Our Verdict: The Magic Fridge

Kirstin: This is a gem of a book.

Maureen: Yes. All the foundation recipes, or at least that’s what I call them, are very good. It’s quite a clever concept– figure out how to make these good recipes and then work from there.

Kirstin: You do have to read and pay attention. There’s all sorts of tips and interesting suggestions in the book too, which I liked.

Maureen: It’s a unique idea, one that we haven’t really seen before. I really like the idea how these basic recipes can then ripple into other recipes.

Kirstin: Very good idea. It feels very French, but that’s no bad thing.

Maureen: You can feel the French influence, though there’s other things in there too.

Kirstin: To have a whole book of French cooking would be overwhelming, but this is a lovely mixture.

Maureen: I agree.

Kirstin: It’s obviously not completely French because he’s got recipes for things like lemon curd and pizza. For example, in his recipe for red curry paste he uses sun dried tomatoes and that seems odd to me. And it has anchoives, too.

Maureen: He loves an anchovy.

Kirstin: He’s obviously going for the whole unami thing. So the curry paste was interesting.

Maureen: The cheese sauce I made for my cauliflower cheese was the best cheese sauce I’ve ever had. I couldn’t stop eating it when it was on the stove.

Kirstin: It worked. Clever man. But we both have a beef about the design.

Maureen: Indeed we do. I just think it would have been so much better if it had a plain classy cover with a white background, a classic font and a different picture. As it is, with all the doodles throughout and the primary-coloured pages, it just makes it seem like a kids cookbook, which it definitely is not. It just goes to show you that design is important.

Kirstin: Still a gem of a book, though.

 

“The Magic Fridge”
Overall Grade (A- F): B (Kirstin)  B+ (It would get an A but for the design) (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Roast and braise chicken went down very well indeed. Maureen: Cauliflower cheese. It was the best I ever had.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  C. Pretty uninspiring.
Any disasters? Kirstin: No. Maureen: No.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf.  Maureen: Bookshelf, for the cheese sauce recipe alone.                                                                                                                    Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No. If I was going to give a book, I’d give them a different book because it has to look nice as well. There’s so many pretty cookbooks out there.

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Our Verdict: The Magic Fridge

Our Verdict: 5 Ingredients

Maureen: It’s much better than his most recent books, but that’s not saying much.

Kirstin: Well, maybe it was. The Family Superfood book was really bad*. [Editor’s Note: this is actually not the word that Kirstin used, but we try to be a family-friendly blog.]

Maureen: You can’t quite say it’s a return to form, but it’s pretty good.

Kirstin: Do you think we set the bar higher for Jamie because we have so lovely memories of his book?

Maureen: [Ponders.] Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think the problem with Jamie, and we’ve said this for the past few years, is that he feels compelled to release a new cookbook every year. I just wish he– and his team– would take a breather and maybe take some time with the next book. I’m pretty sure the annual publishing calendar is hurting the books more than the fact that we love his first books so much. Though that’s also true.

Kirstin: Well, he’s a whole industry now, so he has to keep it going.

Maureen: While it’s not a brilliant book, I do think it would be a good cookbook for students or people learning to cook. It’s like a gateway drug to better recipes and food. It gets you started and maybe you could figure out ways to make them better.

Kirstin: Exactly. I made a lot of the recipes. They are easy and I liked this format more than 15 Minutes and 30 Minutes cookbooks. They were done quickly, but you didn’t have a deadline to get them done.

Maureen: You didn’t feel the pressure to get it done in a certain amount of time, which was good. Saying that, we did find that a lot of the recipes over promised and under delivered.

Kirstin: But if you did make them, you could– shock horror– add more than five ingredients to make them better.

Maureen: Yes. And maybe leave out red wine vinegar from time to time.

Kirstin: Maybe that’s another way you could use the book, to teach yourself how to make stuff better.

Maureen:It felt like he was a bit hamstrung at times with the five ingredient limit.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: Apparently, this book is selling much better than his last few, but then again, both the superfood books were shockingly bad.

Kirstin: This book is more for food explorers and newbies than food lovers and good cooks.

Maureen: At least it was an improvement. It still wasn’t brilliant, but it was better.

“5 Ingredients”
Overall Grade (A- F): B- (Kirstin) C+ (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Baked fish and I enjoyed my first tarte tatin. Maureen: There’s nothing that jumps out at me.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B- (It was a bit boring.)
Any disasters? Kirstin: Yes! The sea bass was awful. Maureen: The pork was gross and the timings were all wrong.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin & Maureen: We’re both saving it to give to our children when they leave for university in a year, but otherwise, will probably not use the book again.                                                                                                                                 Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No. There are loads of better books out there.

Our Verdict: 5 Ingredients

Our Verdict: On The Side

Maureen: What did you think?

Kirstin: I loved it.

