Friend of the blog, Samantha Stein (aka The Happy Coeliac), recently upped and moved to Holland to concentrate full-time on her gluten-free endeavours. Through much of early 2014 we were treated to furtive references to over-indulgence on zabaglione, questions about dumplings, and sneaky snaps of champagne and cakes; and then emerged the second of her gluten-free e-books Culinary Quandries: A Gluten Free Dinner Party. When she asked if we’d like to try out the book, I jumped at the chance.
Clearly a lot of work has gone into this book. As well as lovely photography, there are comprehensive and very user-friendly layouts with allergens for each recipe highlighted, US and UK measures; and in the online version, videos and step-by-step photo guides to the more complicated techniques. A real boon if you are new to gluten free cooking, or indeed any cooking.
The recipes themselves are a tour of different cuisines and a mix of naturally gluten-free dishes with gluten-free versions of dishes. Asian-style dumplings cosy up with Moroccan tagine, and Italian tiramasu. This makes the book a great source of inspiration, however it is a little eclectic, and we would have welcomed some ‘set menus’ or seasonal suggestions – perhaps something Sam has deliberately avoided to make this more universal.
So how did the recipes test out? In our opinion, great dinner party dishes fall into two camps:
- Dishes that look like you have made loads of effort, but were incredibly simple to make
- Dishes that require a lot of work, but look effortless when you serve them
We found plenty of both in the book, meaning we could whip up some of the dishes for lunch or weekday suppers. Particular favourites were the refreshing Avocado, Cucumber & Basil Gazpacho which would make a perfect appetite-whetter ahead of a summer barbecue; and the chestnut gnocchi- which was incredibly simple to make, and perhaps the best gnocchi we have ever tasted, let alone made ourselves. We served ours with a generous splodge of extra virgin olive oil instead of the browned butter.
On the more complex side, we enjoyed the tagine with quinoa ‘tabbouleh”; and the lovely autumnal flavours in the chestnut and squash risotto, however we do question whether risotto makes a good dinner party dish- ideally you want to be chatting and serving your guests with drinks rather than tending to a pan. The main dishes lend themselves to all sorts of occasions, from formal dining through to relaxed suppers.
One minor gripe is that a couple of recipes use ingredients that can be quite hard to source – notably gluten free puff pastry (currently only in some branches of Asda in the UK) and giant pasta shells.
Unfortunately, as gfreeb is currently a dairy free household, there wasn’t much in the dessert section for us, however we were pleased to note that Sam definitely knows that fruit is not a pudding – and there are some lovely indulgent options to try; including a much-celebrated strawberry and champagne cake.
Overall, this book would be great for the new gluten free cook, or for someone looking to treat the coeliac in their life to a special meal.
We’ll be interested to see what Sam comes up with next. After two indulgent books, my money is on something fresh, healthy and grain-free. Or if her instagram is anything to go by – 101 ways with quinoa ;)
A Gluten Free Dinner Party – £3.49 – is available via The Happy Coeliac for Kindle, as an iBook, or online.