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From Barnes & NobleA Review of The Golden Door Cookbook
I love spa cookbooks because they are filled with inviting recipes that can entice high-powered clients to pay thousands of dollars to starve themselves. With books such as The Golden Door Cookbook, I can stay at home and prepare nutritious yet luxurious meals, and then cheat without anyone knowing. And think of all the money I save! Seriously, this is a very well thought-out low-fat cookbook from a chef who has had years of experience feeding demanding dieters. The recipes are so delicious, you don't realize that as you are eating well, you are also eating healthfully.
Learning Low-Fat Tips from a Pro
Executive chef at a luxurious spa seems an odd career choice for Michel Stroot, considering that he comes from Belgium, a country whose cuisine is so rich that the dipping sauce of choice for french fries is homemade mayonnaise. But in 1974, the classically trained chef met Deborah Szekely, the founder of both the Golden Door and sister spa Rancho La Puerta, and his life changed forever.
Szekely taught Stroot how to cook with health in mind, and he's been hooked ever since. He came to De Gustibus at Macy's this fall to demonstrate recipes from his new book, The Golden Door Cookbook, and to share with the class his tips for creating dishes that are fresh, flavorful, and as good to eat as they are good for you.
About Michel Stroot and The Golden Door Cookbook
Charming, soft-spoken, and good-natured, Stroot is a walking advertisement for life at the Golden Door: He's trim, calm, and clearly loves what he does. Thirty-nine guests come to the Japanese-inspired spa each week of the year, spending thousands of dollars to be pampered, to contemplate their lives and stretch their physical limits, and to learn how to bring health and well-being back with them into their daily lives. Stroot says that many are shocked to find that the low-fat, healthy food they're served at the spa is complex and delicious, and far from unsatisfying.
To their delight, and to the delight of health-conscious food lovers everywhere, Stroot has finally published a collection of the recipes he prepares at the Golden Door in a beautifully designed cookbook. The common theme that links the recipes is a reliance on copious amounts of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. "I'm so inspired by my organic garden at the spa," Stroot says. More than 75 percent of the food served to the guests comes straight from that garden. From the breakfast treats like low-fat muffins and homemade muesli, to elegant appetizers, complex salads, smooth soups, vegetarian main courses, chicken and fish entrées, vegetable side dishes, breads, and tempting desserts, the recipes in The Golden Door Cookbook are flavorful, usually simple to prepare, and amazingly low in fat.
About the Menu
Stroot began the class with a delicious dip he calls eggplant caviar, flavored with cumin, capers, and balsamic vinegar. The eggplants were simply roasted in a hot oven until soft; the flesh was then scooped out and blended with the other ingredients. "Just blend it briefly—you still want some texture," Stroot admonished. He served the dip with crunchy pita chips sprinkled with sesame seeds. "How do we fry without frying at the Door? It's very easy," he said. Stroot separates whole-wheat pita loaves into two halves, cuts each half into wedges, brushes them with egg whites and sprinkles them with sesame seeds, then bakes them on a baking sheet sprayed with Pam for 10 minutes. ("Pam is a good friend," he says. "I use it all the time.")
He uses the same technique with other dishes, like wontons. Next came the surprisingly complex Split Pea and Fresh Pea Soup, topped with a bit of basil. "The secret is to blend the fresh peas in at the last second, and then they keep their fresh flavor and bright green color," Stroot says. Following the soup was a luxurious salad of Quinoa Tabouleh topped with crabmeat and Tofu Thousand Island Dressing. "Quinoa was a staple grain of the Incas, and it's got a wonderful light texture and nutty flavor," Stroot says. He blends it with lots of parsley, scallion greens, mint, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, and lemon juice, and the result sparkles with fresh flavors. The silken tofu was undetectable in the Thousand Island dressing, which was piquant with horseradish, chopped cornichons, and shallots. "We use tofu quite a bit at the Door, but we offer it—we don't push it down people's throats."
The elegant main course was a filet of salmon topped with shrimp, both marinated in soy and mirin (sweet sake), then wrapped in beautiful green leaves of savoy cabbage. The cabbage package was served atop an intensely flavored puree of lentils, inspired by the Indian dish called dhal, made with jalapeño peppers, curry spices, cumin, garlic, and ginger. The puree was napped with a complex, sweet-sour ginger sauce flavored with miso, garlic, lime juice, Vietnamese chili sauce, and honey. With each dish on the menu, we drank a refreshing, herbal Sauvignon Blanc from Fortant de France; the dry wine perfectly complemented the fresh and spicy flavors of Stroot's cooking.
The last dish served was dessert—the true test of the talents of any spa cook. Stroot's Apple Pizza passed with flying colors. Freshly made yeast pizza dough, sweetened with just a bit of sugar, was stretched extra-thin into a round, topped with thinly sliced apples, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and baked until the dough was chewy and crisp and the apples caramelized. A simple apricot glaze brushed on before serving added sheen and sweetness.
Tips From Michael Stroot
- Put a filter over the top of your olive oil bottle, such as a small square of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, and you'll use less. "When you pour it, it comes out slowly—you'll use a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon," Stroot says.
- "When you multiply the quantities of recipes, it's easier to decrease the fat in your cooking," Stroot says. "You need a teaspoon or two to coat the pan you're cooking in, say to get the kind of sautéing action you want to caramelize onions a bit, but if you're cooking enough food for four or six people, it's negligible." So even if you're just cooking for two, consider making the recipe in its full quantity and saving the extra for leftovers.
- A good vegetable stock is a great friend in the low-fat kitchen—Stroot counts on it to keep food moist that would otherwise dry out without added fat. "Most people have in the refrigerator all you need to make a vegetable stock—celery, an onion, a carrot, a parsnip or a turnip, a little parsley, a little basil or green onion—you can make a very quick and easy stock. My favorite thing to add is an onion studded with a few cloves—it adds depth and flavor. Simmer it together in water for an hour or so, strain, and that's it."
- Experiment with revamping favorite recipes using low-fat techniques. "I don't admit this often, but my secret is that I am a great imitator," Stroot says. "I look at a classical recipe and figure out how to do it without the butter, without the fat, without deep frying, and how to do it with less salt, but still have flavor. So what's important? Spices, herbs, lemon juice, fruit juice, garlic, ginger—all that plays into it. The worst thing you can do in spa cooking is to have food turn out dry or flavorless."
- Cook with the seasons. "You don't have to do much to perfectly fresh ingredients to make them taste great," Stroot says. "Right now, we have the most delicious, sweetest melons in our garden. They're so perfect that many people choose to just have a slice for dessert. It doesn't need anything added to be satisfying."
- Don't forget, it's possible to eat both for pleasure and for health. "I cook for overall well-being," Stroot says. "I pay attention to nutritional studies, like the ones that show that in countries where a lot of tofu is consumed there's a lower incidence of breast cancer, so I do use more tofu now. But I never forget the flavor."