“Jerusalem” and “John Whaite Bakes at Home” – Our Verdict

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry. This was one of those months for “Cookbook a Month.”

When we were choosing the books for May, I lobbied hard for “Jerusalem” as we’ve had a lot of great meals out of that cookbook. Given their past experience with the author they lovingly call “Faffolenghi”, Anna and Kirstin naturally were quite reluctant to take him on again. I tried my best to convince them that the moniker didn’t apply to this cookbook, as I found for the most part the recipes to be pretty manageable, but I don’t think I succeeded, unfortunately. In the past, I’ve been known to call him “Otto-Impossible”, but I didn’t say that once in the past month.

My family loved the food from “Jerusalem” this month. I’ve had the cookbook for more than a year now, so they were all very happy to learn that we were returning to tried-and-true recipes that they already liked. We tried some new things, too. In fact, I cooked from this book so much that I didn’t even post everything I made, which is always a sign to the three of us that it’s an excellent book.

I can understand why Anna and Kirstin call him “Faffolenghi”, because sometimes the time and effort for a typical Ottolenghi recipe can be daunting. But this book succeeds in a way that his earlier ones did not. Aside from some less-known spices like sumac and za’tar, the ingredient list was always manageable. I never found myself having to go to a far-flung supermarket to find something. Some recipes took more time than I would have liked, particularly with all the chopping, but I’m learning to do more in the food processor when I can get away with it, which probably will help.

Not only is “Jerusalem” going to the bookshelf, it’s going to the high-rotation bookshelf, where it’s already sat for the last year. I think this is a real winner.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the other book we did this month, “John Whaite Bakes at Home.” We tend to do an extra baking book in May because there are several family birthdays in the month. We approached “John Whaite Bakes at Home” full of optimism. He’s a “Great British Bake Off” winner and seems a lovely guy. The three of us all like to bake (with varying degrees of enthusiasm), so we thought this would be a good book. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out that way.

In the end, I only made two things from the book, while Kirstin and Anna weren’t able to do any. For me, the problem was that the majority of the recipes either required too much time or just didn’t sound appealing. I laughed like a drain when I saw his recipe for mini-Gingerbread Houses to make in December. Who has time in December to do that? It’s very ambitious, to be sure, but there’s no way I’d have enough time in this lifetime to ever make mini-gingerbread houses. But high credit to anyone who can.

However, the “Cookie Dough Brownies” I made were an unqualified success. The boys loved them so much that I’ve already made them again. It was a very clever idea and fairly easy to do. We’ve already polished off the second tray of these brownies and they’ve asked when they can expect to see them again. I would call that a win.

“Jerusalem” 
Overall Grade (A- F): A+ While the recipes in this book do require some time and effort, they are absolutely worth it.
Best recipes: Hard to pick just one, but two that we particularly loved were the fish cakes, the butternut squash, the falafel and the hummus.
Grade for Photography (A-F): A.
Any disasters? None.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation?High-rotation bookshelf.

“John Whaite Bakes at Home” 
Overall Grade (A- F): D. The very low grade reflects the fact that I wasn’t particularly inspired much, and in fact, only managed two for the whole month.
Best recipes: Cookie Dough Brownies
Grade for Photography (A-F): C. Fine, I guess.
Any disasters? No disasters as I wasn’t inspired enough to make much from this cookbook.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? After I copy the brownie recipe, it’s off to the charity shop.

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“Jerusalem” and “John Whaite Bakes at Home” – Our Verdict

“Fattoush” and “Open Kibbeh” from “Jerusalem”

CBAMFattoush

This night featured two more winners from “Jerusalem.”

The first, on the top, is fattoush. It’s like a Middle Eastern version of panzanella, just with radishes and sumac, and pita bread rather than Italian bread. It’s a great salad to eat on a warm summer day, but given the liveliness of the sumac and the other vegetables, it also would be good in the dead of winter. A note of caution, though: this delicious salad takes A LOT of chopping to achieve. So before embarking on this, I’d recommend that you set aside some time to get all the vegetable prep finished.

You might think that sumac is hard to find, but in fact, they had it at my local Waitrose. Again, thank you Ottolenghi! However, I assumed that I needed some and so bought another jar of it, only to discover when I got home that I already had some. But after a month of cooking from this book, we’re almost finished with the first jar, so I’m guessing we’ll use the next one within the next couple of months.

The second, on the bottom, is open kibbeh. It’s a warming combination of minced lamb, bulger wheat and a wide variety of spices, with a tahini sauce on the top. It’s not really a combination I would think would work, but work it does. I think it’s the variety of flavours, brought to the party by the spices, that really make this something special. As a bonus, it’s not too much trouble to make. There are multiple steps, but it’s all very manageable.

All in all, another good night of eating from “Jerusalem.”

To make the fattoush, click through on this sentence to go to the recipe on the Telegraph website.

To make the Open Kibbeh, click through on this sentence to go to the recipe on the Guardian website.

“Fattoush” and “Open Kibbeh” from “Jerusalem”

“Salmon Steaks in Chraimeh sauce” from “Jerusalem”

Kirstin: I used cod pieces for this recipe as I couldn’t find salmon steaks anywhere.

