The Meal Planner

I remember watching Jamie Oliver as a teenager as "The Naked Chef" and loving his cool personality and simple approach to cooking. His good looks and charming ways had me glued to the t.v. watching "Oliver's Twist" and his myriad of shows that would later follow. Since he began his t.v. chef career as an early twenty-something, it has been interesting to watch him grow and mature as a person which has translated to his food. Instead of these hip dinner parties he used to throw for friends with trendy food, his recipes have taken on a different mindset.

It is obvious in Jamie's Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook that his growing family has made him passionate about sharing good food with loved ones and making lasting memories around the dinner table. His goal is to get everyone cooking, no matter their ability, to throw great dinner parties, family occasions and everyday meals that are remembered and cherished.

When browsing through this cookbook to mark recipes I wanted to try, my list kept growing and growing and growing. This book is filled with full-pages of beautiful photography accompanying almost all the recipes, as well as photos of Jamie eating dinners with friends and family. He still maintains his "cool vibe" with hand-drawn pictures and messy handwriting marking the chapters. There were so many mouthwatering recipes to try, I found it hard to limit myself.

With recipes like The Ultimate Burger and Chips this cookbook gives you familiar favorites, with new additions and twists that will have your family begging for more. Full of warm spices this juicy burger patty is restaurant worthy yet served in your own backyard. His technique for making oven fries has completely changed my own kitchen habits, as I now parboil my potato wedges and preheat my pan in the oven as Jamie teaches in this recipe, producing oven fries that are so crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.

Many of Jamie's recipes had me exclaiming "that's the best potato salad I've ever made!", "that's the best tomato sauce I've ever made!" and "that's the best dang roasted chicken I've ever made!" Jamie has such an amazing grasp of flavor pairings and combination's throughout this cookbook, ones I wasn't even sure about until I had tried them, like Lamb with Chickpeas, Yogurt and Pan-Roasted Veg. In that recipe he convinced me I like turnips and butternut squash!

But just to be clear, it wasn't all daisies and roses for me. This Spanish Chickpea and Chorizo Soup had me smacking my lips as I read through the ingredients; chorizo sausage, garlic, tomatoes, prosciutto, chickpeas and spinach...oh my. I could hardly wait to try it. Sadly it was a total flop. The flavors didn't meld as harmoniously as I would have liked and the addition of the one pound of fresh spinach right at the beginning of the cooking time wasn't jiving for me. Simmering spinach for 40 minutes until it completely disintegrates and turns an awful shade of sludgy brown is not my idea of delicious. What further wrecked it for me was pureeing the mixture, so instead of eating nice chunky sausage and chickpea soup, it was a mushy brown mess...with hardboiled eggs crumbled over the top. My culinary friend Tara assures me that when she makes this soup her family loves it, so I'm really not sure where this recipe went wrong for me. Oh wait I was boiling the heck out of the spinach! It baffles me that Jamie doesn't fold in the delicate spinach right at the end of the cooking time with the heat off to gently wilt the spinach and preserve it's color.

There were also some clear flaws in the writing of this book. While Jamie's introduction clearly states he wants everyone to get in the kitchen to cook for their families, his instructions are not clearly written making this a difficult book for a beginner to cook from. From his very vague instructions like "...fry the eggs until set giving you a nice little omelette" to the completely confusing missing ingredients fiasco. Jamie writes like a chef to homecooks who know their way around the kitchen with ambiguous measurements like "a handful of this" as well as utilizing unspecific cooking times and temperatures. This wouldn't go far in instilling confidence in an inexperienced cook. I consider myself pretty seasoned in my kitchen and only found his vagueness slightly annoying when cooking the dinner recipes, but was completely lost when I ventured into the unfamiliar territory of baking. His Toffee Apple Tart wasn't explicit for a newb like me and I found it difficult to achieve success.

These flaws are only a minimal deterrent for me, as I found the layout of this book and the flavor combination's wonderful. With a chapter titled "The Top Ten" I bookmarked almost every single one of these recipes, and with "Five Minute Wonders" Jamie's really paying attention to the busy working parent or person who still wants to eat great food but stay out of the fast food lane. One chapter I especially loved was "Family Tree" as Jamie shows you how to prepare one great parent recipe and then gives you ideas and recipes for lots of other applications of it. I first made his Simple Tomato Sauce and served it over tagliatelle and it was simple and wonderful. I also tried this same sauce as a base for baking Italian Sausages and then tossing with fresh basil at the end, which our whole family couldn't get enough of. I found myself dreaming of this sauce and drooling over the pictures of Jamie's other possibilities, so I later made chicken breasts baked in the tomato sauce and smothered in mozzarella, olives and torn fresh basil (fabulous by the way). I loved how explicit he was in devising other plans for the parent recipes instead of using the canned phrase "there's so much you can do with this, the possibilities are endless!" Because he gives 5-10 other recipe ideas, it really gets the wheels turning so you CAN come up with your own possibilities.

Jamie's mission to help create family favorite recipes and lasting memories around the dinner table was completely fulfilled in my house. I was able to make Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Potato Salad and Rosemary Marmalade Ham for a birthday dinner with rave reviews from my extended family members, and Tender and Crisp Chicken Legs with Sweet Tomatoes for my very grateful Mother-in-Law on Mother's Day. I served my dad Spanish Roast Chicken when he visited this summer and he promptly asked me for the recipe and went home and made it for my brother. Our little family has enjoyed Chorizo and Tomato Frittata on busy weeknights, and we've also shared delicious recipes like Roasted Chicken & Potatoes with Rosemary and Lemon with friends who unexpectedly drop in for dinner.
Jamie's Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook definitely delivers if you are looking for phenomenal flavors to share with and impress the ones you love.

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2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with you on the spinach! What a weird thing to put it in first. It should be the very last just before serving ingredient! I wonder if you'd like it more that way? And unblended and more like a stew?

    Did you hear about how mr. Oliver has been changing the menus at school cafeterias to provide delicious healthy fresh cooking for kids? All because he had kids and realized what they were eating at school? I love it. So amazing!

    Now I really want that cookbook...

  2. The funny thing is the spinach wasn't the first time that happened. Jamie did that a few times with his recipes. Like the Tender and Crisp Chicken Legs he has you add the whole basil leaves to bake in the oven for an hour and a half! They completely lose their color and flavor. But I do agree with you that if it was left unpureed and the spinach stirred in at the end it has the potential to be a really good chunky stew.

    Yes I've definitely heard about his amazing endeavors with school cafeterias. As a teacher, I haven't been in schools that had cafeterias, but I have seen what kids bring to school in their lunches. Tons of sugary processed snacks! Pure garbage. One boy I taught in grade 2 brought a pizza, a 100g bag of chips and a 600ml pop for lunch. He was a student with absolutely terrible grades and couldn't concentrate to save his life....Ummm mom and dad? YOU are the culprit. It's ridiculous. Any strides we can make to educate parents and get kids eating better I'm all for it.