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Unfortunately, I had a mixed reaction to this cookbook. In addition, the good and the bad are kind of tangled up with each other, making this a difficult review to write. But enough about that, let me get on with it.
Great Britain is a beautiful book to look through. The low-gloss paper and full-page, well-composed photos make it a pleasure to read. The design includes fun colors, artsy fonts, and eye-grabbing graphics. However, that makes a few of the pages (the introduction, the chapter openers, and a handful of recipes) difficult to read. For example, the introduction is set in all capital letters.
Oliver compiled the recipes to demonstrate that England has outgrown its bad reputation for being the land of uninteresting food and overcooked vegetables. And indeed the modern dishes are appealing: potato scones topped with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, a beautiful spicy chicken salad with a yogurt dressing, and peppered steak with wild mushrooms all look wonderful.The classic recipes, such as bubble and squeak, braised cabbage, and savory pasties, find a home here too.
The trouble comes with the way the recipes are organized. The chapters are arranged in such a way that you can't easily turn to, say, pork recipes, because they are scattered among four different chapters. On the other hand, the arrangement makes for more interesting reading. The chapter titles include "Pub Grub," "New British Classics," "Afternoon Tea," and "Sunday Lunch" as well as more traditional titles such as "Breakfasts" and "Soups."
The book is written in Oliver's familiar easygoing style. The text is informal and is punctuated with bits of British slang, and you can almost hear Oliver's voice. At the same time, the informality makes for some less-than-helpful directions. For example, in one recipe we're told to saute until perfectly cooked but are given no hints as to how we can tell when that happens.
I think the most disappointing thing for me is that the book appears to have been rushed to press. There several issues that really bother me but will likely go unnoticed by the general user. First are the design flaws, which are manifest in some inconsistencies in terms of size of fonts, page layout, and missing graphics. Second are the editing errors. I found some optional ingredients that weren't listed at the top of the recipe, lack of doneness guides, inconsistent abbreviations, and some odd directions (for example, braising cabbage on the stovetop in a roasting pan instead of in a large skillet).
Despite all those negatives, though, I did think the directions themselves are easy to follow, and I'm sure home cooks will have no trouble finding success. Cookbook collectors and those interested in reading about British food can look forward to many hours of enjoyable reading.
Vegetarian/Vegan alert: The index of the book clearly marks all the vegetarian dishes. It seems that half the recipes are vegetarian (fewer vegan). But when you look closely, you'll find they are for soups, salads, sides, and desserts. There are few if any main dish meals for you.
Photo credits: Photos copyright David Loftus; from the cookbook and courtesy of the publisher and TLC Tours.
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Published by Penguin / Hyperion, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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