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Cookbook Review: My Father's Daughter, or Gwyneth Paltrow's Cookbook is Good, In Spite of Herself

Depending on whether you read Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP newsletter because you appreciate her recommendations or because you have a sadomasochistic curiosity to see how That Other Half lives, you either will love her cookbook, My Father's Daughter, or you will loathe its existence. Even Paltrow can scarcely believe it herself: "Okay, I wrote a cookbook," she begins. "Why? you may ask." We do ask. Given all the hats in her closet - actress, country singer, Gleek, Muppet, blogger, Bon Appetit cover girl, rapper - a toque seems to be, well, excessive.

Paltrow explains: "Cooking has become my main ancillary passion in life. I have always loved food, being around it, preparing it, and of course eating it." So she's not a writer, but, as she explains, her late father inspired her to appreciate food as a means to celebrate "togetherness." Hence, My Father's Daughter, Paltrow's self-appointed mission to encourage us to cook and eat together.

As it turns out, you can't drop hints about your privilege and celebrity network without breaking some of the apron ties that bind and undercutting that togetherness theme just a little bit. But we begrudgingly admit: self-indulgent anecdotes aside, Paltrow does give us some great recipes that are easy to make and far more interesting that your typical "healthy" cookbook.

With the assistance of Julia Turshen, Paltrow culls together 150 family-friendly dishes that emphasize fresh, healthy, and unprocessed ingredients. Mario Batali writes the Foreward; his job here is to convince us to give Paltrow a chance. If only it were that easy.

Paltrow first walks us through her a pantry, valued at $450, that includes five types of flour and Bragg Liquid Aminos. A chart of ingredient substitutions doubles as a lesson on the paradox of choice: if she calls for turkey, duck or tempeh bacon, for example, we may substitute "pork bacon." No soy, rice, or hemp milk? "Cow's milk" - known in pedestrian jargon as milk - also will work.

At this point, we began to doubt whether we could afford to give Paltrow a chance. We also developed class anxiety. But, we forged ahead - and were surprised. Paltrow likes Spanish and Asian flavors; the recipes throughout make use of ingredients like fish sauce and anchovies as a matter of routine. The recipes are easy to follow even if you have to tweak them to fit the contours of your pantry, and readily adaptable to vegan or vegetarian diets. For example, the recipe for homemade Srircha (see below) uses seven ingredients, all of which we had on hand save for arrowroot. Corn starch was used instead, and the resulting sauce was quite good, if not a bit too sweet. A simple substitution (soy for fish sauce) makes this vegan-friendly.

The remainder of the cookbook is divided into eight sections: soups, salads, burgers and sandwiches, pastas, main courses, side dishes, breakfast, and desserts. Within each section, basic recipes (roast chicken) are balanced with more involved ones (duck ragu). You probably already have her basic recipes elsewhere, but for every dish we skipped, there was one that gave us pause. Her duck "cassoulet" sans pork is a one-pot meal we'd like to try on a Saturday evening. Paltrow doesn't eat red meat, so what otherwise may have been a standard chapter on burgers is full of intriguing non-beef ideas (duck and rosemary burgers with plum ketchup, anyone?).

Because this is a family cookbook, Paltrow of course quotes her children throughout (note: Moses is the name of her son; it was he, not the man God chose to lead the Israelites during the Exodus, who is quoted on page 250 as saying, "I don't have a sweet tooth. All my teeth are sweet."). This is a bit over the top - oh, to be quotable in print by the age of 5! - but it does lead to useful tips on making dishes kid-friendly ("The smaller you cut the kale, the more it becomes about the rice.").

It's a testament to the strength of these recipes that we thumbed through all of them despite Paltrow's much ballyhooed tone of a kinder Nellie Oleson to our Laura Ingalls Wilder. For the wood oven pizza recipe, for example, she instructs, "If you have a wood fire, get it going a couple of hours before you want to eat pizza." Suffice to say, preheating the wood oven is a first world problem we don't have (yet).

And then there are the distracting celebrity cameos. The first of many names to be carelessly dropped is Nora Ephron, when Paltrow explains how to achieve "togetherness": "You just need some good ingredients and a few simple recipes, maybe a couple of jokes, or a 'topic to dissect' at the table, the way they do at Nora Ephron's house." The only good to come out of all this oblivious smugness is this "Dramatic Reading of 'My Father's Daughter' by Gwyneth Paltrow."

In the end, it's a shame that these gratuitous mentions undermine the core of her book. My Father's Daughter won't add a whole lot to your cookbook library, but the recipes nonetheless are sturdy enough to stand on their own. They don't need shorthand signifiers of class to carry out Batali's duty of vouching for Paltrow (and Turshen)'s creations. Getting together with friends and family to share a meal is not about self-satisfying opportunities to publicly brag about with whom you're sharing dinner. ...Right?

Homemade Sriracha from My Father's Daughter.
Homemade Sriracha from My Father's Daughter.
T. Nguyen

Lee's Homemade Sriracha

Adapted from: My Father's Daughter

Makes: 5 cups

1 1/4 c peeled garlic cloves

1 pound red jalapenos, stemmed and sliced (remove seeds for a milder sauce)

2 1/4 c rice wine vinegar

1/4 c plus 1 T light agave nectar

2 T coarse salt

1 T arrowroot powder, or substitute 1 T corn starch

2 T fish sauce, or substitute soy sauce for vegan version

1. Put the garlic in a small saucepan and add cold water just to cover. Bring to a boil, immediately drain. Cool the garlic under running water, and return it to the saucepan. Cover with cold water and repeat the blanching process.

2. Thinly slice the blanched garlic and combine with jalapenos and vinegar in a larger pot. Bring to a boil, cook for 3 minutes, and remove from heat.

3. Add the agave nectar and salt to pot and stir to combine. Let this mixture sit undisturbed for 1 hour to steep and cool.

4. Whiz the mixture in a blender until smooth (it's ok if all the seeds don't blend in). Return the pureed sauce to the pot, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, skimming foam as necessary, until the sauce is slightly reduced and has some body.

5. In a small bowl, dissolve the arrowroot (or corn starch) with 1 tablespoon lukewarm water. Whisk into the simmering sauce and cook for 2 minutes, or until the sauce is nicely thickened (it should be slightly thinner than ketchup). Remove the sauce from the heat, let cool slightly, and stir in fish sauce.


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