Everywhere you look Gwyneth Paltrow is promoting her newest cookbook: It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good And Feel Great.
With her lithe limbs, bronzed face and LA smile beaming from the cover, Paltrow is every inch the Hollywood star and it’s hard to believe that looking that good comes from her cooking skills alone.
To put her advert for healthy living to the test and find out if Gwyneth’s food really is any good, I’ve cooked it exclusively for one week.
Gwyneth and food have had a tempestuous past. She’s previously admitted to subscribing to a macrobiotic diet and talked about how she denies her family carbohydrates, despite admitting that: "We’re left with that specific hunger that comes from avoiding carbs."
Sometimes she can also come across as a touch melodramatic.
"One sunny afternoon in London, in the spring of 2011, I thought – without sounding overly dramatic – that I was going to die."
According to the It’s All Good preface: “A year ago Gwyneth nearly passed out from too much work, too much stress, and maybe a bit too much over indulging."
Her answer was to create an "elimination diet" cutting out coffee, alcohol, dairy, sugar, shellfish, gluten and soy. As I’m the kind of cook that can’t live without cheese, morning coffee and fudge I am afraid, very afraid.
My fridge is the first to feel the Gwynnie burn
Sainsbury's stocks nearly all of Gwyneth’s store cupboard essentials, even the weirder ones like agave nectar and xylitol.
Somewhere in the specialty ingredients aisle, between the Umami dust and the £15 manuka honey, I realised that Gwynnie’s food is not for the cash poor. I've managed to rack up a shopping bill of £154.78, about four times what I‘d usually spend on a week's shopping.
Even worse, I found myself apologising at the till as I try to explain away my poncey trolley full of chia seeds, almond butter and honey so expensive that it comes with a security tag.
I went to a barbeque in the evening wondering what I could offer my red meat eating, gin and tonic swilling friends that wouldn’t get me ejected from the party.
I arrived armed with a super food salad, teriyaki chicken and the worryingly named Bummer Bars, which turn out to be leaden slabs of quinoa flakes, flaxseed, maple syrup and dried apricots.
I dutifully ate my beetroot and egg salad with its strangely fizzy dressing while my friends chugged prosecco and Mars ice creams.
Later came sober dancing and the moment of temptation when they ordered a late night curry and I found myself leaning over their shoulders, salivating and asking them to give me detailed descriptions on taste and texture.
Eventually it all got suspiciously like food porn and I had to go and calm down in the lounge.
Despite waking up craving a cup of tea, the day started promisingly with no hunger pangs in sight. It went downhill at brunch when I tried my hand at Gwynnie's gluten-free pancakes with maple syrup.
The rice flour, egg-free pancakes made with almond milk tasted like potato-filled, sandy pillows and I'm not convinced that dumping a ton of maple syrup and turkey bacon on them made them any more palatable.
I was shaking with hunger by midday so tried out a Favourite Baked Apple. This hot parcel packed with dried fruit, walnuts and drizzled in yet more maple syrup was delicious.
Sunday wouldn’t be Sunday without a roast dinner and Gwynnie's version, doused in olive oil and stuffed with lemons, seemed idiot-proof. No roast potatoes were allowed to pollute my plate so I made mustard-covered cauliflower with chickpeas and roasted leeks instead.
To be honest it was delicious and I would consider swapping this lighter roast as a summer alternative to a meat and gravy option.
I'm up ridiculously early, boiling chicken stock to make chicken and kale soup for lunch tomorrow and quinoa with spinach and an olive oil fried egg for breakfast.
Thank god Gwyneth included a guide on complicated recipes like boiling quinoa, frying eggs and baking sweet potatoes, otherwise I would have been lost, obviously.
I also knock up a batch of her sweet potato muffins, which contain quantities of baking power and soda that, as a regular baker, worry me.
Sweet Potato and Five Spice Muffins
By ten I'm tired, grumpy and very aware that sipping hot water and ginger is doing sweet FA to ease my sugar and caffeine cravings. By lunchtime I am ravenous and unashamedly eyeing up other people’s food. My reservations about the muffins are confirmed; they taste like chemical sand from too much baking powder and too few binding ingredients.
Luckily for Gwyneth, just as I am shaking with hunger and considering giving up, I try her pickled ginger salmon burgers which, bursting with chili and coriander and served with a smoky mayo sauce, are incredible.
The morning starts with an oozing poached egg, garlic spinach and turkey bacon and she’s starting to win me over. I even give baking another try with her almond butter biscuit recipe.
Almond butter, which beats real butter hands down in the fat and protein stakes, is like an unctuous, sweet, peanut butter and gave the cookies a proper biscuit texture. I was so overjoyed I ate a handful of raw dough and felt like crying.
