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”

Our Verdict: It’s All Easy

Kirstin: I loved this book.

Maureen: We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one, I think.

Kirstin: Exactly.

Maureen: What did you like about it?

Kirstin: I liked everything I made from this book. There was not a single bad recipe.

Maureen: I didn’t like anything about this book. There was not a single recipe in there that inspired me. It took me three times to go through the book to find something I even wanted to try, and even then it was just macaroni and cheese, stir fry and tomato soup. The thing that frustrates me is that Gwenyth clearly is trying to peddle her lifestyle, and I just feel like that shouldn’t be in a cookbook.

Kirstin; Sure. I get that.

Maureen: You like it so much more than I do. Why is that?

Kirstin: It’s all the food I like. It’s Asian stuff. It’s Italian stuff. It ticks all my boxes. You know, I was looking through it and I don’t think there’s as many pictures of Gwyneth in there that you think there is. It’s about as many as there was in the previous book, which we did like. It’s still not as good as her previous book, but nothing will be as good as her previous book.

Maureen: Maybe. But I don’t need to see pictures of the author in a cookbook. I just want to see the food.

Kirstin: But they do it for Nigella and Jamie, and it doesn’t bother you. You’re having different standards for different people.

Maureen: No. It bothers me there too. It just doesn’t seem as obvious.

Kirstin: I like that she’s eating carbs now.

Maureen: Is she though? I sort of doubt it. I’ll bet her co-author wrote and ate that recipe. When I made the macaroni and cheese, it used a pound and a half of cheese, I think. There’s no way that Gwyneth is going to eat anything with that much cheese in it. Not to mention the pasta. I guess the whole point of this blog is given the hundreds of cookbooks that are out there, can you really recommend this one? Is there anything really special about it?

Kirstin: I can recommend it. I would buy this just for the Zuni chicken recipe alone. And I made Tom a Vietnamese salad last week and he’s already asked me when I’ll make it again. I enjoyed it. This is the kind of book you can take on holiday. It wasn’t fancy. It was easy. Would I recommend this? I would. To the right person. Not to you, obviously. But it’s not as good as the previous book, which was a masterpiece.

Maureen: Like I said, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

Kirstin: I think it’s good that we’re disagreeing. We can’t always agree on everything.

Maureen: And we can’t like every book that we do, but I’m glad at least one of us liked this one.

“It’s All Easy”
Overall Grade (A- F): A (Kirstin) F (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Zuni Chicken and the Bo Bun Salad. Maureen: None. I did make the macaroni cheese, the stir fry and the tomato soup, but none of them reinvented the wheel so I didn’t post them.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A (Ditte Isager, Kirstin’s favourite photographer.)
Any disasters?  Kirstin: No. Maureen: No disasters, but nothing that inspired either.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf  Maureen: It’s already flown the coop to the charity shop.                                                                                                                   Would you give this to a friend? Kirstin: It would have to be the right friend. Maureen: Absolutely not.

Our Verdict: It’s All Easy

Our Verdict: My Street Food Kitchen

Maureen: My family loved this book. We had lots of winners.

Kirstin: We did too.

Maureen: I liked that the dishes were interesting, but were relatively straightforward to make and featured no unusual ingredients, for the most part. Though there were a few times when I couldn’t find something she called for (onion salt, I’m looking at you), but for the most part, it was good.

Kirstin: The recipes weren’t too tricky either, I didn’t think. And we’re both fans of Street Food, since we love Model Market.

Maureen: I’m not entirely convinced that some of these recipes were street food. How is pizza a street food?

Kirstin: You’re absolutely right. It’s not all street food, but we’ll give it to her.

Maureen: She’s an American who’s been here for about 20 years! Just like me! Maybe I should write a cookbook.

Kirstin: We’ve had the gunpowder chicken again at Tom’s request. You should try that one.

Maureen: We will. We might have the pork again tomorrow, because we loved that pork. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. All in all, a solid effort. Andrew said he thought it would be a good month and he was right.

Kirstin: Yup, pretty good.

“My Street Food Kitchen”
Overall Grade (A- F): A (Kirstin) A (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Gunpowder chicken. Maureen: I can’t decide. We had loads of good dinners. Buttermilk chicken was up there, as was the pork and the quesadillas.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A
Any disasters? Unfortunately, the coffee-rubbed steak was pretty gross. Kirstin: No disasters on this end.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf  Maureen: Bookshelf. It remains to be seen if it’ll be a high rotation bookshelf book, but everybody liked nearly everything I made from it, and that doesn’t happen all that often.

Our Verdict: My Street Food Kitchen