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.
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.
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.
Should you buy this book? Do you even have to ask at this point? Yes, buy the book. Buy it now.
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- To serve, place some of the almond sauce in the middle of each plate and surround the sauce with seared shrimp.
If you like this review of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, check out these others:
- Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef Cookbook Review – The W.H.O.L.E Gang
- Potato-Leek Soup with White Truffle Honey with Book Review – Andrea’s Recipes
- Autumn Lovefest – Use Real Butter