Cookbook Review: Gluten Free Girl and the Chef

I’ve known for months about the impending arrival of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, a new cookbook by Shauna James Ahern and Danny Ahern. As a couple, Shauna and Danny – along with their incomparably pixie-like toddler, Lucy – are a staple in our little community of food bloggers. For years Shauna has been at the helm of the blog Gluten Free Girl, and with the arrival of Danny in her life, he’s become a big part of the site as well. In a community that takes great pride in sharing in and rejoicing each others’ accomplishments, we were all excited for the release of Shauna and Danny’s new book.

Being one of the gluten free persuasion, though, I think that I might have been more excited than most folks. Shauna is a wonderful cook, and paired with Danny’s 20 years of experience in the kitchen, well… let’s say that just the thought of them joining forces to write a cookbook made every cell in my digestive system quiver with joy. Then, a few months ago at IFBC, the gluten free contingent was lucky enough to have Chef Ahern prepare our Sunday afternoon lunch – salmon wrapped in prosciutto and served over pasta. I thought, “Ok, that’s it. No more teasing, for God’s sake. This book needs to come out now.”

Of course, the great tides of the publishing industry don’t wax and wane to my personal whims, and I had to wait a little while to receive my review copy. And once I got it, you can bet that I did a happy dance in my kitchen before diving into the prose.

The Story

Wait, did I use the word “prose” in reference to a cookbook? Why yes, yes I did. That’s one thing that sets this cookbook apart from others; it’s a love story, first and foremost. The recipes it contains are a part of the story, instead of the other way around. The narrative that Danny and Shauna have crafted is incredibly real, telling the tale of their relationship as it rose and grew like a gluten free cupcake in the oven. There’s the good (their honeymoon in Italy, page 71), the bad (Plates Coming Back, page 242), and the hilarious (Danny’s marriage proposal, page 52). The couple share their story with such candor and humility that it wraps its arms around you like one of Shauna’s signature hugs. When you’re done with this book, you’ll feel like a part of their family.

If you’ve ever read their blog, or better yet, if you’ve ever met Shauna and Danny in person, it’s plain to see that the source of their warmth comes from the interminable inferno of their conjoined hearts. This book is a product of their humanity, their laughter, their enthusiasm for life. Each page feels like it’s been steeped in love and then gently dried by the heat of the kitchen they share, and as a reader, you’ll feel honored to be invited in to their home for a heaping plateful of their fairytale love story.

Ok, enough gushing. I haven’t even talked about the food yet.

The Food

It’s no secret that both Danny and Shauna are excellent cooks. They’ve brought their all to this book, and the recipes glitter like diamonds with the sheer love they hold for food. I’ve made a handful of recipes, and have yet to experience one that didn’t work – but that doesn’t surprise me at all. The Ahern kitchen is certainly not without its tsunami of culinary talent (the term ‘jedi’ comes to mind), and if anyone’s going to be writing a book about the beauty and creativity of gluten free cooking, it’s going to be these two.

My favorites dishes:

If you’re looking for a fabulous appetizer, I can’t help but rave about the roasted garlic and white bean spread (page 264). This little recipe is so versatile that you might just add it to your regular repertoire. I used the spread as a dip for crudité and a spread for crostini, but it could be used for any number of things, including, as Danny points out, the base as a sauce for seafood.

I’d also recommend the seared shrimp with garlic almond sauce (page 195, and recipe below). Having never used almonds in a sauce before, I was impressed by the hearty texture they lend to this simple sauce. I loved this recipe so much that I made double the amount and called it dinner.

At the bitter chagrin of my aunt (who accused me of “braising Thumper”), one of my favorite dishes in Gluten Free Girl and the Chef is the braised balsamic rabbit (page 216). The rabbit and balsamico engage in this perfect dance, a hearty tango across your tongue. I made the recipe a second time with bone-in chicken thighs (for the afore-mentioned horrified aunt) and the dish still moved with grace, not missing a beat despite my modification.

The Verdict

Should you buy this book? Do you even have to ask at this point? Yes, buy the book. Buy it now.

