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cookbooks i'm loving - august 2015

5 Cookbooks I’m loving Right Now

I have a cookbook problem habit. I read them the way so many people read novels and magazines. I mean, have you seen my cookbook shelf?

You know you are a designer when this system of cookbook organization made the most sense.

A photo posted by Mary Fran Wiley (@frannycakes) on May 25, 2014 at 7:44pm PDT

This summer, I have few new cookbooks hanging out that I really am loving. (Even Cecelia the Cat is loving them!)

#ceceliathecat is reading cookbooks today. She particularly approves of @theblendergirl and @anneliesz’s new books

A photo posted by Mary Fran Wiley (@frannycakes) on Jul 19, 2015 at 7:16pm PDT

The Blender Girl Smoothies

by Tess Masters

Tess is a dear friend of mine, and I loved her first book and her app, so I had pretty high expectations for this book. In the few short months it has been out, it has become indispensable in my kitchen. (I make smoothies nearly every morning for breakfast and I need clever ideas to keep me smoothies from getting boring).

Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea

by Annelies Zijderveld

This book is just beautiful. The photos are beautiful. The words are beautiful. The recipes are delightful. Each recipe infuses the flavor of tea in creative ways. A perfect book for any tea lover, any baker or really, any food lover.

Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food

by Jamie Oliver

Ok, so it’s been out for almost a year, but Mammacakes bought this book for me a couple weeks ago. It’s pages are filled with recipes that are a bit more involved and not quite suitable for single lady week night dinners, but I can’t wait for an excuse to dive into these recipes. The photos are gorgeous (as expected) and every recipe is begging to be made. (This is not a gluten-free cookbook, so there are some adjustments that need to be made to many – but not all- recipes). The peanut butter & jelly brownies are on my to-bake list.

Sweet Apolita Bakebook

by Rosie Alyea

Another gluten-filled book, this one requires some confidence in baking gluten-free to adapt from (or a bag of Cup4Cup and a mild sense of adventure). But the cakes are just stunning. Most of the recipes are built from a library of items such as cakes, buttercreams and sauces leading to beautiful results.

My New Roots

by Sarah Britton

This stunner is gluten-free and a delight. It is a celebration of fresh, healthy ingredients – but those items look just as good as every single one in the celebration of butter and sugar above. This book inspires (and resembles) the way I cook each and every night for myself. Get it & be inspired to eat better without sacrifice.

cookbooks i'm loving - august 2015

What cookbooks are you loving at the moment? (because you know my collection needs more!)

a kitchenaid stand mixer is indispensable in my gluten-free kitchen

5 indispensable small appliances in my gluten-free, single lady kitchen

I want to start this out by saying that there are a gazillion wonderful small appliances out there and I certainly have not tried them all (or even come close). But I find myself going back to the same appliances over and over again, while others make rarer appearances on my counter. I am also looking at products through the eyes of someone with a very small household (a total of 1) with limited counter & pantry space.  A giant espresso machine might be mighty useful in helping me complete my daily caffeine intake and an ice cream maker could make endless delights, I have to prioritize. (Now if my pantry were a Tardis or Mary Poppins’ bag this list might be quite a bit different).

a kitchenaid stand mixer is indispensable in my gluten-free kitchenOld Faithful (A KitchenAid Stand Mixer), $249-$650

This baby is built like a tank and got my mom through nearly 30 years of baking before Dad got her a new one and put it under the Christmas tree with her old one, bows on both. She got an upgrade & I got a work horse. I really don’t know what I would do without a mixer – hand mixers are only good for lighter use. Even making cakes from a mix is easier with a stand mixer. I love KitchenAid mixers for their quality and versatility – I can add a grain mill, a pasta maker, an ice cream bowl and countless other doodads to make the mixer a multi-tasking queen.

Breville Smart Convection Oven, $249.95 at Williams-Sonoma

This is the newest addition to my kitchen, and I think it might be one of the best appliances anyone could have. It’s small size means it preheats quickly and convection settings make for incredibly even baking. During the summer in an apartment without central air, baking anything in the oven is just unbearable and this little guy does the trick without making my kitchen even hotter. It’s also great for reheating leftovers which means your microwave won’t turn your gluten-free pizza to mush, or, for those of us without microwaves, it makes it possible to heat it up without turning on the oven. I did have to get a new set of muffin pans so that they would fit, but it is actually quite roomy for a counter-top oven.

vitamixs30

Vitamix S30, $349.95 at Williams-Sonoma

A blender is a must in any kitchen and a blender that means less dishes for me is always a win in my book. I wanted an easy way to make morning smoothies and I had a couple of criteria: it couldn’t just make smoothies (so a magic bullet was out) and it had to be sturdy. And what do you know, Vitamix was being mighty psychic because they launched the S30 right when I started looking. With the power of a Vitamix and the smaller footprint of this model, it was a no-brainer to include in my small kitchen. And the regular pitcher is just big enough for blending sauces, soups and margaritas.

