I’m always a sucker for cookbooks that share a bit about the author, and what recipes they actually cook at home. So when Oprah Winfrey’s new book, Food, Health and Happiness, came out a few weeks ago, I was curious.
Even though I don’t “follow” Oprah, I do admire her. I also like cookbooks that shed some light on the life and habits of the author – both a cookbook and a “book about a cook.” And I like books that “inspire.” This one hits all those marks.
Food, Health and Happiness is actually an ode to Weight Watchers (which has been really successful for Oprah) but it doesn’t come across that way. It’s not that I don’t care about her famous battle-of-the-bulge but I wanted some other reason to buy this book. A quick glance convinced me the recipes were pretty “normal,” if you know what I mean.
What cinched it for me was the roughly 34 pages of non-recipe content, all about Oprah, her childhood, her love for India, her early career in T.V., her home life (At My House Every Meal is a Celebration), her friendship with poet Maya Angelou, and even a mention of Oprah’s long-time boyfriend, Stedman.
Even after all these years, Stedman Graham is still my favorite face to see every morning over breakfast and the paper.
My other motivation? Well, when I went to my local Indigo/Chapters store to look for Food, Health and Happiness, it was already discounted 40%. I paid less than $20 U.S. I have to admit, that did worry me a little: why are they discounting in the first week of sales? Do they know something I don’t? Does Oprah not need the money? Who knows.
Here are my thoughts
You might not leave a cookbook out on the coffee table, but I would leave this one out. It’s meant to be read, not just for the recipes.
The lovely cover image of Oprah, with green grass in the background, combined with the beautiful photography, rough, matte paper pages and dreamy watercolour illustrations probably sold me within the first minute. I’m like that. My husband is a photographer and I am also really aesthetically-driven. If it’s pretty, I want it. And, yes, I fell for all those “aspirational” photos of Oprah in her farm garden, surrounded by giant collards, or rinsing potatoes in her light, bright kitchen, or toasting friends at a picnic table.
Chapter 1, Soup is Love, just because it’s the most revealing, opening with an old photo of a young Oprah and a wonderful and real “voice.”
It’s Sunday night at 7:00 sharp, and I’m six years old… I can tell you what I was doing every Sunday of my childhood. I was sitting in front of the Magnavox riveted to what was, at the time, the greatest show on earth: Lassie… Onetime, Lassie was lost for weeks. Ever night I’d be on my knees, praying she’d survive.
All I knew for sure in those days was that my world would be perfect and we’d all live happily ever after as the credits rolled, if my mom would ladle up a great big bowl of Campbell’s soup just for me.
Favorite inspirational quote
Now I’ve learned to do so much better. I not only feel what I feel – when appropriate, I speak it out loud. When I have to make a hard decision, I lean right into it, rather than procrastinating and burying stuff that later shows up in my thighs. For sure, it’s a new way of being.
Recipe layout & instructions
Ingredients are clearly listed to the left of the recipes. I liked the subtitles breaking up the steps in the recipes. I liked the graphic at the bottom of each recipe, showing cooking time, prep time, and Weight Watcher SmartPoints. All the recipes were very visually appealing.
In some cases, the prep time is downplayed. (This is a common annoyance, I know – did she learn from Jamie?) The Indian Pumpkin Curry’s “15-minute” prep time was more like half an hour, including adding the seven different ground spices. And, with no fresh pumpkin available, I bought winter squash, as suggested. But the squash was so hard I couldn’t cut it without losing a finger – neither could my husband or son. We baked it first until softer, then cut it into chunks. Maybe Oprah uses a special tool to penetrate the hard skin. Or maybe her squash comes pre-cut? Anyway, you have been warned.
Other reviewers sniff that Oprah calls for Truffle Zest, as if this alone is evidence of her rich, privileged disregard for the budgets and resources of us “poor folk.” But, really, I found that a little unfair. She likes the stuff. If we don’t like truffles, I guess we should find a substitute.
I found 1.76 oz. of Sabatino Tartufi Truffle Zest (Oprah’s favourite, the one she keeps in her purse), for $14.99 on the Sabatino website (it was a bit more through Amazon).
You could make her Truffle and Lemon Popcorn or Truffled Potato Chips with only a dash of Sabatino Truffle Zest, so it’s hardly worth sniffing about the cost. Do you agree? OK, moving on.
We made Skinny Cornbread (see recipe, below), Apricot Chicken (p. 130) and Indian Pumpkin Curry (p. 119). The cornbread (pg. 56) was a particular winner and is the reason I now keep buttermilk in the back of my fridge.
