Most modern cookbooks are too complicated. With the rise of the celebrity chef and the attendant fetishization of foodie culture, everyone gets their own shot at the genre nowadays, and the results are mostly worthless. Inevitably, they attempt to replicate restaurant dishes that necessitate restaurant-caliber equipment, and/or insist on a litany of ingredients that are difficult to procure. These are coffee-table books, not cookbooks. They are vanity projects. Don’t read them, or at least don’t expect to use them.
This is not to say I dislike the challenge of a difficult recipe! Adam Perry Lang, the country’s foremost grilling expert, fills his books with techniques that take years to master. This, I enjoy. His books are designed for the home chef. No one should make 36-hour pork bone ramen at home. No one should try to reproduce labor-intensive rustic New American dishes at home, either. But you can certainly make a butter-bombed porterhouse on your grill, and get better at it.
But I am here today to tell you about a new cookbook that I unreservedly like. I am here today to ride for Gwyneth Paltrow.
This is not some hokey guinea-pig experiment. I didn’t Cook Like Gwyneth For A Week, nor will I anytime soon. I didn’t Go Goop For A Month And Survive To Write About It. But I did procure her new book, It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook, and it’s easy, and reasonably delicious.
Much has been written about the part-time actress and her transparently vapid Goop lifestyle brand. Much has likewise been written about her capitalizing on said brand with a wide variety of products, from skincare and $45 napkin rings to, as luck would have it, a $175 It’s All Easy Spice Set. (Also, this is the first release from Goop Press, her new publishing imprint.) It’s a given: Gwyneth is an avatar for all that is bad and wrong about food on social media and the cottage industry of lifestyle blogs she helped spawn.
Consequently, It’s All Easy could easily double as a catalog for chunky cable-knit sweaters. But these recipes are actually easily, and legitimately dope. Take, for instance, the Zuni Sheet Pan Chicken, a roast chicken recipe inspired by Gwyneth’s favorite chicken at Zuni Café in San Francisco—and my favorite recipe in this thing. (Note its tasteful arrangement in the photo.) The recipe list is simple: one whole chicken, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, lemon, olive oil, anchovies, red wine vinegar, a baguette, and greens of your choice.
That’s it! You don’t have to go to some bougie specialty store for an obscure and overpriced ingredient you’ll never use again. And you don’t need some crazy-expensive and specialized French cooking tool. All you need is a roasting pan, a knife, and an oven. I made it for dinner and had leftovers for lunch all week. And it only took about 15 minutes of prep and 45 minutes in the oven. Knowingly or not, meals like this honor Mark Bittman’s legacy at the New York Times (in that they’re cost- and time-effective, and also good as hell) far more than April Bloomfield’s (the otherwise excellent Spotted Pig chef whose recipes tend toward the overzealous).
The rest of the book is similarly straightforward. There are tacos and carbonara and black bean soup. There is, naturally, a matcha recipe. There are black and white photos of her children on distressed swing sets, romping around in Wellies and tasteful sweaters. Gwyneth herself, who here takes turns staring longingly out rain-streaked windows and smiling in spice emporiums, perfected the Lifestyle Blog aesthetic—overhead shots of carefully arranged dishes, a suspiciously clean home, perpetually perfect lighting—and the book doesn’t shy away from that. But concealed amid the Instagram fodder are easy-to-follow recipes for sesame noodles (vegan!) and shrimp stir fry. There’s no overarching theme. It’s not all New American or Simple French, but rather a ridiculous buffet of everything: garlicky pasta, chow mein, falafel—sprinkled in with mostly useless anecdotes about how growing up Gwyneth “struggled with the briny, sharply acidic flavors” of chicken piccata, her father’s favorite dish to cook.
But, let’s be honest, no one ever reads the self-indulgent essays in cookbooks—you just want the damn recipe. And there are recipes for shit you want to eat in ways that you can execute, even with limited culinary skills. It’s like the Joy of Cooking had a J. Crew makeover, and it’s definitely annoying. But who cares? The recipes are good.