Giada De Laurentiis: Happy Cooking – Make Every Meal Count…Without Stressing Out

The sign of a good book is from the moment you open the cover you know exactly who you can share the book with and know they will have a similarly positive experience. I believe this applies to just about all books. That said, I have just discovered what it means to have a great book in your hands. I didn’t really expect the excitement I felt while leafing through this new book. I couldn’t wait to share it with my mom – a matron of the kitchen in her own right. I couldn’t wait to share it with my sister – a matriarch whose children are finally out of the “No, I won’t eat it!” stages. I couldn’t wait to share it with my cousins – the ones who have figured out there’s more to life than ramen AND the one who is a staunch vegetarian. And more than anything, I can’t wait to share this book with my pseudo-daughter who is beginning to realize she likes to cook and sees the health benefits to knowing there’s more out there than a spicy chicken sandwich at Wendy’s (even if it is right down the street).

This great book I speak of is Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, Happy Cooking: Make Every Meal Count…Without Stressing Out. My mouth watered, my eyes wondered if they’d every seen food photography as beautiful and my nose kept hoping for a scratch and sniff page at the very least. I could almost hear the pancetta frying in the pan. The book is a full enough sensory experience that you might look around to see if Giada is hanging out at your stove …at least, it will make you wonder if that’s even a possibility.

I rarely review cookbooks, because more often than not, the recipe used for writing the book is the most bland and unimaginative aspect of said cookbook. I could tell from the minute I opened the box from Penguin Random House, this cookbook was not going be of the same ilk. The cover jacket is beautiful with samplings of the many recipes found in this 312-page book of yumminess. And of course, for fans who can’t help but feel the infectiousness of Giada’s smile, there’s three pictures that make you want to invite her over for espresso brownies (made with black beans, of course) and coffee or tea.

As I leafed through the book, I realized Giada was taking me on a trip down memory lane. I couldn’t help but think about my own life passages (neat phrase, Giada) and how the way I thought about food changed through each one. While taking me on this mini-journey, she made sure I was also getting the staples needed to get through each and every day – breakfast, lunch and dinner with the most nutrients and minerals available. I, happily, went along for the ride and really, was most satiated when I got to the VERY last page of the book, and my tour guide reminded me to be good to myself.

While I am not one to make smoothies or my own juices, I found I was a tad bit curious about the pineapple-ginger smoothie that takes the honored place of first recipe in the book. I’m not sure I’d every think of pineapple, ginger and cayenne pepper as going well together (does that make me unimaginative?). I’ve started writing this review, made tea, started a load of laundry, came back to the review and am still wondering…why is this the first recipe in the book?

Three smoothies/blends and a ‘nutella’ milk later, I got to my breakfast staples, homemade granola and overnight oats. I have come to believe breakfast is an incredibly important meal – no matter what time of day your breakfast comes. Throughout my life, I have worked odd scheduled jobs where maybe my day started with the majority of society, or maybe it started at 3pm because my writing was better in the evening. Regardless, I have found a slow carb burning breakfast was the best for a busy work day/night. Happy Cooking certainly delivers various options to keep you from getting bored with plain oatmeal. I felt like I went from my daily breakfast to a time when I lazily enjoyed weekend brunch after divorce was imminent. I truly learned to cook during this life passage; but I always felt brunch was better cooked by others. I went through stages where I’d try making big social brunches – the William Sonoma brunch cookbook I used to own was incredibly used and when I went through my gluten-free stages, I tried like hell to master good morning/lunch food – but I always felt it was a lot of work. Because…I never thought to cut, chop and prepare the parts I could the night before. Dumb right? In fairness, when I was truly experimenting with brunches, there was copious drinking on weekend nights…years ago, of course, but still… Giada makes pulling off brunch look a bit easier than I previously remember.

The next chapter might just be my favorite in the book. This section opened up possibilities that are right in my wheelhouse. One of the best moments in my life what the first road trip my partner and I took with his children. We were going to the Poconos and I was scared, nervous and overflowing with every other emotion that one is wont to experience the first time you spend an incredibly long time in a car with your partner and his kids that you aren’t sure even sort of like you. Before we’d left, I dug deep into my childhood memories to find the just right things for this trip. See, my mom used to have these super-duper bags filled with snacks, and everything else three small children might need on a road trip from Florida to New York. I knew this was the solution to making every situation work out okay in a cramped up car.

