06 October 2012

Weekend Cooking: Great Britain by Jamie Oliver

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I've been a fan of Jamie Oliver's no-nonsense approach to cooking for a number of years. I've also greatly admired his campaign to educate people about healthful eating. Thus when I was given a chance to review his new cookbook, Great Britain: 130 of My Favorite British Recipes, from Comfort Food to New Classics, I said yes without hesitation.

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.

Buy Great Britain at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Penguin / Hyperion, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781401324780
Rating: C
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Uniflame 10/6/12, 6:32 AM  

I do like Jamies approach to cooking. Even though he isn't a vegetarian, he is very respectful when it comes to meat. I like that the recipes are marked vegetarian. I will probably check it out from the libraty some time, but I won't buy it.

Meghan 10/6/12, 6:34 AM  

Some of these problems I feel are sort of common with Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. Not the rushing to production, but certainly the lack of practicalities. One of his we use constantly is 30 minute meals, and sometimes, you don't actually want to make all the components of a meal - but separating out the recipes is a real challenge. It's well composed for making the entire thing, but it's not actually all that practical. His recipes are worth it, though.

bermudaonion 10/6/12, 6:39 AM  

I like Jamie's personality and appreciate the fact that he's trying to educate people about healthy eating, but I'm not a fan of most of his recipes.

Chinoiseries 10/6/12, 6:50 AM  

Jamie's cookbooks are always a delight to look at. I've got his Italian cookbook. But unfortunately, while he emphasises honest and local food, his cookbooks are not very suitable for vegetarians.

I'm surprised that this book contains so many errors (probably not that noticeable to the layman's eye than your professional one!). It's not as if he needs to release this book next a new TV show. Or is it?

Perhaps I'll check out this book at my local library. You have made me curious after all!

rhapsodyinbooks 10/6/12, 7:18 AM  

Oh dear, I hope the sloppy editing doesn't apply to ingredient amounts!

Christine 10/6/12, 7:24 AM  

I do so admire Jamie Oliver's mission to educate families on healthy cooking and eating. It's certainly much needed in today's society for sure. I'll keep my eye out for this one at my library and take a look at the recipes--my library does tend to get his cookbooks.

Marg 10/6/12, 7:27 AM  

I liked this book when I read a few months ago, but I must confess I looked at it like a book. I haven't actually cooked much, if anything, out of it! As I looked at my review I noted that there were a few recipes that I said I might try. Might be time to actually get around to that really!

Marg 10/6/12, 7:27 AM  

I liked this book when I read a few months ago, but I must confess I looked at it like a book. I haven't actually cooked much, if anything, out of it! As I looked at my review I noted that there were a few recipes that I said I might try. Might be time to actually get around to that really!

Tina 10/6/12, 7:41 AM  

Wow, I didn't know he had another book out. I am a big fan and have been enjoying an older book of his...that sweet leek pie gets me alot of hits on my cooking blog.

I will be sure to check out Great Britain and am looking forward to the Afternoon Tea and Sunday Lunch sections the most.

caite 10/6/12, 7:49 AM  

I like to watch him on TV, but honestly, I have never been very impressed with his recipes.
At least the look was nice to look at!

Amanda 10/6/12, 7:55 AM  

There was one Rachel Ray cookbook that we got that had similar flaws, making it really difficult to use, when we loved her other recipes. That's sad.

Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook 10/6/12, 8:16 AM  

I really enjoy Jamie's cookbooks and I just use them as a guide sort of so I wouldn't mind some of the issues, which is good because I have already ordered it and it should be here this week. But that sounds like too many errors. Thanks for the heads up!

Joanna Hennon 10/6/12, 8:27 AM  

I like Jamie Oliver but I've looked through this book and not that many recipes appealed to me so I didn't buy it. I think some of his other cookbooks are great though! Shame about the editing mistakes, that sort of thing really bugs me.

Patty 10/6/12, 9:08 AM  

I fear this is the case with most of the otherwise very good cooks. They have to capitalise on their assets to the detriment of the readers. I've now stopped rushing to buy the next book a cook I like publishes, but rather go to the bookstore, have a look and see whether it's still what I want. With regard to J. Oliver, I find he's much better in his TV series than in his books..

Shannon (Giraffe Days) 10/6/12, 11:34 AM  

I love Jamie Oliver and I love that instead of just making money out of being a celebrity chef, he's taken on such big social issues as health and lifestyle - those TV shows and the 15 restaurants are great - but I have a few of his cookbooks (The Naked Chef and, what's it called, the subtitle is Cook Your Way to the Good Life I think - the one that went with the TV show set in the kitchen garden, loved it - and Jamie in Italy), and sometimes his recipes are just a bit too fancy. Which is funny because so many of the dishes he cooks on the shows are so simple! I probably just don't have the "right" cookbooks. ;)

Anyway, when I saw this one I actually didn't have any interest in it precisely because British food is so famous for being so bad! But I hadn't even looked inside it. I think maybe I'd prefer the one, what was it called, that went with the TV show where he taught an entire town to cook - that should have the simpler recipes I like, right? So glad you reviewed this Beth, cheers! (and sorry about the rambling comment!)

