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Jamie's America: Easy Twists on Great American Classics, and More
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I've been a fan of Jamie Oliver's cooking since his early "Naked Chef" days, and have enjoyed many of his recipes. Though I don't own every one of his cook books (most of them, though, as well as his iPhone app, which I really like!), I really thought the concept of this one sounded interesting. So I gifted this to myself for the holidays. I absolutely love the variety of the recipes in this book! You find classics like the "Waldorf Salad", Chicken noodle soup (lovingly called "Jewish Penicillin" in the book - so good that my husband and kids have already requested me to make this one three times in the 1+ week I've had this book!), "Deep-Pan Pizza" (delicious!), or pork ribs (haven't tried them yet, but his rub and BBQ sauce sound delicious!). He even has some desserts strewn in there ("Peach Cobbler", "Chocolate Rocky Road", "Velvet Cupcakes", or "Peach Ice Cream", for example).
But then you also find these great region specific recipes ("Collard greens, turnips & pork", or "Southern Pecan & Apple Salad" - doesn't that just scream "Southern" to you?). I can't wait to try one of his Gumbo recipes, his "Cajun Blackened Fish Steaks", and am even debating to get myself some alligator meat once the hunting season starts up again just so I can try his "Cajun Alligator with sweet potato & salsa" (though I may end up substituting the alligator tail for chicken breast).
There is one recipe per double page, with the actual recipe on one side, and at least a picture of the finished dish on the opposite. I enjoy the fact that Jamie Oliver wrote a small introduction to every recipe, and has strewn some stories and pictures in from his travel through the country. (I have not found this to be too political, btw.) The recipes are not very difficult to follow (as usual), taste great (I tend to use recipes as a starting point, varying them to my/my family's taste), and he has added wine suggestions for most of the recipes. All in all, this book makes a great addition to his other cook books. This time, though, I think there is a lot more variety to his recipes, than there has been in previous books. I guess you could say that Jamie cooks his way through the diverse American cuisine tastefully, and I will gladly follow.
It's a beautifully produced book with terrific pictures (except for the 85 -- count 'em -- annoying photos of Jamie Oliver popping up everywhere like a self-satisfied Flat Stanley wistfully staring at the horizon). The recipes I've cooked have been his usual high standard for abundant flavor. The Astoria Soup has been the best, but I threw in some chopped lamb to give it more substance. Traybaked chicken was good, and we used the leftover sauce and potatoes as a soup base.
Having said that, I personally will not buy the book. I can't find enough recipes I want to cook to justify the price or the shelf space. There are way too many desserts and salads for my family. And there are many recipes for regional or difficult-to-find meats: alligator, venison, pork skin, quail. There are too few recipes for vegetables. My plan is to photocopy the five or ten recipes that work for my family before returning the book to the library, because the ones that work, REALLY work well.
Now, if you're not familiar with Jamie Oliver cookbooks, you may also want to see whether you will be put off by his writing. I go back and forth with this. I like his measuring system: "a glug of olive oil," "four handfuls of greens," "a handful of manchego cheese." That makes sense. And I like it when he writes of chicken that "if the juices run clear, you're laughing."
On the other hand, too many ingredients on his lists are followed by the note "preferably organic." Come on, Jamie, it's 2011. We've all got that message. [I predict his next cookbook will say "preferably organic and locally produced."] That's annoying, but it's insulting and condescending to specify ingredients -- usually bacon -- that are "the finest quality you can afford." First off, isn't that what we usually buy? But more to the point, who does he think his audience is? Food stamp recipients? "Well, kids I couldn't buy you ice cream tonight because I splurged on bacon for that stew." This sort of stuff should be handled in the first two or three pages of the book, not in every third recipe.
So, my advice is not to order the book blindly, but to look through it to be sure you will find enough recipes for your family. What doesn't work for me, may work brilliantly for you. As for me, I'm saving the price of the book to put some better quality bacon on the table.
It's an excellent book for anyone who is:
a. interested in American cuisine; or
b. a traveler to the USA, who is interested in the regional cooking styles. It could be a pleasant reminder of your own travels!
The recipes are straightforward to follow.
Worthwhile for anyone who is interested in one or both of the book's themes.
Incidentally, the book is well designed and presented, making it an excellent gift.