Every Sunday, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
If you know anything about Jamie Oliver, aka The Naked Chef, you will have a good idea of what to expect from his most recent book “Cook Your Way to the Good Life.” The guy who champions a non-processed diet isn’t going to give you anything but healthy, local foods and that is exactly what he delivers.
A stroll through the garden
Almost every single recipe in this book is inspired by things that Jamie has in his garden. And while I’ve obviously never been to his garden, I sort of feel like I have now. Fresh produce guides his cooking decisions and it really comes through in the book. As he says in the intro:
“I’ve been incredibly inspired to come up with cracking new recipes for this book – not based on different celebrations and themes, but simply on whatever ingredients have been popping up in the garden.”
What’s in season?
If you are writing a book based on garden ingredients, organization by season only makes sense. Jamie’s goal is to show what foods are in season throughout the year and also how to make absolutely delicious things with those ingredients. One problem with this approach is that it leads to some lop-sided chapters, but that’s the price you pay I guess for seasonal cooking. His summer chapter, includes whole sections on barbecue, climbing peas, strawberries, and a lot more. The chapter spans a whopping 172 pages. Meanwhile, all the other chapters are around 60 pages.
In each chapter, Jamie breaks down the chapter by ingredient or style of cooking. You’ll find a subsection on barbecue, but also on squash. The subsections are helpful in that they give you a glimpse of what you are going to find in each seasonal chapter. Some of my favorite subsections because of their uniqueness were rhubarb, cabbage family, pickles, and winter veg.
By my watch today is the first day of Winter, my favorite season (joke!). In Jamie’s short but wonderful chapter on winter cooking you’ll find just five subsections: leeks, pastry, squash, winter salads, and winter veg. They all have some great recipes. As I look out my window and see yet another dreary DC day, I especially would like the Steak, Guinness and cheese pie with a puff pastry lid or maybe the Superb squash soup with the best Parmesan croutons. While it is a short chapter, there is some solid stuff in here.
Summer is the season
It should go with out saying that if you are writing a cookbook based around a garden and around seasonal cooking, the Summer chapter better wow me. And this one definitely does. Flipping through this chapter will get you excited for Summer even if you don’t have a garden. All of the recipes in it are fresh and lovely and would be great for a hot summer day. I want to make pretty much every recipe in this chapter, but a few jumped out at me as being especially delicious and original: Beautiful zucchini carbonara, English onion soup with sage and cheddar, and The Pizza Bomba (homemade fried pizza balls filled with pizza stuff – yum).
Growing a Garden
One of the pleasant surprises of this book is that after every subsection in the book Jamie gives a page of explanation on how to grow that thing. These pages are invaluable if you ever aspire to have your own garden. Even if you don’t, he gives tons of helpful hints about how to tell when vegetables are ready to pick or buy. This way you can be sure to only buy the freshest ingredients if you are shopping in a market.
This book made me wish I could have a garden, but living in a third floor apartment makes that pretty difficult. I do try to keep some herbs growing, but I won’t be growing any rhubarb anytime soon. Regardless, I found these parts of the book very interesting.
Focusing on local
Jamie does a good job in this book making the point that you don’t have to look far and wide for inspiration in the kitchen. No matter where you live, there are going to be local ingredients that you can turn into a fabulous meal. If you focus on the local stuff and learn how to cook with those things, you will be handsomely rewarded with healthy meals and “The Good Life.”
Cook Your Way to the Good Life would be a fantastic book for you if you care about using more local stuff. While the recipes are awesome, they are obviously local to him. So you might have a hard time finding some of the things he uses. That said, the book did a great job of getting me excited about exploring things local to me. If you have a similar itch to explore your local food scene or, even better, start your own garden, this would be a great book for your library.