Cookbook Cover

Title: Gluten Free on a Shoestring
Author: Nicole Hunn
257 pages; Softcover $19.00 US/$22.00 CAN
Publisher: DaCapo/Lifelong Books, Cambridge MA, 2011
Reviewed by Chef John Vyhnanek, March, 2011

The review--- Let's face it; everything is expensive these days, especially food. Many of us never learned to cook and this just complicates matters. And for some, a few relatives included, who can't eat wheat gluten it's even more so. So in a combination of all three it's quite challenging. Now there is help. Gluten-Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn presents 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap.

I've had students in my cooking classes who couldn't eat gluten because they had celiac disease. All were always concocting recipes for flour substitutes using rice flour, chick pea flour, cornmeal and every possible non-gluten ingredient we had on hand. In restaurants people often ask for Gluten free bread, sauces and desserts. Ten years ago it was a chef's nightmare, if they weren't prepared, for such a request; at least there was always a loaf of rice flour bread in the freezer or a reduced and naturally thickened sauce in the refrigerator. That was then, now gluten-free flour is very common and readily available but expensive at about $5.00 a pound compared to regular flour at .50 cents per pound. King Arthur brand contains white and brown rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch; other brands also include xanthan gum and potato flour. The advantage to these pre-mixed flours is availability and consistencynot the price! So if you must eat gluten-free and still want somewhat "normal" food, it will cost you more!

This is where Gluten-Free on a Shoestring can help you. Nicole has a plan that starts in the first chapter and continues in chapter 2. It's how to prepare food efficiently with all eyes toward s the cost. Some recipes call for cooking in advance when you have time and others for making items in bulk and freezing them all in an effort to not spend all your time in the kitchen cooking. When it comes down to basics her approach works: take her recipe for tomato soup, it doesn't need flour in the first place so it's gluten-free to begin with. Once you realize this you are all set. Another recipe for pot roast is in the same vein, no thickening needed as it is just braised meat with natural cooking juices. Many other of her recipes that once called for flour can be made with gluten-free flour that you buy and with the addition of xanthan gum--viola! You have a very-close-to-original dish! Nicole makes it easy for you to understand thisgood job!

There's a nice picture on the front cover of the book of a popover, looking at it inspired me to try this recipe. I whipped it up in no time and had excellent results because I have a popover baking pan. It was delicious, light and airy with a crisp outer shell and soft custard-like interior, it was even better with a bit of fresh creamery butter!

I recommend this book for anyone who is gluten "challenged". With Nicole's suggestions and guidance you can reduce the cost of cooking gluten-free and still eat extremely well with her delicious gluten-free recipes.

Recipes tested---!

Makes 6 large , or 12 small popovers

If you've never had popovers, you've been missing out. Crusty on top, almost pudding-like at the very bottom, popovers are super easy to make, require very few ingredients, and you can even use a plain old muffin tin. Although using a special popover pan does make a more beautiful presentation, and the spacing between the cups helps them to puff, you can live your whole life without a popover pan very nicely, thank you.

1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
1 cup milk (low-fat is fine, nonfat is not), at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease well a 6-cup popover pan (or a regular muffin tin, if you don't have a popover pan) with unsalted butter and set it aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, and salt. Add the butter, eggs, and milk, whisking well after each addition until the batter is smooth. The batter will be thin.

3. Fill each of the wells in the pan just under halfway full. Place the pan in the center of the preheated oven and bake for a total of 30 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, with a sharp knife or with sharp kitchen shears, pierce the top of each popover to allow steam to escape so that the popovers are able to maintain their puffiness.

4. Serve plain or with your favorite jam or preserves.