SodaStream, $79.99-199.99 at SodaStream

This is probably the odd ball here. It isn’t electric and it doesn’t fill a basic need like a coffee maker. What it does do is encourage me to drink more water and gives me a way to enjoy some of the different syrups I experiment with in the summer. It is also a heck of a lot cheaper than buying cases of Lacroix every week (and the trouble of shlepping them on the bus).

Slow Cooker

I asked for a CrockPot for my 21st birthday. An ex bought me one for my 27th birthday (because he had adopted mine while I lived with my parents and I asked for it back when I moved away…he liked it so much he just replaced it). It can make so many things while you sleep or while you work. It makes it easy to make a big batch of something that can be divided up into a couple of lunches. They can be bought for as low as $30 and as much as $300 (Mammacakes has a fancy one where the inner pot can be placed on the stove to brown meat in and then put into the slow cooker to finish cooking away).

Honorable Mentions

Rice Cooker

I use mine to make more than just plain rice. It is actually a great way to make all types of gluten-free grains including sorghum and quinoa. Famous film critic Rodger Ebert even wrote a cookbook all about rice cookers and their versatility. Making a batch of grains on Sunday for healthy buddah bowl lunches during the week saves so much time, and it is a set it and go read a book kind of easy. Wait, who am I kidding. It is set it and drink a glass of red wine easy. 🙂

Coffee Maker

Now that I have one, I don’t know how I lived without one…but I did get by on a kettle and a french press for quite a while. I won’t lie, having hot coffee ready when I wake up is certainly easier than making it in a french press when I can barely open my eyes, but it can be done.

in my gluten-free pantry

In my gluten-free pantry: Munchies

in my gluten-free pantryNo pantry is complete without a few munchies, particularly for us gluten-free & food allergic folks. I like to keep food on hand that can be grab & go so that when I show up to a work lunch with no safe food options, I can save my coworkers from seeing me hangry by having backup in my bag. I also like to fend off the weekend afternoon snack cravings, but when they come, I like to be prepared with something quick and easy or I’ll likely end up with a batch of cupcakes. (And while cupcakes are delicious, they aren’t always the best option…) So here’s a peek at what I like to keep on hand.

Crunchy + Salty

This is my preferred kind of snack. Something quick and satisfying. Something that pairs well with red wine and chick flicks or gluten-free beer and football.

Bars

There is an assortment of bars in just about every bag I own so that I am never without a safe snack, but there are a few bars out there that just taste so much better than the others. These are the ones I buy most often.

Spread it on

No pantry would be complete without some sort of nut (or nut-free) spread. And no list of essential spreads would be complete without Nutella. Nut butters are great multi-taskers. You can add a dollop to a smoothie or dip your apple slices. You can add them to toast or for pairing with plain cookies. The lack of peanut butter on this list is intentional – I don’t particularly like it. I don’t mind it in things like Reese’s cups (actually, I like it in things), but it’s not something I crave putting on a sandwich or on an apple, so I don’t keep it on hand all the time.

Just keeping a few of these options on hand keeps me from showing my hangry side while I make dinner or deter me from ordering takeout because I just want something right now and don’t feel quite like cooking. (It happens, some times you just need a snack).

In my gluten-free pantry: Cheats & Shortcuts

in my gluten-free pantry

Some days you just don’t have time to whip up an entire meal from scratch. Some days real life zaps your cooking brain and you know you need to feed it, but it isn’t cooperating and helping you decide on a dish.

For some reason, I always feel immensely guilty when I use pre-jarred pasta sauce or grab a box of gluten-free macaroni and cheese. It’s irrational. It’s silly. And some days there just isn’t time or energy to cook from scratch.

On my too-tired days, I make dinner using one of these pantry-friendly shortcuts.

Skillet / Simmer Sauces

These are the shortcuts that I feel least bad about – they shorten the time required to make a balanced, tasty dinner but still require a bit of effort. Some of my favorites are the sauces from Rick Bayless / Frontera. They make taco night or enchilada night quick and easy but don’t add the kind of chemicals/ingredients that I find objectionable in most packaged foods.