The chicken and kale soup was distinctly average and crying out for a thickener of beans or potatoes. I crack in the afternoon, unable to survive without a sugar fix and wolf down some dried mango. I instantly feel ashamed and vaguely frightened that Gwyneth is about to descend and force-feed me quinoa flakes and vegenaise as punishment.
Dinner was sea bass with clementine and mint salsa and spicy broccoli. It sounds weird, but was actually delicious and proved to be yet another light, summery supper winner.
I try sweet quinoa with almond milk and blue berries for breakfast. The first half is surprisingly palatable, but then I’m reminded that quinoa tastes like it should be served with a curry and the strange, savory flavour stops me from finishing it.
The avocado and mango salad I’ve made for lunch doesn’t sustain me and I end up feverishly searching Holland and Barrett after work for something I can eat.
I nearly have a meltdown trying to work out if dairy-free is better than sugar-free and berating myself for not being full on a handful of rocket and some fruit. I leave with some Nori rice crackers that taste like beer mats.
Dinner is a pea risotto, which makes it into the book despite using real rice. It’s genuinely tasty and not at all lacking in flavour despite the absence of the wine, cream and Parmesan that I would usually throw in it.
By Thursday it’s happened. I’ve become that smug person that makes their own granola. I’m not entirely convinced that this version is that healthy as it’s slathered in yet more olive oil and maple syrup. I’m yet to figure out how sugar that comes out of a tree or a beehive is that much better for you than the stuff from a packet.
Lunch is a distinctly dull miso soup, which smells like pond water and fills me up for about an hour. Dinner is a more successful battered chicken francese made with rice flour and olive oil. Cooking fatigue has started to set in and I all I want at this point is cheese on toast or a bowl of cereal with real milk.
My flatmates make rum mojitos and offer me a ginger and limewater substitute. I clutch my faux-jito and try to look beatifically off into the sunset like Ms Paltrow, pretending to feel spiritual and cleansed and trying to fight the urge I have to knock my flatmate's rum out of her hand.
The final day arrives and, irritatingly, I am starting to feel perkier and more alert in the mornings. I start the day with a Best Green Juice - a violently green detox concoction made with kale, apple and ginger. It's nice but there's no way I am fooling my body into thinking that this counts as a breakfast and by 11am I've already eaten the tuna and chickpea salad I made for lunch.
The evening brought the ultimate test of Gwyneth’s food and my patience with a gluten-free, alcohol-free, sugar-free, dairy-free dinner party. An hour in and two different salsas, a pickled cucumber Kimchi dish and some homemade marmalade later, I was wondering why I did it to myself.
Corn Tortillas, Korean Slaw, Korean Salsa, Grilled Corn, Korean Style and Cucumber Kimchi, Guacamole, Tomato and Chipotle Salsa, Pickled Jalapeños and Kale Chips
In spite of the dubious reception the food received and the sheer volume of washing up it created, the fish and Korean chicken tacos were pretty damn good.
It was messy but satisfying food and Gwyneth had almost won my guests over, right up until I served her gluten and dairy-free brownies for pudding. Although edible, it was a bit like eating a chocolate rock and reminded of me of my sister-in-law’s vegan wedding cake: chalky, dense and tinged with disappointment.
So, was it worth it?
Truthfully I expected to hate both Gwyneth and her food at the end of this week but I do genuinely feel better for it. My skin is clearer, my jeans are looser and I’m not nearly as desperate as I thought I would be to get straight back onto the chocolate and caffeine
There are, however, a few too many niggling irritations that would stop me from eating this way for long.
With more white page space than recipes and almost as many pictures of a wistful Gwyneth picking vegetables and wandering about in cornfields than there are of actual food, the book's layout is undeniably frustrating.
• If you haven't got a team of kitchen helpers or have a job, you'd struggle to prepare and cook this food three times a day unless you gave up sleeping.
• Gwyneth doesn't eat red meat yet there she is in It’s All Good writing recipes for duck and beef. This also goes for the recipes using soy milk and coffee in her caffeine and soy-free cookbook.
• I’m not convinced that some of the recipes are actually any healthier than the alternatives as I've already got through more olive oil than Jamie Oliver does in his 15-minute meals, more maple syrup than the whole of Canada and have started measuring sea salt in fistfuls.
I’d make some of the dinners again and would seriously consider doing a Gwyneth diet one week of the month to keep my endless snacking in check, apparently even Gwyneth doesn't eat this way all the time.
However, as I’m not actually lactose intolerant or have any real issues with gluten, I wouldn’t bother substituting them because I know how good the real thing tastes.
I can’t help but wish her children good luck, because when they are eventually faced with a piece of chocolate cake made with eggs, butter, white flour and real sugar, they might just realise what they are missing.
It's All Good is available from Amazon for £20.00