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Notes from My Kitchen Table 03/04/12

Michelle Edwards gives her notes on Notes From My Kitchen Table, Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook. Plus you can win a copy for yourself!

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notesfrommykitchentablePeople take exception to Gwyneth Paltrow. They find her hard to relate to – even for a film star from a privileged family, she comes across as just too darn perfect.

If you are one of these people, her cookbook Notes from My Kitchen Table will do nothing to change your mind: as soon as you pick up the hardcover, you know that its author is a sunny, perpetually clean, wholesome, goddess-type person – and not just from her glowing picture on the cover. The book is a beautiful specimen, with a bright white cover-jacket, glossy pages, a simple layout that uses lots of white space, and gorgeous pictures you can’t help stroking. It practically radiates goodness.

It’s so pretty and perfect-looking, in fact, that I’ve taken to photocopying recipes out of it (taking care not to crack the spine) so that I don’t splatter any food on the pages while I’m cooking. So far I’ve got a stack of around 20 pages of her recipes that I’ve tried, waiting to be filed – and I only got the book three weeks ago.

Because, despite its physical impracticalities (i.e. being too pristine to use while actually cooking) and soft, pastel femininity (which usually puts me off immediately), Notes from My Kitchen Table is full of recipes that are healthy and simple and great for entertaining and – frankly – delicious.

For all her lack-of-faults, Gwyneth Paltrow, it would appear, knows about food.

The ethical stuff

Gwyneth now eats fish and organic poultry (she gave up that macrobiotic malarkey when she first fell pregnant), seven-year-old Apple is a committed vegetarian, and her husband and son seem to eat whatever Gwyneth puts in front of them.

So the book contains a lot of meat-free recipes and easy ways to adapt most recipes for vegetarians. But what I like the most is that it’s a useful guide for what to feed kids who don’t eat meat. As a mom-to-be, I found the tips for cooking vegetables so that they’re appealing for under-fives really helpful (the key features you’re looking for are crunch and sweetness – which seems a good guideline for making vegetables appeal to grown-ups, too).

While a lot of the recipes indicate how to make them vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarians, pescetarians, and omnivores who don’t eat red meat will get the most use out of the book.

The sweet stuff

In the midst of my current obsession with pudding, I was disappointed to realise that Gwyneth’s confectionery leans more towards healthy snacks than desserts, but I shouldn’t have been surprised (have you seen her arms?). So, if you’re into indulging your sweet-tooth without triggering The Guilt, the dessert section will really appeal to you. Her recipes all use healthier, less refined flours (spelt features heavily), soy or rice milk, natural sweeteners like agave and maple syrup, and they tend not to use eggs, so her desserts are mostly vegan and sugar-free. She’s so careful about what her kids consume treat-wise that she even makes her own root beer for root beer floats.

But to me, despite how delectable and virtuous her cookies and muffins and brownies look in the pictures, they just don’t seem deliciously sinful enough to be worth it.

The bothersome stuff

Despite appearances, Notes from My Kitchen Table is not – entirely – perfect.

Gwyneth’s recipes tend to call for ingredients that she obviously has ready access to in London or LA, but which are not commonplace in South Africa. Vegetarian miso paste, which crops up a lot, is apparently available at a few health stores in Cape Town but would require a separate shopping trip for most of us.

Her portions also tend to be on the small side. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘serves four’ is certainly not my ‘serves four’. So if you’re not on a calorie-restricted diet, and if the four people you’re feeding are not lithe celebrities and are over the age of 10, you’ll have to increase the quantities of all her ingredients.

What’s really problematic is the way she gives quantities for recipes that use previously-cooked rice – and there are more than one or two of these. Her recipe for homemade veggie burgers (which I’ve described here) calls for 75g cooked rice. What she actually means is that you should cook 75g of raw rice – i.e. 75g raw rice, cooked. A crucial distinction – 75g of cooked rice is barely two tablespoons, whereas 75g of rice makes about one cup when it’s cooked. This meant that my first batch of veggie burgers were a bit of a flop (they weren’t terribly cohesive) but they were still the most satisfying and tasty veggie burgers I’d ever made.

The personal stuff

Gwyneth’s little introductions to each recipe are quite endearing, and I enjoy the insight into her Hollywood’s-darling lifestyle – but if you can’t bear to read about her love for her Spanish ‘second-mother’ or her treasured memories of her late father, then don’t: skip straight to the recipes. Honestly, there’s not a single one I’ve tried that hasn’t left me pleasantly surprised.

My favourites so far are her slow-roasted tomatoes, her version of cauliflower poppers, her fried brown rice with kale (I used spinach) and spring onions, and, of course, her veggie burgers, which, when I adjusted the quantities correctly, were a triumph.

WIN: If you’d like to win a copy of Notes from My Kitchen Table, send an email to with Notes from My Kitchen Table in the subject line and be sure you have subscribed to our newsletter or liked our facebook page to stay up-to-date with more news and competitions. (Only open to South African readers). [Competition closed]

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