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some lovely things about gluten-free living

Relish 20: Pumpkin spiced days #nablopomo

some lovely things about gluten-free livingThis Relish is a little different. It isn’t so much a roundup or list of amazing gluten-free things but an introduction to the next 30 days and a welcome back to this blog.

I woke up and it was November. I’m not really sure what happened to September and October. How they managed to fly by and leave me plopped right in the middle of fall.

It’s boots weather and the leaves are ablaze in shades of yellow and red. And I think, fingers crossed extra tight, that I have taken my last trip to the hospital for the year (other than for checkups). Mostly, because it keeps taking me away from my love of food. My love of baking.

I decided, with the encouragement from friends all too willing to talk me into crazy plans, to post a new blog post every day this month. It will be a mix of new recipes, gluten-free baking basics and photos from life on the tasty side of the second city.

Dragon eggs! #glutenfree chocolate @sunbutter cake balls with homemade fondant.

A photo posted by Mary Fran Wiley (@frannycakes) on Nov 11, 2014 at 2:09pm PDT

I’ve gotten back to baking. I’ve been cooking my way through recovery. And I can’t wait to share this with you all again.


relish 19 | july 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish 19: Your regularly scheduled programming

relish 19 | july 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treatsRelish is a compendium of things to enjoy greatly and that add a little flavor to your gluten-free life. And it is fresh, sunny and a tropical treat.

Relish will return next month full of gluten-free delights, a fresh perspective and hopefully a bushel of apples. For now, I am going to cuddle up with preview copies of Colette Martin’s The Allergy Free Pantry and Silvana Nardone’s Silvana’s Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Kitchen. For now, I will leave you with an update about this month’s focus.

Flavor of the month: Peach

I did my very first flavor of the month in July, and I wish I had chosen just a little bit better. Parsley was quite a challenge, and since it doesn’t lend itself quite as well to desserts, I managed to stump myself.

Never fear though, because I made a smarter choice this month. Peaches. Ripe, juicy stone fruit that might just be one of nature’s best treats. (And it is National Peach Month after all…). These babies are in season in most of the country at this time of the year – and since I can obtain them at the local farmer’s market, I know it is time to play around in the kitchen. (Ok, I have already started…)

You will now find Flavor of the Month posts each Wednesday.

On the docket

Are you going to the Food Allergy Blogger Conference this year? I am still unsure if I will be able to make it out there, but the lineup is starting to look pretty darn cool, and you should totally consider registering.

relish 18 | june 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish 18: Tastes like summer

relish 18 | june 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish is a compendium of things to enjoy greatly and that add a little flavor to your gluten-free life. And it is fresh, sunny and a tropical treat.

Well, I am mostly moved in now. I still have some stuff at my parents’ house and a living room with no where near enough furniture, but I am getting there. My dining room is all set and I have been cooking and baking up a storm in my new kitchen. (Single lady suppers anyone? This week there was tikka masala, steak with a parsley & mustard sauce and pasta with the famous Marcella Hazan sauce. Oh, and some friends came over for a pre-holiday taco dinner. )

I turned 30. One of my college roommates had a baby. A dear friend got hitched. I made it to a few festivals and a conference. I’d say it was quite the month.

relish 18 | june 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Who’s thirsty?

Summer is for front porch sitting, festivaling, outside cooking and beach walking. Most of these things can be improved upon with a cocktail, and the internet is delivering quite the variety.

relish 17 | june 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

I’ve never actually had a mudslide (other than those horrible pre-mixed bottles friends bought in college), but this Coconut Kaluha Mudslide (01) recipe from Irvin at Eat the Love has me thinking of excuses to make it. Over at GFree Foodie, they shared a Peach Cooler (02) from Tina, A Girl Who Loves to Eat. And then there was this Blackberry Shrub Lemonade (03) from Kitchen Confidante. Can we just say “oh, boy!”? I love me a gin cocktail (in fact, I made a fabulous one with basil and grapefruit last year! (04)

Flavor of the month

He’s tall. Ultra nerdy. Has a thing for dessert and… Oh, wait. We are talking about real life. I was thinking about writing a few recipes based on an ingredient, flavor or theme. You know, now that I am cooking every day again, I think it could be fun.

Besides, summer gives us the perfect chance to try this out. Produce is abundant – I trip over it on my way home every Wednesday at the neighborhood farmers market. This month is all about parsley – the least appreciated of the fresh herbs I have at my disposal this season.





Twenty-nine plus one

FrannyCakes is 30

The Big Three-Oh

Oh, hey there birthday. So glad you made it on time this year. You know, in time to make it past a milestone date, even if I am not sure that I feel this old.

It has taken me a few days to process this. This being older thing. The whole age starting with a 3 thing.

Really. Most days I am certain that I am still 25. And then I have more than one glass of wine in a night, and I know I’m just a bit older than I used to be. Even if I don’t have the husband and children I was sure I was going to have by now.

When I look in the mirror, I am starting to see smile lines, They’re faint and quite fine, but they are there. I haven’t found any grey hairs yet, so my wisdom level is only basic. But I like to think that I’ve learned a few things in the past year. Important things. Things I shouldn’t ever forget. Things I tried to remind myself before.

