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The book I am about to review became know to me when I discovered a blog all about gluten free cooking. Elana Amsterdam, the author of the website at www.elanaspantry.com has such a unique approach to cookery, and to the needs of those with specific dietary needs, and the book resulted entirely from the popularity of her website which grew rapidly year on year. Elana and her son had been diagnosed with coeliac disease some years earlier, and the recipes in the book, and on the blog, are all her own work and are truly inspirational.
My search for gluten free recipes came from a need that I have personally to reduce my exposure to gluten, as I have the disease ME/CFS, which is sometimes helped by a diet low in allergens. However, it was also for another more important reason that I became interested in Elana's recipes. People with ME very often have an issue with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, This is due to damage to the hypothalamus in the brain which partially controls the levels of sugar in the blood stream. The way to help this is to increase protein and to reduce carbohydrates. Until earlier this year I had battled with this issue on a daily basis, and as some of my friends with ME were starting to develop type 2 diabetes, I decided that I had to change my diet. I already had one risk factor for that condition, which was that I gave birth to a baby who weighed over ten pounds. On my worse days, when I had little or no energy, I would eat glucose tablets, or rely on sugary snacks, which were making the blood sugar swings much worse. On discovering Elana's recipes, which are high in protein, I have been able to successfully give up all white sugar, and have finally achieved stable blood glucose levels. I have a blood glucose monitor, and the results have been incredible since switching from wheat flour to almond flour. They have stabilised and no longer swing up and down. I must also add that I have made many changes to my diet as well in line with lowering my overall carbohydrate intake.
It is also important to note that the rate of type 2 diabetes in coeliacs is twice that of the general population at 15%, so anyone buying this book who is a coeliac, will benefit from better blood sugar control, and hopefully a less long term risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The key ingredient in Elana's recipes is something called Almond Flour. Now it took me a while to realise that this was, in fact, what we know as ground almonds in the UK. Instead of gluten free wheat flour, Elana uses this as the basis of all her recipes, and in addition to this the sweet recipes use agave as a sweetener instead of sugar.
The book is available from Amazon where it retails for £8.11. I have to tell you this is the best £8 that I have ever spent on a cookery book. Initially I ordered the book through my local library interlending service, which I always do if I see a book that I think I am going to like, but don't want to commit to purchase. They often supply the book from new if it isn't on their catalogue, and in this case the purchase was made on my behalf. I only had to pay £1, and I noticed that it was in great demand when I returned it after the lending time was over.
The book is American, so you do need to bear this in mind, but having said that the wonderful thing is that you only need a few key ingredients in the cupboard, which Elana lists for you in the first section. You just have to bear in mind that this is a healthy eating cookery book, so you may have to delve inside health food stores for some ingredients.
You will also need some cup measures - I purchased mine from TK Maxx for a few pounds. Then you need to stock up on ground almonds, and this is where buying in bulk is the most cost effective way to purchase at an affordable cost. I use Realfoods.co.uk but there are many on-line whole food stockists to choose from. As these are a protein food, rather than a carbohydrate, the cost is, of course, more than using wheat flour, but the recipes are filling as they are designed to keep blood sugars stable. Almonds themselves are very nutritious indeed, being a great source of vitamin E and magnesium. They are also very important in the winter, as they contain tryptophan which is necessary for serotonin production. This improves mood and is called the happy hormone! The other consideration is that oven temperatures are in Fahrenheit so you may need to convert these.
The book is a collection of Elana's most popular recipes, and is divided into sections. These include breakfast, breads and crackers, entrées , pies pastries and crusts (my favourite section!) cakes and cupcakes, cookies and bars, and finally toppings, syrups and sauces.
The recipes are simple and easy to follow, and do not require the cook to be skilled or trained. Many of them are a two stage process, and every recipe is clearly described, and the instructions are concise and accurate. They have been designed with busy households in mind, for the cook who is working or lacking in time, and they have been written to appeal to all the family members, whether they are following a diet or not.
I have been blown away, to put it mildly, by this book and the recipes contained within it, as I can honestly say this is the best cookery book I have ever owned. Particular favourite recipes for me have to include the pizza, which has an almond flour base. Traditionally pizza is, of course, very high in carbohydrates, but this version is high protein and is absolutely delicious. To give you an idea of how quick the pizza crust is, it is simply made using ground almonds, sea salt, minced fresh rosemary, and grapeseed oil. These ingredients are simply mixed together and used to make the base. It takes seconds and when baked it provides the perfect base on which to pile the topping of your choice.
Another outstanding recipe is for a kale and cranberry tart, which is a rich green and red pie with an herb tart crust, made again with almonds. This recipe looks very festive, and could easily be served as a vegetarian main dish for Christmas.
The first recipe I made from the book was for almond pancakes. As a lover of Scottish pancakes I really loved these, as they are similar in texture and size, but again offer a high protein alternative.
The website is a treasure trove of recipes as the blog continues, and more recipes are published on an almost daily basis. It is an inspirational website visited by over 138000 people on a monthly basis.
Although the book is not vegetarian, which I am, it does have 83 recipes which are, and of these 29 are vegan, so it is excellent for me. I use the website to look for any further recipes which I may require, which are not covered in the book. You can register to receive emails when new recipes are published on the site, which is brilliant as it inspires me to try new dishes all the time.
Almond flour is not the only high protein alternative to wheat flour. I also use coconut flour, and this is successful, but the results are very different to those produced using wheat flour. Almond flour is very similar in many ways to that achieved using wheat, but the texture is lighter and less stodgy. My husband loves the almond flour recipes, as he feels they leave him satisfied, without that heavy feeling you can get using wheat flour. This is especially true when almond flour is used for making pizza's pies and quiches. I have to confess these are some of my favourite foods, and I am now able to eat them without affecting my blood sugar, and a wonderful side effect is that I am losing weight as a result!
This is an inspirational book which offers a unique look into an alternative way of eating, which I think has relevance for anyone who is looking to eat fewer carbohydrates. Many vegetarians, myself included, tend to substitute meat with piles of carby items such as pizza and pies, and this may be why not all vegetarians are stick thin! This book turns that eating habit upside down and replaces carbs with healthy nut alternatives.
It is well written, beautifully illustrated, and has provided me with a treasure trove of recipes which are easy to prepare. It is my favourite cookery book by a mile.