Thursday, March 26, 2015

Against the grain

Gluten. In recent years, the term gluten-free diet are all over, in restaurants, TV and even amongst friends.  It's something you start wondering about. What is it and is it only for those with celiac disease or will following a gluten free diet be beneficial to anyone, or say, athletes.  For instance, the current number 1 ranked tennis player, Novak Djokovic is gluten intolerance which affected his game until he went on a gluten free diet.   Celiac disease is a disease that means your body can't process or is basically allergic to the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye products.  There are also instances, like Djokovic who is intolerant to gluten, which does not have the full-on symptoms of those with celiac, but will have an adverse reaction to gluten, fatigue and headaches being the major symptoms.


Nancy Cain, the owner of Against the Grain Gourmet recently published the book, "Against the Grain" which is a gluten-free cookbook.  I was quite excited to receive this book and to start on some recipes.  Not that myself or anyone in my family have celiac, but we do wonder about if it is beneficial and if we have gluten sensitivity.  Well, also, the taste of gluten-free food.  

I've read through the whole cookbook, and pulled out a few recipes to try.  Granted, I also needed to get some gluten-free flours (buckwheat, garbanzo and tapioca).  There's a variety, not just the three I bought, and Ms. Cain actually has a list in Part IV (p 39) of her first chapter, "The fundamentals of gluten-free baking."  Before we proceed with the actual food part, lets talk about the book itself. 

Pros:
  • It's pretty (hey, that helps with sales - at least for me)
  • It's big/thick (meaning, a lot of recipes)
  • Great intro and first chapter, explaining what it means to go gluten, the how-to and what is needed (key for any and all beginners).
  • Easy and simple layout - side column with author's thoughts, rest of the page with clear to read recipes and ingredients, and for some, pretty picture of the recipe finished product.
  • Includes recipes featuring pre-made items breads in the last chapter. 

Cons:
  • Small last chapter of recipes featuring pre-made breads (because it is only on breads/baked goods)
  • Misleading cover, since majority of the book is on baked goods, and not cooked recipes. (You can argue that pizza is technically baked, but I mean majority, 6 chapters are devoted to bakery-type goods). 
  • As noted above, not enough "cooked" foods.  I was expecting additional dishes such as make your own pasta (Ms. Cain did include ravioli), or an entree that doesn't include any baked items. 

As to the recipes and foods. I'm quite happy with this as a baking book. The recipes were easy and simple to follow.  Majority of the ingredients are already in our pantry (and most likely yours as well), and I just needed to substitute traditional flour, and some don't even required a flour.  For example, I tried Ms. Cain's peanut butter bars, and they were yummy - still crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. 


Peanut Butter Bars from Nancy Cain's "Against the Grain" Book
 I didn't add any coconut flakes, which were optional and it turned out quite good. I used a wildflower honey which gives it a more robust flavor.  I will try it with clover honey, which is milder, and see if there's any major difference in flavor. 

Overall, I personally liked the recipes I've tried and they were quite good.  I just didn't expect it to be a baking book vs a traditional cookbook. I would like to see more cooking options for gluten-free foods, but I do understand the meaning of gluten-free is geared towards wheat products (majority being baked goods).  However, many dressings, sauces, soups, stews, beer...etc are also laced with gluten.  If you come in knowing that it is a baking book, then that's fine.  For me, the cover did threw me off. 

Finally, as a parting note, the "word on the street"/"trend" is that gluten-free diet have a tendency to help with weight loss, but one should be careful in not just eating anything that's gluten-free.  You should embrace the diet so you will not miss out on any key nutrients and cause other medical issues.  
OK, this is the final note:  I received this book from Blogging for Books for an HONEST review. 

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