Food magazines can be a great source of recipes, tips and inspiration for new cooks and this month I’m reviewing one of my favourites, Olive magazine.This spring saw the redesign of Olive magazine, a food publication that features a mix of practical and aspirational recipes, food trends, restaurant reviews and adventures to far flung food destinations.
I have had a fond and fruitful relationship with Olive magazine. When I started getting interested in cooking and also gaining an understanding of my own food culture and trends it provided a great and accessible gateway to modern food. Having just started university and living with a limited shared kitchen I found that the magazine was filled with simple but interesting recipes which required 10 or less ingredients, which is fantastic when you are just getting started.
When I speak to people who are want to cook more but feel daunted by the amount of blogs, sites and books out there I always recommend starting with magazines as they usually have a great mix of recipes which are presented concisely and their editorial process means they can sum up whole trends in one feature with some carefully selected – and crucially — TESTED recipes. Because no editor wants letters from “Irate cook of Plymouth” or “Ticked off and starving in Hounslow” following failed recipes and particularly in an age of social media, they really make sure their recipes work with writers and often staff members testing the recipes several times ahead of publication which takes a lot of the stress out of things for newbie cooks.
The only way to become a confident and intuitive cook is by cooking a lot and you do a lot worse than working your way through some editions of your favourite food magazines and this is how Olive magazine helped me in my own food journey. I found that after a few years I didn’t have to constantly refer to my stack of past issues and that the techniques, processes and ideas they contained had seasoned my cooking which then gave me confidence when thinking of dishes or sifting through food blogs.
On an even more personal note when I was first with my fianceé Michael, I got really ill and was hospitalised over a bank holiday. With most of my friends and family away I had no option but to call my then boyfriend of a few weeks to bring me some overnight supplies. He was every bit the knight in shining armour, travelling from south to north London and back again to bring me a wash kit, some ‘clean food’ and – the latest edition of Olive magazine which I hadn’t asked for but was delighted with as it showed just how well he already knew me and that this one was definitely ‘a keeper’!
Having been a bit of a nomad over the last couple of years since giving up our flat and travelling then moving with work I have to admit I haven’t been buying many food magazines recently but now settled in my own place again it seemed like fortuitous timing to see that Olive magazine was relaunching this spring so I thought now would be a great time to catch up to see what’s new.
First some background, Olive editor Laura Rowe describes the publication as:
“Britain’s brightest food magazine, brought to you by a team of passionate (and greedy) experts that live and breath the stuff. Alongside creating a collection of the season’s smartest recipes, with stunning photography to boot, we are busy reviewing the UK’s newest restaurants, and travelling around the world tracking down the food and drink joints that you’ll want to add to your holiday itinerary.”
Available in print, tablet, and online Olive has a reach of over 202K with most readers being women aged over 45, which makes it great for families looking to mix up their family meals at home and away.
Rather than an all out relaunch, the latest changes are very much just a redesign, with changes to the presentation of content, with a slight change in print format, some new typography and also in the running order of content.
Visually I think the changes have struck the right balance of freshness and awareness of current trends such as handwritten fonts without losing a sense of the magazine’s identity.
The food styling is well executed with evocative seasonal colours and a raw authenticity which makes the dishes look achievable at home. . My favourite feature in terms of photography was ‘Feast’ by Mowie Kay as she has captured a lot of interest in each shot with great props and styling while still letting the finished dish take the limelight. I did find that later on in the issue, some of the photography and became a little bit repetitive with lots of pale grey wooden backgrounds and not a lot of thoughtful styling (I did cringe a bit at the shot of the nasty generic Mexican Sol beer served with a vibrant sounding Bang Bang Chicken salad, a mellow but zingy weissbier would have been more up my street!)
The major change in the redesign has bring to bring the more of the recipes together in the “Cook” section and to bring that forward in the page order to help readers “find your favourite bits faster” according to the editor’s letter.
It’s certainly good to have most of the recipes together if you’re looking for inspiration as you can easily flit between recipes and compare things you feel like making.
While recipes are a big part of Olive’s appeal the chance to explore the wider food scene and read about restaurant news or research new destinations is also great and it helps to have all this presented together in the second part of the publication as you definitely go to this content with a different intention and it would be something you’d return to for a long read.
