gwyneth and me

I have done a few nutty things in preparation for my upcoming nuptials, but the pinnacle so far was the week I went 100% Gwyneth. I gave up gluten, dairy, booze, sugar, red meat, and a bunch of other random things (tomatoes?) to ensure that my wedding gown would zip all the way up during my first fitting. I was roughly following Paltrow’s “elimination diet” as outlined in her new cookbook, It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.

gwyneth and me

think she’ll come to the wedding? we have a vegan option on the menu…

A few weeks ago, fresh off of a lovely and indulgent vacation with my mom to Hot Springs, Arkansas, I was feeling rather, ahem, full, and was concerned that I had only a week and a half post-vacation before my first wedding dress fitting. One day at work, I was mulling over my predicament, trying to recall some—any—healthy recipes, when Rachel walked in and told me she received Gwyenth Paltrow’s new book as a Mother’s Day gift. She was impressed by the chicken meatballs and spied a bunch of other recipes that looked tasty and healthy. My ears perked up. I was interested, but highly skeptical. Hadn’t this cookbook been referred to as the “air and water diet” and been ridiculed across the world wide web? Later the same day, Rachel sent me a link to a hilarious New York Magazine article by a woman who dabbled in a number of the diet plans Paltrow outlines in the book and found herself liking many of the dishes. Through the humor, I got the strong impression that this book had a lot of healthy recipes that were easy enough to prepare and darn delicious. At that moment, I decided to catapult myself out of vacation eating mode by jumping on the elimination bandwagon.

barbecued chicken, spanish style and roasted cauliflower with mustard and parsley

barbecued chicken, spanish style and roasted cauliflower with mustard and parsley

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I got my version of Paltrow’s book two days later. The introduction gave some helpful context. Paltrow and her co-author, Julia Turshen, wrote the book with the goal of providing “recipes that will make you feel lighter and full of energy, not weighed down. But it’s all insanely delicious—comfort food that happens to follow the same protocols as all healthy eating plans.” There are vegan recipes, lean-protein diet (Paleo) recipes, whole foodsy-just-plain-good-for-you recipes, and elimination recipes (those that cut out all foods known to cause allergies, sensitivities, or other digestive nonsense).
roasted eggplant with tahini dressing, molasses + mint

roasted eggplant with tahini dressing, molasses + mint

I went to the grocery store the night the book arrived and got the ingredients to make Chicken Burgers, Thai Style and Korean Slaw. Ed and I could not believe how good those burgers were. Poultry burgers are often poor substitutes for beef burgers and need bread, cheese, and secret sauce to disguise their blandness, but these aren’t served with a bun (can’t have gluten), or cheese (no dairy in Gwyneth’s world), or a sauce, yet they are really flavorful. They have way more cilantro than you’d expect, ample garlic, loads of shallots, some heat, and a little fish sauce. I added a pinch more salt (and if I hadn’t been concerned about bloating, might have added more), but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. Ed, who was less than thrilled about my elimination plan, was blown away by the burgers. He had two in one sitting (with a bit of sriracha on the side). The slaw was less impressive—it needed some vinegar—but was a nice complement to the chicken. After such a successful night, I was even more determined to give up my sanity for Gwyneth’s diet.
candy bars

candy bars

The next morning, I got up extra early to make myself some of The Best Green Juice. It’s raw kale, lemon, ginger, apple, and mint blended together, strained and, um, enjoyed? I realized very quickly that my mere mortal of a blender was not up to the task of juicing kale. I had to add a cup of water to get a cup of green juice to come through the strainer, so I’m not sure I experienced the elixir in its highest and best form. It was kind of good, spicy and tart from the ginger and lemon, but certainly nothing I would ever crave. I couldn’t taste the kale at all. Aside from destroying my kitchen before 7 a.m., the biggest problem I had with the juice was that it was not even close to a real breakfast. I was starving by 8 a.m. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have my leftover chicken burger waiting for me at lunchtime.
kale chips

kale chips

For the next four days, I cooked the hell out of that cookbook and avoided gluten and dairy as though it actually mattered. I discovered some major duds in the book (I have never cooked anything as bland as the Teriyaki Chicken) and some major winners (the Carrots with Black Sesame + Ginger “wrecked my world,” as Gwyneth might say). I spent a lot of money on groceries that week, but I wasn’t eating out, so it didn’t impact my overall food budget too much. There are a number of costly unusual ingredients, but many are used frequently in the book, so the cost is spread over a couple of meals. My rule of thumb was that if a recipe called for something I could use at least twice, I’d go for it (I made that rule after splurging on something called “barley miso” and hating the one recipe that required it (Teriyaki Chicken)).
teriyaki chicken, carrots with sesame and ginger, black rice with fresh coconut

teriyaki chicken, carrots with sesame and ginger, black rice with fresh coconut

The book itself is beautiful. If you’re not a fan of Paltrow, the many pictures of her might annoy you, but the food and scenery shots will more than make up for it. I found some of the headnotes before the recipes lacking sufficient instruction. For example, when it was time to remove the skin and bones from my salt-roasted whole sea bass, Gwyneth didn’t tell me how to do so, she just told me to do it. Having never cooked a whole fish, I needed to know more. Luckily, I found a video of Martha Stewart showing Ted Danson how to unearth and serve a salt-roasted bass. Once I peeled the skin off the bass, I found it to be moist and infused with lime, basil, cilantro, and other savory Thai flavors, but it served about a half a person. I really wish I could blame that on Gwyneth, but I think I choked at the fish counter. I was so nervous buying something with eyeballs, that I just pointed at the smallest one and prayed that it would come back without a head (it didn’t).
fish roasted in salt, thai style