Curry Paste

I’ve been a fan of Indian food since college but a good curry can take hours to cook properly – who has time for that on a Tuesday night? Curry paste can shorten that cooking time but still deliver the complex flavors intrinsic to a warming Indian dinner. The concentrated pastes give you a little more control than already-done simmer sauces (which is good for my kitchen control-freak self). The curry pastes from Patak’s are gluten-free and free of artificial colors and preservatives.

Pasta Sauce

This might be the one I feel guiltiest about. Jarred sauce on top of dried pasta leaves me feeling like I phoned it in when it came to dinner. And that is partially true – it means I can have dinner in just about 15 minutes. I don’t do it often, but I always end up craving basic pasta or needing a super easy meal whenever I don’t have a jar of sauce handy, so I try to keep one on hand at all times.

Soup in a box

Most canned/condensed soups aren’t gluten-free, but I like to keep a package or two of soup in the pantry. A roasted red pepper soup goes great with a gluten-free grilled cheese or with some leftover rice stirred in.

Macaroni & Cheese

I am just fine admitting that some days I have the palate of a 5 year old. Maybe it’s the years that passed between the last time I had some from that iconic blue box and my discovery of a gluten-free variety, but that powdered cheese brings some comforting nostalgia. And it makes an excellent Saturday lunch after a late Friday night.

What’s your favorite cheat/shortcut ingredient?

NaBloPoMo November 2014

in my gluten-free pantry

In my gluten-free pantry: Spices

in my gluten-free pantry

When I talk to my friends about cooking, inevitably they talk about how much work it is to cook for themselves. And then they talk about how they have to follow a recipe to end up with food that tastes good reliably…which then ends with them complaining about how they never have the right spices on hand. I think that by keep a basic inventory of spices, you open up a world of flavor. You’ll be ready to handle just about any recipe and you will have more building blocks for delicious dinners.

Herbs vs. Spices

Even though they are mixed together at the grocery store, herbs and spices are different. Herbs are the leafy parts of the plant (think basil and sage) whereas spices are from just about any other part including roots and seeds. Here, I am focusing on spices – when it comes to herbs, I try to use fresh over dried whenever possible.

Savory

I am not usually one who goes for a lot of heat, but I think it is a great way to layer flavor. I like to keep a couple different chili powders on hand, rather than just generic chili powder because each pepper has its own unique flavor.

  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Ancho Chili Powder
  • Chipotle

There are other great spices for savory cooking that I couldn’t live without

  • Paprika
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Ground Mustard
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Coriander

Sweet

Spices aren’t just for chili and stew – they add flavor in sweet applications as well. Pumpkin spice might be the most common application of these flavors in sweets, but they can power up everything from pie to cake. From pudding to muffins. Try adding a few cardamom pods in with your coffee next time you brew it – you can thank me later.

  • Cardamom (pods & powder)
  • Star Anise (whole)
  • Nutmeg (whole – it is so much better when you grate it yourself)
  • Cinnamon
  • Allspice
  • Cloves
  • Lemon Peel
  • Lavender
  • Ground Ginger

Mixes / Blends

I don’t keep too many pre-mixed blends around, simply because I like to mix and match depending on my mood and always using the same flavors would get boring to me. That said, there are a few blends that I keep around.

  • Curry Powder
  • Garam Masala
  • Herbes de Provence (Ok, this is technically herbs and not spices, this is the most traditional blend I keep in my pantry).

What are your favorite spices?

in my gluten-free pantry

In my gluten-free pantry: Grains

in my gluten-free pantryGrains are the building blocks of many meals. They add fiber and nutrients to a meal and can help stretch meat if you are on a budget. When I first went gluten-free, I started eating a lot of rice-based dishes, but that got rather boring pretty quickly. It didn’t take long to discover quinoa, which I now buy in economy sized bags. Lately, there has been a surge in the availability of some other grains including sorghum and millet (and a few gluten-containing grains). This variety can keep meals interesting and help fill the void left by couscous and pearled barley. I try to keep a variety of grains in the pantry to keep things from getting boring and to keep a variety of nutrients in my diet.

Rice

This is the easiest, and cheapest, of the grains to keep on hand. I like to keep some short grain rice (such as arborio) on hand for dishes like risotto or paella. I keep long grain rice (such as basmati) on hand to pair with curries or to turn into fried rice. I also enjoy the nutty flavor of short-grain brown rice as an ingredient in soups and stews.

