Our Verdict: “Crumb”

Maureen: This was great, but the problem with baking books is you don’t always have time to make a loaf or bread or a cake. So I didn’t make as much as I would have liked.

Kirstin: That’s true.

Maureen: But the things I made worked and were good. I really wanted to try to make croissants once and for all, but I just never had a day to devote to it. But when I do try to do it– and I definitely will– I’ll follow Ruby’s method.

Kirstin: I probably would have cooked from this book more, but my problem is my oven. I think it hates me. I do have some techniques that I can use, but still, it’s difficult to bake with it. It’s frustrating because the book made me realise how annoying my oven is, so that’s a shame.

Maureen: Maybe that’s why you’ve never taken to baking, because your oven is so problematic.

Kirstin: When I did do it, I had a lot of fun baking from this book.

Maureen: She gave really good explanations for how to do certain baking techniques, which was very helpful.

Kirstin: It’s a great baking book. It’s got solid straightforward recipes with things that you want to make. If I had a friend who wanted a baking book, I would definitely recommend it.

Maureen: I agree.

Kirstin: I would totally trust her instructions, she was really good.

Maureen: All in all, recommended.

Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen)  A (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Ciabatta (I didn’t actually make this, but I did enjoy eating this) (Maureen) Cheesecake, because now I love cheesecake. (Kirstin)
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: B
Any disasters? (Kirstin and Maureen) No.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Bookshelf, the one dedicated to baking.
Would you give this to a friend?  (Maureen) Yes, but if I had to choose between this one and “Flavour,” I would probably give the latter. (Kirstin) Yes, I’d give it to someone who wanted to learn about baking.

 

Our Verdict: “Crumb”

Our Verdict: “Flavour: Eat What You Love”

Kirstin: I am so sorry we chose to do this book in February, the shortest month of the year.

Maureen: Tell me about it. I’ve got at least eight other things that I made out of this book– all delicious– that I never wrote up.

Kirstin: I’m sorry we’re doing it in winter too, because there’s loads of recipes I want to do in the summer. Salads and fruits and all sorts.

Maureen: I think we may have already found our book of 2017.

Kirstin: You think? I’m so gutted we’re not doing this any more. I have loved this book.

Maureen: I was making stuff last week that I knew I wouldn’t even post about. It was that good.

Kirstin: I am so bringing this out again.

Maureen: Over the years of doing this blog, ,we know that cookbooks are like fashion, in that they can be trendy, or specialised or whatever, and also how everyone has their own cooking style. We also know that my style is different to your style, but this book hit the sweet spot for both of us. It was delicious, it was relatively easy and it was healthy.

Kirstin: Yes. I liked the light flavours and her simple style.

Maureen: The other thing I loved about this cookbook is that she writes beautifully in each introduction about her inspiration and why she likes eating the particular dish. She reminds me of Nigella Lawson in that way, because she also writes beautifully.

Kirstin: I subscribe to Elle magazine and her column is always the first thing that I read.

Maureen: I loved it when she wrote for the Saturday Guardian, and now I miss them. But I guess it would be hard to produce that many recipes week on week. We’ll just have to look for her recipes elsewhere.

Kirstin: She’s also just such a role model. I love her.

Maureen: The flavour combinations always looked a bit crazy, but they worked. Look at the chocolate pretzel peanut butter pie. You’d never think those three flavours would work together, and yet, they did. The title of the book holds up.

Kirstin: Thank you Ruby for making February so yummy. It’s the worst month of the year and it’s given me joy.

Maureen: Maybe it’s a good thing we did it in February then, even if it is the shortest month. It made everyone happy.

 

Overall Grade (A- F):  A* (Maureen)  A* (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Pie (Maureen) Grilled cheese sandwich (Kirstin)
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: I love Charlotte Bland’s photography, so a big A from me.
Any disasters? (Kirstin and Maureen) No.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? This is going straight into the High Rotation Bookshelf for both of us.
Would you give this to a friend?  (Maureen) Happily. (Kirstin) Oh, yes. It’s got something for everyone in this.

Our Verdict: “Flavour: Eat What You Love”

Our Verdict: Cooking for Jeffrey

We’ve spent the month cooking with Ina while she did some cooking for Jeffrey.

Ina, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, has quite a following in the U.S. The book was given to me by my best friend in the U.S. who knows how much I love a good cookbook.

I ended up making nine recipes from the book. I suppose this is a “Greatest Hits” book for her, as it’s apparently all the things that her husband Jeffrey likes best. Kirstin said she thought the recipes were a bit dated, and not very inspiring. I can see what she means, but while they may have felt a bit dated, they all worked and were delicious.

In many ways, she reminds me of a modern Julia Child. She has no fear of butter and double cream. In fact, the more the merrier seems to be her philosophy. This is a philosophy I can fully endorse in the bleak month of January.

Equally, some of the suggestions are just daft. Why in the world do you need to add lobster to fish cakes? Answer: You don’t. (I suppose if you’re an internationally well known cook who has ready access to fresh lobster in the Hamptons it makes more sense. Not so much when you’re just an average Jane trying to make dinner in the deep mid-winter in London.)

In the end, I awarded this book a solid B+. It was very very close to getting an A, but what held me back was it seemed to lack something special to make it a Can’t Miss book.