fish roasted in salt, thai style

I thought long and hard about whether I would recommend this book. There are reasons that the internet was pretty mean when this book first came out: some people really don’t like Gwyneth and her personality is all over the book (personally, I get a kick out of it, but I know she can be a bit much), the book operates in a limited universe of food with some very hard to find ingredients, and some of the dishes cost a pretty penny to make. All of those factors considered, I definitely recommend this book. It’s a very useful collection of healthy, satisfying dishes. I was following the elimination diet, but not every dish is built around such strict rules. The significant majority of the recipes I tried were well balanced and full of flavor. Before I owned this book, I didn’t have a trusted resource for healthy recipes, but now I have a great one that I know I will return to often. And of course, the most important factor: my wedding dress fit.
hard boiled egg

hard boiled egg

Below is a slightly adapted version of the sesame-ginger carrots. If you have doubts about whether this book is worth it, try these carrots. At the bottom of this post, I’ve listed the recipes I tried and my thoughts on each (from best to worst).

Carrots with Black Sesame + Ginger: Savory, spicy, hot, and sweet. Strips of carrots are cooked quickly in ginger-infused oil and finished with soy sauce, hot toasted sesame oil, and sesame seeds. A unique and simple recipe to return to again and again.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (use a microplane, if you have one)
1 pound of carrots cut into matchsticks (I cut baby carrots into quarters lengthwise)
Coarse salt
A couple of drops of hot toasted sesame oil (or just regular toasted sesame oil)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (or toasted black sesame seeds, if you can find them)

Add the olive oil to a large nonstick skillet and warm over high heat. Add the ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring all of the time. Stir in the carrots and combine well with the ginger oil. Add a fat pinch of salt, a 1/4 cup of water and reduce heat to medium-high. Let the carrots cook until they begin to soften and the water evaporates, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the drops of sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Taste for salt. Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.

Other Recipes I Tried:

Chicken Burgers, Thai Style: as described above, these are delicious. They need a pinch more salt, but otherwise have great flavor.

Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers with Cucumber + Yogurt Sauce: I tried this after I was off of the elimination diet (so I could have the yogurt sauce). Total winner. Tons of flavor: shallots, fresh basil, dried oregano, baby spinach, lemon zest, and garlic. Fresh and light yogurt sauce that just screams for a dip from a pretzel.

Roasted Eggplant with Tahini Dressing, Molasses + Mint: Perfectly roasted eggplant with a smooth, creamy dressing sweetened just enough with the molasses. My new go-to eggplant recipe.

Yogurt-Tahini Dressing: Hard to stop eating. Garlicky, lemony, and nutty. Loved it over the roasted eggplant with molasses.

Black Rice with Fresh Coconut: I could not have survived the elimination diet without this sweet and savory, limey rice. It’s great alongside just about anything and looks so dramatic.

Asparagus with Miso-Almond Sauce: Steamed asparagus with creamy, nutty sauce and sesame seeds. Ed didn’t love this and I was glad because I couldn’t get enough of it.

Fish Roasted in Salt, Thai Style: Despite not having much to show for my efforts, this was easy to prepare. The fish stayed very moist and the flavors were lively.

Candy Bars! I couldn’t not try a dessert recipe. I picked the one that looked like it would require the fewest use-em-once ingredients. I was quite pleased with these. They are like chocolate covered Lära bars. Total calorie bombs, though, so don’t fool yourself into thinking these are healthy (they are soft, chewy bars made from ground cashews, dates, almond butter, maple syrup, coconut flour, and coconut, topped with a hardened salted dark chocolate-coconut oil layer). Ed was indifferent, my mom liked them, and my dad refused to try them.

Barbecued Chicken, Spanish Style: If I had never had the pimentón chicken from Bon Appétit, I would have thought this was the best chicken EVER. It’s delicious, but not as good as the Bon Appétit version, which is a whole roasted chicken with a very similar spicy garlic rub.

Roasted Cauliflower + Chickpeas with Mustard + Parsley: The chickpeas get dry and crunchy in a fun, junk-foody way and the cauliflower gets brown and roasty and full of flavor. There’s pep from the mustard and freshness from the parsley, but I might try it without the seeded mustard next time.

Hard-boiled Egg: Gwyneth took a lot of flak for including a recipe for a hard-boiled egg, but you know what? I didn’t know how long to cook one and I found her instructions useful.

Korean Slaw: A ho-hum mix of romaine, cabbage, cilantro, onions, and sesame tossed with a lime-fish sauce-oil emulsion. Fresh and crunchy, but needs more acid.

Almond + Kale Smoothie: I don’t know why I thought this would be a good idea. Probably because I wanted to try almond milk. Maybe this is good if you have a Vitamix, but my blender and food processor couldn’t get the kale smooth enough and the overall flavor was too earthy.

Cold Avocado + Cucumber Soup: My blender couldn’t get this thin enough, so while the flavors were good (smooth guacamole), the texture was too thick.

Kale Chips: Not for me. As Ed put it, the salty crunch of the first bite is good, but once that dissolves, you feel like you’re eating paper.

The Best Green Juice: As I described, my blender could not even pretend to make this into a juice. The first morning, I strained it per the instructions, but the second morning, I ate/drank it “unfiltered.” If you think kale is bitter, try adding a lemon and chewing the pulp of the two. Just awful.

Teriyaki Chicken: Worst dish I tried. Marinated it overnight and it didn’t seem to matter. Blander than bland.

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