Pros: Healthy; some good recipes
Cons: Quite a few so-so recipes
Rating: 3 out of 5
First posted 8/2/2000
Some time ago my fiancee and I decided that we needed to eat a little more healthily. We both love flavor, however, and many “diet foods” lack a certain something in that department. After all, fat is one of the biggest flavor enhancers you’ll find.
We settled on a strategy. We’d buy some cookbooks from expensive spas. They’re supposed to have healthy stuff, but it has to taste good to make the guests feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. Mind you, we aren’t the kind of people who feel comfortable actually going to spas, so the cookbooks were as close as we wanted to get anyway.
The Golden Door Cookbook has not done anything to convince us that we want to go to a spa, but that’s probably because we’re hermits. The actual recipes are pretty good. Not fantastic and not great, with one or two exceptions. Not bad either, although there’s some stuff that just doesn’t appeal to us. Ultimately I like some of the other spa cookbooks better, but what The Golden Door does well, it does do well. There are a couple of recipes we’ve come back to again and again.
This is a reasonably large cookbook, with 200 recipes. The Golden Door includes recipes that use chicken, turkey, and seafood, so it isn’t vegetarian, but there’s no red meat in here. Handily, all recipes are accompanied by a nutritional summary, including fat, calories, and fiber for those of you who need to calculate points for that Weight Watchers thing.
You won’t find many sumptuous pictures of food here. Other than a few photos at the center of the book, The Golden Door uses a fairly spartan layout. Green-toned pictures of the spa grace the opening of each chapter; most of these are landscape pictures and truly are beautiful. Several of them prefer instead to showcase beautiful slender women in tight-fitting leotards (insert melodramatic eye-rolling here).
I must digress for a moment. First of all, I find it very amusing that supposedly one reason for spas is so that people can get in shape and slim down – yet somehow all pictures of spa-goers show them to be already slender and beautiful (this is one reason I’ve never felt tempted to visit a spa). Second of all, since I keep hearing about how people should really wear loose-fitting clothing while exercising, it’s particularly amusing that they always wear form-fitting leotards whenever involved in photo-shoot exercising.
Given the unassuming manner of the author and chef, Michel Stroot, in his introduction, the contrast is particularly startling, even though I’ve seen much worse in other books.
The breakfasts look okay, though not particularly appealing. I haven’t felt impelled to make any of them yet, although I might try their version of meusli someday.
The appetizers range from okay to fantastic. The Potato Skins with Ricotta-Sundried Tomato Dip are actually pretty good. The Cucumber filled with Smoked Salmon and Ricotta was so-so (my suspicion is that it really needs to be made with cold-smoked salmon; the recipe doesn’t specify so we made it with hot-smoked salmon). The texture was kind of grainy and the flavor surprisingly rather bland. The Wild Mushroom Phyllo Strudel was good, but nothing special. We’ve since strayed from their Hummus recipe, but it made a great place to start, and we’ve been quite happy with the changes we’ve made to it. I think you’ll find their Hummus delicious and flavorful, even before you start adding extra garlic and additional seasonings. We like to serve it with Melba Toast. Our favorite recipe from this cookbook, however, is the Crostini with Tomato-Basil Topping. The only change we’ve made to that recipe is to leave out the shallots or scallions and use oil-packed sundried tomatoes – it really does make a difference in this recipe. The Crostini is packed with flavor, mostly due to the sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar.
A number of the soups are also pleasing. The Creamy Mushroom Soup is wonderful. The Broccoli Soup is good, despite the fact that we aren’t all that fond of broccoli. The Red Pepper Bisque with Plum Tomatoes and Saffron is fantastic. We suggest you use an immersion blender, however, or remember to process the soup in batches. The Watermelon Gazpacho is unusual and good, and the Chilled Melon Soup with Mint is even better.
Most of the salads haven’t particularly appealed to us, although the Tomato Salad Oreganato was quite good, and we look forward to trying the Lobster-Filled Papaya sometime. The vegetarian main dishes similarly lack a certain appeal, although that may be because we’re having trouble divorcing ourselves from a high-meat diet. The Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Couscous were surprisingly good, and convinced us that we loved portobellos.
As for the seafood recipes, the Scallops with Sweet Corn-Curry Sauce and Citrus Couscous with Apricots were wonderful! One thing I really do like in this cookbook is the tendency to present recipes that are entire meals. The scallop recipe includes green beans, sliced red pepper, and of course the couscous. The only thing missing is dessert! Along those lines, the Chicken Breasts with Peanut-Ginger Honey Sauce are fabulous. I normally don’t like chicken even with the skin on, much less skinless, but I adore this recipe.
The desserts aren’t bad, but most of them don’t particularly roll my socks down. The Phyllo-Dough Apply Strudel was good. The Baked Apples with Papaya Sauce, the Apple Pizza, and the Orange-Poached Peaches were okay, as was the Green Apple-Lime-Candied Ginger Sorbet. The Lemon Crepes with Poached Bananas were actually quite good. We really like the Oatmeal Cookies; they’re the only dessert from this book that we’ve made more than once. Oddly, although by number there are plenty of desserts in this book, I always remember there being very few. I think it’s because for some reason, we just haven’t found that most of the desserts in this book appeal to us.
Mind you, reading through this cookbook has made me very hungry for lunch, and now I want to make one of the entrees next week, so it certainly isn’t a bad cookbook in any way. It could just use a more consistent quality and slightly more appealing recipes. I think most recipes here would be good with a little work. If you don’t feel comfortable mucking with recipes, though, you should probably try a different book.