Tom: Well they worked well.

Kirstin: Yes, this was a perfect dish to combat all that rain outside! I served it warm, with rice. Would I make it again? Probably not, but I enjoyed it. And it wasn’t too difficult to make! The flavours were wonderful together too.

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“Salmon Steaks in Chraimeh sauce” from “Jerusalem”

“Mejadra” from “Jerusalem”

 

Disaster! I forgot to take a picture of this! Sorry, loyal readers. Suffice it to say, it’s not that photogenic a dish anyway, but it is very tasty.

Maureen: Ottolenghi calls this the ultimate comfort food. Do you agree?

Andrew (14): What’s it called?

Maureen: To be honest, I have no earthly idea how to pronounce it. But it’s spelled m-e-j-a-d-r-a. We could just call it the lentil-rice-fried onion dish.

NIcholas (11): Hmm. Interesting.

Maureen: Good interesting or bad interesting?

Nicholas: I think it’s good interesting, but I’m not 100 percent sure.

Maureen: I think it’s delicious, and given this is the third or fourth time we’ve had it, I think we can call it a success.

Tim: Was it difficult to make?

Maureen: To be honest, Kirstin and Anna don’t call him “Faff-Olonghi” for nothing. This was definitely a bit of a faff, which you don’t really figure out until you’re halfway through making it. I had to fry the onions in batches, which took way longer than I thought it would, in addition to making the lentils and the rice.

Tim: Yes. I remember that was the case the last time I made it.

Maureen: Despite that, though, this is delicious and a good thing for Meat Free Monday. I also know from experience that it’s excellent leftover, too. Another win from Jerusalem.

To make this yourself, find the recipe on the Guardian website by clicking through this sentence.

“Mejadra” from “Jerusalem”

“Marinated sweet and sour fish” from “Jerusalem”

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Kirstin: I’ve never cooked pollack before, so that was exciting!

Tom: I’m never convinced by a recipe that says to marinate it for a day or two in the fridge.

Kirstin: Yes. Ooops. I didn’t see that part, so we ate it as soon as I had prepared it.

Tom: Well I loved it.

Kirstin: The curry was a lovely addition, wasn’t it? But I’m not sure it was yummy enough to want me to make it again.

“Marinated sweet and sour fish” from “Jerusalem”

“Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas and Chilli” from “Jerusalem”

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Stop the presses. In the 12+ months I’ve had “Jerusalem,” this is the first recipe that elicited the response, “Meh.”

I know! A Meh! From this book, which has been hit-after-hit-after-hit. But not today. Up until now, the dishes I’ve made had evoked universal approval (for the most part). This was not one of those days.

What was the problem? I’m not quite sure. In theory, with feta, peas and yogurt over pasta, it should have been delicious. In practice, it was just a bit bland. Other reviewers of this recipe said they thought it was great, so maybe there was some operator error involved. However, given that it was just a simple pasta dish, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.

It was all just a bit Meh. The leftovers sat in the refrigerator for days and didn’t tempt anyone.

Will I make it again? Obviously not. Life is too short for “Meh.”

If you want to try this (though reading the above, why would you want to?), the Guardian had the recipe. Click through this paragraph to find it– it’s the second recipe featured in the Ottolenghi column that weekend.

“Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas and Chilli” from “Jerusalem”

“Turkey & Courgette Burgers with Spring Onion & Cumin” from “Jerusalem”

CBAMTurkeyBurgersTim: Yum.

Maureen: I absolutely agree. I had forgotten about this recipe until you reminded me. This is the second time that’s happened with this cookbook. It’s perfect for a summer night. It didn’t take too long to prepare, and it’s great with all the fresh vegetables on the side.

Andrew (14): Where’s the bread? Or the rolls? If they’re turkey burgers, they should have rolls, right?

Maureen: Funny you should ask that. Your father and I had exactly the same discussion in the aisles of Waitrose, but he said we didn’t have to get rolls because there wasn’t one in the pictures. Then as I was making it, he offered to make pita bread or flat bread, but I said, no, it was too late for bread.

Andrew: It’s great, but I think it needs bread.

Maureen: I’m not sure bread is an absolute necessity, but some pita would be nice the next time we make it. What do you think Nicholas?

Nicholas (11): They’re good.

Tim: These are my favourite turkey burgers, by far.

Maureen: Kirstin is a big fan of the ones by Gwyneth Paltrow from “It’s All Good,” but I think these are aces.

Tim: We also get to use some more sumac. This is good, since we have such a surplus of it in the house.

Maureen: The soured cream and sumac sauce is also good for dipping in all the crudites we’ve got on the table. Though I don’t think the boys agree.

Andrew: I’m not as sure about the sumac sauce, but I love the burgers. I’m going to have another.

Maureen: Another hungry teenager satisfied. I call that a result.

If you’d like to make this yourself, the blog 3 Bad Mice has the recipe. Click through this paragraph to be taken to the blog.

“Turkey & Courgette Burgers with Spring Onion & Cumin” from “Jerusalem”