Value for $
Good value for the money because it was discounted right away. I might not have felt the same if I had paid $30+. But I liked the extra content, including a guide to Oprah’s favourite kitchen gadgets.
Chapters & readability
Total pages: 240, encompassing six chapters, a six-page introduction, an epilogue on Finding a New Path on my Journey with Food, plus A Note About Weight Watchers SmartPoints, as well as a Meet the Chefs page (for the recipes Oprah borrowed for her book).
I made the mistake of reading a few other reviews before writing this post (I shouldn’t do that) where readers complained the content was kind of confusing. I can see the point, but I think you need to read each of the chapter introductions because they actually lead into recipes that fit the theme. Sort of.
From Chapter 3: The Faith of a Mustard Seed.
Have you ever looked at a mustard seed? We have them at my farm, and they’re tiny. But even at my heaviest, when I sorely doubted my ability to ever get my eating act together, I held onto the itty-bittiest grain of faith that I could shed the weight, or at least move toward a better way of eating…
Ok, I’m not sure how Brined and Roasted Chicken, Tea-smoked Wild Salmon and Fava Bean and Smoked Turkey Salad tie into the mustard seed theme. Um, no, I don’t know how two ice cream pages (Cold Comfort) tie into Chapter 2, What Are you Really Hungry For? And I don’t quite get why Chapter 3 is interrupted by an unexplainable breakfast section, Morning Glories. But let’s not quibble. It’s a very pretty breakfast section.
Recommended, whether you are doing Weight Watchers or not. The recipes I tried were easy enough for a novice and did turn out well. The shelf life is good, with classic recipes that will endure. And I still find myself sitting down and re-reading the Oprah “story” pages. If you want inspiration, not just in the kitchen but in your life, it’s here by the cupful.
- Food, Health and Happiness: 115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life (240 pages, hardcover)
- Publisher: Flatiron Books; 1 edition (January 3, 2017)
- Language: English
- Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 1 x 258.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
- Cost: $19.60 U.S. on Amazon.com – but may sell for less in your local bookstore
This recipe is from Oprah Winfrey's 2017 Food, Health & Happiness book. Oprah writes: "I want to feel great. I want to look good. But I draw the line at giving up cornbread. Fortunately, I don't like it real thick. My cornbread is thin and crispy right around the rim. I like it when the edges sort of crunch in your mouth and there's a little bit of corn and jalapenos in there."
- Extra virgin olive oil cooking spray for pan (I used liquid olive oil)
- 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
- 1/2 cup fresh , canned or thawed frozen corn kernels
- 2 tablespoons seeded , finely diced fresh jalapeño peppers (*I diced pickled jalapeños from a jar)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
- 3/4 cup regular buttermilk
- 1 large egg , beaten before mixing
Preheat to 400 degrees. Get two medium bowls ready. Dice the onion, rinse the corn and dice the jalapeños.
Coat a small nonstick skillet with olive oil or cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion, corn and jalapeños and cook until the corn is lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl to cool to room temperature.
Sift (? I just mixed all dry ingredients) together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Add the cornmeal and whisk (mix by hand: why whisk?) to blend the dry ingredients.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, pre-beaten egg and oil. Pour those wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until just until blended. Fold in the cooled corn mixture.
Coat a 10-inch, oven-proof cast-iron skillet with cooking spray and pour the cornbread batter into the skillet, smoothing the top with a metal spatula.
Place skillet or muffin tin in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and the top center is just firm to the touch. *Oprah says 15 minutes but I checked the cornbread at 12 minutes, just in case.
Remove skillet (watch out for the hot handle) or muffin pan from the oven and set skillet on a cooling rack. Cool slightly (about 5 to 10 minutes), then slice your corn bread "pie" into wedges while still warm. *I found cornbread muffins really needed about 8 minutes to cool or they fell apart.
* Note: I poured the mixture into muffin cups lined with paper baking cups and this worked well. If you go the cast-iron route, you might want to slightly pre-heat the pan, although Oprah doesn't suggest that. * Look for fine-grind cornmeal. I used plain ol' Purity cornmeal the first few times and it turned out great.
Last time, I tried Bob's Red Mill medium-grind cornmeal and it was too "gritty." I found cornbread muffins, as opposed to one cornbread skillet "pie," really needed about 8 minutes to cool or they fell apart. * I used 3/4 cup regular buttermilk, which is what the recipe calls for. If you use low-fat buttermilk, I wouldn't guarantee the results! *Oprah advises her cornbread will keep, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to a week. Ours lasted a few days; not sure I would leave it for a whole week. Muffins also froze well but, let's face it, cornbread really does taste best when it is fresh, warm, sliced and served with butter.