Linda 10/6/12, 12:33 PM  

Thank you for your honest assessment of this cookbook. I might still pick it up from the library. I like some of his recipes.

Too Fond 10/6/12, 1:28 PM  

I got a chance to look at this cookbook earlier in the year, as we had a UK-themed mother's day meal in honor of the Olympics being in London this summer. I thought there were some good-looking recipes, although I don't know if it would be a cookbook I'd use regularly.

Unknown 10/6/12, 2:01 PM  

It was interesting to read your thoughts on this book. Do most US cookbooks divide recipes by key meat ingredient? That isn't something we do very often here in the UK. Most of the time things are divided just as Jamie's done or some times seasonally. I haven't seen this book, but I own a few of his other books and enjoy cooking a few things. Can't say any are amongst my favourites though.

Peaceful Reader 10/6/12, 2:16 PM  

I have a food crush on Jaime! I probably don't need this cookbook though. No food writing for me yet today but I'm still in my jammies at noon.

Carole 10/6/12, 2:45 PM  

Hi there. Lovely party as always. I have a bunch of Jamie books but feel he is over exposed now - only so much you can take of anybody. Have a nice week.

Vasilly 10/6/12, 3:19 PM  

This sounds like an interesting read but I would definitely notice the graphic mishaps. I may pick this one up anyway.

Charlie 10/7/12, 7:52 AM  

The overall idea of the book sounds good, so it's a shame it seems rushed to production. Unfortunately he's been somewhat replaced by others here, meaning the good work he was doing has been lost.

Laurie C 10/7/12, 9:04 AM  

I don't watch cooking shows so I don't know who's who except from their published cookbooks, none of which I've actually used, so I feel much better informed after reading your review and everyone's comments!

(Diane) bookchickdi 10/7/12, 11:23 AM  

Oh dear, it does sound like the book was rushed, what a shame. I met Jamie at a book signing in NYC about five years ago, and I was shocked at the number of people, particularly Brits, who were there during the middle of the day. He has a big following, and was eager to talk to everyone waiting in line.

Julie P. 10/7/12, 12:20 PM  

I'm embarrassed to say that I have one of his cookbooks and haven't ever made anything from it. Guess I should pull it off the shelf and try something.

Esme 10/7/12, 1:40 PM  

I have never really looked at his cookbooks carefully. Those sorts of errors drive me crazy. I tend to stay away from the celebratory cookbooks as I wonder if they can really cook or is it hype.

Beth S. 10/7/12, 2:19 PM  

I love Jamie Oliver. I definitely need to check this book out.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours 10/7/12, 3:08 PM  

I like that you can "hear" Oliver's voice when reading this one - that's a quality I appreciate when reading a book by a famous person.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one for the tour!

Gnoe (@graasland) 10/7/12, 3:28 PM  

Thanks for the vegan alert Beth, I guess I don't need to seek this book out! ;)

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 10/7/12, 4:30 PM  

Oh... too bad it's not up to standards. I like Jamie Oliver, and his cookbooks too. I'll get this one from the library and see if I like it.

Becky 10/7/12, 4:58 PM  

I've been a fan of Jamie Oliver's for a really long time as well. In fact, for almost 15 years now. I'm glad you featured him!

Joy Weese Moll 10/7/12, 7:15 PM  

Thanks for the review! I think I'll have a good time looking at this one from the library.

Jen Greyson 10/7/12, 11:16 PM  

My little brother is a chef in Colorado, and he turned me on to The Naked Chef. I really like Jamie's approach to cooking, and though I don't always do a great job of cooking healthy, I can manage to cook us dinner at least 80% of the time....most weeks :)

This sounds like my next cookbook!

Heidenkind 10/8/12, 2:01 AM  

I'm about half way through this book, and I've noticed similar problems. It's very difficult to find recipes for a single ingredient.

Belle Wong 10/8/12, 12:43 PM  

Ward will be happy to know the index marks which courses are vegetarian or vegan, although it's too bad there aren't more vegetarian main courses. We've got tickets to go see Jamie talk when he comes on tour here in Toronto in a couple of weeks - we'll each get a copy of this cookbook, which will be nice! It's too bad about the layout and design making some pages not easily readable. We've experienced that with some other cookbooks in the past, too. It does sound like a great cookbook for reading, though!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) 11/4/12, 11:15 PM  

I don't have cable or satellite, so I've never watched one of Jamie's shows and I wasn't familiar with him as a chef. But I had a lot of fun with this cookbook. Although, my husband is British, so that might have something to do with it! I thought it was a delightful read. And for all my learning to cook my husband's favorite meals, I'd never done Cornish Pasties before and so I prepared those. They were a hit. I did think that it was geared to experienced, rather than novice cooks and the British terms could definitely confuse people!

2 Kids and Tired Books

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