently, I scrapped my original plan of a roast beef Sunday dinner– it had been raining and miserable when I bought the ingredients on Saturday– and pivoted over to the idea of burgers and other barbecue treats for Sunday dinner.

“Great,” I thought. “I know Jamie has a burger recipe in the book, so I can make that.” (This thought is important because we’ve been struggling to find recipes that we want to make out of this book so far.)

So we took the long way around to Waitrose– like I said, it was a beautiful day– to buy the ingredients. This is a word-for-word transcription of the conversation that occurred in the meat department:

Me: So we need 500 grams of lean mince for the burgers.

Tim: 500 grams? That doesn’t sound like very much.

Me: Well, you add cannellini beans to them to bulk them up. This is a Superfood Jamie recipe.

Tim: No.

Me: What do you mean no?

Tim: No.

Me: But it will make them healthy burgers! Jamie says so!

Tim: No.

Me: We could just try it. It won’t kill us.

Tim: No.

{This went on for a bit.}

Tim: I’m sorry, but it sounds disgusting.

Me: You’re right. It does. Let’s just make regular burgers.

In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first time in 5 1/2 years of doing this blog and testing recipes that he’s ever flat-out refused to try something. But I could see where he was coming from. What’s the point of having something delicious if you’re just going to muck it up by doing something weird* to it? Why risk buying expensive ingredients only to have everyone hate it?

*In this case, the weird was adding beans to mince. Although I was intrigued enough to want to try it, I’m not intrigued enough to make it just for me.

This conversation does go reinforce to what I said in my last post: this book is completely joyless and feels as though it was written by a team of people who don’t like food very much. I know that burgers are decidedly not the healthiest option. But surely I could have them every once in a while as part of a balanced healthy diet? Particularly on a night where we’re firing up the BBQ? Also, what does this tell people who don’t know how to cook and want a burger? The only way to have one is to add beans to it? WHY???

MAKE THIS MADNESS STOP.

When we told the boys we had elected to not try the healthy Jamie burgers the response was nothing short of rapturous. I was glad we went the old-fashioned route, otherwise I imagine we would have had several leftover burgers on our hands when it was all over.

In the end, we had our usual burgers (best-quality mince with salt and pepper),  with cheddar cheese melted on top (somewhere a nutritionist on Jamie’s team is weeping), along with grilled halloumi, grilled corn on the cob, salad and potatoes in packets.

It was delicious and we were all happier for it, as we sat on our back patio under the setting sun laughing about the weekend. That’s what I call superfood.

NOT “Italian Superfood Burgers” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Tomato Risotto” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_7952Oh my. This is going to be a long month.

Risotto: What’s not to love? Going back through the Cookbook a Month archives, it appears that this family has tested at least 12 different recipes for risotto through the years. Our love of risotto goes back even further, as I distinctly recall the first time I made it, using a recipe from the Chicago Tribune written by the head chef of the Clinton White House.

That’s the FIRST Clinton White House. Yes. I’m dating myself.

But back to the latest test. As anyone who’s made risotto knows, the key to a successful risotto is lashings of butter and cheese. I’m pretty sure that in Jamie Oliver’s earliest books, he called for exactly that. Unfortunately, this one had neither.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with this risotto.

In fact, as we were discussing it as a family, we started to use air quotes around the word risotto every time we used the word. I think that tells you everything you need to know.

Aside from the obvious lack of butter and cheese, I feel what this “risotto” lacked was any sort of goodness. It didn’t taste horrible, but neither did it taste lovely or joyful. It tasted as if it had been devised by a nutritionist who had to write recipes for someone who was recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery who needs to give up all fat and tasty ingredients.

Alas, we are not recovering from triple-bypass surgery.

I know that Jamie is now studying to be a nutritionist (through private tutors, natch), but I really do think this recipe signals an unhappy way forward for him. Good on him for wanting to make everyone eat better and with more awareness of good nutrition, but what happened to the Joyful Jamie we knew and loved? You know the one: put in a nob of butter here, a few turns of parmesan there, bingo.

This tastes and feels as though the recipe was written by committee. This is not a good thing.

Would we eat it again? Obviously, no. We’ll return to those that call for lashings of butter and cheese. It makes us all happier.

.

“Tomato Risotto” from “Superfood Family Classics”