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.

 

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Our Verdict: Half Baked Harvest

Our Verdict: Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound

Maureen: Urgh. This cookbook just made things far more difficult than they needed to be. I think maybe it was trying to be too clever, which tripped it up.

Kirstin: It was trying to be something that it couldn’t be. It was very confusing, as well. It had two classification systems, because there’s the title, but then when you start reading it, the subcategories inside didn’t match the title. So that was confusing.

Maureen: As I’ve already said, I thought the indexing was terrible, terrible, terrible. It wasn’t organised well. But at the end of the day, it was just really difficult to use, which not what you want a cookbook to be.

Kirstin: I was intrigued by the bibliography for this cookbook because there was no “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” mentioned, because it’s so similar to this one.

Maureen: It’s possible that with publishing lead times, they were working on each cookbook at the same time and didn’t know about each other. But I had another close look at “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” to compare it to this one and to try to figure out what “Salt, Etc.” was so much better.

Kirstin: It was an amazing book.

Maureen: The difference between this cookbook and “Salt, Etc.” is that the latter was organised differently. The first half of “Salt, Etc.” was all about cooking techniques and why things are done a certain way. The second half of the book took these fundamentals and then applied them to the recipes, which were grouped by category– so all the chicken recipes were together, all the fish recipes were together, etc. So it was much easier to find recipes because you tend to know what core ingredient you want to start with for a particular meal, and then you work from there. In “Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound,” the recipes were grouped together by cooking theory, so that meant each section had a whole array of recipes. This made it far more difficult than it needed to be to find recipes you wanted to try.

Kirstin: I made three recipes Two of them were amazing and I’ll make them again. The third one– a sea bass recipe– was a complete disaster and the worst meal I’ve made in 10 years. I didn’t blog about it, though, because it wasn’t her fault. I got the wrong ingredients.

Maureen: It was just too hard to use. I might have tried more recipes if it had been easier to use, but it was just painful. In this day and age, when you can find a recipe on the Internet in a nanosecond, I’m not going to page through a 240-page cookbook to try to find what I want to make for dinner.

Kirstin: I think that’s fair.

“Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste & Sound”
Overall Grade (A- F):  C – “I’m feeling generous. I didn’t give it an F.”  (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: Seared Tuna  Kirstin: Nasi Goreng “The leftovers were amazing.”
Grade for Photography (A-F): N/A: Kirstin can’t remember any of the photographs, which tells you everything you need to know.
Any disasters? Kirstin: There was a complete disaster with sea bass, but I didn’t blog about it. Maureen: No disasters per se because I found it too difficult to use the book in the first place.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Charity Shop Donation.                                                                Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No.

Our Verdict: Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound

Our Verdict: Together: Our Community Cookbook

Kirstin: I liked it!

Maureen: I did too. It wasn’t long or comprehensive, but it was a lovely book full of recipes that I wouldn’t ordinarily make.

Kirstin: Yes

Maureen: It was like a very expensively produced Women’s Institute or Junior League community cookbook on shiny paper…

Kirstin: ….WIth a duchess thrown in there for good measure…

Maureen: …And with much better photography than you’d get in your standard community cookbook.

Kirstin: You know what I’d like? Guidance at the top on how long it’s going to take to make each recipe because some of the recipes were quite long. I usually try to not cook food that takes longer than an hour.

Maureen: Certianly not on a weeknight. Who has the time? Saying that, I’ll occasionally make something that takes a few hours on a weekday, but I have to be super organised to do that and it’s one of the perks of working from home.

Kirstin: Sometimes, I found it quite frustrating how the steps of the recipe were organised.

Maureen: I don’t know, but maybe I’ve been testing these cookbooks wrong all this time, but I always read a recipe and then do it in whatever way makes the most sense to me.

Kirstin: I completely agree with you and I do that too, but I just wish they had done written some of the recipes differently. Maybe it’s just me. Like with curry, I like to get everything chopped and ready in advance, and then clean up as I go along.

Maureen: [Laughing] I never clean up as I go along. That’s my life philosophy. Just ask Tim.