The Recipe

I picked this particular dish for its simplicity; right here, in this recipe, you’ll find proof that food doesn’t need to be complicated to cause your tastebuds to keel over in sheer joy. Taking just a few minutes to prepare and containing only seven ingredients – including salt, pepper and the shrimp – this dish will make your palate sing. Danny notes that this sauce can also be served over scallops, grilled chicken skewers, or lamb kebobs.

Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup roasted Marcona almonds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Soda water, as needed
  • 3 tablespoons argan or grapeseed oil
  • 16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on

Recipe method:

  1. Put the almonds, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper into a food processor. Whirl them up until a paste is formed. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a thick sauce forms. If the sauce feels too thick, add soda water until the sauce has reached the consistency you desire.
  2. Set a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the argan or grapeseed oil. Season the shrimp with the remaining 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the shrimp to the pan and sear on one side for about 1 minute. Turn them over and sear the other side for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. To serve, place some of the almond sauce in the middle of each plate and surround the sauce with seared shrimp.

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Comments

  1. Denise Michaels - Adventurous Foodie says:

    Congratulations of the publishing of your book: “Gluten Free Girl and the Chef.” I’m the author of a book (nothing to do with food) that’s been pretty successful and being a published book author has changed my life for the better in ways I can’t even say. I hope it does good things for you, too. *smile*

  2. Kris Bordessa says:

    Interesting. I read Shauna’s blog for a long time and learned much. I have to say, though, I was kind of disappointed with her first book. Not because the recipes weren’t good – they were – but because I wanted more recipes and less prose! I guess I just want my cookbooks to be cookbooks. Or maybe I’m just grouchy. ;) Glad you enjoyed this book, and I have to say, that shrimp recipe looks tasty!

  3. I love prose in cookbooks, and that shrimp recipe looks pretty amazing, so I can’t wait to enter this giveaway. I’m not gluten-free myself, but know many people who are (and I’ve directed them towards some of your own gluten-free confections with great pleasure) so I look forward to spreading the word about this!

    • Jennifer Margulis says:

      I agree with Christine, about prose in cookbooks being wonderful to read. Funny that this was annoying to the commenter above. Eager to read the book and see what I think of how the author pulls it off.

  4. MyKidsEatSquid says:

    How cool that they weave their love story into the cookbook. And the recipes sound amazing. With this recipe, can you roast just regular almonds? It sounds so simple and quick I’d like to try it tonight.

  5. debbie koenig says:

    I’m not GF either, but I’ve read Shauna’s work for years. This book sounds like the type you’d keep next to the bed, for reading.

    A question on that recipe: Seems like an awful lot of salt for just 16 shrimp. Did it taste salty?

  6. I love the idea of a cookbook that has more of a narrative, rather than simply sharing recipes. This sounds like an awesome addition to any chef’s library.

  7. MarthaAndMe says:

    I love cookbooks that you can actually read, so this sounds like something I would love. And the marcona almonds in that sauce – brilliant idea.

  8. This was a fabulous review of a cookbook that I would never have thought to buy UNTIL I read this review! You don’t have to be gluten-free, I see, to enjoy this cookbook. Why, you don’t even have to be a cook. It sounds like it’s way more just about food itself. And I’m so glad you shared the shrimp recipe here. I have some shrimp begging to be made interesting.

  9. Alexandra says:

    I have discovered more and more guests at my B&B eat gluten-free and a really great gluten-free cookbook would be a marvelous thing to bring out and discuss over breakfast. It is rare to find recipes for rabbit. I love rabbit, having lived in France. Thanks for reviewing this book. You convinced me to buy it.

  10. Jane Boursaw says:

    I love cookbooks that weave in the authors’ lives, and that shrimp sounds yummy, even to a non-shrimp lover like me. Hubby and son are the shrimp eaters in this house. I wonder if you could substitute chicken for the shrimp … if so, my daughter and I would be all over it.

    One of my favorite authors from long-ago is Gladys Taber, who wrote the Stillmeadow books and always included recipes in the prose. She also had a cookbook or two in there. Thanks for reminding me about her – time to re-visit some of her books.

  11. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart says:

    I’m so glad you included that particular recipe because I was thinking, “How exactly do you get the almonds into the sauce?” So, thanks for that.

