Weeknight Cooking

It's All Easy in Gwyneth's World, But What About the Real World?

April 15, 2016

The literate, food-loving world can now be further divided into two camps: Those who feel a thrill of joy when they spot Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook, It's All Easy, on the shelf, and those who will laugh and roll their eyes when they pick it up.

In the same way that I know most people reading about this book on a website that hosts a pretty serious tournament of cookbooks will be of the latter sort, GP has targeted (and is pandering to) her audience: This cookbook is not one bit ashamed about shortcutting a ramen recipe to be weeknight-friendly, assuming that you own (or should own) a Spiralizer, or the fact that it shows off some 35 portraits of Gwyneth between recipes.

Despite what I'd like to report, I fell squarely between camps. At first skim, I was more than a little offended by the book's premise—but just try to flip through this cookbook without wanting to make something. It's hard. The imagery is gorgeous, the pages uncluttered. I was reminded of early Ina Garten books, which told me I could live the Hamptons dream in my own home—and which pretty much delivered on their promises.

Shop the Story

So could It's All Easy do the same?

Are You Busy Enough?

First, the cover: There's Gwyneth, with a successful middle part and what looks like a loose drawer of wild vegetables, all but throwing up her hands at her idyllic-looking life and saying, "it's all easy!" (Was that a wink?) Is that supposed to be encouraging? Alluring? As a late-20's working person who lives in New York City, I might indeed be, to quote her intro, "under an intense amount of pressure to do multiple things simultaneously, and to be doing them to an impossibly high standard"; the kind of person who yearns for "the moment that is the antidote to all their busyness"; the kind of person who is totally down for easy weekday recipes. That's me! But do I buy it, really? Not a wink.

Clams and seaweed: EASY.

Just turn the page, and you're hit with rather aggressive propaganda that I've translated here for your pleasure: "This book is meant to be a road map"—meaning: you need direction—"a self-help book"—meaning: you need help—"for the chronically busy cook"—meaning: you need a cure. It's a marketing play, of course (You're too busy! These easy recipes are going to solve everything!), but pardon me for disliking the taste of cold, stony guilt that slips down into my belly when someone reminds me that I could be doing better—should be making myself do better—than I am.

Though I doubt there's a malicious bone in GP's processed food-free body, I felt a little like leaving a bad doctor's appointment at first skim.

But let's consider how literally we should take her. To quote Thea Baumann, the Food Editor at GOOP and co-author of this cookbook, in her intro, "With a name like It's All Easy, you might expect this to be full of recipes with five ingredients that can be made in under twenty minutes. It's not.... These recipes are easy, healthy, and approachable for cooks with any lifestyle and any skill level." I'd give myself an above-average skill rating in the kitchen, but to test how true this statement actually is, I wrangled my roommate Justine to cook with me. (In the three years we've lived together, Justine has used the kitchen to cook noodles, toast bagels, and open beers, solely.)

I smoothed out my ruffled fur, reminded myself that GP probably had a pushy publishing house to deal with, chuckled good-naturedly at her decision to footnote the term FOMO* in a gesture of inclusiveness, and dove in.

*fear of missing out

Tell Me About the Cookbook, Please

Flipping on through the recipe pages, I was easily distracted from annoyance: Every recipe—and Gwyneth herself, in many, many sun-dappled head shots—looks appealing. ("Look at my beautiful life!" Justine mocked. "The lack of imperfection is... notable," my boyfriend agreed.) But to me, the styling feels realistic; the dishes, I would love to own. The names of the recipes are simple and just trendy enough to be exciting (I see you poke bowls, congee), the ingredient lists generally short, and the explanations straightforward. I added sticky notes to lots of them.

Szechuan-Style Green Beans, minus the pork.

But in reality, I had a hard time deciding what to make. As a specifically healthier kind of recipe set than I typically consider ("many have little or no sugar, dairy, or gluten," the jacket flap quietly admits), these meals often felt mysteriously incomplete: Here's saag paneer, minus the paneer (Indian Creamed Spinach), Chicken Piccata with no starch in sight, and an admittedly enticing, saucy platter of pork-free Szechuan-Style Green Beans. With so many influencing cuisines weighing in—from the aforementioned to Thai, Mexican, Southern, Polynesian, Italian, Middle Eastern, and more—I couldn't help but feel befuddled trying to pair a side with a main, or two small plates, without feeling I'd gone fusion.

