If you are a regular visitor to my site you’ll likely notice that there is one area that I tend not to review and that is cookbooks. Over the years I have received many offers for review copies but to be quite honest – it is really not something that piques my interest. Don’t get me wrong, cookbooks are great and definitely serve a purpose – be it for instruction or inspiration. I have always loved tinkering in the kitchen and can remember spending wonderful times learning from my mother in the kitchen as I was growing-up. As an Italian, growing-up, food was central to family and meals were not only about sustenance but really more about togetherness and when we broke the proverbial bread it was always over meals that were steeped in tradition – often passed-down from generation to generation. Dinner-time when I was growing up was not optional or filled with distractions. It was a time when we would gather in the evening to actually, gasp, talk to one another and catch-up on what had happened in our day. My mother was (and still is) like a well-oiled machine in the kitchen and gets no greater joy than preparing a meal for family or friends because to her food and love are synonymous – the first question she always asks is What do you want me to make for you?
So back to cookbooks…
I actually love to cook and experiment in the kitchen but rarely, if ever, turn to a cookbook for guidance or inspiration. The majority of gluten-free cookbooks that I have come across seem to focus on saving money, cooking for kids, living a healthier lifestyle, or baking (I’ll be the first to admit I am helpless on this front) – none of which really spark any great desire in me personally. Don’t get me wrong, I commend the authors for their accomplishments and they clearly have their specific target audiences and serve a purpose – but they are just not my thing. I am and always have been about covering gluten-free from more of a luxury p.o.v. and my associated keywords are typically excess and indulgence.
When I was contacted by Michelle Lee, author of Living Luxe Gluten Free asking if I wanted a review copy of her new cookbook I was a bit leery to say the least. I never want to accept an item if I have no intention of reviewing it – but there was something about her pitch that made me think that this just might be a cookbook that I could actually get into and appreciate. I mean how could you go wrong with a book that features a bunch of beets wrapped in a pearl necklace on its cover. Okay Ms. Lee, you have my attention.
When the book arrived I knew that I had made the right call. Yes, the book itself is stunning – beautifully produced with each recipe accompanied by a full-page perfectly styled image. While the book is visually appealing, that is just the beginning as the layout of the book is perfectly functional with recipes organized as if you were planning a dinner party: Appetizers, Entrees, Salads & Sides, Breakfast, Desserts, and of course my personal favorite – Cocktails. I mean finally someone thought about pairing adult beverages with their recipes – beyond just red or white (though thoughtful wine pairings are included with some recipes as well). There is even an Encore section that highlights some key techniques that are referenced often throughout the recipes – think oven roasting garlic or peeling tomatoes. There is thoughtful index that is arranged by ingredient vs. dish so it offers a way to look for an ingredient that you feel like indulging in and let the index do its job by providing a selection of dishes that include that ingredient. Hey, any cookbook that actually includes vodka in the index is okay in my book. My only recommendation would be to expand the index to include sections to easily locate the recipes by diet since in addition to all recipes being gluten- and lactose-free many are also either Paleo, Vegan, Low Sodium, or Vegetarian — all of which are appropriately noted on individual recipes.
The inspiration behind the book was Ms. Lee’s husband’s realization that gluten and lactose were negatively affecting his health. That coupled with their love of travel and food resulted in this truly diverse cookbook that offers a taste of some of the couples travels in addition to their takes on some classic dishes through a fresh lens.
Also included are helpful sections of Key Ingredients (what the author looks for in a product when shopping) and Favorite Products – which is tremendously helpful because don’t you often wonder what actual products recipe developers use when testing and preparing them at home? This unique section provides actual brand names that the author uses which can only lead to more consistent replication of their recipes.
The recipes themselves are laid-out to be completely foolproof. A brief introduction familiarizes you with what you’ll actually be making – but more like a friend is talking to you. The ingredient list is super easy to understand and in order of actual use. Step-by-step instructions are easy to digest (pun intended) and extremely clear to follow. Standards like number served, prep time, and cocktail pairings are also included but so is something that made me smile – Effort Level – again, it’s like a friend being real and telling you when you may or may not want to try a recipe based on complexity. Think what works after a long day vs. what is doable on a long weekend. Nutritional information is included for all recipes as is a helpful little Tip box to help you get the most out of each recipe.
So what were some of the recipes that really caught my attention? Well, there are many classic dishes such as Spinachoke Dip and Buffalo Tenders that receive modern makeovers to give them a new spin – the tenders include the use of white balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika. One of my personal favorites was the Marrowbone and Garlic Toast – I mean what is more decadent that the rich creamy texture of marrow smeared across wonderfully fragrant garlic toast – it’s like an umami party and everyone is invited. I grew up with bone marrow being a special treat and I was actually tickled to see it included in this cookbook. Other dishes that stood-out stem from the couple’s love of travel like the Iberian Salmon Pasta, Berenjenas con Miele (fried eggplant with honey), and Salmorejo (a creamy soup made even more decadent by gluten-free bread being blended in for added texture).
The simplicity of the recipes makes them feel like something anyone could take on and be successful in replicating. They also prove that the use of a few simple and real ingredients can be transformed into something truly quite special. Whether you are a cookbook aficionado or have bit of an aversion (like me) I would definitely recommend adding this title to your collection because with over 100+ recipes there is truly something in here for everyone and every taste and quite frankly the recipes just feel luxurious without being pretentious or unattainable. These are luxury bites for everyman (or woman).
You can learn more about Ms. Lee on her website where you can also purchase a copy of her cookbook. Alternatively you can pop-over to Amazon and order as well (though at the time of me writing is currently on back order).