Talking about a food revolution

Supplements editor Holly Tousignant tests out celebrtiy chef Jamie Oliver’s cookbook Jamie’s Food Revolution

Photos By Christine Blais

Last week, against my better judgement, I decided to cook one recipe from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook Jamie’s Food Revolution every day for seven days.

When I told people about my project, the response I most often got was “Oh, like in that Julie and Julia movie?” To which I would reply, “No, nothing like in the movie,” the key difference being that food blogger Julie Powell could actually cook before beginning her project, while I seem to have inherited my dad’s talent for cooking a mean grilled cheese and not much else (sorry, dad).

The aim of the project was to serve as a possible inspiration for other wannabe foodies out there who, despite their best efforts, never quite got the hang of cooking. At the very least, I hoped my misadventures would prove entertaining to those who, unlike myself, don’t have any trouble cooking the most basic of meals.

I decided on Jamie’s Food Revolution simply because it was the most prominently displayed book in the cooking section. Other titles included those by fellow television chefs Gordon Ramsey and Rachel Ray, who have become an important part of contemporary pop culture, much like cooking show pioneer Julia Child.

Oliver’s book seemed at times a bit preachy, lamenting in the introduction the “rise of obesity,” and using the phrase “pass it on” at least a dozen times. It’s based on Oliver’s television show of the same name, which I’ve never seen but which I can imagine includes Oliver saying “pass it on” a lot.

The “pass it on” pledge involves learning a recipe from each chapter of the book and passing it on “to at least two people (preferably four).” I only learned seven recipes from three chapters, but I think passing it on to thousands of people via the Journal has to count for something.

So without further ado, here are the results of my cookbook challenge. Warning: the following is not for the faint of heart (or stomach).

Day One Frozen fruit smoothies

Most people would probably not consider smoothie-making to be actual cooking per se, but I thought I would start as simple as possible and go from there. The recipe called for a banana, quick cook oats, natural yogurt, mixed nuts, soy milk, fat free milk or apple juice and the frozen fruit of your choice. The directions really only called for blending the ingredients together, so there was very little work to be done. The smoothies looked promising as I poured them into glasses, but after a few sips I noticed that the most overpowering taste was the nuts and oats rather the fruit. I used my dad as my guinea pig for this recipe, and he said the smoothies tasted “healthy,” which isn’t exactly a compliment, but he finished his own glass and mine so I’m assuming he must have liked it.

Day Two

Fried eggs I decided again to go with something embarrassingly easy (or so I thought). The recipe called for me to drown a few eggs in the pan in a half inch of oil olive and add some salt and pepper. Not a single one of the four eggs I used retained its perfect fried egg shape for very long, and eventually they all sort of blended together to create one big egg blob. Directions on how not to create an egg blob would have been useful, but I’m guessing that’s a skill people either have or don’t have. My dad said the eggs tasted rubbery, but in a good way. I’m not sure the finished product could really be classified as fried eggs, but it was somewhat tasty (so long as you didn’t look at it). Day Three

Classic Tomato Spaghetti This recipe was also pretty basic, calling for dried spaghetti, a fresh chilli, olive oil, fresh basil, a can of diced tomatoes, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and parmesan cheese. It was quite simple to make and actually tasted rather delicious. My housemate was also a fan, eating a full bowl and then heating up the leftovers the next day for lunch. This is definitely one I’ll be making again.

Day Four

Tomato and basil omelette I went into the preparations for my omelette full of confidence after the success of my spaghetti. Prep for the omelette was quick and simple, but as soon as the eggs hit the pan they started to sizzle and turn brown, prompting me to frantically stir them around, thus turning my omelette into scrambled eggs. I still maintain that this was the fault of our super cheap pan and not indicative of my bad cooking skills. This theory is backed up by my housemate, who decided to try the recipe for herself and also ended up with slightly brownish scrambled eggs. We both agreed that this was another creation that tasted good despite looking rather inedible.

Day Five Cauliflower cheese soup

I was looking forward to this seemingly simple recipe, which called for carrots, celery, onions, garlic, olive oil, chicken or vegetable broth, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, cheddar cheese, mustard and of course, cauliflower. Everything seemed to be going great while making it, until I read one of the final directions: “Using an immersion blender or liquidizer, pulse the soup until silky smooth.” Had I read all the directions first or paid attention to the pictures (which show the soup being blended), I would have realized that the blending was a crucial part of the soup-making process. A few hours later I was able to get a hold of a blender, but the finished, blended product was quite thick and greenish-brown, in contrast to the smooth, creamy yellow soup pictured in the book. It wasn’t entirely disgusting, but it wasn’t great either, and I decided against forcing any friends or family to taste-test this one.

Day Six

Banana and cinnamon oatmeal

Feeling dejected in the wake of my less than stellar soup, I decided to make oatmeal for day six, which I figured would be pretty fool-proof. Oh, how wrong I was. The oatmeal was indeed quick and easy to make, calling for sliced bananas, poppy seeds and maple syrup to be added a couple minutes before the oatmeal was finished. The recipe also called for toasted sliced almonds, which I attempted to toast myself but accidentally forgot about and thus burnt, but foolishly decided to add anyways. This gave the oatmeal a distinctive burnt flavour, which was really the only taste it had. I soon realized that I had forgotten to add cinnamon as the recipe dictated, but upon doing so the oatmeal went from bland to downright revolting. The friend I had invited over to sample my creation thought I was exaggerating until I gave her a bite, which she promptly spat out.

Day Seven

Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake Since my biggest success of the week so far had been with my spaghetti, I decided to go with another pasta dish for my final creation. The same friend that had been victim to my oatmeal asked to cook with me, probably to prevent a repeat of the inedible mess from the day before. The recipe called for cauliflower, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, fresh parsley, sea salt, dried macaroni and sour cream. The directions asked us to place the cheese and parsley in a heat-proof bowl to be placed over the boiling water with the macaroni in it, which my friend and co-chef took to mean placing the bowl in the boiling water. I totally disagreed with this, based only on the pictures in the book and not on any personal knowledge of how such things are done. The cheese melted quickly (albeit a bit unevenly), and the finished meal tasty enough to prompt my friend to take seconds. We decided not to broil the pasta (due to a lack of a big enough casserole dish), so it was more of creamy pasta than a cheese bake, but by this point I had really given up being picky.

I can’t say I regret taking on the challenge, even if some of my results were less than desirable. I was able to find about half of the ingredients at home or at my parents’ house, and spent about $50 buying the rest from the grocery store. It certainly didn’t revolutionize the way I cook and eat like Oliver may have intended, but I definitely plan to use the book again, and maybe even “pass it on” to a few friends.

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