“7-Veg Tomato Sauce Packed with Hidden Goodness” from “Superfood Family Classics”


Tomato Sauce or Vegetable Soup? You decide.

Sadly, this is yet another example from this cookbook of “Recipe You’d Give To Someone Who’s Just Had A Major Medical Intervention to Trick Them Into Thinking That It’s Just As Good As the Original.”

But here’s the thing: what’s so bad about fresh tomato sauce? I’ve got three basic recipes I make, depending on how much time I have (no time at all, one hour, a few hours). My go-to recipe, this one from Polpo, has both fresh and canned tomatoes and is full of goodness. There’s minimal fat (some olive oil to fry the onion) and the rest of it is tomatoes. What’s so bad about that?

In the description of this tomato sauce, Jamie writes, “Jam-packed with nutritious veg, this has to be one of the easiest ways to get extra veggie portions into our diet, as well as all sorts of brilliant micronutrients.”

Putting aside the term “micronutrients”– which sounds ridiculous to me because doesn’t every food have micronutrients in it?– why feel the need to put leeks, celery, carrots, courgettes, peppers, and butternut squash in a “tomato” sauce? And if you guessed that putting all those additional vegetables into a tomato sauce would make it taste more like vegetable soup and less like tomato sauce, you would be absolutely right.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here– obviously this cookbook has not won me over– but this is just stupid. Fresh tomato sauce is pretty good for you too, so why not just make that instead?

As it happens, I was paging through “Jamie’s Dinners” from 2004 where he includes a recipe for tomato sauce. It is his fifth cookbook, and many of us would argue this was in the Golden Age of Jamie. Jamie HIMSELF says, “I’m a great believer in a simple tomato sauce.”

[Emphasis added. Obviously.]

What’s happened to that Jamie of old? Please come back, Jamie. We miss you.

“7-Veg Tomato Sauce Packed with Hidden Goodness” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Tomato Risotto” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_7952Oh my. This is going to be a long month.

Risotto: What’s not to love? Going back through the Cookbook a Month archives, it appears that this family has tested at least 12 different recipes for risotto through the years. Our love of risotto goes back even further, as I distinctly recall the first time I made it, using a recipe from the Chicago Tribune written by the head chef of the Clinton White House.

That’s the FIRST Clinton White House. Yes. I’m dating myself.

But back to the latest test. As anyone who’s made risotto knows, the key to a successful risotto is lashings of butter and cheese. I’m pretty sure that in Jamie Oliver’s earliest books, he called for exactly that. Unfortunately, this one had neither.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with this risotto.

In fact, as we were discussing it as a family, we started to use air quotes around the word risotto every time we used the word. I think that tells you everything you need to know.

Aside from the obvious lack of butter and cheese, I feel what this “risotto” lacked was any sort of goodness. It didn’t taste horrible, but neither did it taste lovely or joyful. It tasted as if it had been devised by a nutritionist who had to write recipes for someone who was recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery who needs to give up all fat and tasty ingredients.

Alas, we are not recovering from triple-bypass surgery.

I know that Jamie is now studying to be a nutritionist (through private tutors, natch), but I really do think this recipe signals an unhappy way forward for him. Good on him for wanting to make everyone eat better and with more awareness of good nutrition, but what happened to the Joyful Jamie we knew and loved? You know the one: put in a nob of butter here, a few turns of parmesan there, bingo.

This tastes and feels as though the recipe was written by committee. This is not a good thing.

Would we eat it again? Obviously, no. We’ll return to those that call for lashings of butter and cheese. It makes us all happier.


“Tomato Risotto” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Tomato and Basil Salad” from “Happy Salads”


Do I really need a recipe for Tomato and Basil Salad (also known as Carprese salad)? No. I do not.

What I always *do* need, though, is the recipe for salad dressing. No matter how many times I’ve made it, I seem to have some sort of mental block when it comes to the ratio of oil to vinegar. I can never remember it. (Note to self: it’s a 3-to-1 ratio).

I’m cautiously optimistic, however, that after a month of eating salad (and making its dressing) out of “Happy Salads”, that I will remember the ratio in the future. We’ll see.

Needless to say, when I brought this out to the table, Tim asked, “Do you really need a recipe for this salad?” To be fair, it’s one of three recipes on a page called, “3 Ways With Mozzarella,” an effort I can definitely get behind.

