Cooking for Isaiah

by Andie Mitchell on November 8, 2010

Have you read Everyday with Rachael Ray? More tellingly, do you spend at least half of your monthly income at newsstands on single-use items like magazines, the Sunday New York Times, chewing gum, and twin-packs of lip balm? Well that makes two of us, and if you don’t mind, I’ll shelf that issue for a different day.

Back to Everyday magazine. If you’ve been a regular reader, you’ll know that there is a section of the magazine, somewhere in the middle, where the former editor-in-chief, Silvana Nardone, creates a dish or dessert, and photographs the process. I think the section may or may not be called “Food Pornography.” I’ll double check and get back to you.

Anyway, this is quite possibly the highlight of the monthly issue for me. Every four weeks, I slip a five to the cashier, grimace at my addiction to print media, and walk out of Safeway somewhat unnervingly excited to see what’s on my cooking and baking horizon.

The section with Silvana varied. Sometimes she was making a classic shepherd’s pie, sometimes she was rolling freshly fried donuts in cinnamon sugar, but every time, she was making my mouth water and inspiring me.

This past Saturday night, I was invited to a cooking demonstration and celebration of the release of her newest cookbook, Cooking for Isaiah, held at Diane’s Market Kitchen in Seattle. The book is a collection of gluten and dairy-free recipes that Silvana created over the past three years since discovering that her 13-year old son, Isaiah, was gluten-intolerant.

As a talented and passionate cook and baker (in addition to her work in magazines, she owned a very successful NYC bakery for years), Silvana holed up in her kitchen and remodeled the dishes she’d been serving up for years into ones that wouldn’t compromise her son’s health or taste buds. The dishes in the book are some of the most traditionally beloved- things like brownies, cornbread, waffles, and pizza. And though each is tweaked to lack gluten and dairy, they preserve that signature flavor. Silvana told the group of us that she wanted to make the food that her son had grown up loving, the meals that were staples in her household for the ten years before Isaiah’s diagnosis, and replicating the true flavor of those dishes without two ultra-common ingredients was challenging. The good news is that she has churned out dozens upon dozens of absolutely delicious recipes.

The event allowed me to sample three of these recipes. I’ve got to tell you- I truly would never have known there was no gluten or dairy present in the bites that were served, and I like to think I have a pretty discerning palate, or at least, I know classic flavors better than I know basic addition and subtraction. Another issue we’ll have to discuss another day.

Scampi-Stuffed Roasted Shrimp. These were everything I love about traditional shrimp scampi- garlic, white wine, parsley-all tucked into a tiny pocket of butterflied shrimp.

Double-Decker Toasted Cornbread and Spicy Greens Stack. This cornbread was outrageously moist and so texturally interesting from the play of whole corn kernels and medium-grind cornmeal.  I don’t have my own tried and true cornbread recipe that I’ve carved into stone yet, so this may be the one. Assuming that I figure out how to carve stone.

I also adored the dressing on this mixed green salad. It was spicy enough from the kick of Sriracha chili sauce, but had a lot more body and depth than most vinaigrettes. Perfectly poppy-colored too, and you know how much I love foods for their looks.

Double Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pudding Pie, made with a chocolate Chex cereal crust (because Rice Chex are gluten and dairy free). This was one of my favorite all-time bite-sized desserts. Absolutely packed with richness and intense chocolate flavor. I will make this in the near future, just so that I can stop fantasizing about it and drooling on my clothing.

My favorite take-home messages:

1.) Often times, removing the gluten from one’s diet (so basically all of the traditionally-made products containing flour on the market, though that’s just the start of where gluten is found), and the same can be said for dairy, means that in order to replicate classic gluten-full dishes, you must resort to using ingredients that are maybe less than wholesome. Things like potato and tapioca starches, and lots of other ingredients that lack some of the nutritional value that may be present in traditional wheat flour products. There are some folks who shun these things, because they’re not quite as natural or nutritious. I largely agree here (and that’s not to say that all gluten-free products are lacking in real ingredients or nutritional value- most are naturally derived and just fine). But Silvana noted that if you want to get a really authentic flavor in traditional baked goods- like brownies for example, you might have to use a blend of starches that aren’t so wonderful. She said that she has been questioned on the value of her flour blend. Where’s the nutrition? But she made a really great point- why do brownies have to have nutritional value? Sometimes we eat what we eat because it tastes spectacular and we find joy in that. Nutrition can be found in abundance in fruits, vegetables, grains, etc, so maybe sometimes, when brownies are beckoning, we make them the best way we know how. And for someone who had known and loved gluten-containing meals all their life, replicating taste was paramount. I love this.

2.) For gluten-intolerant folks, and for folks of all eating-persuasions, try using finely crushed rice cereals- like Rice Krispies for example- as bread crumbs for coating fried or baked food, for filling in meatloafs and meatballs, and for breaded toppings. They’re texturally the same, and the flavor is fairly neutral so they’re adaptable.

Browsing the cookbook when I got home, I noticed a number of recipes I can’t wait to try. As a person who consumes gluten in as great an abundance as oxygen, I think it says a lot about this gluten-free cookbook that I adore it so.

I’m grateful to have met Silvana, largely because she was as down-to-earth and lovely as I’d hoped, and also because I’ve been inspired to play around with the way I create meals and the ingredients I use everyday.

Check out Silvana’s blog, Dish Towel Diaries, for more fantastic recipes and gluten-free inspiration.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth November 8, 2010 at 10:36 am

Wow that sounds like an awesome experience. The food you ate looks to die for and I doubt I could have told it was dairy/gluten free, either!

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MelissaNibbles November 8, 2010 at 10:46 am

The demo sounds like fun!
I’ll have to check this book out of the library. I’m always looking for gluten free recipes. Thanks!

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Evan Thomas November 8, 2010 at 11:06 am

That’s so cool you got to see Silvana! I followed her on Twitter the day I found her in Rachael Ray. I was glad to see gluten-free getting positive attention in a national magazine, and her recipes are really top notch.

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 8, 2010 at 11:30 am

Oh so glad you know how great Silvana’s recipes are, Evan!! I think her flour blend really is unmatched in the gluten-free world. I loved how casual and comfortable she was, and her recipes are much more accessible and less fussy than most, you know? My kind of grub!

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liane November 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

This is awesome, thanks for posting about this event and her cookbook. I just found out I’m allergic to gluten, and seriously, trying to find the right combination of flours to use has been a pain!
I’m off to amazon to find the book :)

Also, I have the same magazine addiction as you, but I buy all my magazines at Costco… they are at least 25% off there :)

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Sana November 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Those tiny pies looked gooey and yum! I don’t know much abt gf but I know that many bloggers and friends that follow a gf diet.

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thecompletecookbook November 8, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Wow, what a wonderful review you did. And who thought gluten free could look so yummy. Looking forward to you sharing your favourites. :-) Mandy

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Nicole November 9, 2010 at 4:02 am

What an amazing experience!!

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Lu November 9, 2010 at 7:25 am

It’s so great that you got to meet Silvana. I’m buying that cookbook. My mom is gluten intolerant. She’s also iffy about dairy. Me buying this will make her very happy. And that dessert, regardless of the ingredients, looks absolutely decadent and a necessary part of any meal in my near future.

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