"Everyday Celebrations" by Donata Maggipinto

Pros: Simple menus; delicious recipes; easy instructions; attractive layout and design
Cons: I wish the ingredients were presented in list form
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Chronicle Books

The concept of “Everyday Celebrations” is pretty clear from the title–it provides menus that are delicious and lovely enough for a celebration, but easy enough for everyday use. These aren’t such complex things that they must be relegated to once-a-year status, only to be brought out at Christmas, Thanksgiving, or someone’s birthday.

The author succeeds so well at this, in fact, that at first glance I had trouble picking out recipes to make. They all looked a little too… I don’t want to say unimpressive, because that isn’t quite right, but I guess… well, perhaps an example will do the job best. One recipe from an Asian-themed menu is a refreshing cucumber salad. It’s extremely simple; the “dressing” is basically three ingredients or so. I was fairly dubious that it would be all that good, much less worthy of celebratory status. Instead, it ended up being one of the highlights of an already amazing Thanksgiving feast filled with all kinds of good food! Add to that the fact that it was embarrassingly quick and easy to make, and it really is perfect for everyday celebration cooking.

Everything else we made from this cookbook was similarly delicious. A smoky green beans recipe from the same Asian-themed menu was delightful, and it helpfully included both the original Asian ingredients in case you have access to them, as well as more common grocery store substitutes (for example, Chinese smoked sausage vs. kielbasa). We made the blueberry turkey sausage and used it in a sausage stuffing from another cookbook; it was so good my husband made certain to ask whether we’d used it all in the stuffing or had more to put on biscuits with eggs. A wild mushroom topping (meant for crusty bread, but we used it on everything from turkey to mashed potatoes) was popular all around at the table, and the curried parsnip soup had a delightfully complex and delicious flavor for something so simple and easy.

We made a sampling from various menus, but the menus are quite lovely as wholes, and include suggestions for ways to make them seem much more involved and complex without going insane in the kitchen. For example, the “Easy Asian Kitchen Party” menu suggests that you purchase potstickers and egg rolls from a Chinese restaurant, then make your own salt and pepper shrimp, roast chicken with Asian flavors, refreshing cucumber salad, coconut rice, smoky green beans, and tropical fruits Foster. All of the recipes are as simple as possible; even the smoky green beans, which look comparatively complex with three paragraphs of instructions, come together in mere minutes.

Not all recipes include pictures, but the photographs that are here are professional and attractive, and focus on the food itself.

My only gripe with the layout is that the ingredients are presented in a sort of paragraph form rather than list form, and this makes them a little harder to keep track of while cooking. It isn’t a big deal, however. The pages are sturdy and easy to clean, and the binding lies fairly flat, which is wonderful when cooking!

The book includes 8 total menus–two for each season. The remainder of the book is taken up by season-appropriate suggestions for decorations and projects to make your festivities seem all the more festive. For example, the springtime section includes directions for making lovely edible crystallized flowers. There are also instructions for centerpieces, decorations, and sides such as rhubarb chutney.

The ratio of straight recipes-to-page count may not be that high if that’s all you care about, but if you enjoy fun little projects and decorations to make even the small celebrations special, then this is a very lovely book. It bridges the gap between the high-intensity books that assume you’re practically Martha Stewart, and the books that assume you don’t have the time for any of that kind of stuff, allowing you to be festive without going crazy.

Menus include:

  • Garden-inspired lunch
  • Red, White, and Blueberry Breakfast
  • Paella Party
  • Soup for Supper
  • Autumn Birthday Celebration
  • Charades and Chardonnay
  • Sunday Dinner
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