Who wants a cookbook written by a celebrity chef when you can buy one written by a bona fide celebrity? This season, the cookbook castle has been stormed by four women better known for their extra-culinary personas -- Gwyneth Paltrow, Teresa Giudice (of New Jersey housewife fame), Eva Longoria and Sheryl Crow.
The public has welcomed these stars, buying books that are now showing up on nonfiction bestseller lists.
There are things to admire in these books, and things to regret: easy recipes. Healthful recipes. Not particularly original recipes. Downright comical recipes. Vanity, generosity, warmth and an obsessive devotion to offspring.
Here's how the star cookbooks stack up.
"My Father's Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness," by Gwyneth Paltrow (Grand Central Publishing, $30, 150 recipes.) The actress, author and singer has released a cookbook with an emphasis on clean flavors and vegetarian/vegan alternatives; it serves as a tribute to Bruce Paltrow, her late father, who loved to cook.
TAKE-AWAY MESSAGE Daddy told her she could do whatever she wanted, if she just put her mind (and face) to it.
NUMBER OF RECIPE PHOTOS/NUMBER OF AUTHOR PHOTOS 65/26
SIMPLEST RECIPE Plum Ketchup, Page 103. "Stir the ketchup and jam together." Most Ridiculous Recipe Wood Oven Pizzas, Page 174. "We've got a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden -- a luxury, I know, but it's one of the best investments I've ever made."
INGREDIENTS SHE DEMONIZES Pork and beef
VANITY MOMENT "I fell in love with tortilla soup (and all things Tex-Mex) when I was doing a movie called 'Flesh and Bone' in Austin, Texas, in 1992."
SAVORY RICE BOWL
Gwyneth Paltrow first had a version of this at a Japanese monastery during a silent retreat. She thought the retreat was an interesting experience, but the savory rice bowl was the best part. She came home and re-created it. Adapted from "My Father's Daughter."
1 cup short-grain brown rice
6 cups water
Regular or low-sodium soy sauce, for serving
Toasted sesame oil, for serving
Sesame and seaweed rice condiment (available at Asian markets), for serving
Finely chopped scallions, for serving
Finely chopped kimchee, for serving
Finely shredded nori, for serving
1. Rinse the brown rice, if desired. Combine the rice with 5 cups of water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low; stir, cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Ideally, the rice should have a porridgelike consistency.
2. Uncover; if you still see a fair amount of liquid in the saucepan, cook for another 15 to 30 minutes. Alternatively, if the rice seems dry, add as much of the remaining 1 cup of water as needed; cook for 15 to 30 minutes further (on low or medium-low heat) to achieve desired consistency.
3. To serve, divide rice among individual bowls. Top with dashes of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, and with sprinkles of sesame-seaweed condiment, scallions, kimchee and nori. Makes 4 servings.
"Eva's Kitchen: Cooking With Love for Family and Friends," by Eva Longoria with Marah Stets (Clarkson Potter, $30, 100 recipes). The actress shares Texan and Mexican recipes and pays homage to her late Aunt Elsa, a caterer.
TAKE-AWAY MESSAGE She's not some starlet who wouldn't know a gizzard if it fell in her lap. She grew up on a ranch in Texas with real chickens.
NUMBER OF RECIPE PHOTOS/NUMBER OF AUTHOR PHOTOS 53/16
SIMPLEST RECIPE Toast Triangles, Page 17. "Lightly spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread. Lightly sprinkle with garlic or onion powder, paprika, and salt, if using. Cut each slice into 4 triangles and place on a cookie sheet. Bake until lightly brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool and serve."
MOST RIDICULOUS RECIPE Tie between Ceviche (Page 30; "In the beach towns of Mexico . . . people happily eat raw fish and shellfish. I, however, do not.") and Turkey Shepherd's Pie (Page 97; "The key to great shepherd's pie is the ketchup").
