Our Verdict: Half Baked Harvest

Maureen: Apologies for getting to our March verdict on April 4th. Real life got in the way, as it sometimes does. Without further delay, what did you think, Kirstin?

Kirstin: I loved it!

Maureen: I thought it was a vast improvement on February’s book, but I liked it less and less as the month went on. We had some great meals, some so-so meals and some awful meals. So I’d say for us that it was a bit mixed.

Kirstin: I should say that I cooked from her blog, which I loved, and didn’t cook from the book at all. So maybe that made a difference.

Maureen: I cooked more from the book, so maybe the quality of the recipes was more mixed because they’re older. She is young, so perhaps she’s getting better the more experienced she becomes.

Kirstin: I’m beginning to think that we should do away with the cookbooks, because the blog was so much eaiser to use. It was so easy to find recipes, you keep the ones you like, you chuck the ones that you don’t. I loved cooking from the blog. I loved the way she categorised them as well. It made it really easy to decide what to eat.

Maureen: I get that. It’s so much easier to find inspiration online than it is in a cookbook. You can think, “I’m in the mood for [whatever] tonight” and then find it within minutes online, rather than going through each cookbook trying to figure out what to eat.

Kirstin: I’ve thought about this a great deal, and I’ve decided I would pay a subscription in order to access a website.

Maureen: Well, yes, absolutely, given that we’re both married to journalists and I am one myself. The future for the industry is in paying for content, not getting it for free. But I guess it would depend on the site. You’d have to know and trust the site you’re using.

Kirstin: I loved all the Asian recipes. She’s surprisingly good on Asian recipes for an American. She could give Melissa Clark some tips on instant cooking, too.

Maureen: Maybe I’m just grumpy from Brexit. I thought it was very good, but not excellent. I’ll keep checking out her blog, though.

Kirstin: I genuinely liked the recipes. I thought it was great. I’m going to keep looking at her blog, too.

“Half Baked Harvest”
Overall Grade (A- F):   A (Kirstin) B (Maureen)
Best recipes: Maureen: Beer can chicken. We’ll be eating that again very soon. Kirstin: All of the ramen. They were all excellent.
Grade for Photography (A-F): A. “She does give good tips on how to take good food photos.” (Maureen)                                                                                                                                        Any disasters? Kirstin: No! Maureen: Yes, we had several. The meatballs, which I didn’t blog about, were disgusting, and the salmon was gross. On the salmon, she should have quit when she was ahead because the roast potatoes and asparagus with parmesan cheese were great.                                                                                                                                         Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: I’ll keep up to date with the blog, but I probably won’t keep the cookbook. Maureen: I’ll keep the cookbook, but it’ll be on a low-rotation shelf, which means I’ll probably donate it to the charity shop in a year.

 

Our Verdict: Half Baked Harvest

“One Pan Lemon Salmon, Roasted Potatoes and Parmesan Asparagus” from “Half Baked Harvest”

In honour of Fish Friday, here’s another fish recipe from Half Baked Harvest. While Kirstin has had good luck with her salmon recipes, I can’t say we had the same experience with this one.

I always love a tray baked dinner. Nigella excels at them. There’s minimal intervention needed once everything gets on the tray, and there’s minimal cleanup once it’s all cooked too. All in all, a win-win for a weeknight dinner.

This one starts out perfectly– you start by roasting the new potatoes, which have been tossed in olive oil. Once they’ve had their head start, you add the asparagus (now in season! huzzah!), toss them in olive oil and then scatter grated parmesan over the top, which truly is a genius move and one that I’ll be doing again.

Where things go terribly wrong is with the salmon. For this recipe, she has you make a spice mixture with honey and an array of spices (everything from basil to smoked paprika) to smother on top of the salmon when you put it in the oven to roast. I’m here to tell you that if you’re roasting fresh salmon, you honestly don’t need any of that stuff on top to begin with, but also, this particular mixture just doesn’t work and is, frankly, not tasty. Nicholas (15) really hated it and ended up scraping it off his salmon, which he then happily ate. It was just a bit yuck and unfortunately made what would have been a delicious dinner a not-particularly-appetizing one.

So while I will be roasting new potatoes and asparagus tossed in parmesan along with some fish again, there’s no way I’ll ruin it by doing this spice mixture again. Lesson learned.

I’d recommend this recipe but without the spice mixture on top of the fish. Click through this paragraph to see it for yourself on Half Baked Harvest.

“One Pan Lemon Salmon, Roasted Potatoes and Parmesan Asparagus” from “Half Baked Harvest”

“Potato Chip Chicken” from “Half Baked Harvest”

When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, I honestly thought that fried chicken was chicken dipped in butter and then coated in broken potato chips. I know. I know. But this was how my mom always made it, and frankly, when your age is in the single digits, you’re just going to believe what people tell you. So when she said it was fried chicken, I took it as gospel.

I got older and wiser, discovered KFC (my mom was not a big fan of fast food, which is why it took me so longer to find out about it) and I learned to appreciate good fried chicken. Yum. But potato chip fried chicken still has a special place in my heart only because I have such fond childhood memories of it.

