Jamie Oliver: Jamie's Dinners
A Good Cookbook? Yes. A Frustrating Cookbook? Also Yes.
I'm torn about how to review this book; on the one hand, I really enjoyed cooking out of it and usually had good results from the recipes. On the other hand, the book caused a lot of head-scratching, eyeballing, and guessing in order to produce the food, and that's not usually what I'm looking for in a cookbook.
The positives first: Jamie Oliver is exuberant in the kitchen, and that sense of fun spills over in his recipes. He's got an excellent feel for ingredients and how to combine them, and the flavors in his recipes are strong and self-assured. The "Five Minute Wonders" chapter is an outstanding idea: quick dinners that can be assembled with a minimum of prep and cooking, but with delicious results. I tried several of these recipes, and they were nearly all wonderful, creative ideas for easy weekday meals. I'd make all of them again.
The book also has a chapter of "Family Tree" recipes. I made the Stewed Fruit master recipe, and although I had some trouble with the sloppy technique, the flavors were good and I'd make the recipe again. Other "Family Tree" recipes, such as tomato sauce or pesto, also sound good, and I plan to go back to Jamie's Dinners at some point to try them out. Other dishes that I tried, such as Chicken Tikka Masala and Vanilla Risotto were also good, but not without some difficulties.
Which leads me to what I don't like about this cookbook: Jamie Oliver leaves a ton of mental work up to the reader. He's fond of specifying ingredient amounts by the "wineglass" or "handful" or "knob." He also tends to not specify what size pan you might want to use, or what temperature on the stove you might want to cook things. I believe the intention of the book is to appeal to novices as well as experienced cooks; there's a short chapter at the end with kitchen tips in it, containing advice like, "Keep your pantry well stocked with nonperishables" and "Freezers and microwaves are essential for the modern household." Pretty basic stuff, so I assume that Oliver doesn't think it's just other professional chefs who will be cooking from his book. But his lackadaisical attitude towards technique and ingredients can be baffling and intimidating. Encouraging creativity in the kitchen is a wonderful thing, and I'm all for it. But it doesn't stir my creative juices to wonder what size baking dish to cook the fruit crumble in. It just makes me frustrated that Oliver couldn't be bothered to give me such a basic piece of information.
The book has a lot of recipes in it, and I've barely scratched the surface in my tests. I'll definitely come back to Jamie's Dinners again. But I'll always read the recipes carefully to make sure I know exactly how much, and what size, and how hot? Because a lot of the time in this book, you're entirely on your own when it comes to the details.