The California Dish

Food, like love, should be entered into with abandon, or not at all

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dancing with Gluten Free Girl and the Chef

Learning to dance is a lot like learning to cook. When I was a kid, I used to “dance” with my Dad in the kitchen on commercial breaks while our air popper exploded kernels of white perfection.
We used to sing “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys but with our own lyrics—Pop, Pop, Papop. Pop, Pop, Papop. Pop the corn. You got me rockin’ and a reelin’, rockin’ and reelin’ Popcorn! It wasn’t until just a few years ago, years after I had grown up and heard Barbara Ann apart from my father many times, that I realized that the Beach Boys weren’t actually singing about popcorn. As we danced, I would hop onto my dad’s toes and he would lift me around in circles, keeping time to the off-key, personalized lyrics we sang as a part of our popcorn making ritual. It was as ridiculous and special as it probably sounds to you.

Learning to eat gluten free was a similar experience. For a long while I stood on the sidelines humming along with the music of allergy-friendly cooking, checking out every possible library book I could find on the subject, and desperately trying to figure out how to become fluent in the language of flours with names like teff, potato starch, quinoa, and brown rice. For a long time I felt like I was dancing with two left feet, albeit passionately dancing with two left feet, but still not quite mastering the art of creating food that I could eat that wouldn’t make me lose all love for the culinary arts. My feet would tap in rhythm with the recipes I would read, but when it came right down to actually giving it a go on the dance floor myself, I felt as awkward as Steve Urkel.

Until I stumbled upon Gluten Free Girl’s blog. Gluten Free Girl's Blog
I’m sure everyone writing a post similar to mine feels obligated to share their anecdotal story about how and why they began following Shauna & her husband (whose name I still have a hard time remembering because Shauna so frequently and affectionately refers to him as simply “The Chef”), but mine is rather simple really. One day I knew nothing of her, and the next I was hooked. My attitude changed after “meeting” Shauna.

As most of her followers, I have been eagerly anticipating the publication of her cookbook, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef:  A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes, and jumped at the chance to get a sneak peak at a couple of her recipes ahead of schedule.

Shauna sent me four recipes: Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce; Gluten-free Pasta; Pasta with Anchovies, Lemon, and Olives; and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies. And oh boy are they good.

What immediately struck me about the recipes that Shauna sent me is that combined they meet a certain set of criteria I try to meet when I give a cooking demo: a recipe that people really want (a gluten-free cooking/baking secret!); a naturally gluten-free recipe; and something that you can serve to anyone without having to preface it with “I’m on a special diet….”  She gave me a recipe I REALLY wanted – Gluten-free pasta. I’ve attempted home-made gluten-free pasta several times and in one word, it sucked! Shrimp are naturally gluten free and those Brownies are little pieces of heaven in your mouth.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies

If you still make brownies out of a box (or did before you went gluten free) you are seriously missing something. The recipe doesn’t seem too different than the one I usually make with a flour substitution or two and the addition of peanut butter. You slowly melt chocolate and a whole stick of butter over simmering water until it resembles liquid velvet. Then there’s some sifting, whisking, and pouring before you draw your knife through globs of peanut butter to create swirls; it is reminiscent of cheesecake technique. The finished product is rich and all my tasters said they would have never known they were gluten free. The recipe suggested slicing them in half and spooning jam for Peanut butter and Jelly brownies, which sounds clever, but they were already so sweet and rich that I didn’t want to send myself into a sugar coma. My only critique of the recipe was the description of unsweetened chocolate – does that mean those unsweetened Baker’s chocolate squares? If I want to use one of those gourmet bars, what percentage can I get away with? I went for a 60% Cocoa Ghiradelli’s Chocolate bar and there were no complaints!

 Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce

I really wish I had taken a picture of this masterpiece because it was so ridiculously simple and so good. As I read the recipe description – a sauce that someone wants an entire vat of so they can eat their way out? – I was intrigued. The recipe has a short ingredient list: Shrimp, Marcona almonds, and Olive Oil.
I was impressed with the side notes and details that Shauna and the Chef included. I probably would have tried to cut corners by using a less expensive almond instead of the Marcona, salt slicked, almonds that they recommend which set me back $6.11 for one cup. But the Chef anticipated this and urged me not to. When people really understand food and ingredients they’re honest with you about which you can skimp on and which are necessities. I felt confident following his advice. The sauce was rich – something that could easily be served at a high-class wedding in San Francisco – but it was simple to make and I began dreaming of different ways to use it. Over pasta, drizzled over roasted or grilled asparagus, as a crudités sauce, mixed with a splash of Balsamic vinegar for a unique dipping sauce, or in a vat that I could swim out of. I want to keep playing with it.

Gluten-Free Pasta
I was most excited to play with this recipe and dust off (literally) my old pasta machine. I inherited my Grandmother’s old stand mixer which has no paddle attachment and does not do well with dough.

After watching the yellow dough creep up the beaters, I coaxed it out of the bowl and began mixing and kneading it by hand. Just a few turns on a cutting board to get the ingredients fully incorporated. This is, after all, how Italians make pasta, but I was worried that the texture wouldn’t turn out. Sometimes your backed into a corner (wishing again for the Kitchen Aid stand mixer) and you have to make do. The texture was fine, but I found myself adding more potato starch when I rolled it on the machine to keep it from sticking. You also need to add a little potato starch to get it to roll out thinly.
I was surprised to see both guar gum and xanthan gum in the recipe and would have liked to know why the combination. I loved the flavor and would have liked to spend a little more time rolling it thinner as pasta always cooks thicker and some of my tasters thought it was a little chewy. I can’t wait to make Ravioli! :
Pasta with Anchovies, Lemon, and Olives
Let’s get this out of the way: I served this at a dinner party and had a back up plan (pesto!) for the non-anchovy eaters (a vegetarian, a vegan, and a gal with the palette of five year old). I was captivated by the description: “indelible taste of the Mediterranean, indolent summer warmed by the sun.”
So I gave anchovies a go and I had two adventurous people to try it with me. All three of us liked it, but probably wouldn’t have ordered it in a restaurant (unless we were in another country and trying to get the flavor of the local cuisine!) The sauce was a classic sauté of shallots, garlic, chopped olives, anchovies, and capers. A little white wine to deglaze the pan, a few herbs, nuts, butter, and toss into a bowl of homemade pasta. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I watched a one year old maneuver pieces of pasta into her mouth and marveled at her sophisticated palette. A solid dish. Worthy of a restaurant special. The technique in the dish spurs creativity for other dishes.

I can't wait to get my hands on this book - I already have plans to dog ear these recipes!

It's available anywhere fine books are sold, but here's the link to Amazon's website:

Dishing it up in California,


  1. Yum, wish I lived in town on the nights you cook. Great writing and great learning to dance to the rhythm of your life!

  2. Christina,

    Thank you so much! We're so happy that you had such success with the recipes.

    Glad that you liked the pasta, in spite of your expectations. And the 1-year-old, too!

    I've found that when you use a little xanthan and guar gum together, it makes for much better results.

    thank you!

  3. Christina,
    This is such a beautiful post; I love it! You are such a talented writer and I love all of these dished you've created especially the garlic shrimp and the pasta too! Keep up the delicious blogging! So happy to have found your blog!