    P.S. Having written all those wedding articles over the years, I just have to say I they should have pitched their love story and actual wedding to NY Times Vows. This sounds to me like the kind of story they would LOVE.

    I’m popping over now to the giveaway post.

  12. flyingfabu says:

    I’ve been reading Shauna’s blog for a while and sold my entire family on her recipes with the much-raved about cinnamon rolls last Christmas. I can’t wait to get this cookbook, the anticipation alone has had a life of its own in my kitchen. As someone with both a passion for words and a passion for food, I think I’m going to be very, very happy with it.

  13. Jennifer Margulis says:

    Going over to the giveaway post too. I’m not GF either but I have noticed that I have a slight intolerance to wheat. So I bet the cookbook has some great ideas on how to circumvent that.

  14. Casey@Good. Food. Stories. says:

    Soda water in the almond sauce, eh? I’ve never carbonated my sauces before so this is tres intriguing. Heading over to the giveaway page now!

  15. Roxanne Kangas says:

    This looks AWESOME! Can’t wait to tell my friend about this, I just found out she is gluten free too. I will be trying that recipe soon;)

  16. Dennis LeGear says:

    One of the first gluten free cook book I have thought about buy. It seems like a good one to have around, many of us have friends that live a gluten free life style and cooking for them can be a challenge for the uninitiated. I love to please my guests with good variety and this book looks like it can help the average chef throw down some delicious gluten free cuisine.

  17. Vera Marie Badertscher says:

    You really gave us a good feel for what this cookbook is all about. I love to curl up with a good cookbook, and for that to happen, it has to have some story–not just be a recipe box in a binding.
    It occurs to me that everybody needs a gluten free cookbook, because even if you are not, your guests may be unable to tolerate some foods.

  18. Sounds like an excellent book. Guess, I will see for myself when my copy comes in the mail. =)

  19. Josh Mitchell says:

    I myself have been using almonds in sauces a lot. There is a traditional tomato almond pesto that was posted on smitten kitchen that I have been using lots. I will have to compare.

  20. Ruth Pennebaker says:

    This sounds intriguing — the warm, compelling narrative, as well as the recipes. I think the best cookbooks have a strong sense of their authors’ personalities.

  21. Alisa Bowman says:

    Sometimes I think about giving up gluten just to be healthier, as most of the gluten I eat comes from junk. Or maybe I should just give up junk. But this looks like a great cookbook–thanks for sharing the recipe!!

  22. Jeanine Barone says:

    This is really a great cookbook review. And though I don’t have time to cook much, the idea of a reading a cookbook that has a narrative thread combined with recipes definitely would make it more compelling, for sure.
    Jeanine

  23. sarah henry says:

    Sounds delicious & a dish lots of folks may like to cook, gluten-free or not.

    One of your endearing qualities, Steph, is your generosity in the food blogging world, gluten-free and beyond. That shows through in this post.

  24. That recipe looks really good. The book sounds good, too.

Trackbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, A Cookbook Review + Recipe -- Topsy.com says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephanie Stiavetti and MegaNom, Mary. Mary said: RT: @sstiavetti: Cookbook Review: @GlutenFreeGirl and the Chef #gfree [...]

  2. Tweets that mention Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, A Cookbook Review + Recipe -- Topsy.com says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shauna James Ahern , Stephanie Stiavetti, Paula, Gudrun Enger, Brittty and others. Brittty said: Hungry? @sstiavetti is giving away a copy of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef! Non-#glutenfree folks welcome, too. [...]

  3. Win a Copy of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef says:

    [...] just written a review of a new gluten free cookbook, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef. And guess what? I’ve got a treat for you, my beloved readers – I’ve got a copy [...]

  4. Gluten Free Butternut Squash Pie Recipe says:

    [...] that I’m all weepy, I’d like to share a recipe with you. In support of Shauna and Danny’s new book, a handful of food bloggers are running a gluten free Thanksgiving recipe day. This is a book [...]

  5. Gluten Free Butternut Squash Pie Recipe - The Culinary Life says:

    […] that I’m all weepy, I’d like to share a recipe with you. In support of Shauna and Danny’s new book, a handful of food bloggers are running a gluten free Thanksgiving recipe day. This is a book […]

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