For the record, the dressing for this Caprese Salad was 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 small shallot finely diced, and a 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed to a paste. It was good and would work on a number of salads, not just this one.

So you could argue that a recipe for tomato-mozzeralla-basil salad with dressing is a bit superfluous. But if this book is going to cover all the bases for Happy Salads, surely this would be one of them. It’s always a hit.

Would eat again.

“Tomato and Basil Salad” from “Happy Salads”

“Tabbouleh” from “Happy Salads”

IMG_9295Tabbouleh is one of those dishes that evokes very fond memories for me.

Time: Early 90s. Place: Youngstown, Ohio, USA. I was a cub reporter at The Vindicator (best name for a newspaper EVER) and my friend Jeff and I would go grab lunch at a great diner over by the courthouse. My friend Jeff, who had just returned from living in Bethlehem and working for Reuters, urged me to have the tabbouleh for lunch.

“This is a perfect example of it,” he would tell me. “They’ve cut the parsley correctly and there’s loads of it.”

I was young and naive (food wise, and, let’s face it, in every other respect too) but I liked and respected him, so I ordered it. It was the first time I’d ever had Lebanese food. Did I like it? Reader, did I ever. Not only did I like it, I ordered it every time we went to the diner from that time on.

I’ve loved it ever since.

I could have sworn I’ve reviewed a recipe for Tabbouleh before, but I just did a thorough search of the archives and couldn’t find one. I do recall making tabbouleh a few years back and thinking it was a completely laborious process, with all the chopping and such, and I didn’t fancy making it again.

But I can wholly recommend this one. Since the quantity is only for two people, (though I doubled it for the four of us) the amount of chopping of parsley, along with the other ingredients, is not onerous. It’s incredibly straight forward to make. Most important of all, it is delicious.

And I don’t even have to go to Youngstown, Ohio, to have it.

Google Books has indexed Happy Salads, so if you’d like to see the recipe for Tabbouleh, click here. 

“Tabbouleh” from “Happy Salads”

“Kale, Tomato and Lemon Magic One-Pot Spaghetti” from “A Modern Way to Cook”

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Kirstin: I saw this recipe on Anna’s Insta stream and knew I needed to try it out.

Tom: Was it easy as it looked on her video?

Kirstin: It really is a super little recipe. One that you could take all over the world and cook for lunch or dinner.

Miles: I liked the spinach!

Kirstin: Definitely making this one again. And possibly adapting it too, which is always a good sign.

“Kale, Tomato and Lemon Magic One-Pot Spaghetti” from “A Modern Way to Cook”

“Italian Sausage and Chips” with “Torn Tomato Salad” from “Bill’s Italian Food”

Miles and Ella: I love it when you make this!

Kirstin: Really? I thought you didn’t like it.


Miles: I don’t like those seed things on the top.

Kirstin: Oh, the fennel. I’ve put fewer in these time than the recipe calls for. But I’ve kept the chilli in because I love it so.

Tom: I really love it when you make this! I particularly love the tomato marmalade that you serve it with.


Kirstin: Oh yes. It is good, isn’t it? Right, I’ll start making this again,  in that case!

“Italian Sausage and Chips” with “Torn Tomato Salad” from “Bill’s Italian Food”

“Triple Tomato Risotto” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

CBAMRisottoNicholas (10): What is this?

Maureen: Everybody’s favourite: Risotto! What do you think?

Andrew (14): I think the tomato is overpowering, and it takes away from the risotto taste.

Nicholas: I agree. It’s like there’s two tastes that both want attention, and neither is winning.

Tim: I think it’s like a party in my mouth where I don’t know too many people.

Andrew: So it’s sort of awkward.

Nicholas: It sounds like a bad party to me.

Tim: Also, the creamy goodness of a typical risotto doesn’t come through.

Maureen: That’s because there’s no parmesan and butter to finish it off, like I usually do. Mary uses creme fraiche instead, which I think is a bit of a cheat.

Tim: Also, I think the tomatoes are too acidic and the peas don’t add anything.

Maureen: Yes. I am befuddled by the peas. Why add them at all if it’s called a triple tomato risotto? Also, it’s not just tomatoes that are in here, she also uses red peppers, not to mention the peas. I think calling it a garden vegetable risotto would be more accurate.

Tim: I think the peas were there to just add some contrast.

