Friday, May 7, 2010

Cookbook review: Giada at Home

Years ago, when I first laid eyes on Giada Di Laurentiis, I was prepared to hate her guts. The cleavage-baring, toothy beauty who peppered her commentary with rolling Italian words was obviously the Food Network's blatant response to the industry of food porn.

But then I tried one of her recipes, and another, and another, and they all came out perfectly and won accolades from my family. I started reading about her life and found she had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. And she grudgingly won my respect.

These days, I am often turning to Giada's recipes for dinner at my house. I have made her sauteed spinach with red onion recipe so many times I don't even need to check the recipe anymore. So when my copy of "Giada at Home" (Clarkson Potter) arrived in the mail, I was estatico (ecstatic).

Yes, it seems like it's more of the same old, same old. The cover boasts an image of the wide-eyed Italian beauty, with inner photo spreads of her equally dazzling family, close-ups of pesto-flecked pasta and juicy tomatoes. But why stray from a winning formula?

Once again in this book, Giada succeeds by taking Italian family favourites and putting her California spin on them. Yes, Giada is a celebrity chef who made her name not from her restaurant work but through her accessible recipes, but she is good at what she does.

And she is one of those celebrity chefs whose cookbooks I actually use time and time again.

This one is no different. If you like to entertain, if you need new ideas for quick pasta dishes, or if you like Italian food but prefer the Californian lighter-food philosophy, buy this book. It's hard to fault anything about it. (And read to the bottom for recipes from this book).

Quick and dirty review of recipes I tried:

Turkey meatloaf with feta and sun-dried tomatoes:
I have already made this twice and will probably make it again soon. It's a lighter take on a comfort food we all know and love. It's as easy as mixing up all the ingredients and putting them in a loaf pan. I don't really see what is Italian about this recipe other than the sun-dried tomatoes but what do I care? It's dee-lish. You can find the recipe here.

Brown butter risotto with lobster: Brown butter this, brown butter that. Everything is about brown butter these days. But really, it's a simple step that will elevate your meal to a gourmet one. I have to say, I had this for dinner after eating Lobster Carbonara at the Royal Ontario Museum's restaurant C5 for lunch (Tagliatelle, Boar Bacon, Maitake Mushrooms, Truffle Cured Egg Yolk, Hot Mizuna) and that coloured my perception of this dish. Obviously the lobster at the restaurant was fresh, while the lobster tail I used for the risotto came frozen. Huge difference. But if you want to eat an almost-restaurant quality meal at home without spending the bigger bucks, this is an impressive alternative. You can find the recipe here.

Lemon hazelnut tiramisu: I've already said everything I had to say about this in a previous post that you can read by following this link. Make it, eat it.

Keep reading for two recipes from "Giada at Home" courtesy the good people at Random House.

Grilled salmon with citrus salsa verde
by Giada Di Laurentiis from Giada at Home

4 servings
This is my favorite way to eat fish, with a very clean, fresh, and simple preparation. Agave is a natural sweetener from the blue agave plant in South America, and brushed on the salmon it creates a nice caramelized crust. Topped with salsa verde made of citrus zests and herbs, this dish is super-light and perfect on a hot summer day. Jade loves the grilled salmon, too!

salsa
2 large oranges
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 scallions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
salmon
Vegetable or canola oil, for the grill
4 (4- to 5-ounce) skinless center-cut salmon fillets,
each about 3 inches square
2 tablespoons amber agave nectar or pure maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa: Grate 2 tablespoons zest from the oranges and put it in a medium bowl. Peel and trim the ends from each orange with a sharp knife. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and place on a cutting board. Coarsely chop the segments and scoop them into the bowl with the orange zest. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, scallions, mint, capers, and red pepper flakes. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the salmon: Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Brush the grilling rack with vegetable oil to keep the salmon from sticking.
Brush the salmon on both sides with the agave nectar and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until the fish flakes easily and is cooked to medium. Transfer the salmon to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Spoon the salsa verde on top of the salmon, or serve it on the side as an accompaniment.

Cheese-stuffed dates with prosciutto
by Giada Di Laurentiis from Giada at Home

4 to 6 servings

The sweetest, best kind of dates are Medjools. They’re large, so they are easy to fill, meaty, and chewy. Stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto, they provide a perfect sweet-salty mouthful in every bite. Serve these with a crisp white wine as the ideal before-dinner tidbit.

¼ cup (2 ounces) goat cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup (2 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 Medjool dates (12 ounces)
8 thin slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise

Special equipment
16 toothpicks or cocktail picks

In a small bowl, mix together the cheeses and basil. Season with salt and pepper.

With a knife, make a lengthwise incision in each date. Gently open the dates slightly and remove the pits. Spoon about ½ teaspoon cheese mixture inside each one. Close the dates around the filling. Wrap a piece of prosciutto around each date and secure with a toothpick.

Arrange the stuffed dates on a platter and serve.

Excerpted from Giada at Home by Giada De Laurentiis Copyright © 2010 by Giada De Laurentiis. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

2 comments:

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

Thanks for the "quick and dirty" review! I love Giada's recipes too though I don't own any of her books (yet!).

Avenue-Photo said...

Great review Mary, I have a few of Giada's books and they are a staple in my collection for quick and easy meals with a modern spin on them.