Maybe I was missing the point: The idea of a truly easy dinner might just be to put one thing on the table, be it a big bowl of creamed spinach and some crusty bread, and tell your family they can go to bed hungry if they were hoping for something more. But I was feeding three voracious busybodies (me, Justine, and my boyfriend), and I wanted plenty of food. I settled on Chicken Wonton Soup and Miso Turnips.

Is It Really All Easy?

My grocery list was appealingly short. Deviously, I texted Justine, "Could I ask you to grab an ingredient on the way home?" followed by my requests: tamari and 4 baby bok choy. Back at Whole Foods, only tiny snafus: I had to beg the butcher to grind up some chicken thighs for the pound of ground dark meat chicken I needed, and I had to settle for regular turnips rather than the cute little Tokyo ones. Life went on.

"This book makes you want to be the kind of person who knows what tamari is," Justine said, flipping through it, but she hadn't known and headed to the Asian foods aisle only because the bok choy was a clue that the other ingredient might be there.

To be clear, the ingredient list doesn't offer soy sauce as the easy alternative, and while there's a section called "Pantry" right at the start of the book, listing the ingredients and tools you might be called upon to use, it's mainly just that—a list—without much helpful information; next to Tamari, no explanation. Next to Dashi, this: "This seasoning liquid is the base for most of our ramens. Made from soy and bonito, it's full of umami flavor." Soy? Dashi as I know it is a kombu-bonito broth... but I digress. The Pantry section is self-evident, at best; the ingredients skew healthy-trendy (see: Kuzi root), and the tools skew upper middle class (see: Vitamix, Spiralizer). But what did I expect?

Deconstructed wonton soup, well-constructed sweater, middle part.

That said, pulling off both recipes was easier than easy. For the soup, I simmered stock with some aromatics, mixed chicken and some aromatics into meatballs, then dropped them, along with some vegetables and strips of wonton wrapper, into the hot broth—that's right, it's a deconstructed wonton soup—which took, all told, about 45 minutes. (Note: quick recipes get an "Under 30 minutes" subtitle, while anything longer has no time indicated at all.)

The headnote reads: "Everyone loves wonton soup, but who has time to fold up individual dumplings for a midweek dinner?" I'll be honest, I typically don't, but what is the harm in telling someone how to turn meatballs and wonton wrappers into wontons? By wetting the edges of the wrappers and pinching them together, corners up, I made half my meatballs into wontons in a little over five minutes. All the little strips of wonton wrapper that were so cleverly called for in their stead sank to the bottom of our soup bowls in a gummy clump.

Miso Turnips: one of the only recipes to merit two photos in the book.

I'm just saying: If this is truly a book for any skill level of cook, why does it not explain the technique that's being shortcut, so the reader might choose to learn and gain confidence? It would take but 25 words to note that you could make these wontons on a Sunday, freeze them, and then have instant wonton soup any night next week. Omissions like these keep It's All Easy from being truly useful.

The turnips, on the other hand, were baked, slathered with miso-maple-butter mix, then broiled. Yes the mixture was a little gloppier than I expected, and looked nothing at all like the gelatinous red splash that covers the pan in the book's picture, but otherwise it was easy. No catch.

Turnips by Gwyneth

A video posted by Amanda (@mandasims) on

The Finish Line

I'll give it to GP, the food tasted very good. Rebel that I am, we had some wontons in our meatball-and-wonton strip soup, but the ratios were spot on: plenty of herbs and alliums for every bit of chicken. Justine and I popped the turnips like candy, which they were a little akin to ("Is this dessert?," my boyfriend with total sincerity asked after trying the first one halfway through his soup).

Did I enjoy cooking from this book? Were the recipes exactly what they were chalked up to be? Yes on both counts. It was a quick and painless evening in the kitchen, with an output that made sense for the input required: Measure enough scallions and cilantro into your ground chicken thighs, and the resulting meatballs will have flavor. But did I learn anything about cooking, was I inspired, did I feel a newfound grasp on the tools and ingredients available to me, the way people rave after they make it through a few Ottolenghi dishes, or the way we feel reading Brooks Headley in the Piglet? Oh, come on.

The marvelous novelty of Zuni Café chicken and bread.

