Food & Drink

Observer food editor’s take on Gwyneth Paltrow book: Pile of goop.

A day of cooking from Paltrow’s involves a lot of specialty products and a hefty grocery bill.
A day of cooking from Paltrow’s involves a lot of specialty products and a hefty grocery bill. Kathleen Purvis

Gwyneth Paltrow eats furikake with her fingers.

A Japanese seasoning made from crumbled dried seaweed, sesame and coconut sugar, it tastes a little fishy, and black crumbs flutter all over you when you eat it. But Gwyneth loves it so, she apparently sprinkles it on everything. She doesn’t worry about the flakes – she probably has people to whisk seaweed off cashmere.

A hunger for furikake (it sounds a little like “fee-ur-cake”) is just one of the ways Gwyneth is different from you and me. She has her own fab-lifestyle website, Goop.com. Her staff calls her “GP” (and I am just now realizing where the name Goop came from, so yes, Gwyneth is smarter than me). She sells $27-an-ounce Moon Dusts to sprinkle in smoothies. (Yes, she’s much, much smarter than me.)

But does Gwyneth Paltrow really live better than you and I? When her new cookbook, “It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook” (Goop Press, $35), landed on my desk, I had to find out:

Just how easy is it to be Gwyneth?

A window to her soul

The book, co-written by Goop.com food editor Thea Baumann, includes many pictures of Gwyneth’s life – winsomely gazing out of windows in gauzy light, wandering through Parisian parks, lingering over glasses of wine. While she’s gluten-free and sort-of vegetarian (no red meat, but lots of chicken, eggs and even pancetta – pork apparently is white meat in her world), she loves wine, snacks and big dinners.

There are even a couple of pictures of Gwyneth cooking, although, oddly, no pictures of Gwyneth putting food in her mouth. Furikake crumbs in very white teeth aren’t a good look on anyone.

The book’s pantry list includes ketchup, kimchi (Gwyneth loves kimchi), nori seaweed sheets, kuzu root, Vegenaise (vegan mayonnaise) and manuka honey. It also includes more things than I knew could be made from coconut. (Sugar! Flour! Lingerie! No, wait, that last one was “South Pacific.” Sorry, Gwyneth.)

The equipment list includes a bamboo matcha whisk for green tea, a spiralizer for turning zucchini into pasta, and a Vitamix blender, $329 to $600 at Amazon.com.

For a cookbook that promises easy weekday recipes, you have to pick carefully. I skipped the Bo Bun Salad with four sets of ingredients (eight for the chicken, three for the crispy shallots, six for the dressing and eight to finish the dish, including Armenian cucumbers). Bo Bun Salad could send you straight to the drive-through for a Bo biscuit.

I settled on a day’s worth of dishes: Asian Avocado Toast, Bibimbap Salad (only 19 ingredients, plus the furikake makings), Beet Chips, Tikka Masala Roast Chicken with Indian Creamed Spinach and Roasted Cauliflower With Curry and Lime, and avocado-based Chocolate Mousse with Cashew Cream.

Breakfast was a hurdle. I wanted to start with the Pitaya Bowl, made with frozen dragonfruit. While frozen dragonfruit may be common in Southern California, it apparently doesn’t exist in south Charlotte. I picked Ginger Chia Pudding and forged ahead.

Honey, that’s a lot

First stop: Whole Foods. Now, my pantry is more eclectically stocked than most: I already had Korean gochujang (a pepper paste), coconut oil, rice vinegar and the spice blend called garam masala. I still had a 28-item shopping list, including brown rice syrup, Vegenaise, chia seeds, liquid stevia and tandoori spice.

Shopping took 1 hour 20 minutes, including five requests for help from employees. (Tip: Vegenaise is in the refrigerator section, not on the shelf with the other vegan mayos. Luckily, it’s right above the kimchi.)

Even hitting store brands and sales, my bill for a single day of food came to $129.16. Good thing I skipped that manuka honey at $26 to $44 a jar.

Back home, I was ready for a pick-me-up, so I started the Asian Avocado Toast at 9:55 a.m. I quickly discovered the times given on recipes are a bit of a cheat. Many claim “less than 30 minutes,” but involve things that take separate cooking, like poaching eggs and making furikake. “Under-30 minute” toast took closer to 40 minutes.

Still, it was tasty, even the sweet/salty/fishy furikake. I ate it and took a break to stand at the window, gazing winsomely while I picked seaweed off my shirt.

Is it time to wine?

Lunch was Bibimbap Salad. Again, it involves cooking rice, prepping a blender sauce (7 minutes 50 seconds), cooking mushrooms, mung beans and spinach separately, poaching another egg and shredding carrots. My score: 36 minutes, 40 seconds.

It was tasty, though. Even my vegetarian-averse spouse loaded up a bowl, easy on the kimchi. We’re still consciously coupled because I don’t make him eat much kimchi.

By 2 p.m., I started the Chocolate Mousse. Apparently, you do need a $350 blender to make cashew cream. In my Breville, no slouch at high speeds, it came out more gritty than creamy, and weirdly salty. But the chocolate mousse chilled up with a dense, smooth texture and only a hint of avocado.

Beet chips, shaved thin on my mandoline, had mixed results. Some got crispy, others stayed leathery. The crisp ones were tasty if you don’t mind potato chips with a beet aftertaste. Then again, Gywneth advocates snacking with wine. After a glass or three, you might be fooled.

On to dinner: The chicken involved spatchcocking – cutting out the backbone, and don’t we do that every day? – so add poultry shears to that equipment list. With the side dishes, it took 1 hour, 53 minutes. Not short by “super-busy weeknight” standards, but for a Saturday night, it’s doable.

