Monday, June 23, 2008

IN REVIEW: The Wheat-Free Cook by Jacqueline Mallorca

"Make every recipe in this book!" was James' enthusiastic endorsement when I showed him a copy of "The Wheat-Free Cook: Gluten-Free Recipes for Everyone" by Jacqueline Mallorca [Morrow, 2007]. With nearly 200 pages of recipes, I've kitchen-tested only about a quarter so far. After trying a dozen gluten-free cookbooks, this is by far my favorite. It got rave reviews during a recent vacation where I whipped up gluten-free breadstuffs every day for our hostess, who had recently joined the ranks of the wheat-intolerant. Even the omnivorous Marin foodies were impressed.

There's a lot to like. Unlike other gluten-free cookbooks, there is little redundancy in content or technique. Each recipe delivers something different and distinct in taste and ingredients. A certified foodie herself, Mallorca worked as assistant to James Beard and helped Chuck Williams with the first Williams Sonoma catalog. This gal knows her way around a kitchen, and was not about to take a diagnosis of gluten-intolerance as the end of her eating adventures. She's created simple, easy-to-prepare dishes that will please anyone's palate. Yes, there is a gourmet sensibility at work here. She pays attention to ingredients, and sun-dried tomatoes and saffron are not in every larder. But these are not daunting recipes, just what I'd imagine a professional cook might whip up at home when she wants to spend most of her evening relaxing with friends over a glass of wine.

As an amateur cooking historian, I'm blown away by Mallorca's ability to use a range of culinary techniques. One surefire success was the four-ingredient chocolate-walnut cake on page 191, which replaced an abandoned favorite picnic treat in my repertoire. (Since James is extremely allergic to chocolate, I substitute the carob powder from Bob's Red Mill for the natural cocoa powder, and it's still very tasty, happily consumed by the "normals".) Mallorca calls for walnuts, pulsed with the cocoa in the food processor. Then she beats Eggbeaters with a cups of sugar, until the mixture reaches the ribbon stage. The Eggbeaters thicken more quickly than eggs, besides having less cholesterol. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Voila! An elegant torte that can go to the finest of events.

Pay attention to her every instruction or your results will be less perfect than they might have been. When she says, roll the teaspoon of canola oil around your preheated skillet, don't use cooking spray on an unheated one as I recently did. The flaxmeal skillet bread on page 143 still turned out but did not have as nice a color or crust.

And, with a nod to fine purveyors of kitchen equipment like Williams-Sonoma, Mallorca explains just why you might want to acquire a specific piece. Perhaps the buckwheat spaetzle on page 81 will turn out better if I get the spaetzle press. They were tasty home fare but a bit blobby for company.

I gravitate to the breads and desserts because they are hardest to fake with the substitute flours. The book does contain tasty main dishes. Rice spaghetti alla carbonara on page 69, which uses up the Eggbeaters left over from the chocolate-walnut torte, and the rice spirals with asparagus featured on the cover are regulars at our dinner table, along with the goat cheese pizza with the rice flour crust on page 137.

The yogurt-rice flour pancakes on page 21 are our new breakfast treat. Yogurt is a magic ingredient in many breads. Ground blanched almonds appear in others. They both add a substance I find missing in other gluten-free recipes. Since James is allergic to cow dairy, we substitute goat yogurt and soy or goat milk.

I can go on and on. Just get the book and try for yourself.

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