This book is going to be loved by many, simply for being beautiful and delivering on its easy-breezy promise and cutting out extra information. (People are so used to being pandered to these days, told half the story because it's for their own good, that they won't miss the big picture.) They will hear about this book, gift this book, and even try cooking from this book because it's Gwyneth's. They will be charmed to pieces by the pictures of her gorgeous family and the novelty of this hitherto unknown dish called Zuni Sheetpan Chicken.

It's All Easy is going to reach an audience that hasn't gone into the kitchen yet (or once did, but has found themselves "too busy" to keep at it) for the exact reason that I might have rolled my eyes at it: Gwyneth. That, to me, is incredibly good news no matter how annoyed I am that she chose this opportunity to also remind us of her enviable sweater collection. Hopefully, of course, those cooks find their way to Food52 not long after.

How excited are you for Gwyneth's new cookbook? Be real with me in the comments.

Order now

A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

Order now

30 Comments

Gina |. July 6, 2016
Whether you love or hate GP (I happen to be in the "love her" camp), she understands food and how to eat in a way that fuels your body with good, nutritious, unprocessed food. I bought It's All Easy almost as soon as it came out and I've cooked my way through most of the cookbook. Some recipes are easier than others, and they take you out of your comfort zone. The socca is genius. If you are interested in eating a cleaner diet and experimenting with cooking, this book is definitely for you (along with her second book).
 
kzmccaff May 31, 2016
I have this from the library right now and really loved the Chicken Picatta recipe, the Migas, and am going to make that roast chicken and wonton soup (good to know about the gloop at the bottom)--my friend said the cauliflower was delicious. It's not a "learning" cookbook, but it is fun to flip through and the recipes taste good, so I'm happy with it. Though I wish she said where her awesome sweaters are from... probs locally sourced lambswool knit by her au pair or something ;)
 
Anne S. May 31, 2016
At least two of GP's sweaters are from Aiayu: <br />https://www.instagram.com/p/BEP-HihImEE/?taken-by=aiayu_com<br />http://instagram.com/aiayu_com<br />
 
Louise May 4, 2016
I also am an avid cookbook collector but GP's books do not inspire me enough so passed on both of them. Having said that I subscribe to Goop and love some of the articles there.
 
Monica J. May 3, 2016
I just bought the book, and look forward to the "easy" recipes that promise to satisfy. I'm the sort of busy home cook who wants my meals to be delicious and worthy of the calories and time it takes to make it. Love the photos of GP, as she is beautiful, not to mention a yogini who takes care of her body and spirit.
 
Pascale P. May 3, 2016
Loved your review. It was LONG, but I appreciated your take on the book. I typically just BUY THE BOOK, and it often just sits. I got the visual from you and even though I have been on the fence about this book, I think I will buy it. Thank you.
 
Sandrine May 2, 2016
I enjoyed reading your review but it did not convinced me to buy this cookbook although I am a big cookbook collector. Actually I am a home cook and sharing with a pastry chef...and I don't believe in her food statements. Her book reminds me of the Delicious Ella one that one of my friends gave me because she wanted to get rid of it. I am not just into this kind of "it's all about me" photos in cookbooks.
 
Robin W. May 2, 2016
Great review but I still won't be tempted to buy the book. As well as wading through the zillion pages of perfect life, blonde hair and skinny legs, I read the introduction to G's first book. When I got to the part about her freaking out so badly after eating French fries that she went to her doctor, I not only rolled my eyes, I made a raspberry sound as well. I may have also uttered something under my breath. Still, as they say, horses for courses.
 
dgrabovac May 2, 2016
People come off very jealous of her and with jealousy comes the magnifying glass and criticism. She does work for a living after all and is quite talented and beautiful - she shouldn't have to hide that. I trust her palette and opinion on food because she has eaten at the best restaurants, by the best chefs, around the globe etc. I can trust her taste buds! Anyhow, the only thing I thought the book was missing was to source all of the dishes, tablecloths, and sweaters! It was really pretty and I look forward to making a few recipes.
 
Cecile May 3, 2016
For me, I waiver around all of her self-focus. If I buy the book, I might cover it with a paper bag cover to avoid ridicule from my friends (well, not really, but I digress). GP is selling herself, or her image and products anyway, as a shortcut to living some proximity to a silver spoon life such as hers. As for jealousy, I only experience such feelings of people I know who've attained something I've aspired to--not to complete strangers. I sense some who've written here are merely aligning with their principles, not being jealous.
 
