Thursday, October 25, 2012


jamie oliver's great britain cover

The English are about as famous for their food as the French are for their music. I'm not saying British food is terrible, just that it has that reputation, especially in North America. But Jamie Oliver's Great Britain (or as I like to think of it, Jamie Oliver presents: Jamie Oliver's Great Britain) is a book that aims to heroicize traditional British foodstuffs, from pub dishes to pies and puddings.

As a cookbook, there is a lot that's problematic about Jamie Oliver's Great Britain. Beth Fish Reads mentioned editing and consistency issues in her review, and those are definitely present. The recipes read like Oliver dictated them into his phone and the person transcribing them couldn't always understand what he was saying. That, added to the fact that most of these recipes require really quite advanced cooking skills, means that the average person isn't going to be making most of the recipes in this book, especially if that person happens to not be British. Would I eat haggis? Wellllll... I might try it, if I was in Scotland. Would I make it myself, from scratch, in middle of the US? No I would not.

That being said, I honestly don't think the point of Jamie Oliver's Great Britain is to be a practical cookbook. Instead, it seems more like a love letter to UK food and culture. There are tons of color images, many of which are only tangentially related to food, giving it a scrapbook feel. And Oliver's focus seems to be more on telling us about the history of each dish and raising awareness of the richness, variety, and character of English (and Welsh, and Irish, and Scottish, etc.) food than giving detailed directions for beginners on how to make it. Even if you never plan on cooking a single dish in Jamie Oliver's Great Britain, if you're any sort of Anglophile, you'll probably still get a lot out of this book. And that's what completely won me over about Jamie Oliver's Great Britain.

As for actual cooking, the most approachable chapters are probably "Vegetables" and "Afternoon Tea." Like many places with short growing seasons, the UK is all about the root vegetables, and there are some fantastic recipes for potatoes here, as well as leeks (yum, love leeks), asparagus, spinach, brussel sprouts, and pretty much all my favorite veggies. "Afternoon Tea" is basically a collection of cake and cookie recipes. I decided to try out the Scottish shortbread recipe, since it only had three ingredients and didn't require that I use the Mixer of Doom.

Scottish Shortbread

--Taken from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain; makes 12 pieces

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 4 tbsp sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
Flavoring options:
Chocolate, orange, & caraway
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 oz good dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
Lavender & honey
  • 2 tbsp lavender honey
  • 2 tbsp lavender sugar (use only 2 tbsp regular sugar when making this version)
Lemon thyme & vanilla
  • 1/2 a small bunch of fresh of lemon thyme, leaves picked
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
Preheat the oven 325 degs F. Mix the flour and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your thumb and forefinger, then add your chosen flavorings (if you're using chocolate or seeds you might want to push these into the dough at the end, after you've rolled it out) and squash, pat and push it into a dough. [Here's what I mean about unclear directions. Is the dough supposed to be the consistency of pie crust or what? I just assumed it was, but I think I still overworked the dough a bit.] Don't knead it, you just want to pat it down flat. Push or roll it out until it's 1/3-inch thick--do this directly on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper so you don't have to move it. Once it's in the shape you want--which could be square, round or a few mall finger shapes--feel free to thumb or pinch the edges. If it splits or tears, just press it back together--but remember, the less you work the dough, the shorter and better these cookies will be.

If you want to score lines on the shortbread so that you click it off into pieces later [total nightmare, fyi], you can. Sprinkle over some sugar, then pop the baking sheet into the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it--you want a lovely light golden color (unless you're making the lavender honey version, which will be darker). Leave to cool, then put away in a tin or serve. These will be delicious for two or three days and make a lovely present for someone special.
And here were my results:

Tasha's Scottish shortbread

These tasted very flowery and were a little flat (but maybe they're supposed to be that way?). Were they blow-my-mind delicious? Nooo. But they were tasty, and pretty easy to make.

As I said, Jamie Oliver's Great Britain might not be the most practical cookbook, but it is a fabulous collection of recipes and culture from the British Isles. By the time I turned the final page on this book, I was totally in love! Definitely something I would consider a keeper and that may, over time, prove to be a treasured cookbook.

Thank you to TLC Booktours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to review! The publishers are also providing a copy of Jamie Oliver's Great Britain to one lucky reader of this blog. To enter to win, please fill out the embedded form below, or go here.


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