I couldn’t help but smile while I was reading through this next chapter titled, “Snacks and Small Plates”. It made me think about that first terrifying trip and the beautiful relationships I’ve developed with these kids over the last many years. Even now, when we travel, there’s healthier snacks than we’d find on the road, like homemade bags of trail-mix and fruit leathers. The kids are much older now and their palettes have developed in wonderfully exciting ways. Weekend movie nights are full of veggies and dips and small healthier appetizer meals rather than big comfort food meals. This chapter is a heartwarming reflection on the moments I’ve shared with my family as they’ve grown and matured.

The next two chapters, “Salads & Seasons” and “Soups & Stews”, felt incredibly earthy to me, like farmers’ stands and root cellars. That said, I live in Florida, I’ve never seen a root cellar in my life…HA! But, in my mind’s eye, I have this idea they feel and smell like dirt. I have no idea if I’m right, but if I’m not, I will be incredibly disappointed. This summer, I grew my own kale, lettuce and cucumbers. I was able to harvest each and add to a few salads, and in the case of the kale, to many different dishes. There has been little else in my tiny little culinary world that has been as satisfying than to feed my family food that I grew. The recipes in this chapter are innovative and interesting – I know I will be thrilled to try them; and I think though they may be a bit hesitant, the rest of the family will probably enjoy the flavors each recipe melds together.

Where soups and stews are concerned, I get great joy from making large pots of healthy-ness that my family will only be better for having eaten. Often times, either will include beans, root veggies, a leafy green like kale, Swiss chard, brussel spout or cabbage and homemade broth. Sometimes, though, I want more. I found “more” in Happy Cooking, by way of a curried cauliflower soup and a lentil, kale, mushroom soup. If you are looking to increase your soup/stew repertoire, Happy Cooking is my suggestion.

This cookbook goes in-depth on “Pastas and Risottos” – from the standard pasta and veggies recipes to wonderful looking dishes with gluten-free pasta. There’s recipes for Marinara Sauce and Pesto; and an informative look at olive oil and pasta shapes. Coming from a family whose paternal grandmother was Sicilian, this was a fun chapter to browse through.

One of my other favorite chapters is “Weekends and Holidays”. From the classic pot roast (like mom used to make) to the backyard seafood bakes we used to thrown in my backyard in Virginia (after the 40 mile trek across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and back to get the seafood), this section runs the gambit on both life passage memories and variations on the classic holiday meals. If there is a “meat as the focus” chapter, I really feel this is it. This section talks chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish, and other seafood more than the rest. Sprinkled throughout this section, if you are paying attention is some really great advice for entertaining and throwing a party. Probably one of the most important chapters in this regard for how to pull off the party of the century without being stressed out.

Of course, the final chapter of any good cookbook should be “Sweets and Treats”…Happy Cooking doesn’t disappoint at all. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the different varieties of sweets and treats. Like all the other sections of the cookbook, Giada takes a practical and pragmatic view on this particular type of food – eat in moderation, and don’t deny yourself. Doing so will only cause you to eat “more fake processed junk foods”, which really isn’t all that good for you.

Besides good food, this book is chockfull of instruction from how to choose chocolate and pasta to kitchen remedies and how to take the stress of being in the kitchen. As someone who loves to make my holiday gifts, I particularly loved the addition of gifting ideas in the “Sweets and Treats” chapter. This is one of the best cookbooks I’ve read in a very long time. Though it may be a bit intimidating for my 15 year old as a gift, its certainly something she’ll enjoy browsing and experimenting from over the next few years, while learning little tips to make parties a bit easier to throw for her friends. Likewise, though my mom has probably more than 50 years in the kitchen, there are things in this cookbook that will excite her enough to try out various recipes for entertaining she might be doing. And of course, this book is perfect for anyone in between these two levels of experience.

About the Author – Giada De Laurentiis is the Emmy Award-winning star of Food Network’s Everyday Italian, Giada at Home, and Giada in Paradise; a judge on Food Network Star; a contributing correspondent for NBC’s Today show; and the author of seven New York Times bestselling books. She attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and worked at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant before starting her own catering company, GDL Foods. Born in Rome, she grew up in Los Angeles, where she now lives with her daughter, Jade.

You can Buy the Book directly from the Publisher’s Website.

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