Sunday, November 8, 2015

Giada De Laurentiis' Happy Cooking, reviewed

Years ago, more than I care to think, actually, Giada was signing books at the local Sur la Table. My son, who was probably about 16 at the time, loved her and wanted to go, so off we went to spend an hour or so standing in a line that snaked its way through the upscale mall. She was lovely to everyone, but particularly to him, addressing his questions with great interest and talking to him in the respectful way generally reserved for the adults. When my son looks back on this he says of Giada, “We had a moment.” For this heartwarming reason, she will always be special to me.
So, it bothers me just a bit that I'm going to go against the grain here and not agree with all of the reviewers who are gushing over her latest book, Happy Cooking; I'm just not wild about it. I wanted to like this book, I really did, but despite my wants, I found it disappointing. Perhaps it's the small text. Perhaps it's the small pictures. Perhaps it's the glaring lack of white space resulting in everything being crammed together giving it the look of a cookbook from the sixties. Add matte versus glossy photos and this weighty tome, despite its newness, looks dated. The food pictures seem secondary to the big pictures of Giada. Giada having a cocktail, Giada preparing food, Giada and her cleavage, Giada looking left, Giada looking right, Giada in front of the American flag.
There are some big pictures of food, but none of these pictures beckon or make me want to actually make anything that's pictured. Yes, I have probably become as jaded as the annoying film critics who pick apart even the best of films because they have seen so many that their standards have become tightened over the years so that few films can measure up. I have reviewed a lot of cookbooks this year and most of them have been gorgeous, stimulating, inspiring, and had me wanting to lick the pages because the food looked that good. I think, is it not, that this is what cookbooks are supposed to do?
Okay, all of that said, here's what is right with this book. First of all, Giada fans will love it because it has a lot of her in it, not just pictures, but tidbits, tips, suggestions, helpful hints, and tiny looks into her life with her adorable daughter.
Second, there are a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free recipes in this book, all of which are easy to find, thanks to boldly placed icons at the beginning of each recipe.
In addition, there is a nice section on making bone broth that should send everyone to their stoves to do this because it makes a world of difference in both flavor and nutrition in recipes that call for stock.

There is a nice instructional section on pasta along with, as one might expect, taste-tempting pasta recipes, including a short rib lasagna that sounds delicious. The book is comprehensive in what it offers with a wide variety of recipes in all categories (including snacks and small plates, and eating clean).

Entertaining ideas and tips will come in handy during this time of the year, with ideas offered up for appetizer-only parties, the best cocktail party foods, cookie exchange parties, crostini bars, along with holiday strategies and stress relievers.

Desserts look sumptuous and the section on gifts from your kitchen is a nice addition that includes her Chocolate Dessert Salami that I know first-hand is decadent. Other gift ideas include Smoky Fennel Salt, Citrus Lavender Hand Scrub, a Moscow Mule Kit, and Peanut Butter Dog Bone Treats.

The recipes that I have tried have been good - Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna and Brown Butter Tortellini. Still, I'm giving this book 3-1/2 out of 5 stars because, unlike other cookbooks that send me immediately to the kitchen, this one just didn't do it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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