24 December 2016

Weekend Cooking: Good Taste by Jane Green

Let me say right off the bat that this was a difficult review to write. Although I've never met her, I like Jane Green and I respect her culinary background (some training at the International Culinary Center) and her fiction-writing skills.

Green's beautiful cookbook, Good Taste, was originally published as a Kickstarter project but was later picked up by NAL for sale and distribution to all of the author's fans. As the introduction says, not every recipe is Green's, and she has done her best to properly credit the recipes she discovered online or that were given to her.

Let's start with all the good. The photography (by Tom McGovern) is stunning. Not only do we see the finished dishes but we're offered a window into Green's kitchen, home, and property. From gorgeous place settings to mouth-watering food to beautiful landscapes, I enjoyed just looking through Good Taste.

The recipes are geared to family and friends and relaxed entertaining. I was attracted to the warming soups, an easy curry, and a variety of savory tarts and quiches. The desserts include a number of chocolate treats and few are even gluten free.

Many recipes are introduced with a personal story from Green: a family trip to the Bahamas, the origin of a grandmother's braised chicken recipe, a quick main dish that her kids love, and how a delicious soup was created out of what was left in the refrigerator. I felt like I got to know Green better through these short pieces.

But what about the recipes themselves? Ah, well, here is where I begin to have issues. I am a good cook and an experienced cook and can figure out how to make almost anything from the scantiest of directions. But, of course, the bulk of today's home chefs need a little more help. Unfortunately, they aren't going to find it in Good Taste.

For example, most recipes don't mention heat levels or pan sizes. "Heat olive oil in pan and add onions, softening." Am I sauteing, sweating, or stir-frying these onions? Should I make sure they don't take on any color? What kind (and size) pan? Skillet or saucepan? On high heat or medium heat?

In other cases, the ingredient list is vague, calling for a bag of frozen vegetables (what size?) or "8 sausages, preferably pork" (links or patties? how many pounds? plain or seasoned?). Some ingredients are oddly listed: Are "2 cups ground beef" equal to a pound? Most people buy meat by weight rather than dry measure.

Finally, doneness tests are often missing. Cooking "until done" isn't very helpful if you aren't experienced enough to simply know when a dish is done. "Bake 10 minutes" isn't helpful if your oven temperature is a bit off. Again, if you're not a veteran in the kitchen, you might not see success by blindly following the given time with no other hint (such as until brown or until bubbly).

Back to the good and a recommendation. If you are confident cook and don't depend heavily on recipes, you'll find a lot to love about Jane Green's Good Taste. I made and liked a chicken dish and have my eye on a tomato tart and a crustless quiche. I heard good things about the chocolate banana cake, but I haven't tried it yet (no pan size given, no doneness test; though I suspect from the photo it's an 8-inch cake pan and a toothpick test should tell me it's done).

If you're a Jane Green fan, Good Taste will be a must-have for the stories and photos alone. But if you're an unsure home chef looking for a reliable cookbook that will help you put together a successful meal for casual entertaining, I suggest you give this one pass or at least check it out from the library before buying. Note too that pretty much everyone on GoodReads loved Good Taste, though I'm not sure how many people actually cooked from it.

A note on the photos: The images in this post were scanned from Good Taste by Jane Green and were used in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder.

Published by NAL, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780399583377
Source: review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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rhapsodyinbooks 12/24/16, 7:23 AM  

Wow, pretty surprising omissions for an experienced cook!

Vicki 12/24/16, 7:27 AM  

I'm interested in checking this book out if my library has it, you have me wanting to see the photos and read the stories. I'll have to see about trying a recipe though.

bermudaonion 12/24/16, 7:47 AM  

Yeah, I've had similar experiences with cookbooks put out by celebrities so I tend to avoid them.

Mae Travels 12/24/16, 8:20 AM  

Ok, you convinced me to avoid this book! Pretty pictures are fine but...

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Jackie McGuinness 12/24/16, 8:42 AM  

I am an experienced cook like you so would probably be ok with the book. However, I am in the habit of buying cookbooks for my nieces and nephews some of whom are just learning to cook, so I wouldn't buy it for any of them.

Merry Christmas!

Katherine P 12/24/16, 10:14 AM  

I'm surprised with the lack of detail on the instructions. I'm a reasonably experienced cook but all that guesswork seems like it would be troublesome. I'll have to get this from the library just to look through it though!

Claudia 12/24/16, 10:15 AM  

I might see if the library has it, as you say for the photography at least. Perhaps the food was just meant to be an inspiration, rather than a cook book:)

Esme 12/24/16, 10:51 AM  

That sounds rather frustrating for a cookbook. Merry Christmas Beth to you and your family. xo Esme

Tina 12/24/16, 10:53 AM  

I am a fan of Jane Green as well but this isn't a book I would purchase. Many "celebrity" cookbooks have disappointed me in the past for reasons similar to what you mentioned.

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! 12/24/16, 11:23 AM  

Merry Christmas to you and yours! Thank you for a wonderful year of information, friendship and sharing.

Deb in Hawaii 12/24/16, 11:27 AM  

The book does sound lovely to look through--even if not practical. I had to laugh a little when I saw your mention of the chocolate banana cake. I reviewed one of her books (Promises to Keep) several years ago which ended its chapters with recipes and made the Chocolate Banana Cake from it. I went back and looked at my post and the instructions were really vague--I made it into cupcakes. It was good though! ;-)

Margot 12/24/16, 6:57 PM  

That's very disappointing.from such a well known cook. Thanks for letting me know. Happy holidays to you and Mr. BFR.

Carole 12/25/16, 12:22 PM  

It's Boxing Day here - so we are recovering from a food overload! Wishing you a lovely festive season. Cheers from Carole's CHatter

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