When I saw this recipe in the cookbook, I was ready to jump back into the warm waters of childhood nostalgia and make it. As it happens, my husband Tim’s mom used to also make potato chip chicken so he was happy to have it too. [Do we need to take a moment to consider the culinary wasteland that was suburban America in the 1970s? Let’s not.]

Was it as good as we remembered? The aphorism, “You never can go home again,” is true. Maybe our memories are faulty, but it just wasn’t as good as we remembered it. Nicholas (15) had no such exposure to potato chip chicken, so while he liked it, he didn’t love it. We all agreed that it wasn’t an improvement on standard breaded chicken using breadcrumbs or panko. We also thought it was a shame to crush an entire bag of potato chips for this purpose when we could just snack on them instead.

If you’d like to try this yourself, click through here to see the recipe on the Thanksgiving & Co. website.

 

 

“Potato Chip Chicken” from “Half Baked Harvest”

“20 Minute Crispy Honey Ginger Salmon” from “Half Baked Harvest”

Kirstin: Here we are again. Our daughter is home and I am trying to encourage her to eat salmon. Always. I think this must be the third or possibly fourth salmon recipe I have cooked from this book/website. This may well be my favourite. A simple teriyaki sauce, with honey and sambal oelek. Roasted on the salmon. And completed with an Asian summer slaw which I have to say was divine. Sure it took the nectarines a week to ripen at home at this time of year, but it was totally worth it. Especially when combined with the dressing of lime juice, jalapeno and rice vinegar. Just look at that crispy crunchy delicious tumble of flavours and colours in the pic and you’ll see what I mean. Genius.

And the real test. She ate it all!

“20 Minute Crispy Honey Ginger Salmon” from “Half Baked Harvest”

“Homemade Broccoli Cheddar Cobbler” from “Half Baked Harvest”

Meat Free Monday!

I was really looking forward to this, not least because it features some of my favourite things: broccoli, cheddar cheese, biscuits. Yum. I’m sure I’ve written here before about my love of broccoli-cheddar pizza, which is a specialty from Tim’s hometown and I have grown to love too. (I know it sounds odd. Trust me. Broccoli-cheddar pizza is delicious.)

Surely there’s got to be some sort of  word or phrase that encapsulates the feeling of being overly excited by a particular recipe only to be disappointed by it? Well, if that word exists, I would use it here. This recipe over promised and under delivered.

In theory, it should have been delicious, but it wasn’t. The cobbler, which I expected to be thick and creamy, was thin and uninspiring. The biscuits, which I expected to be light and fluffy, were dense and chewy. It wasn’t bad, exactly, but neither did it meet expectations, so it was disappointing.

In the introduction, Tieghan says this was a new version of a previous broccoli cobbler she made where she used one can of cream of chicken soup and one can of cream of mushroom soup. Having grown up in the US, I can tell you that these are legit ingredients to use (God Bless the USA). So this next version of the recipe is definitely better than that one, but still isn’t great. We won’t be having it again.

If you’d like to try it yourself, though you can tell by the commentary above that I wouldn’t recommend it, click through here to read the recipe on the Half Baked blog.

 

“Homemade Broccoli Cheddar Cobbler” from “Half Baked Harvest”

“Better than takeout Szechuan Noodles with Sesame Chili Oil” from “Half Baked Harvest”

Kirstin: Today I have been busy getting our garden ready for the Spring (I listened to this podcast series today as I weeded. It is inspirational and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is as obsessed with cookbooks as we are.) As a result I was famished by the end of the day but at the same time, wanted to cook something easy and tasty. THIS fitted the bill perfectly. It was like a larb, but with added noodles. And a chilli oil which added a warmth to the dish, making our mouths zing just the right amount. Would I make this again? It’s already on the shopping list for next week.

Say no more.

“Better than takeout Szechuan Noodles with Sesame Chili Oil” from “Half Baked Harvest”

“The Cheese-Maker’s Mac and Cheese” from “Half Baked Harvest”

What I should have done, I realise now, was to take an action shot of this mac and cheese. In the cookbook, the spoon hovers just over the dish, with pasta heaped on top and loads of cheese cascading down. My picture above does not show any of this, and I apologise. But believe me when I tell you that this dish, like many others in this cookbook, contains oodles (I’m sure that’s the technical term) of cheese.

As regular readers of this blog know, our family already has a Desert Island Mac and Cheese, this one from the New York Times. I’ve been making it since it was first published in January 2006, which tells you all you need to know about its staying power.

So was this version better? No, though I’m beginning to think that no version is going to be an improvement on the one we love so much. But was this version at least as good? Again, no.The inclusion of crushed Ritz crackers on the top was an intriguing addition, but it wasn’t enough for us to fall in love with it. It tasted good, it was quicker to make and it wasn’t a disaster, but I couldn’t in good conscience say that it was as good as our beloved favourite.

The oodles of cheese were good, though.

If you’d like to make this yourself, click through this sentence to find it on the Half Baked Harvest blog.

 

“The Cheese-Maker’s Mac and Cheese” from “Half Baked Harvest”