The cauliflower was tasty and I’d make it again. But the Indian creamed spinach was more Cincinnati than Calcutta – nice but underseasoned.

The best dish of the day turned out to be breakfast. If you like the soft pop of things like bubble tea and caviar, you’ll love chia pudding. You just put seeds in a jar with coconut water, coconut milk and coconut sugar and refrigerate overnight. It gets a creamy/crunchy texture, perfect for a morning commute.

From shopping to cooking, my day as Gwyneth was occasionally tasty. But it was often more work than promised, and it takes a hefty amount of money.

It’s all easy? Sorry, Gwyneth: That’s a load of goop.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

‘It’s All Easy’ Menu

Breakfast: Ginger Chia Pudding

Snack: Asian Avocado Toast

Lunch: Bibimbap Salad

Appetizer: Beet Chips

Dinner:

Tikka Masala Roast Chicken

Indian Cream Spinach

Roasted Cauliflower With Curry and Lime

Dessert: Chocolate Mousse (without cashew cream)

Ginger Chia Pudding

1/4 cup chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger

3/4 cup coconut water

6 tablespoons canned coconut milk

2 teaspoons coconut sugar

1/4 cup diced fresh peach (optional)

Combine chia seeds, ginger, coconut water, coconut milk and coconut sugar in a bowl or mason jar. Stir well, then refrigerate at least 10 minutes or up to 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 1 serving.

Asian Avocado Toast

Switch the order for best results: You’ll want to make the Furikake first, then poach the egg for 7 minutes before toasting the bread.

1 slice bread

1 tablespoon Vegenaise

1/4 teaspoon sriracha

1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1/4 to 1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 (7-minute) egg (see note)

Furikake seasoning (see recipe)

Pop the bread in the toaster and combine the Vegenaise, sriracha and sesame oil in a small bowl. When the toast is ready, spread it with the sauce, arrange the avocado slices on top and season with salt and pepper. Top with the poached egg and sprinkle with Furikake.

Yield: 1 serving.

Bibimbap Salad

Sauce:

1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced

3 green onions, sliced (about 1/3 cup)

1 tablespoon Korean gochujang (red pepper paste)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons tamari

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/3 cup kimchi

1/4 cup olive oil

Bibimbap:

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided

12 shiitakes, stemmed and sliced (or a 12-ounce package)

Salt

1 cup mung bean sprouts

4 cups lightly packed baby spinach

4 cups cooked white rice, brown rice or quinoa

4 small or 2 large carrots, peeled and grated

4 (9-minute) poached eggs, peeled and halved

Kimchi

Furikake seasoning (see recipe)

Blend all the sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil, shiitakes and a pinch of salt and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon sesame oil, add the bean sprouts and a pinch of salt and saute until just tender. Remove from pan. Add the final tablespoon of sesame oil, a pinch of salt and the spinach. Saute until just wilted.

Divide the rice among 4 bowls and arrange the grated carrot, sauted shiitakes, bean sprouts and spinach, eggs and kimchi on top. Sprinkle with furikake and serve with sauce on the side.

Yield: 4 servings.

Furikake

2 toasted nori sheets

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

2 teaspoons coconut sugar

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

A pinch of salt

Use your fingers to crumble the nori into very small pieces into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Beet Chips

Serve with wine. Lots of wine.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for baking sheets

2 medium beets (we used golden, which bleed less than red), peeled or well scrubbed

Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary

Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease two to three baking sheets lightly with olive oil.

Use a mandoline to slice the beets as thinly as possible. Toss with rosemary, olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Arrange the beets in single layers on the baking sheets, not overlapping.

Place the baking sheets in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Bake 10 minutes, then switch the pans and bake 10 minutes longer. (We found it took at least another 10 to 15 minutes for most of the chips to get crisp. They shouldn’t look wet at all.)

Cool chips on the baking sheet.

Yield: 4 servings.

Tikka Masala Roast Chicken

2 garlic cloves, minced or finely grated

1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (about 1 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon tandoori spice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), spatchcocked (backbone cut out)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a roasting pan with foil and place a wire rack on top.

Whisk together the garlic, ginger, tomato paste, yogurt, garam masala, tandoori spice, salt and olive oil. Rub all over the chicken, getting as much as possible under the skin.

Place the chicken on the rack in the roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check after 40 minutes and cover with foil if the chicken is getting too brown.

Let rest at least 10 minutes before carving.

Yield: 4 servings.

Indian Creamed Spinach

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 (4-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 3 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (16-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed out

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

1/4 cup heavy cream

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger, reduce heat to medium, and saute 10 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown. Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the spinach, salt and 1/2 cup water. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 3 minutes, or until heated through.

Turn off heat, stir in the yogurt and cream and use an immersion blender to blend in the pot until smooth.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Roasted Cauliflower With Curry and Lime

2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into large bite-size pieces

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons Vegenaise

Juice of 1 lime

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Put the cauliflower on a baking sheet and toss with curry powder, salt and olive oil. Roast 20 minutes, until just beginning to brown.

Mix the Vegenaise and lime juice in a large bowl. Toss the hot cauliflower with the Vegenaise mixture and sprinkle with cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

The recipe calls for liquid stevia, but with brown rice syrup and maple syrup, you could skip it.

1 large avocado, pitted and peeled

2 tablespoons almond butter

Sea salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup brown rice syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup raw cacao or unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa

1/4 cup almond milk

1/4 teaspoon liquid stevia (optional)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

In a blender or food processor, combine all the ingredients. Blend for 2 minutes or until very smooth. Divide among 4 ramekins and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Yield: 4 servings.

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