Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Review of Silvana's Gluten-free and Dairy-free Kitchen: Timeless Favorites Transformed

As a blogger, I have been fortunate to meet many people from all over the world. For a while, I participated in the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, along with quite a few well-known names and faces in the community. Many of us are only known through our websites and recipes, but some of us have become celebrated authors of cookbooks and public speakers. That is a dream for many: to contribute to this food movement that promotes safety, health, and most importantly, fun in the kitchen.

Today, I have the privilege to not only talk about one such individual, but to review her latest cookbook.

 See for yourself on today!

Of all the famous gluten free bloggers out there, Silvana Nardone of Silvana’s Kitchen is one of the most prominent, next to Shauna and Danny Ahern (Gluten Free Girl and the Chef), Elana of Elana’s Pantry (Paleo-oriented, but one of the first gluten-free blogs I started reading), Lexie of Lexie’s Kitchen, and Kelly of the Spunky Coconut. She is also one of the few that I reached out to early on in my blogging and, to my pleasant surprise, she responded. Her story is about family, and bringing delicious, wholesome food to the table.

The site Silvana’s Kitchen has been around since July 2010. Her eldest child, Isaiah (now seventeen), was diagnosed with a double whammy of intolerances to gluten and dairy at 10, and it had become the drive in which Silvana’s Kitchen transformed and her recipes were first shared with others.

In 2010, she also published her first cookbook Cooking For Isaiah. Since then, she has become a beacon for inspiration. She is published everywhere, and for good reason: she’s good at what she does. A foodie through and through, I knew she was a kindred spirit when she wrote this on her site:

"It’s this love of food and all that surrounds it that I want to give my family and to all of you. Eat to satisfy hunger, but more than anything, eat for fulfillment."

She wrote these recipes with her family in mind, her children Isaiah and Chiara evolving and growing up with a healthy relationship with food and a passion for cooking. Her compassion is infectious, and her writing is thought provoking and profound. 

In the late months of 2014, Silvana and HMH Trade Publishing’s Culinary Marketing Specialist J. Gilo reached out to me with an amazing opportunity: to review Silvana’s newest cookbook, Silvana’s Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Kitchen: Timeless Favorites Transformed (2014)! Of course I was ecstatic, but I told her I was presently abroad until December, and shipping costs were a nightmare. Sure enough, along with an envelope containing my M.S. CAR diploma was another one with Silvana’s book waiting for me.

The book is broken down into the following categories: the Introduction (p.1) explaining that, no, your favorite foods are not a thing of the past now that you are gluten (and in this case, also dairy) free, and how to get started; The Breakfast Club (p.10), for breakfast and brunch favorites; Plenty of Dough (p.38), for breads and flatbreads; Let’s Get the Meals Started (p.66), for appetizers and salads; You’ll be Bowled Over (p.96), for soups, pasta and rice; Meal Makeovers (p.124), for “fake-out takeout”, TV dinners, and restaurant classics; Sweet Success (p.152), for dessert classics; Back to Basics, for her reinvented baking mixes (p.194) and dairy-free favorites (p.204), and a very important part of the book that is used in almost every recipe; and finally, the Acknowledgements (p.224) and Index (p.225).

What really stood out for me from the get-go was the prominence of creating a new culture in the family kitchen. When diagnosed with something, we tend for focus on the bad things of this realization, such as the lament that you can’t have your favorite breakfast pastry in the mornings anymore because it isn’t gluten free. The same can be said for those who have to eat a dairy-free lifestyle, when all they can think about is cheese and ice cream and milk in coffee. Silvana says that, to get started, you need to “reclaim the rights to your favorite foods now” (p.3), and that you can easily spoil you and your family rotten in new and amazing ways in the kitchen. Baking is a science, and it’s all about choosing the right ingredients for the flavor and texture you’re looking for, but it's also about trying and seeing what happens.

Before even getting started with the recipes, she provides a page of key ingredients that not only include the gluten free flours, but gluten-free dough enhancers, dairy-free enhancers, alternative sweeteners, and additional miscellaneous foods that make a gluten free diet so devilish (gluten free chickpea miso for the win)! While I’m not one to use xanthum gum, I was excited to learn of raw organic rice protein powder helping to create a beautiful rise in yeasted dough. That is something I am definitely going to look into for future yeasted bread.

She also provides a list of her favorite store-bought gluten-free and dairy-free products, some that I know of and have used, and others I did not. Alas, with my soy-free and cane sugar-free ways, I couldn’t eat a lot of what she listed. But that is something I think many gluten-free bloggers and authors should start doing: not necessarily advertising products for the sake of advertising, but sharing what they’ve purchased from the store and swear by for when certain things, like pasta or cooking oils, are rarely made from scratch these days.

As I said, her Back to Basics is a very important part of the cookbook, in that the majority of her recipes call for her flour mixes. She has quite a few, broken down to different baked goods that are similar in texture and technique. She also has a gluten free all-purpose flour mix, made with ingredients almost every gluten freer has seen before.

I will admit that I didn’t use her flour mixes, mostly because I tend to not use starches and gums (if ever). But I did test out one recipe that called for her mix with my own substitution of flours, and the result was extraordinary! Her recipes are well-tested and balanced, and I believe that if a recipe can be delicious using different flours than it calls for, then it’s one that is easy to use as long as you have the ratio of ingredients. It’s easier to do this by weight rather by volume, but it is possible.