Patricia S. May 2, 2016
Gwyneth's site, products, and cookbooks do not interest me at all. But then I am not upper middle class, so I'm not to whom she is pandering. Also don't own a spiralizer or a vitamix. Not very trendy. Love Food52, though. Products and recipes.
 
Cecile May 2, 2016
Guilty of collecting cookbooks. Wasn't sure about GP's, as the whole privileged girl advising on life makes my skin crawl. Nevertheless, if a recipe has too many ingredients or steps, I take a pass. So I'm intrigued by the promise of the book. That's why I stay away from the other maven--MS--too much of a learning curve needed with her stuff generally. I've a short attention span and I'm veeerrryyy slow when it comes to cooking. Hate spending too much time in grocery stores as well--the idea of having to go to more than one to find, say, green garlic? Bleh. Will probably succumb given your fun review. And, given others' comments below, I might splurge and get her other one as well. They might end up gathering a little dust next to Nigella, Ottolenghi, Waters, ATC, Hamshaw, Forte...but I do get to them periodically--just as I eventually get to the stuff still with tags in my closets. Cheers!
 
Susan H. May 2, 2016
Oh now I can't wait to get it!!!! I have both of her other cookbooks and think they are great!!!!! Great sweaters!
 
scrambled E. May 2, 2016
I have a cookbook addiction. Stopped counting when I reached 500. Space is now at a premium so I have become more selective. I do own GP's "It's All Good" and like it. Flipped through this new book and quickly decided it was <br />not worth acquiring. Have seen all these recipes before, perhaps without a<br />key "fancy" ingredient that I have to go to special grocery store for. Would <br />rather have food pictures instead of celebrity pics. Also, annoyed that several<br />recipes are written to serve 1. That is a whole different category. This book is easy for me to take a pass on.<br />
 
KLD1967 May 2, 2016
I stood in Costco a few weeks ago with this book in my hand, flipping through the pages, right after I rolled my eyes at GP on the cover. After five minutes of putting the book in the cart, taking it out and putting it back, and then looking at it again, I bought it. I haven't yet had time to cook anything from it - apparently it's not quite easy enough to fit into my busy couple of weeks, but I will be diving into it as I admit I was intrigued by some of the recipes. Almost enough to go check out the GOOP website, although I've resisted that temptation so far.
 
Alexandria April 21, 2016
I ordered this book when I first heard about it because its premise was something I had been searching for. I often struggle with finding easy - and healthy - recipes to cook, especially on weeknights. I was prepared to roll my eyes a bit and to find a few things (ingredients, the tools she recommends using) hard to come by, because, well, it's Gwyneth Paltrow. But after looking through it last week I am happy with it. This past weekend I made the grilled salmon skewers (there is a sauce but I don't have the book with me and can't remember what it's called) and they were easy, as the book promises, and also quite good. Yes, she is annoying and pretentious but I try to get past that and focus on the food itself. Is the food good? To me that is all that matters.
 
Ttrockwood April 19, 2016
If you're an experienced cook and ended up with wonton wrapper glob at the bottom of your bowl I can't imagine what an amateur cook who just wants to look like G would end up with. Makes me wonder about the rest of the recipes... And given her extensive propaganda on diet and exercise from other sources I'm surprised there isn't nutritional information.
 
hil April 18, 2016
It's hard because everything IS so perfect in her books. So if you can let go of annoyance, jealousy or shock that people have such "beautiful" lives, get real and know it i her life, the food is good. And she did it. That's inspiring. Just do it. She does.
 
Rosie April 16, 2016
"This cookbook is not one bit shameless about..." So... it is shameful about doing those things? Words. They mean stuff.
 
Hannah W. April 16, 2016
THE SASS ASIMS. I love this revue though, and it's exactly how I feel about the book. Thank you for such a thoughtful review!!
 
Olivia C. April 16, 2016
I'm a sucker for anything in a pretty package. I love a pretty cookbook and I especially love good recipes. We have It's All Good and many of the recipes are made weekly at my house. It's one of my 'too many' cookbooks that I actually use. I'm sure I'll end up with this one too.
 
Kristen R. April 16, 2016
Thank you for such a great article. I've felt pretty...judgmental about GP's cookbooks, and I appreciate the thoughtful analysis. Excellent read, much appreciated review.