A review of Jamie’s Dinners by Jamie Oliver

Clearly the impact of having a family has had a positive influence on Jamie Oliver and there is no hint of the dilettante about Jamie’s dinners. The food tastes superb, is easy to cook, is child friendly (really!), is nice enough to serve to visiting royalty (assuming you’ve got access to good ingredients), and is reasonably healthy. There’s not much more that a person could want from a cookbook.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Jamie’s Dinners
By Jamie Oliver
Penguin
RRP: $A39.95, ISBN: 0141015756, Paperback, 336pp, July 2006
http://www.jamiesdinners.com/

Yes, it’s another celebrity chef cookbook, but like his gorgeous compatriot Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks are always reason to celebrate. Although he doesn’t have anything like the literary nous of Nigella (in fact he has been reported as saying he never ever reads), Jamie has created his own culinary niche. His cooking has always been promoted as ‘naked,’ or rather, simple, unadorned, based on good ingredients and simple techniques rather than fancy sauces and difficult constructions. He calls everyone (even visiting ladies) “mate,” slides down banisters, flirts with old women, and has enough photos of himself in each cookbook to fill a glossy magazine spread. He uses streetwise, casual terms to describe his food like “pukka tukka,” and “lovely jubly,” and invites everyone round for a feed. There’s no denying that his food traverses the line between culinary and easy, and that he has inspired young people around the English speaking world to don aprons, buy mortar and pestle sets, sharp knives, and get cooking. In this latest cookbook, Jamie goes a step further, and positions the cookbooks as a guide for cooking simple, regular, easy family meals. The focus is on teaching basic cooking skills while still allowing for impressive output that the whole family is prepared to eat, and the book fulfils its promise. The recipes are really simple. The food is really good. And the focus is truly family oriented. After all, Jamie is now a family man himself and his interests in ensuring that kids go off to school with good quality food in their lunchboxes and eat healthy breakfasts each morning and solid dinners each evening is not just theoretical. Nor is the notion that cooking for families often means quick, simple, and cheap.

The book opens with Jamie’s top ten dinners, including things like sausage and mash, burgers and chips, lasagne, jacket potatoes with fillings (spud-u-likes as we call them in our house), apple pie, roast chicken, fish and chips with mushy peas, chicken pie, chicken tikka masala, tomato soup, chicken tikka masala – you get the idea. It’s the kind of food you could probably stomach most evenings (though perhaps a little on the stodgy side, even with Jamie’s special seasonings), and the kind of food you probably love too. Of course every ingredient is fresh–the tomato soup leaves Campbell’s for dead, which is, of course, the whole point—and there are plenty of herbs, personal tips, and suggestions for variations. The rest of the book has been designed to be versatile, especially the innovative Family Tree chapter. This chapter contains 5 very basic recipes for pesto, tomato sauce, shoulder of lamb, stewed fruit and a way of using bought puff pastry (thank god Jaime didn’t suggest we make it – I might have been tempted to try again). But each of these dishes becomes the basis for many more using the basic ingredient to create a whole range of different dishes. Once you’ve mastered it, you won’t think of recipes in quite the same way, since any base has the potential to be used this way, so this chapter is quite an eye opener, especially for someone how hasn’t done much cooking.

5 Minute Wonders contains 8 dishes which can be made in less than 5 minutes, and have been included to show the person who claims they simply don’t have time to cook, that they truly can. Again, and as is the case with all of the book, the real value of the chapter isn’t the recipes per se, although they are all good enough to serve to guests, but the way they change perception. Of course you have to have the ingredients: good filet, fresh fish, chorizo sausage, pak choi and oriental noodles, but it might be easier to pick them up on the way home from work than to pick up a takeaway and the end result is so much better that your local may lose your business.

Other chapters contain fresh lunches (perfect for kids who are sandwich jaded, although I’m not sure how my son will react to Crispy Peking Duck in Pancakes), gorgeous and fast salads (I tried the Carrot and Coriander Crunch Salad and it was as delicious as it was easy), soups, vegetables with 3 options for each veg, pasta, meat dishes, fish, and desserts based primarily around fruit, although there are also a couple of very rich tarts.

While there is an element of the classic in the recipes Jamie includes (after all, everyone knows how to cook burgers and chips don’t they?), and everything is easy peasy, there is a little innovative twist in every single recipe that makes it unique and particularly delicious. It might be the inclusion of a certain herb or spice, or the technique like tray baking, or the use of foil wrapping or the combinations Jamie uses like mixing ratatouille with white fish or adding mozzarella and red wine vinegar to macaroni cheese (it really works), but everything is original and new despite being utterly familiar. The book ends with some information about making your kitchen work better. This is really a terrific cookbook. Clearly the impact of having a family has had a positive influence on Jamie Oliver and there is no hint of the dilettante about Jamie’s dinners. The food tastes superb, is easy to cook, is child friendly (really!), is nice enough to serve to visiting royalty (assuming you’ve got access to good ingredients), and is reasonably healthy. There’s not much more that a person could want from a cookbook.

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