Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gluten Free Quick and Easy - A Book Review



When Carol Fenster's agent asked if I would review one of her gluten free recipe books I was delighted to say yes and chose Gluten Free Quick and Easy - From prep to plate without the fuss. I chose this title  because the tag line promised to, 'help you simplify and streamline food preparation at home' using, 'creative techniques and resourceful planning'. Fantastic - just what all busy gluten intolerant mums need no?

It arrived in a large jiffy bag peppered with Air mail stickers, a huge paperback tome that thumped onto the table and sat there all plump, as if to say, 'better make that pot of tea, sweetie - you've got a whole lot of reading to do'. I simply can't fault this impressively sized book on its volume.

Carol's premise for the book is that gluten free cooking can be overwhelmingly time consuming, so she aims to help the busy cook prepare nutritious and tasty meals quickly. It sounds like a wonderful idea to a woman who spends a great portion of every day preparing food from scratch - don't we all wish that sometimes supper was as easy as beans on toast?

Of course I flicked straight to the desserts - and if you read a cookbook from front to back, well you have more discipline than I do. Baking is where Carol really excels, with delicious sounding Chocolate Brownies, a delicate Almond Lemon Pie with Fresh Raspberries and a proper old fashioned Rustic Crust Apple Pie. The breads also look delicious, with a huge variety from crusty white French Baguettes, to dark and fragrant Pumpernickel. If you like to bake then it's probably worth buying the book for these sections alone. Whilst the recipes all contained too much sugar and refined starches for my wholesome taste, you may find them absolutely fine and could always try substituting your favourite low glycaemic sweetener, reducing the amount to your own liking.

Other great sections included menu plans covering a whole week, taking the guesswork out of what to buy and cook - (but were very heavy on ground (minced) meat); cooking tips for gluten free baking, speedy short cuts in preparation and a brief description of the many gluten free grains available, what effect they have in baked goods and suitable alternatives in case of intolerance or unavailability.

What surprised me therefore was that she chose to stick to one basic flour mix (Carol's mix) throughout the book and ignore the amazing wealth of flours she outlines herself in a later chapter. I find it such a shame that with only a few exceptions, authors of gluten free recipe books feel compelled to continue using only the blandest flours and often resort to unhealthy starches in order to replicate the white flour that many people are used to consuming. Carol's saving grace is that she uses sorghum flour in place of the more common (and much less nutritious) rice flour, in her flour mix - for this I applaud her and hope she will be more adventurous in the future.

The rest of the book I can't endorse as it relied too heavily on dried and tinned goods. After the twentieth recipe including dried minced onions I put the book down and reached instinctively for a fresh carrot. I understand that Carol is trying to reduce prep time as much as possible, but she does it at the expense of nutrition and flavour. If you really don't have time to chop an onion then chop lots at once (in your food processor) and freeze them in half onion portions. Please don't use dried parsley as a garnish for Thai Salmon Chowder - it's an insult to Thailand! Consider buying some fresh coriander and letting it grow on your windowsill - snip off a few leaves in the time it takes you to open a jar. I don't want to come over as a purist - I use frozen peas and tinned tomatoes, but I use them because they also taste great and allow me to eat those items sustainably out of season. We all need to reduce the amount of processed food we eat, the energy used in processing it and the extra packaging such foods add to an ever expanding global carbon footprint.

Cutting gluten out of your life is an opportunity to get back in touch with food, to minimise the unnecessary chemicals and additives, the highly refined starches, sugars, processed fats and denatured foods that have become the staples of daily life in the western world.  You don't have to eat expensive, exotic or laboriously prepared food to eat well, it just requires some planning. Bear this in mind if you choose to buy the book and take the useful time saving advice contained in it with a pinch of (sea) salt. Only you can decide whether you are ready to trade in the delicious sweet taste of onions sauteed gently in oil, for the convenience of onions from a jar. For me, there's no comparison - but I guess I'm just a hard line fresh onion girl......

To buy the book on amazon.co.uk just click this link; Gluten-Free Quick and Easy UK

To buy the book on amazon.com just click this link; Gluten-Free Quick and Easy US