Quinoa

The first “alternative” grain I ate was quinoa (which is technically a seed and not a grain). It was a welcome relief from the amount of rice that made it into my diet when I first cut out gluten. Initially, I used it only in place of rice or couscous in recipes, but as I got used to cooking with it (and it got more popular), I got more adventurous. It works great in stir-fry or as the base for a grain salad. I’ve even used it in casseroles and breakfast “porridge”.

Sorghum

A recent addition to my rotation, whole grain or pearled sorghum is a nutty, chewy grain that can stand up to salads and stews in places that gluten-eaters might use farro or barley. You can also pop sorghum like you could pop corn, and you get something that looks like mini popcorn but is safe for people with corn allergies.

Oats

I grew up with a dad who made us oatmeal regularly on winter mornings before school and a mom who’s “garbage” cookies were based on the famous oatmeal cookie recipe from a box of Quaker Oats. These days, I keep a package of gluten-free oats in my pantry for easy breakfasts (including home-made instant oatmeal).

Are there any other gluten-free grains that you keep on hand?

in my gluten-free pantry

In my gluten-free pantry: Canned goods

in my gluten-free pantryI’ve always been able to make a dinner out of seemingly disparate ingredients. You know those nights. It’s been one too many days since your last trip to the grocery store or you got home just a little too late to really think dinner all the way through but you don’t have an emergency box of gluten-free macaroni and cheese on the shelf and you can’t bear the thought of takeout.

It’s all about keeping some building blocks in the pantry that can be combined or added to a dish to round out a meal.

Beans

I know canned beans are not as good as soaked and cooked beans, but really, I am willing to lose a little bit of texture for the time savings benefit of beans from a can. You can use them in soups and chilli. Bean salad happens to be one of my specialties for weekday lunches. I always have black and garbanzos in the pantry and depending on the season (or what’s on sale) I might add pinto or cannellini beans to my inventory.

Tomatoes

A can or box of diced tomatoes might be one of the handiest ingredients I keep on hand. These can easily be turned into pasta sauce or added to a Tikka Masala. They can be part of a soup or added to rice in place of some of the water. They are a great way to bulk up a veggie soup without having to do any additional chopping and slicing.

Stock

Stock adds flavor not only to soups but to grains such as rice, quinoa, millet and sorghum. It can be used to deglaze a pan when you are sautéing or added to boneless skinless chicken breasts when you bake them. I buy it in boxes rather than cans so that it can be resealed and stored – and if I can find it, some brands make smaller packages that just have one cup of stock which is great when you aren’t feeding a whole family.

Coconut milk

I don’t use coconut milk as often as the other items on the list, but I like to keep a can or two on hand for curries, smoothies and for whipping up a little dairy-free whipped cream when I am in need of a dessert.

in my gluten-free pantry

In my gluten-free pantry: gluten-free flour blends

in my gluten-free pantry

In the time since I have gone gluten-free, commercially available gluten-free flour blends have changed dramatically. 8 years ago, you could barely find bean-y, gritty blends that, although labeled “all-purpose”, were anything but. Some times I still blend my own flours, I find it simpler to use a blend that behaves the same way each and every time I use it.

C4C – $19.95/ 3lb bag

This is the flour blend that I use most often because it provides consistent results and is readily available from local Williams-Sonoma stores. This blend includes both milk powder and xantham gum. The milk powder promotes browning similar to regular flour and the already included xantham gum makes one less ingredient that you have to keep on your shelf. This blend was developed by Lena Kwak under the supervision of world-famous chef Thomas Keller.

How I’m spending my Friday night. #miseenplace #baking

A photo posted by Mary Fran Wiley (@frannycakes) on Oct 10, 2014 at 7:54pm PDT

GF Jules Flour – $19.95 / 4.5lb bag

Jules made the first AP blend that I could get consistent, delicious results from. Her blend in non-GMO and vegan (no milk powder here) and is made in a facility that is top-8 allergen free. On top of that, Jules is one pretty awesome lady.

King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free AP Blend – $7.95/ 1.5lb bag

This flour is the easiest to get – all the grocery stores in my area carry it and it is available from a variety of national retailers including Whole Foods. This blend comes free of gums so you can adjust the amount used on a per-recipe basis (or leave them out and use an alternative such as psyllium husks.

Other blends

The market is full of exciting new products, including use-specific blends from Karen at Blackbird Bakery or a kickstarter-backed blend from Gluten-Free Girl. it is a different market than what existed when I first went gluten-free and the options out there are incredible and growing.

What’s your favorite gluten-free flour blend?

NaBloPoMo November 2014