 

Overall Grade (A- F): B+ (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: (Maureen) Devil’s Food Cake with Meringue Buttercream by a country mile.
Grade for Photography (A-F):
Any disasters? (Maureen) None, though adding lobster to fish cakes was pure folly.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? It’s going on my bookshelf, but not the high rotation one. (Maureen)
Would you give this to a friend? Maybe. After all, I got it from a friend, so maybe I should continue the circle of virtuousness. But I need to think about it. (Maureen)

Our Verdict: Cooking for Jeffrey

Our Verdict: Bread Street Kitchen

Kirstin: Maureen, you made loads more from this book than I did.

Maureen: I did! We had some really good meals from it. It had some really good recipes for comfort food, which was just what my family wanted in November.

Kirstin: It certainly did. Those brownies looked amazing! I loved the Yorkshire pudding recipe; I’ve already made them a couple of times since.

Maureen: Oh yes. Such a classic recipe and such good tips too.

Kirstin: But this book did feel like it was a throwback to the cookbooks of the 90s. Glossy pages, the very British recipes. I say that, but the sticky toffee pudding was exceptional, so the recipes were definitely worth checking out. I’m not sure I’d keep it on the kitchen bookshelf though.

Maureen: It’s a good solid effort, but there’s really nothing special about it. Everything we ate was good, there were no disasters– and some real triumphs– but I wouldn’t give it as a gift. It was fine, but didn’t set my world alight.

Overall Grade (A- F): B (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: (Kirstin & Maureen) Yorkshire puddings.
Grade for Photography (A-F): C
Any disasters? (Kirstin) None. (Maureen) None.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? In a holding pattern on the backup cookbook shelf (Kirstin)
Would you give this to a friend? No. It doesn’t have anything that really wowed me (Kirstin). Unfortunately, no. I can think of several other books from 2016 that I would give before this one. It’s good, but it’s not spectacular.

Our Verdict: Bread Street Kitchen

Our Verdict: Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavours

Maureen: I liked this book, almost everything we tried was good, but I feel bad that I didn’t have a chance to try more recipes.

Kirstin: Me too.

Maureen: The thing I liked about this cookbook is there were a lot of good dinners that could be made on a weeknight that were delicious but didn’t require a lot of effort. I can see going back to this book again and again.

Kirstin: She’s like the modern-day equivalent of Nigel Slater.

Maureen: I agree.

Kirstin:  I hate to say this, but I liked her other books more. This one had a lot of fruit with savory dishes, which I don’t like. That’s just me, but that also means there were a lot of recipes that didn’t interest me.

Maureen: I can see what you mean. I think I liked it better than you did, but I still don’t think it’s flawless.

Kirstin: I would like for her to do a fish book. That would be amazing.

Maureen: If she did a fish book, that would make Fish Fridays that much easier. We had lots of good fish out of this book. The salmon, in particular, was great.

Kirstin: I’m looking forward to her next book. She’s always a treat.

Maureen: Nigella said, “This is everything I want from a cookbook,” and I have to agree.

 

Overall Grade (A- F): A (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: (Maureen) Flourless chocolate cake.
Grade for Photography (A-F): B
Any disasters? (Kirstin) Goan fish curry. (Maureen) Orzo with lemon and parsley
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Bookshelf.
Would you give this to a friend? Yes. It’s got a good variety of recipes and they (mostly) all worked.

Our Verdict: Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavours

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.

Our Verdict: Superfood Family Classics

Our Verdict: “Happy Salads”

This truly was a right time, right place kind of cookbook.

Here in London in July, we actually experienced *summer*– that’s not always guaranteed here, let me assure you– and so we had many days where it just was too hot to cook. This book was perfect for those many nights and for that reason alone, I highly recommend it. (I feel compelled to point out, though, as I type this, normal weather service has resumed here– grey skies with occasional showers and cool temperatures.)

But I also loved this book because it also allowed me to expand my abiding love for the Leon restaurant chain by making the salads I love there, here at home. Funnily enough, I’m almost positive that the first time I went there it was with Kirstin, in its early years. We went to the restaurant right behind Liberty and I was immediately hooked. They’ve expanded considerably since then, but the ethos remains the same: fresh delicious food that is good for you too. I’ve never had a bad experience there. I highly recommend it if you live in London or are visiting. You won’t be disappointed.

Would this book be as perfect in January? Obviously not. Now it’s peak fruit and vegetable season, so the shelves are groaning with beautiful produce that are begging to be eaten. You’d have slightly less choice in the middle of winter, but there are a few recipes featuring roasted vegetables that would be good that I look forward to trying when the time is right.

Buying a cookbook that only features salads obviously is a bit limiting. But the great thing about this cookbook is it has recipes for nearly every salad you’d love to make, and the recipes themselves seem to be pared down, simple versions of some of the more exotic salads you know and love (I’m thinking in particular of fattoush and tabbouleh).

Highly recommended.

“Happy Salads”

Overall Grade (A- F): A+ (Maureen)
Best recipes: Maureen: It’s difficult for me to choose just one, but given that I’ve already made the Greek Salad, the Fattoush and the Tabbouleh more than once, I’d have to say they are winners.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A
Any disasters?  Maureen: No one liked the Sausage Ditalini (I didn’t post it). I don’t know if it was more a winter dish or I did something wrong, but it just was disappointing.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Maureen: Bookshelf, and in a high-rotation position until the end of the summer.
Would you give this to a friend? Maureen: Absolutely, particularly anyone who’s a vegetarian.

 

 

Our Verdict: “Happy Salads”