INGREDIENTS SHE DEMONIZES Trans fats and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
VANITY MOMENT "I cannot count the number of times that I've found myself in a Gucci dress and heels -- with full hair and makeup, about to run out to an event -- pulling a roasted chicken out of the oven in order to make sure that my family is fed before leaving the house to face a hundred photographers on a red carpet."
"Fabulicious! Teresa's Italian Family Cookbook," by Teresa Giudice with Heather Maclean (Running Press, $19, 60 recipes.) The author and co-star of Bravo TV's "Real Housewives of New Jersey" follows her "Skinny Italian" cookbook with more of the same.
TAKE-AWAY MESSAGE She will make you love her children.
NUMBER OF RECIPE PHOTOS/NUMBER OF AUTHOR PHOTOS 31/29
SIMPLEST RECIPE Roasted Asparagus Alla Parmigiana, Page 131. "Spread the asparagus in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil. Roll the asparagus in the oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast, turning the asparagus after 5 minutes, until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes . .. "
MOST RIDICULOUS RECIPE Audriana's Creamy Polenta, Page 47, allegedly the favorite dish of Giudice's 1-year-old daughter. The headnote is ostensibly written by the author's 6-year-old daughter: "Hi, it's me, Gabriella."
INGREDIENTS SHE DEMONIZES Vegetable oil. (Giudice uses only olive oil.)
CELEBRITY WATCH Food personality and cookbook author Rachael Ray is mentioned, and Giudice drops Sophia Loren's name ("one of my personal heroes"). There are the expected "Real Housewives" plugs, plus a mention of Andy Cohen, a Bravo TV executive vice president. Hold. Us. Back.
VANITY MOMENT "As so many of you have written me and attested -- I already knew this because I have four kids and don't work out -- if you eat home-cooked, fresh, authentic Italian food, you can have your pasta and your skinny jeans, too."
FRANCO'S FETTUCCINE WITH CREAMY PORTOBELLO SAUCE
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Portobello mushrooms, trimmed, caps and stems cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine such as pinot grigio
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
Salt and pepper
1 pound fettuccine
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil over high heat.
2. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms give off their liquid, it evaporates, and they begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates by half, about 1 minute. Stir in the cream, parsley and sage and bring to a boil. Cook until lightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
3. Add the fettuccine to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the sauce and Parmesan and stir gently. Serve hot, with a bowl of grated Parmesan passed on the side. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
"If It Makes You Healthy: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons," by Sheryl Crow and Chuck White with Mary Goodbody (St. Martin's Press, $30, 100-plus recipes) The author, rock star and breast cancer survivor offers healthful recipes devised, in large part, by chef Chuck White and a nutritionist.
TAKE-AWAY MESSAGE Food is an important ingredient in your well-being.
NUMBER OF RECIPE PHOTOS/NUMBER OF AUTHOR PHOTOS 32/22
SIMPLEST RECIPE Chuck's Crème Fraîche, Page 153. "In a glass bowl, stir the cream with the buttermilk. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours, or until thickened."
MOST RIDICULOUS RECIPE Lemon-Vanilla Panna Cotta with Basil-Apricot Compote, Page 122. This Italian "cooked cream" is made with lemon soy yogurt.
INGREDIENTS SHE DEMONIZES Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
CELEBRITY WATCH Does Jack Daniel's count? Because other than the name of that Tennessee whiskey, there's nary a celebrity in sight.
VANITY MOMENT When was the last time a cookbook author admitted to "not being a great cook at home"?
TIPS FROM CELEBRITY COOKS
Eva Longoria "Try to flip flour and corn tortillas . . . only once."
Gwyneth Paltrow "Regular mayo is fine and works, but Vegenaise is a healthier alternative."
Teresa Giudice "If I can teach you nothing else in this entire book, learn this: Flirt with your butcher!"
Sheryl Crow (via nutritionist Rachel S. Beller)
"Extra-virgin olive oil isn't the best choice for high-heat cooking."