Maureen: I loved it too, but it’s a book that works well in tandem with something else. But there were some brilliant recipes in it. What were some of favourites?

Kirstin: The peppers! They looked pretty too!

Maureen: I thought the indexes were genius. It was so clever to organise it with suggestions as to what the main dish should be. It really made the book work.

Kirstin: The indexes were worth the weight of the book in gold.

Maureen: That’s what I meant about it working with another book, because you’d think of what main you wanted to make, and then you’d turn to the index and see what he’d suggest to go with it. The recipes themselves were different enough, too, that it made the book worthwhile.

Kirstin: I liked it. I think I’ll use it more in the winter, when we make roasts and big meals with lots of sides in the winter. It’s a good entertaining book, too, which we do more of in the winter.

Maureen: It’s more a weekend book, that’s for sure, when you have the luxury of time to plan out an entire elaborate meal with a few sides.

Kirstin In 20 years I can see this being a dog-eared copy and I know it’s going to be on the shelf.

Maureen: Definitely the high rotation shelf for me. I like that it’s a slightly different book. It makes sense to do a whole book just on sides. They do tend to be forgotten.

“On the Side”
Overall Grade (A- F): A (Kirstin) A (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Roast Romano Peppers Maureen: Boulangere Potatoes
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A
Any disasters? Kirstin: No, apart from naming Hasselback Potatoes Hasselblad Potatoes. Maureen: No.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf, high rotation. Maureen: Same Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Yes. It would be a good Christmas gift, because it’s original.

Our Verdict: On The Side

Our verdict: Packed and The Little Book of Lunch

Maureen: (chuckling) Let’s have some lunch! What did you think?

Kirstin: It completely changed the way I think about lunch at the office for the better.

Maureen: How?

Kirstin: I plan ahead. I always have chorizo in the refrigerator ready to go. I will make more than I need for dinner, knowing that I can use the leftovers.

Maureen: Like a roast chicken?

Kirstin: Exactly. I had a bird that was way too large the other day and Tom told me we’d never eat all of it. But I told him that I already had plans for the leftovers.

Maureen: There’s nothing better than using leftovers. It always makes me feel so virtuous.

Kirstin: This has been a revelation and I’ll never look at my lunch the same way again.

Maureen: I guess it’s different for me since I work from home and usually for lunch I’m just foraging through the refrigerator taking the best of the leftovers. But saying that, there were some really yummy recipes in there that I would make for myself. This would be especially good on the days when I feel chained to my laptop because of deadlines, so it would make me step away from the computer.

Kirstin: Lunch is now something I look forward to at the office, and that’s great.

Overall Grade (A- F):  B (Maureen)  B (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Anything with chorizo (Kirstin)
Grade for Photography (A-F): A
Any disasters? Kirstin: No Maureen: The paella wasn’t a disaster, but I thought the suggestion that you make it before you leave for the office was comedy gold. Who would have time to do that?
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf. Maureen: Not sure.
Would you give this to a friend? Kirstin: Yes. Maureen: Yes, but only to friends who work in an office. I’m not sure it would apply to the mighty band of freelancers I know.

Our verdict: Packed and The Little Book of Lunch

Our Verdict: NYT Cooking App

Kirstin: This is one of my favourite apps. It never ceases to cheer me up.

Maureen: There’s so many recipes to choose from! I would think of a recipe we wanted to eat and inevitably they would have one.

Kirstin: But we should point out that it’s crazy busy because it’s the end of term and other stuff happening, but we used this app way more than it would appear on the blog.

Maureen: That’s true. I made dozens more recipes than I actually got around to posting.

Kirstin: The comments are often worth having a peek at.

Maureen: There’s usually lots of good tips in there.

Kirstin: But just this week they announced that they’re going to start charging for access.

Maureen: They’re going to put a metered paywall, which means you’ll get a certain number for free, but after that you’ll have to start paying. It makes sense. I’m also from the school of thought that good content shouldn’t be free.

Kirstin: It’s a great app when you go on holiday because all the recipes are right on your phone.

Maureen: It’s also great when you’re out in the middle of the day when you don’t know what you want to make for dinner, so you can decide on the hoof and then stop at the shops for what you need.

Kirstin: Also, it’s got Melissa Clark and Sam Sifton. Do I need to say more?

Maureen: No. You do not. They are brilliant. I also liked the featured recipes at the top. They gave good suggestions.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: It’s almost not a fair fight because the New York Times has so many good recipes over the years, and they’re all there. If you published all these recipes in books, it would be a multi-volume encyclopedia.

Kirstin: Also, the e-mails make my heart so happy. They just are so lovely. They have great suggestions. Sign up for the e-mail!

Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen)  A (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Salmon roasted in butter (Kirstin) The Katharine Hepburn brownies were definitely the most memorable, but the macaroni and cheese is a desert island dish in this house (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): A
Any disasters? Maureen: No. Kirstin: I’m trying to figure out how to spatchcock chicken.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Not applicable, but we’d put it on the front page of our phones.
Would you give this to a friend? (Both) Yes, though we would tell them to install it and to sign up for the daily e-mail.

