Friday, February 1, 2013

January Cookbook Review: Gluten Free on a Shoestring, Quick & Easy

I spent the last month trying out recipes from this cookbook, to see if they really are quick, easy and cheap.  The book is broken down into categories, including breakfasts, breads, dinners and desserts.  Each week I incorporated a few recipes into my life and shared them with my family. 

I cook regularly, creating my own recipes and using recipes from cookbooks and personal collections, so following a recipe is not something I generally have trouble with.  The recipes in this book are labelled as easy, so I assessed them according to how easy I thought they would be for a beginner, someone who doesn't cook on a regular basis.

Here are the recipes I tried, and some thoughts on how they came out:

Beef & Bean Burritos made with Homemade Flour Tortillas: I made the tortillas twice, because the first time I made them a bit thick and had trouble rolling up the burritos but was really happy with the way they turned out once I lost my fear of rolling them too thin.  I thought the rolling part would take forever, but it didn't.  The recipe says to use parchment paper, but I ran out and used plastic wrap instead.  It worked fine.  Disclaimer: I do have a tortilla press (thanks mom!), which makes things easier.  The burrito recipe is for six, but it easily made more.  The flavour was good, and they froze really well.  I'm planning on spending a few hours making a huge batch and freezing them.  A minute in the microwave and it's an instant meal.

Yeasted Refrigerator Pizza Dough:  I cheated a little on this recipe because I couldn't be bothered to set up the cooking apparatus as described in the book, and instead just spread the dough into a baking sheet and put it in the oven.  It still worked, making this a recipe worth making again.

Goldfish-Style Crackers: When I bought the book, I didn't realize that this recipe was in here.  My son had been asking about "fishy" crackers ever since the daycare staff started giving them to the children at snack time. My son has his own crackers, but they pale in comparison to pretending one is a shark devouring a goldfish.  I haven't been able to find a gluten free version anywhere, so I gave this recipe a try.  I couldn't find fish cookie cutters small enough, so I used one in the shape of a Christmas light that I bought for less than a dollar and it came out great.  Confession: I had never seen or eaten Velveeta cheese prior to making this recipe.  It cost almost $9.49.  Not so cheap, but I imagine it's cheaper in the US.  Regardless, the recipe makes a ton of crackers, and the taste is pretty authentic.  Seeing my son's look of excitement when he got bring his own fishy crackers to the daycare was well worth it. 

Polenta Bake: This recipe is similar to something I make on a regular basis, and it is pretty simple.  It's easy to play around with the flavours, and is a pretty fool-proof thing to make.  I served mine with a side of meatballs in a classic tomato sauce. 

One-Pot Albondigas Dinner: Once the meatballs are made, this meal comes together in a snap.  I found it weird to put rice in the meatballs, because the Italian in me wants to put bread or breadcrumbs, but my Latin American husband told me that they make meatballs using rice where he comes from.  I ended up enjoying the flavour, and the rice helps give them some substance.  This was a cheap, abundant dish that provided lunch leftovers for a few days. My only word of advice is in regards to the pasta: GF pasta gets mushy and weird after being immersed in liquid for too long, so if you're not going to eat it in one sitting, perhaps cook up the pasta and add it in when serving the soup.  Additionally, it could be made with rice.  This one is a keeper.

Quick Chicken Pot Pie with Basic Pastry Crust: I started with this dish, and I was a little concerned at first.  The pastry was easy enough to make, and simple to handle, but the dish calls for mascarpone cheese, which is about $10 for 500g.  I was unconvinced that the recipe could truly be considered to be inexpensive with cheese that costly.  When I took the dish out of the oven, the filling was a little soupy still, and I didn't think I'd be able to serve it.  After letting it sit for a few minutes, it thickened up nicely, and the cheese added a nice flavour.  To the price, since it actually gave me more like 6-8 servings instead of the 4 listed, the cheese cost evens out quite nicely.

Skillet Chicken & Tomatoes: This recipe was probably the easiest of the bunch.  I turned the remaining liquid into a sauce and served the dish over some gluten free spaghetti. 

Masa Stuffed Chicken: Another simple yet delicious chicken dish.  Masa is corn flour, and it's what you use to make corn tortillas.  It's easy to work with and we always have some around.  Like the chicken pot pie, the cheese, Marengo, wasn't cheap, but it was worth it.  Other cheeses could be easily substituted.

Twinkie-Style Cupcakes: The genius of this recipe is in the filling.  It tastes remarkably close to the original.  These went over so well that my niece asks me if I have any every time she comes over.  My niece doesn't have to eat gluten free like my son does.  the recipe offers the option of starting with a boxed mix or starting from scratch.  I used a boxed mix, and I still really liked the results.

This cookbook has recipes for everything from breakfast dishes to breads, main dishes, desserts and make-your-own boxed mixes.  Most of the recipes really are inexpensive and straightforward.  The author has a section at the beginning outlining the tools that she uses in the kitchen, and although there were a few specialty items that I don't have in mine, and a few brands that I can't find where I live, the recipes all worked out anyway.  Some of the cheeses are a bit expensive, but on the whole the recipes are made with inexpensive and easy to find ingredients. 

For an inexperienced cook, the main meals feature familiar titles and take little preparation.  There are a few meatball meals, a couple of burrito/quesadilla type dishes, and several chicken recipes.  Nothing too exotic, mostly safe standbys that have been adapted to be gluten free.  These are meals that are pretty kid friendly.  My son ate most of what I made from this book.

For me, the usefulness of the book lies in the baked goods.  We eat a lot of food with tortillas, and although I like corn tortillas, it's been difficult to find a good, soft, flour tortilla.  Now I can make my own.  Ditto for the fishy crackers.  They just don't exist gluten free, but now I can whip up a double batch, freeze half and have them on hand for the daycare whenever I need them.  It's the baked stuff that most people miss when they go gluten free, because the commercial substitutes rarely taste as good as the original.  The recipes for breads and cakes, and the make your own boxed mixes are the ones that I will refer back to regularly. 

If there's one thing I wish the book had more of, it would be photographs.  There is a section in the middle with beautiful photos of some of the recipes, but I would love to see photos beside each one, especially with baked goods.  The photos on her blog are so well done that I want to have more of them in the book, to hold in my hands. 

Verdict:  This was a good, solid cookbook that has something for new or inexperienced cooks, as well as some great recipes for more experienced ones. 

Buy on Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, Quick and Easy: 100 Recipes for the Food You Love - Fast!

Buy on Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, Quick and Easy: 100 Recipes for the Food You Love--Fast!

1 comment :

  1. Great review of this cookbook. Love that you shared what you tested. Using the Christmas light cutter to make your son's goldfish crackers was a great idea and he certainly didn't seemed to mind :)