Maureen: So, not a winner then.

Andrew: No. Just make our usual risotto next time.

Maureen: Agreed.

“Triple Tomato Risotto” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

“Onion, Tomato and Pancetta Soup” from “Gino’s Italian Escape”

CBAMSoupOr, in Italian (as it is in the book): Zuppa di Cipolle e Pancetta

Maureen: As you can see, the boys have opted out of this one.

Tim: Why is that?

Nicholas (10): I am just not in the mood for soup. I think I have to be in the right mood so I would like it, and today is not that day.

Andrew (14): I’m with Nicholas. I don’t feel like having soup either. So I’ll have pasta.

Maureen: Well, I think it’s great. Perfect for a blustery autumn day.

Tim: You know what this reminds me of? French onion soup.

Maureen: That’s funny. He says in the introduction it’s his favourite soup recipe EVER and is a variation on an onion soup recipe.

Tim: I really like it.

Maureen: So do I. This could *almost* be a meat-free Monday special if you took out the pancetta, but I think I like having the pancetta in as it gives you a bit of a yummy surprise every few mouthfuls. I’m sure you could make it without the pancetta, but I don’t know if it would be as good.

Tim: Yes, I know what you mean. But it has a lot of onions, so it’s nice to have other things in there as well.

Maureen: I also have to tell you that I added one more can of chopped tomatoes than called for in the recipe. It just looked a little sad to me with just one can in there, so I went for another one. I’m glad I did.

Tim: We should have this again.

Maureen: Agreed. Maybe the boys will be in the mood for it next time, so they can have it too.

Google Books has helpfully catalogued this book, so if you’d like to give this soup a go, you can find the recipe by clicking through this sentence.

“Onion, Tomato and Pancetta Soup” from “Gino’s Italian Escape”

“Spicy Halloumi with Tomato and Coriander Salad” from “Madhouse Cookbook”

Oh halloumi, how I love thee.

It is an odd cheese, to be sure. If you’ve never eaten it before, whatever you do, don’t eat it cold. When cold, it has the consistency (not to mention the slight taste) of rubber. This might also explain that when you buy it, it has a use-by date about a year into the future. It’s made from a combination of sheep and goat milk.

Once you heat it up, you can leave any worries about the cheese behind. Upon heating, either over a grill (preferable) or fried, the once rubbery cheese becomes something else altogether. Unlike almost all other cheeses, it has a very high melting point, which means you can grill or fry without worrying that you’re going to inadvertently make some fondue.

Amid the recent economic troubles of Cyprus, I didn’t worry about how the troubles might hurt the rest of the European economy, but how it might affect my supply of halloumi cheese. Priorities.


So it was with great glee that I found the recipe for spicy halloumi with tomato and coriander salad in the Madhouse Cookbook. Sign me up.

The recipe is from the “Cling On to Your Social Life” chapter and is intended to be a starter for four adults. I halved the recipe and turned it into a lunch for one adult (me).

For this dish, Jo Pratt tells you to marinade the halloumi cheese in olive oil, lemon juice, garam masala and chilli powder. In all my delicious previous encounters with the cheese, I never marinated it, but I was willing to give it a try. The end result was interesting, but I think wholly unnecessary. Halloumi is just as good on its own, though I did appreciate that it was a somewhat different approach than what I normally do with halloumi, which is just throw it on the closest heat source while my mouth waters.

The tomato salad that went with it was simple, but very good. It was a combination of cherry tomatoes, coriander leaves and red onion dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.

Will I have this again for lunch? You bet, especially as I am currently attempting to eat vegetarian for all lunches. Will I go to the trouble of marinating the halloumi? Probably not, but it was a good idea.

Finally, on behalf of all halloumi lovers worldwide, can I just say to the economy of Cyprus: Get better soon.

“Spicy Halloumi with Tomato and Coriander Salad” from “Madhouse Cookbook”

“Spaghetti Bolognaise” from “Virgin to Veteran”

Kirstin: I cooked this all afternoon. First on the hob and then in the oven for a few hours. I was even able to play some football with Miles while it roasted away.

Tom: I always say the longer you cook bolognaise the better it tastes.

Miles: I love this!

Continue reading ““Spaghetti Bolognaise” from “Virgin to Veteran””

“Spaghetti Bolognaise” from “Virgin to Veteran”