Our Verdict: NYT Cooking App

Our Verdict: “Home Cook”

Kirstin: It was always going to be difficult to follow last month’s book by Melissa Clark.

Maureen: Yes, because that book was utter perfection. This book, on the other hand, was not.

Kirstin: No, it was not.

Maureen: The disappointing thing for me was I had really high hopes for this book, but it just didn’t deliver. The time I had hunt for the salsa recipe really did me in. That’s an utter cookbook fail.

Kirstin: I felt the book was rushed. It seemed as though was produced in a hurry.

Maureen: That would explain the problem with the index, and also the missing recipes.

Kirstin: But also, some of the recipes I had to read over and over again to make sense of them. I even had to have Tom read one for me to make sure I had done it correctly. I never have to do that.

Maureen: You shouldn’t have to do that. Recipes should be clear from the start. That seems like an obvious rule for a cookbook.

Kirstin: The adaptions for the roast chicken were really hard to understand. It just came across as not as well thought out as it should have been.

Maureen: My disastrous chocolate cake experience is a good example of that. She said it was based on a recipe she stole as a child, but the instructions really lacked direction at points. Like how long to let the chocolate ganache cool so the whipped cream won’t melt.  It tasted good but it looked disgusting.

Kirstin: I wasn’t sure of some of her flavour combinations either.

Maureen: I don’t know if it really was that bad a book because it was so poor compared to the previous month. But thinking about it and all the cookbooks we’ve done, I’d have to call it just a fair effort overall.

Overall Grade (A- F):  C (Maureen)  C (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Njuda with clams (Kirstin) The guacamole and the salsa recipes (once I found it) were sublime. (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: B
Any disasters? (Kirstin and Maureen) Maureen: The famous melting cake. Kirstin: I didn’t have any disasters, but there was nothing I wanted to make again.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Unfortunately, charity shop donation for us both. (Though Maureen is going to copy down the guacamole & salsa recipes before she donates.)
Would you give this to a friend? (Both) Uh, no.

Our Verdict: “Home Cook”

Our Verdict: “Dinner, Changing the Game”

Kirstin: I just want Melissa Clark to move in to my house and cook with me. With all the jalepenos

Maureen: I could see how that would work. She would be fun to cook with and I also think her attitude would be, “Don’t stress. It’s just dinner.”

Kirstin: All the sticky tabs I use to mark the recipes I want to make are no longer relevant because I just want to make everything.

Maureen: Every time I open the book I find something else I want to make. I feel bad because due to a variety of factors, I wasn’t able to post everything I made. But there were no disasters, which is always the sign of an excellent cookbook.

Kirstin: She is so good at flavour combinations. Everything is so tasty.

Maureen: But they were all made with easily sourced ingredients. Other than my experience with daikon radishes, though enough people told me they thought I’d easily be able to find them in London. I still haven’t seen them in any of the greengrocers or supermarkets I use regularly, but I’ve not given up hope.

Kirstin: I’ve loved this book so much that I’ve already given four copies away.

Maureen: If that’s not a sign of a good book, I don’t know what is. The thing I loved about this book is that it was all attainable deliciousness. It’s not overly cheffy in that it involves multiple steps and multiple bowls. They were all pretty straightforward, but absolutely delicious, which is all you really want, in the end.

Kirstin: I think this is my favourite book ever.

Maureen: High praise indeed.

Kirstin: You know how much I love Gwyneth Paltrow and Bill Granger. They do lovely Italian and Asian dishes, which is what we love most in our house. But Melissa Clark does those dishes so much better than they do.

Maureen: This is a very, very, very good book. I don’t know if it’s my favourite cookbook ever, but I don’t know what that would be. That’s going to take some thought.

Kirstin: This cookbook is just the business. Everything has tasted so amazing. It’s made me really get back into the kitchen and enjoy being back in the kitchen.

Maureen: I think it’s made me a better cook overall. I really started to think about what we should have for dinner, what would taste good with it, what extras I could make. Not in an over the top way, but in a more thoughtful way than I usually do, and I put it down to this book.

Kirstin: If I could only have one book on my shelf, it would probably be this one. This is my Desert Island Cookbook.

Overall Grade (A- F):  A* (Maureen)  A***** (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Korean Bulgogi (Kirstin) There were so many good ones, it was hard to pick one. But maybe the Za’atar Chicken. (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: A
Any disasters? (Kirstin and Maureen) Absolutely not.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? High-rotation bookshelf.  Kirstin: This one might have its own bookshelf.
Would you give this to a friend?  (Maureen) Absolutely. (Kirstin) Indeed. I’ve given it away four times already.

Our Verdict: “Dinner, Changing the Game”