Kirstin: I was trying to give you the benefit the doubt. But I loved the curry recipes because we don’t do a lot of cookbooks with good curry recipes in it.

Maureen: I loved the different regions they had on offer. I don’t often get to see recipes from Persia or Ethiopia, so I liked giving those a try. I wonder if there’s going to sequel to this. They’ve made loads of money for the Hubb Community Kitchen for this, which is such a great thing.

Kirstin: We’ll wait and see.

 

“Together: Our Community Cookbook”
Overall Grade (A- F):  B* (Maureen) B (Kirstin) (*Maureen included the caveat, “For a community cookbook, it’s an A, for a professional cookbook compared against others, it’s a B.)
Best recipes: Maureen: Green rice. Kirstin: Coconut Chicken Curry.
Grade for Photography (A-F): A It’s got slightly weird toning, but all the smiles made up for it.
Any disasters? Kirstin: I didn’t have any disasters, but the aubergine takes way too long. Maureen: No. It was all good.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Low-rotation bookshelf.                                                                      Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: It would have to be the right friend, but yes.

Our Verdict: Together: Our Community Cookbook

Our Verdict: Jamie Cooks Italy

Maureen: I’m just going to say this: I think this is a return to form for Jamie. We had a lot of good dinners this month.

Kirstin: Controversial!

Maureen: I know. Though saying that, I don’t know if the dinners were good because the cookbook was good, or if it’s because we love Italian food, which is always a winner. What did you think?

Kirstin: I thought the recipes were good, but I’m not sure they were that good. But they were good. I just didn’t understand all of the old women scattered throughout the book. What was that about?

Maureen: I think he was trying to show that the old ways are the best way. Or something.

Kirstin: This cookbook was definitely better than the last couple of books.

Maureen: I read in the introduction that it took him 18 months to write. I think it shows. It certainly doesn’t seem as slapdash as some of his more recent efforts.

Kirstin: I’d say it’s mid-period Jamie– not as good as he was at the start, but not as bad as recent years, either.

Maureen: He’s never going to be as good as his first four books.

Kirstin: Oh, never. But that’s not have much to do with him, but things have changed. Personalities have changed. Food has changed. Food is everywhere. There’s a lot more recipes available in newspapers, magazines and online.

Maureen: I think it also has to do with the fact that we have very much moved on. We’re much better cooks than when Jamie released his first book, but maybe some of our skills are Jamie’s doing? There were some good recipes in this cookbook and I would recommend it to people. It’s been a very, very long time since I last recommended a Jamie book.

Kirstin: I would give it to people, and that’s always a good sign.

Maureen: So a decent month from Jamie then.

Kirstin: For Sure.

“Jamie Cooks Italy”
Overall Grade (A- F):  B+ (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: Pasta dishes– they were really good. Kirstin: Bastardo Chicken
Grade for Photography (A-F): B
Any disasters? Kirstin: No. Maureen: No!
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Bookshelf! This is the first time in a long while we haven’t sent a Jamie book to the charity shop.                                                                        Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Yes.

Our Verdict: Jamie Cooks Italy

Our Verdict: How to Eat a Peach

Maureen: This is less of a cookbook and more a memoir about food.

Kirstin: It’s a lovely book to own about food, but it’s not a cookbook.

Maureen: I liked the way she organised things by menu, which is great if you’re planning a big multi-course meal for friends and family, but it’s less good when you’re looking to make something on a Wednesday night.

Kirstin: Preferably with fennel. She really loves fennel.

Maureen: She’s a beautiful writer, to be sure.

Kirstin: And the pictures were beaiutiful

Maureen: I liked the peach-like cover– that was pretty clever and it felt nice, too.

Kirstin: I loved the cover, too. The writing was good, but again it’s not a book you can cook from.

Maureen: We knew that going in, though. We didn’t think it would be a very useful book, but we thought it would be a nice one to have.

Kirstin: Exactly.

Maureen: She’s still one of my favourite food writers, I just don’t think this is a very useful book.

Kirstin: Completely.

