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.

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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!

Our Verdict: “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat

Maureen: Or, as we continued to call it throughout the month: “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Kirstin: I can never remember the complete order of the words.

Maureen: Me neither, but I don’t think that’s important. It was a different type of cookbook for us since the whole first half of the book was taken up by explanations and essays. I dipped in and out of the beginning section, but I’ve got to admit I haven’t read the whole thing yet. Have you?

Kirstin: No.

Maureen: Do you think you’ll read it?

Kirstin: I might do. Knowing that the recipes are good, I might go back and read it now.

Maureen: That makes sense. You’d want to know what she was talking about. I do think this book made me a thoughtful cook.

Kirstin: Give me an example

Maureen: Well, one night I was making what she called “Conveyer Belt Chicken.” Sorry. I didn’t post it. But I did think more about what would be good with it than I would ordinarily. So I also made her salsa verde to go with it. Both were delicious.

Kirstin: Interesting. I thought this book was more like the Zuni cookbook. It was very precise instructions, but they were beautifully written. I love the bit, “Salt the water until it tastes like the sea on a summer’s day.” It’s not only what it tastes like, but what it feels like, and i completely get that. Or fry the garlic until you can just start to smell it. That’s a perfect way of describing it.

Maureen: Sometimes I thought the book was overly complicated, but then having followed the recipe, I could see why it was that way. The food was delicious.

Kirstin: But let’s get down to the whole reason we picked this book in the first place. Is it better than Melissa Clark’s “Dinner”, which we loved but Food52 declared this one better in its annual tournament of cookbooks The Piglet? [Funnily enough, we just realised we did that book exactly a year ago.]

Maureen: [After a thoughtful pause.] Oh, geez, I don’t know. It’s sort of like comparing apples and oranges. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat Apples has incredibly helpful tips and good recipes. It’s a great resource. I can see returning to it time and time again. “Dinner” was more like the books we traditionally review, which has nice photographs and about 100+ recipes. It has great recipes that I still use now. But is it as good a resource? No. So I’m going to say both, which I know is a total cheat, but there you are.

Kirstin: Today, I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner over the weekend and I thought of the recipe for Korean beef, it put an instant smile on my face. So for me, “Dinner” for win. As much as I love the illustrations in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” I really like having pictures. Particuarly when you’re learning how to cook.

Maureen: But would “Dinner” be a Desert Island Book for you? It’s still early days, but “Salt, Blah, Blah, Blah” would edge out dinner for me in that category.

Kirstin: Desert island book? Ooh, good question. If I was on a desert island, I might have the time to read the introduction. It’s an amazing book and I’ll definitely be cooking a lot from it in the future. But I don’t know the answer to that question yet.

Maureen: This is definitely a book that demands more of your time.

Kirstin: It’s one of those books you have to learn how to use.

Maureen: Which is no bad thing, but still.

 

“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”
Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen) A (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: The out-of-this-world Ragu Sauce. Yum.  Kirstin: The pork. The pork. The pork.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  N/A. It’s an illustrated book. A for illustrations, though.
Any disasters? Nope.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Definitely bookshelf. Maureen: For sure, bookshelf.                                                                                                                                    Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Maureen: Yes. Kirstin: I’m not sure. I’d give it to a certain type of cook. Everyone else got “Dinner.”

Our Verdict: “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat

Our verdict: Comfort

Maureen: This is an example of a perfect book at the perfect time.

Kirstin: March feels like the month furthest away from spring. You think spring is going to come, and then it doesn’t, and it happens every single year.

Maureen: When it’s cold and snowing, what you really need is some stodge, and that’s exactly what this book has. I don’t think we would have enjoyed this book as much if we had done it in say, July.

Kirstin: No. Absolutely not. Which is why I chose to do it now.

Maureen: He did some pretty inventive stuff with cheese, which obviously I can get behind. The cheese aligot was out of this world.

Kirstin: The things I cooked came out really well. He should make an instant pot cookbook.

Maureen: I’m so over the instant pot thing. But I was really impressed with his recipes. He’s definitely moved beyond his Great British Bake Off days.

K: We’ve said this before but he could be the new Nigel Slater.

Maureen: That remains to be seen. But he’s certainly very talented. What a yummy month.

“Comfort”
Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen) A (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: Cheese aligot. Kirstin: Devil’s Curry.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A.
Any disasters? Nope.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf, but only from November to April. It’s like having your summer clothes. Maureen: I absolutely agree with that. A winter clothes cookbook.                                                                                                                                    Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Yes. There were little twists that were very well thought out. It’s an excellent winter book.

Our verdict: Comfort

Our Verdict: Smitten Kitchen Every Day

This is the second “Smitten Kitchen” book we’ve reviewed on this blog, and it was just as good as the first. However, while we really had a good month of eating, it wasn’t a truly excellent month of eating.

To be fair, Deb Perelman is enthusiastic, and that enthusiasm can be contagious. She could also be a spirit animal for our blog, since she started out as a blogger herself and then transformed herself into a New York Times bestselling author.

According to the tagline, the book would have, “Triumphant & Unfussy New Favorites.” They might be unfussy and some might even be called triumphant, but it remains to be seen if any will become new favourites.

The good thing about this cookbook is she had a wide variety of recipes for all sorts of dishes– everything from breakfast to dessert and things in between. It was nice to have that much variety, but it also meant that the selection for particular dishes (such as for dinners) was a little bit shallow.

That said, I’d come back again and again and again for the brownie waffles. That recipe alone was worth the price of admission.

So this cookbook wasn’t a runaway success for us, but neither was it disastrous. It was just good.

“Smitten Kitchen Every Day”
Overall Grade (A- F):  B+/A- (depending on my mood) (Maureen)
Best recipes: Maureen: By a million miles, the recipe for brownie waffles. Yum. Yum. Yum.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B.
Any disasters? Nope.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Maureen: Low-rotation bookshelf. There’s some good stuff in there, and I’ll need to keep the brownie waffle recipe handy, but other than that, I don’t think I’ll refer to it regularly.                                                                                            Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Probably not.

Our Verdict: Smitten Kitchen Every Day