Seasons by the Sea: Food, Family, Memories

Gwyneth Paltrow and her father, Bruce Paltrow, from the book “My Father’s Daughter.”

    On first perusal, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, “My Father’s Daughter,” is so blindingly light and crisp and beautiful, so full of starched fresh linens and artfully arranged tableware and unbearably beautiful photos of the author herself, one feels as if one has stumbled into one of Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic books, pure whiteness and pinkness and glorious sunshine. Upon reading in depth, however, it becomes clear that this is a book about love and healthy eating, and above all, family.

“My Father’s Daughter”
Gwyneth Paltrow
Grand Central Publishing, $30

    Ms. Paltrow, who has a house in Amagansett has clearly always loved food, whether enjoying Hebrew National hot dogs and egg creams with her dad in her youth, living with a family in Spain for a year, on travels and meals with Mario Batali or forays into macrobiotics (in the hope of curing her father’s cancer), veganism, and finally in her current state of “flexitarianism” sprinkled with a good dose of humor. She doesn’t preach or judge or lecture, she merely offers tasty options for every palate with a great deal of focus on those most difficult to please — small children.
    What makes a new cookbook worth buying, when there are so many? How can any book offer something new, inspiring, and different? Well, this book actually does.
    There are clear influences, which she acknowledges: “The River Cafe Cookbook” by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, for example — evident in the simplicity of preparations with emphasis on the freshest ingredients. There are recipes for homemade sriracha (a fiery Vietnamese condiment), homemade root beer, a killer duck ragu, and maple-Dijon roasted winter vegetables that inspired me to try them immediately (page 194, highly recommended). She knows plenty of chef tricks, secret ingredients, and special tips. Maldon sea salt. Global knives. Use the shaved cobs of corn to deepen the flavor of chowders and vichyssoise, a bit of lemon juice to finish a dish, and her own, baby scissors to snip chives.
    From the beginning, and throughout the book, her father, Bruce Paltrow, is very much present. She calls him “the most loving and nurturing of all men — he and I were always inseparable — my father was the love of my life until his death in 2002.” By page 122, where she recalls their last meal together, I no longer needed salt for the fried rice and kale (page 198) as the tears from remembering cooking with my father did a fine job, thank you very much.
    The cookbook is full of healthy substitutions: Vegenaise for mayo, duck or tempeh bacon for pork, agave and maple in place of evil white sugar. But Ms. Paltrow is not preachy or rigid. In her own words: “Could I use some butter and cheese and eggs in my cooking without going down some kind of hippie shame spiral? Yes, I could.” Nor does she judge those who may choose bland canned black olives over briny Nicoise or Kalamata. “A little kitsch never hurt anyone!” And like all true cooks, she sees inspiration everywhere. “When I look at plain pasta, I see opportunity. I smell cheese, I dream of the wine that will accompany it.”
    My only professional quibble with her suggestions of substitutions would be the flours, e.g., using spelt or buckwheat or whole wheat in place of all-purpose flour. As a pastry chef, I can assure you, these all have completely different textures, flavors, and levels of gluten so your baking attempts could end in tears. And some leaden muffins.
    Along with soba noodles anointed with Braggs Liquid Aminos and miso dressing and vegetarian chili you will find crispy potato cake with garlic and duck fat, homemade pizzas, and fudge sauce. There is something for everyone in this book.
    There are hints and anecdotes that allude to her privileged upbringing, growing up in Santa Monica, summers in Nantucket and Williamstown, Mass., a private cooking lesson from Jamie Oliver, dinners with the McCartneys. But none of it is name-dropping. It is simply her life. And the thread through all of it is a love of food, meals shared with family and friends, and how important this is to her, and should be to us.
    One of her children’s quotes interspersed throughout the book is her young daughter, Apple, asking her son, Moses, “When we get older, we’ll eat dinner together, right?”
    In its simplicity and cheeriness, this book encourages you to cook, and enjoy the process! The first words in “My Father’s Daughter” are “Okay, I wrote a cookbook.” Yes, you did.


 

Fried Rice With Kale and Scallions
    Serves four.
1/2 lb. kale, stems discarded
11/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely minced
3 large scallions, cut into 1/4-inch diagonal slices
21/4 cups cooked brown rice
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. soy sauce

    Cut the kale leaves in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons (chiffonade). Steam the kale for seven minutes.
    Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for two minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and scallions. Cook for two minutes, then add the rice and cook for another two minutes, stirring. Add the soy sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

Miso Dressing
    Ms. Paltrow recommends this dressing for salads, veggies, and grilled fish. It will keep refrigerated for at least a week.
    Makes 11/4 cups.
1/3 cup peeled and roughly diced Vidalia onion
1 small or 1/2 large clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. white miso
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. water
Large pinch coarse salt
A few grinds fresh black pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

    Blitz everything but the vegetable oil together in blender until smooth. While the blender is running, slowly stream in the oil. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Asian Portobello Burgers
    The chapter devoted to burgers and sandwiches is an homage to Bruce Paltrow’s love of all things meaty and grilled. It includes “real” burgers and quite a few variations such as tuna, portobello mushroom, duck, turkey, and black bean veggie burgers. Here is a simple recipe for Asian-style portobello burgers. Long and slow cooking is recommended.
        Serves four.

2 Tbsp. soy sauce
4 portobello mushrooms
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
4 brioche or sprouted grain hamburger buns, toasted
1/2 cup soy and sesame mayo (recipe follows)
Handful fresh mizuna or arugula

    Drizzle soy sauce on both sides of the mushrooms and then brush each side with sesame oil. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes — this is a good time to preheat the grill at a low heat.
    Grill the mushrooms, turning occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until softened and a bit browned.
    Brush the cut sides of the buns with sesame oil and spread with the mayo. Place portobellos onto the buns along with a few greens.

Soy and Sesame Mayo
    Makes half a cup.
    Whisk together a half cup Vegenaise, two teaspoons soy sauce, and two teaspoons toasted sesame oil.