O No!
The Oprah Magazine Cookbook.
By Jessa Crispin

Occasionally, I have to buy Oprah’s magazine for work purposes. (I swear.) I plan these trips, going to the bookstore when there will be the fewest number of people around. This has not always been successful, and I once ended up in line holding O in front of Attractive British Celebrity. There’s no disguising the magazine, with Oprah’s giant, smiling head on the cover of each one. How embarrassing. I wanted to turn around and explain, “This is for work purposes only. I do not belong to the cult of Oprah,” but feared (rightly) that this would make me appear even crazier. Being caught with Oprah-related materials out in public — whether it be the books she recommends, or any of her publications, or even a product she recently declared a Must Have — is like announcing to the world, “Hello. I am not going to be making any of my own decisions from now on.”
After getting the book-related information I needed out of O, I would flip through to find the cooking section. The food always looked pretty and seemed vaguely appetizing, yet not enough to make me cook it. I had the exact same reaction to the new recipe collection, O, The Oprah Magazine Cookbook: pretty, yawn. I made it all the way through the desserts section before realizing that nothing I had seen had cried out to me to be made.

I started again at the beginning and tried to figure out the source of my disinterest. If I spend a lot of time and effort for a recipe (not to mention money on the ingredients), I want the payoff to be big. With most of these recipes, it’s like the editors did not know when to stop. There seemed to be one extra layer and one extra step to everything, which detracted rather than added to the taste.

The Yellow Velvet Soup with Prawns represents most of what I dislike about Oprah’s products in general: overly fussy, needlessly complicated, and ultimately empty. After 15 minutes of dicing various vegetables just for the garnish, I decided it wasn’t worth it. It called for half of a red pepper, half of a green pepper, half of a yellow pepper, half of a red onion, etc. Instead of filling my fridge with halves of vegetables I will have to figure out how to use later, I cut out half of the ingredients and used the whole things. Most of them didn’t seem to be there for unique flavor anyway — just color contrast. The prawn itself was inconvenient. You’re eating soup and there’s a giant, whole prawn in the center. You have to get out an array of silverware just to eat the soup. The end result was all presentation: pretty and colorful, sure, even without the yellow and green bell pepper, but rather uneventful flavor-wise.

The White Bean Salad with Tomatoes and Crisped Sage had similar issues. The sage, which I fried in butter instead of the vegetable oil the recipe called for, was about the only thing of note in the salad. Not even the mustard vinaigrette perked it up. The vinegar, mustard, raw onion, tomato, sage, and white beans all sort of battled for dominance rather than working together.

I started looking for the recipes with the fewest ingredients and steps, thinking that if I could find something without a frenzy of garnish, I could enjoy something simple. It worked, but it didn’t leave a lot of options. The one dish that came out delicious had only four ingredients and took about two minutes to throw together — not enough time for the recipe to get in its own way.

I won’t be keeping the cookbook on my shelves, nor — hopefully — displaying O magazine in public any time in the near future. As friendly and harmless as Oprah seems, “friendly” and “harmless” is not exactly how I like my food. • 5 August 2008

   Roasted Beets
Roasted Beets with Ginger
From O, The Oprah Magazine Cookbook

Serves 6

2 T olive oil
1 1/2 T peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 pounds medium beets, peeled and halved

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, ginger, and vinegar. Toss the beets into the mixture and arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of She currently resides in Chicago.

Photo by Andrew Huff via Flickr (Creative Commons).

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