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.

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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

Our Verdict: Dinner in an Instant

Maureen: I was really happy to find another cookbook for my pressure cooker since the instructions are in French. What did you think of this cookbook, since you have an instant pot?

Kirstin: I thought it was good, but I thought some of the recipes could have been better written. The yogurt recipe, for example, was a complete disaster the first time, but now I am victorious.

Maureen: But only after you had to do additional research on the Internet.

Kirstin: Yes, I found a new recipe for yogurt with much better instructions and then it worked great. I’ve made it once a week since.

Maureen: I feel like this was a little bit rushed and maybe the the recipes weren’t as thoroughly tested as in her last book.

Kirstin: I totally agree.

Maureen: And as I said on our Facebook page, it wouldn’t have killed her to just have a page explaining how an instant pot is different from a pressure cooker, but how you could adapt the recipes to use with your pressure cooker. Instead, she just insults pressure cookers in the introduction, which was unnecessary. I mean, some people, like me, still use them and like them.

Kirstin: I’m glad I bought the Instant Pot. The salmon I made is now our new favourite fish recipe. I make it every week. Would I be using my Instant Pot in the summer? Probably not, unless it’s for yogurt. Will I be using it next winter? Absolutely.

Maureen: So you’re pleased you purchased an Instant Pot?

Kirstin: Yes.

Maureen: Are you enjoying your ride on the wave of the zeitgeist?

Kirstin: I am. It’s been a revelation.

Maureen: I am pleased that I used my pressure cooker more. So all in all, it’s been a mostly successful month.

“Dinner in an Instant”
Overall Grade (A- F): B (Kirstin)  B (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Vietnamese Caramel Salmon. Maureen: Garlicky Cuban Pork.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B.
Any disasters? Kirstin: Yogurt, but I fixed it. Maureen: Macaroni and cheese. What a disaster. Never again.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: High-rotation Bookshelf. There’s still more I want to investigate. Maureen: Low-rotation bookshelf. There’s some good stuff in there, but I can’t see any of it getting into the regular rotation.                                                             Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Yes, if they had an instant cooker or a pressure cooker. I suspect it’s one of the better books on the subject.

Our Verdict: Dinner in an Instant

Our Verdict: At My Table

Maureen: Using one of my favourite British expressions, this was a bit of a damp squid.

Kirstin: I agree. Does that make it damp squid squared? I’m not sure I’d want to eat at her At Her Table every night. That sounds really mean, but it’s true.

Maureen: Nigella is so good and so inspirational it just seems a double disappointment.

Kirstin: I forgive her for that, unlike other people we could mention. {Editor’s note: She’s talking about Jamie and his recent slide into writing not-very-good cookbooks.}

Maureen: When I usually get a Nigella cookbook, it’s filled with post-its of the things I want to make. But not this time. I struggled to find something that I wanted to make.

Kirstin: I’m sure the next book will be a triumph.

Maureen: Her first books were all about getting as many people as you could around the table and enjoying a meal. It’s a philosophy that drives me to this day. But this book didn’t have that. The recipes were not inspiring. And she really didn’t talk about the communal aspect of food and how great that is, and that just made me sad.

[At this point, we lost interest in the cookbook and started talking about the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle engagement.]

We know you can do a great one the next time, Nigella.

“At My Table”
Overall Grade (A- F): B- (Kirstin)  C (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Lime & Coriander Chicken and Indian Spiced Traybake. Maureen: Roasted tomato salsa.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B.
Any disasters? Kirstin: No. Maureen: No.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Low-rotation Bookshelf.  Maureen: I might give it to the charity shop because I know there isn’t anything in there that I’ll cook again, but then again, it is Nigella so I might hold on to it for sentimental reasons only.                                   Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No. If I were to give a Nigella cookbook to a friend, I would give them “Feast.”

 

Our Verdict: At My Table

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.

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