There are some nice new features in the new issue, I particularly liked ‘Fridge Raider” which gives you the chance to see the contents of different foodies each month. This first edition it was the turn of “inspirational instagrammer” Clerkenwell Boy whose fridge featured some rather exciting essentials including Indonesian Sambal Chilli sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, ‘nduja (spreadable Italian sausage) and craft gin makers Jensen’s Old Tom Negroni. This is a great feature for food geeks as it’s nice to discover some new staple ingredients and also check off what you have in your own fridge (mine was homemade jam, pickled cucumbers, capers and about 4 different cheeses). I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Clerkenwell Boy before so it was also great to discover his fantastic profile that captures an amazing life in food and London. He also inspired me to seriously step up the drinks department in my fridge, I think I want a life where I am never far away from Coldbrew Coffee, premixed Negronis, English sparkling wine and unsweetened Ugly drinks.
This issue’s “Eat” looking at restaurants and food news was headlined with family friendly places to eat. There was some good recommendations here and they definitely met the mag’s promise to be more geographically representative and “nationally relevant” with restaurants from St Ives to Edinburgh via Cardiff and Cheshire represented. I did find the London entries a little odd, the Delaunay wouldn’t be my first port of call with kids in the capital and the option spending £45 per person so you can rent a room where kids can “hook up a laptop or games console to a flat screen TV” sounded pretty depressing to me. Having just moved to the south coast it also would have been nice to have at least one recommendation from down here, and I know for a fact that Brighton has some amazing family friendly places that would have been well worth a mention.
The “Eat” and “Explore” sections of Olive have always been a bit beyond me and this edition was no different but I think that’s more to do with me being 15 years younger and a few pay scales below the average Olive reader! That being said it’s always great to read about fantastic and esteemed restaurants to get a feel for what’s going on in food. “Explore” section is wonderful for some much needed escapism over your coffee with Malmo and Florence, two places that are firmly on my foodie bucket list featured.
There is a massive spectrum of recipes in this one issue and it would be a great starting point to inspire some new cooking at home.
There were about 7 recipes that I was really interested in trying. This included a Tuna melt with spring onion confit that I know Michael would love, although with an hours cooking time it’s hard to know how I would quite fit this snack into our weekends at the mo so it might have to wait to be a lighter dinner for warmer weather. The milk fondants by chic French Chelsea eatery Bandol look surprisingly easy and like a great casual but crowd pleasing dessert.
The recipe I decided to test for the purpose of review was Anna Glover’s Ginger chicken dumpling soup from a feature filled with low calorie, low fat ideas. This section probably best represented the current food I’m cooking with overnight oats and veggie chilli a regular at home at the moment and this soup looked perfect for a cold night. For my dumpling soup I did make a couple of substitutions, chicken mince proved hard to find so I supplemented with turkey mince which worked well but I didn’t get the nice white dumplings as in the picture. I also added some Japanese miso noodles which worked really well and were perfect for us as we’re greedy and not currently on any calorie counting diet. The dish turned out really well and it’s a great flexible recipe that ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to nutrition. It also gave me the opportunity to stock up and get to know my new Asian supermarket which I always find are treasure troves of the weird and wonderful.
There was a lot of baking featured which I don’t remember being such a big part of the magazine in the past (thats the GBBO factor for you). I did love the look of the Peanut butter layer cake and the baked Easter spiced donuts looked wonderful but sorry, I’m just not enough of a dedicated baker or donut eater to go through 3 hours of proving time.
I would have liked to have tried a few more recipes but most didn’t quite fit with my current schedule as the ones I fancied were longer cooks like Portuguese Custard tarts (although the brilliant pictorial recipe definitely means I’ve vowed to make these soon).
I loved the “Freezer Fillers” recipe for making a batch of mini lamb hotpots as I find cooking for the freezer to be a really important part of family cooking and one that is still not seen as particularly fashionable or inspiring. This recipe looked delicious and clear instructions of timings and freezing and reheating are really useful and Olive have a good archive of similar recipes on their site.
Surprisingly absolutely nothing in the “Cook Everyday” feature grabbed my attention, these are quick midweek dishes and the kind I always used to cook from Olive. Thinking about it I have realised that I already make a lot of these dishes such as fish cakes, soup, pasta and sardines on toast pretty regularly and they are great ‘go to recipes’ when we need feeding fast and don’t have much in. I think looking over this article made me realise how I had changed as a cook in the last few years having got a few techniques and regular dishes pinned down. For someone who’s looking for some different but quick dishes or to build their repertoire this feature is indispensable and I’m glad to see it continue in Olive.
Reconnecting with Olive was like meeting an old friend, we’d both changed a little and this meant we had to find new ground on which to connect but we are still cooking and enjoying a lot of the same things which it was good to share!
I’m definitely interested to see new features develop and would buy the magazine again, especially to find some great seasonal recipes once the growing season is in full spring this year.
Olive remains a great magazine for those looking to engage with current food trends and shake up their weekly meal plans with recipes that are guaranteed to work and are on the whole really attainable.