Your Favorite Cookbooks Don’t Have to Be Gluten-Free
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Everyone who knows me, knows that I love to cook and bake. I’m often asked what my favorite cookbook is. The answer may change depending on what I have been in the mood for. For me, recipes are springboards: a place to start from, with new twists always possible. So most of my cookbooks are not gluten-free specific - that would be too restrictive. My shelves have a range of books, some gluten-free, some allergy focused, but many not. All have notes and dribbles; I’m a messy cook and I like to record adaptations and comments. I have pulled out the ones with the most spills, stains and comments to share.
I love vintage cookbooks and recipes that go back to the 1940s or 1950s, or reach back as far as the middle ages. They hark back to a time when recipes had fewer ingredients, making many of them naturally gluten free or easy to convert – a little flour to coat meat is easily left out or replaced with a little rice flour or cornstarch.
I have a collection of these vintage books found in flea markets and used book shops, and I’m always looking for more. My favorite at the moment is The Home Cook Book. I have the 70th (!) Edition, published in 1877. Among other gifts, it provided me with a simple, delicious white cake recipe, with dozens of uses, and a surprising variety of simple, tasty and naturally gluten-free sauces.
Single -ingredient cookbooks
You might think it’s odd to have a shelf of cookbooks that highlight just one ingredient. Wouldn’t the recipes get boring? Not to me! Focusing on one ingredient can open up new worlds of flavor. Potatoes, garlic, peaches, apples… I have cookbooks based on each of these. One of my favorite recipes is the Spicy Grilled Shrimp from The Garlic Book (yes, garlic) by Susan Belsinger and Carolyn Dille. Another is my Nectarine Summer Salsa, which is based on one from the Masumoto’s family cookbook, The Perfect Peach.
Recipes in these cookbooks often spark creative ideas. Because they use that one ingredient in so many different ways, they inspire me to try new combinations of flavors. My taste buds are thrilled by their mealtime adventures.
Cooking for Company
Since switching to a gluten-free diet more than 25 years ago, I have learned that group meals are safer and much more fun when I control the entire meal. That means entertaining at home, and I love doing it. From simple nibbles to traditional Thanksgiving and Passover holiday meals, a few cookbooks help me prepare something my guests will all love.
Jamie Oliver’s Meals In Minutes is one of my most dribbled-on books, so much so that some of the pages stick together. I love that it’s arranged in meals, with a main, side dish (sometimes two), and dessert. Many are already gluten free, with no conversions needed. I regularly use the Piri Piri Chicken, Crispy Salmon and Horseradish Mashed Potato recipes, and friends rave over some of the simple salads.
Another messy book on my shelf is Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World. With a name like that, how can you go wrong? This cookbook was a birthday gift from my father, and I think of him whenever I use it. The most-used recipes in this book include one for salmon choucroute, an easy and delicious way to serve salmon and sauerkraut (trust me, it's wonderful). And again, it’s naturally gluten free.
Of course this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include baking books – helping other celiacs bake safe and delicious sweets is the reason I wrote Easy, Tasty, Gluten Free in the first place! Do you have your copy yet?
Even favorites can become ho-hum with too much repetition. Trying recipes from other cookbooks gives me new ideas, and sometimes a more complicated recipe is fun. When the urge to bake something that’s more of a project than my own Easy, Tasty, Gluten Free recipes hits, I often turn to Nicole Hunn’s Gluten Free on A Shoestring Classic Snacks - particularly the Mallomars. They bring me back to my childhood, before I knew or cared anything about gluten.
Find Inspiration in Cookbooks
My favorite cookbooks are not specifically for celiacs or people following the gluten-free diet. I cook from scratch - it’s really not difficult – and converting main courses and vegetables to gluten free is generally pretty simple.
In an age of online recipes, I still love the solidity of books. They represent a heritage, a connection to cooks who came before me, and the chance to leave notes for cooks of the future. My mom was a big cookbook scribbler in her day, so I guess I come by it honestly.
What’s on your shelf?