“How to Eat a Peach”
Overall Grade (A- F):  C (Maureen) C (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: I’m not really sure it’s that kind of book, but I can’t think of one I would make again. Kirstin: The pork I made was really good.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A. I love Laura Edwards.
Any disasters? Kirstin: No. Maureen: No disasters, but the broad bean crostini was huge faff.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf, for the photography. Maureen: Charity Shop Donation because I don’t see ever using it again.                                              Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Unfortunately, no.

Our Verdict: How to Eat a Peach

Our Verdict: “Dining In”

Kirstin: This is such an exceptional cookbook. I thought she wrote beautifully and explained things incredibly well, and the recipes were well thought out. I completely trusted her, by the end of the month, I was cooking recipes from it for four friends, having never done them before. I knew that they would be fantastic recipes. The salads I’ve already made again. The pork I’ve already made again. I know I’ll be making the salads over and over again.

Maureen: Don’t forget the chicken. That sounded fantastic. I think I’m going to make that this weekend.

Kirstin: OOOOOOH. The chicken. I can’t even speak, it’s so good. And the potatoes that go with the chicken. So, so, good.

Maureen: I never thought I”d see you replace the Zuni chicken, but there we are.

Kirstin: The fish chapter was really good, and that’s unusual because you don’t normally see long chapters on fish.

Maureen: It was very nice to see a large collection of fish. And the desserts were great– for the most part. The rhubarb galette I’d rather forget about. But everything else was sublime.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: You’ve already said this will be your book of the year.

Kirstin: Yes. Dinner from Melissa Clark was last year, this will be this year.

Maureen: Seems a bit early to be declaring a winner for 2018, but let’s see.

“Dining In”
Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen) A (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: Hard to pick a favourite. Kirstin: The chicken. The chicken. The chicken. A close second will be the salmon.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A. They are my favourite photographers and they’re excellent.
Any disasters? Kirstin: The disaster is she doesn’t have another cookbook out already. Maureen: The rhubarb galette.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf, high rotation. Maureen: Bookshelf.        Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Maureen: Yes. Kirstin: I already have.

Our Verdict: “Dining In”

Our Verdict: Bosh!

Maureen: This was awful.

Kirstin: You can’t say that. Well, you can say that.

Maureen: It might not be awful, but because there was so much push back from the get go in this family, it was awful here. But perhaps it was doomed to fail.

Kirstin: I had no idea that vegetables took so long so prepare.

Maureen: You knew about it, but you just forgot about it. Prep time with vegetarian recipes is always a killer because everything needs peeling or chopping, or a combination of the two.

Kirstin: They’re not very good at time management when writing the recipes, either.

Maureen: I don’t think the recipes were that well written. The instructions for how to make a risotto, albeit one that didn’t use butter or parmesan, were appalling if not downright incorrect. Though perhaps it’s impossible to make a good vegan risotto since you can’t use butter or parmesan. Did you have anything that you really liked?

Kirstin: Ella really liked the tofu and I really liked the spicy rice I made. I was not expecting it to be as yummy as it was. It was really interesting. It was amazing.

Maureen: Let’s not forget, they are Internet superstars. So maybe I’m missing something, but really, it just wan’t really good.

Kirstin: The instructions were terrible sometimes. If you’re frying something, you can’t chop something up at the same time. Everything must be prepared beforehand. That’s just how it works. You can’t chop while you’re cooking. This book was alright, but would I use it again? Maybe one or two recipes.

Maureen: My family was right. As predicted, this one is going straight to the charity shop.

Kirstin: For the Bosh boys, the flavours weren’t that impressive. For Anna Jones, the flavours were great every time. I’m sure there are better vegan books out there.

Maureen: And don’t forget the fluorescent orange.

Kirstin: How could I?

 

“Bosh!”
Overall Grade (A- F):  D (Maureen) C (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: I’m not sure I’ve got one to recommend, which tells you everything you need to know.  Kirstin: The spicy rice was delicious.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B. It was alright.
Any disasters? Yes. Oh, the guacamole. It’s already vegan, don’t change the recipe so it turns into this disgusting green gloop.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Very low rotation bookshelf. Maureen: Charity shop for sure. Sorry, Bosh bros.                                                                                               Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Maureen: Absolutely not. Kirstin: Nope.

Our Verdict: Bosh!