I tried three recipes from the book: Apple and Granola Yogurt Parfaits (p.17), Bready Corn Tortillas (p.58), and Creamy Kale-Cannellini Soup with Garlic Chips (p.100). It was very hard to pick recipes to try, because the photos are just lovely. There were also a lot of cool dairy-free recipes in the Back to Basics section that I’d like to try out in the future, as I’d love to experiment with making dairy-free coconut yogurt.

The Apple and Granola Yogurt Parfaits (p.17) is an easy way to add some yum to your morning. My biggest complaint with many store-bought granola, particularly the gluten free kind, is that they are more often than not way to sweet. I actually started noticing sugar affecting me after cutting gluten out of my system through munching on gluten free granola, but I did miss it.

Silvana’s granola recipe is delicious. It is rolled oats based (certified gluten free, of course), but also includes sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and flaxseed meal (likely to help with coating and binding). It is seasoned with what you’d usually expect with apple in a dish: cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. I played around with the spices, substituting nutmeg and clove for the ginger and allspice. She calls for almond butter, but I used peanut butter with the maple syrup, and since it was salty enough I abstained from adding more.

Toss, bake, done. A simple recipe that screams indulgence but wonderfully filling and wholesome. You can use this recipe for whatever calls for granola. It has a slightly sweet finish, but not so sweet as to calling your dentist for fear of cavities.

The Bready Corn Tortillas (p.58) required the most work of the three, which was minimal. Mama Dazz still had the wooden tortilla press we purchased a few years ago, and I was excited to give it a try. (This was the recipe I was talking about, about substituting her flour mix with my ratio of rice and chickpea flours.)

The dough, when mixed together, makes 12 smallish tortillas (a little smaller than the palm of my hand) at 50 g per ball. Instead of using shortening, I used softened butter, but I also think that room temperature coconut oil will work here too. The tortillas came out looking wonderful, but I think it was more of my error that they tasted a bit undercooked. That, and because of their size as well as the butter, they could only bend so far before they broke. So I did what any hungry person would do: I added salsa verde, beans, cheese, and other veggies, and baked that into a delicious concoction. Kind of like a layered enchilada, only without a lot of sauce.

Finally, the Creamy Kale-Cannellini Soup with Garlic Chips (p.100). I made this for a table of five other people, and they raved about how hearty and tasty it was! Silvana had this cool trick of mashing a partial amount of the beans with some of the broth and cooked veggies, making it thick but without the flour. The garlic chips were a huge hit, but I did have some trouble keeping them from sticking together or burning. I also added sliced shitake mushrooms to the mix, just because we had some on hand. I also used baby leaf kale instead of the heavy mature ones, so it didn’t take long for them to beautifully wilt yet remain a vibrant green. 

This book definitely achieved what it set out to do. It provides amazing ways to empower yourself in the kitchen, especially when it seemed like your favorite foods became your kryptonite. Each recipe is fantastically thought out and tested to ensure a fabulous turnout, and the diversity of the content will keep you turning the pages, devouring each photo and wanting to try another one.

One of the many positives of this cookbook I celebrated was that Silvana did not make dairy-free exclusive to meaning soy everywhere. In fact, the only things that call for soy is in her Asian-inspired recipes like Crispy Shrimp Pork Potstickers with Chili-Soy Dipping Sauce (p.76-77) or her Seven-Layer Tofu Tostadas (p.89, and can substitute the tofu with chicken). True, a lot of cooking sprays, vegetable shortening and spreads have soy or soy lecithin in them, but I think it’s a lot easier to avoid than not. You can also substitute gluten free tamari for coconut aminos without much of a difference in taste. For one thing, it’s not as salty, and has a smoky sweetness I absolutely adore.

The only thing I had to be careful of in Silvana’s recipes was the salt content. Personally, it felt too salty at times for my palate, but that just means adjusting the salt to what I prefer. I also think her Back to Basics portion would have done better after the Introduction rather than at the very end, simply because a lot of her recipes called for the various mixes and dairy-free delights and it would seem more appropriate to do so.

Another thing I noticed was that some of the ingredients listed felt a little vague at times when I read them over, mostly the question of which kind of shortening she used in a few of her recipes and the size (sometimes species) of particular fruits or veggies. But I think that mostly has to do with making recipes more accessible to those that, for example, do not write for a food blog, and also giving people the ability to experiment and create wonderful works of gastronomy.

Despite my having many cookbooks, Silvana’s is only one of the few I have that are specifically gluten free, and it is probably one of my favorites. This cookbook isn’t just about gluten free and dairy free cooking, but one woman’s achievements to the movement. It all started in her kitchen, making recipes for her family, recipes that seemed impossible not even a decade ago. She helped to make this lifestyle informative, delicious, and fun for the whole family, and I cannot tell you how honored I was to be considered to review it.

 Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration to many, Silvana! And I’m looking forward to utilizing this wonderful book for many many many recipes to come.

So, dear readers, would I buy this book? Definitely! And what about you? What did you think of Silvana's latest cookbook? Please comment below and share your thoughts.

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