Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Gluten Free Girl & The Chef

It took three days to pore through the entire book because I’d stop and savor the recipes and the stories. Or I'd have to go into the kitchen to check for ingredients of everything I was planning to make from the book.

But after cooking along with Shauna and Daniel through their blog, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef over the past years as they created this book, I almost feel like a proud distant relative as do many of their other faithful readers.

 That feeling of comradery shouldn't be a surprise to other people who also must eat gluten free. Gluten free people often feel a kinship when they meet others like themselves. It’s like showing up for the Bar Mitzvah and finding out that the special meal you had to special order was made for two other people too; you all end up at the same table, grateful for one another’s company.

But this book is so much more than that. They’ve raised the bar on gluten free cooking and baking, making it as mainstream and fresh as it can get. Each recipe is gluten free, but not taste free. Each recipe comes with a story, a background, and a history and through that you feel like you want to recreate it right now. I almost didn’t get past the first recipe – the baked eggs with taleggio cheese because I wanted to run right into the kitchen and bake that dish. It was ten o’clock at night and common sense won, but I still will be hunting down a good ripe taleggio this week for baked eggs this weekend.

For once, a gluten free book is not laden with recipes that try to imitate gluten baked goods or food. It is a book about real food including an introduction to all kinds of flours that go into baking and cooking gluten free. Shauna and Daniel introduce readers to a fabulous array of great flours and how to mix them together for different types of food.

They also introduce the concept of weighing ingredients for a variety of good reasons – not the least of which is that all flours are not created equal. One cup of superfine brown is not the same as one cup of sorghum flour and your results will suffer if you merely substitute cup for cup.
 But if you are no stranger to their blog, you already know this. I am grateful that all the recipes offer weights because I have given up the measuring cups for everything dry and most other ingredients. (Another proponent of weighing ingredients is Alice Medrich whose Chewy Gooey Crispy Cookie book is due out in November- she offers some gluten free recipes in that new book).

 The Ahern’s are also fans of fresh ingredients. Over the past two years in our house, we have been working to buy locally and as fresh as possible. I really like that they emphasize that in their book, and how to make choices about what to buy at the market just in case this is new to the reader. They lead gently with such kindness that any reader would feel confidence in following.
 This book certainly changes the landscape for any other gluten free cook books to follow. No one would feel deprived or feel like they were on a special diet when cooking from this book. Instead of looking for this cookbook in the special diets section, I would hope it is shelved in the mainstream cooking section under a category called something like, smashing success.

 I’ve already incorporated many Gluten Free Girl and the Chef recipes into my own cooking and baking. Gluten Free Flying Rocky Road Squares use Shauna’s gluten free graham crackers for the crust, and a gluten free adaptation of Alice Medrich’s Rocky Road Bars from her Cookies and Brownie book. Last night I par boiled some Yukon potatoes in an ocean of salted water with a little fresh thyme and garlic, drained them thoroughly and baked them until they were crispy on the outside, and soft and perfectly salty on the inside. All thanks to their instructions in the book.

Anyone gluten intolerant or living with celiac disease needs this book on their bookshelf, but I would also buy this book for anyone, living gluten free or not, who loves to cook and bake – it is that good.

I'm off to the kitchen to bake a one bowl wonder; chocolate peanut butter brownies from their book. After all, I still have a cupboard full of good chocolate to use up so I can make room for at least four new flours.

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