Lessons learned

It’s OK to need your mom. Sure, you’re not 5 and getting your pigtails pulled on the playground and you’re not 14 dealing with growing up and crushes on boys. You’re a grown up. A grown up without a whole lot of practice at it. Your mom knows things. Call her. Buy her brunch. Collect a few hugs.

Dads give good advice. When your computer breaks, call your dad. When you need help troubleshooting your toilet, call your dad. When you need help deciding which mutual funds to choose for your IRA, call your dad. When your basil just won’t grow on your windowsill, call your dad. He knows stuff. He can fix stuff. And he probably wants to hear from you – even if it means he has to come over with a toolbox on a Saturday afternoon.

Friends can be found in the strangest places. The girl you meet at a BBQ with a guy who dumped you over shoes might just become one of your best friends. Someone you meet at a birthday party can become your future roommate. A handsome professor could become an after work happy hour companion. A stranger from twitter (or a group of them) can be the worlds best friends. With epic group chats and emojis.

Text messages are not a substitute for real conversations. It doesn’t matter how frequent they are or if you are Emoji Level: Expert, hearing a voice keeps us closer to the conversation. It’s amazing what can happen when you can hear a voice on the other end of the line.

When in doubt, brown your butter. It makes your chocolate chip cookies better. It makes your risotto better. You can use it in pie crust and sauces. Instant foodie points.

Put on a little lipstick and mascara on the days you feel the absolute worst and you still have to deal with the world. No one else cares that you have it on, but it will make you feel just a wee bit better.

Trust your friends to be there for you. As much as they want to celebrate birthdays, promotions, true love and Tuesday nights with you, they also want to know when you are having major surgery or are chilling in the hospital for a few days. (Surprise instagram hospital photos tend to scare them.)

Embrace your nerdy side. It’s ok if you have seen every episode of every Star Trek TV series and all the movies multiple times. It is ok that you sometimes wish The Doctor could whisk you away.

Your mom was probably right. She thought you should go into computer science or engineering. You wanted to be a fashion designer or an artist. What are you doing now? Working as a web designer and obsessing over code and an accessible web. You might think she was on to something.

You are not behind. Just because you aren’t married, don’t have kids or own a place doesn’t mean that you are behind in life. It means that your life is just different. And that’s ok.

Always have a side project. Or five. You need somewhere to divert your excess creativity. Somewhere to try new ideas and stretch your comfort zone.

You don’t owe the world anything. Not an explanation for how you choose to live your life. Not agreeing to go on a date because someone asked you. Not staying out late with your girlfriends just because everyone wanted to go dancing when all you want to do is read a good book.

You’re thirty, and life is just beginning. You’ve got this girlie.


relish 17 | may 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish: Maybe Daisies

relish 17 | may 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish is a compendium of things to enjoy greatly and that add a little flavor to your gluten-free life. And sometimes things are uncertain.

Hello, June. Thanks for showing up. After a long winter, and a May that just seemed so very, very long – which happens when you are excited about something big that happens to be imminent.

I moved the last week in May to an apartment less than half an hour from my office – a huge change from my old 2.5 (and often longer) commute. I now live with one of my good friends, Helen. I am currently living in a 1920’s apartment decorated in what my cousin called “transitional nomad” style. Soon, I hope to have it feeling like home – but for now, Old Faithful, my KitchenAid, has a home. And that is good enough for me.

If you missed it, while I was in transition, a few friends wrote guest posts for me. Check out posts from Jean, Jane and Willow with tasty treats!


Thank goodness the weather here in Chicago has finally warmed up and (mostly) stayed that way. Meaning produce is starting to appear at the farmers markets. Walks to the grocery store are enjoyable. And it’s time for food that tastes like summer.

relish 17 | frannycakes' favorite GF recipes from may 2014

There is something about popcorn. It’s comforting. It’s tasty. And it is a flavor chameleon. This Coconut Cacao Popcorn (01) from Aime at the Healthy Apple looks simply fantastic. Summer is here, and I love a good smoothie to cool down. An Açaí Smoothie (02) from Kitchen Confidante fits that bill perfectly. Brussels sprouts and potato salads are two of my favorite foods, and Irvin’s combination of the pair (03) seems downright genius. Some nights, you just need a little steak, and Pete from No Gluten, No Problem delivered some (04). He even made it better by adding bourbon – sounds like celebration food to me.

Mixed Messages

I know most people don’t share my outright aversion to box mixes. I’m sure if you scroll through the archives here you will find more than one post where I have talked about how little I like them. And that’s mostly true. I’ve eaten one too many beany, gritty, dense cake from a mix in my life. The chemical after taste from many commercial baking mixes feels like an insult to anyone who is eating a dessert.

These days, there are a few standouts out there. Mixes that I don’t mind cooking from and am not embarrassed to serve to my friends. so if you are more comfortable baking from a mix or you need something that comes together easily, these mixes are all ones that I have no problem keeping a spare of in my pantry.

relish 17 | four stand-out GF mixes

Brownies are one of my favorite desserts, and I have my recipe memorized, but I know that isn’t reality for most home cooks. Cup4Cup is my favorite commercially available flour blend, so when I heard they had a brownie mix (01), I knew it was going to be good. Their products are developed for customers who don’t settle for something that is good for gluten-free. It has to be actually good. And they succeeded.

Hands down the best gluten-free cake mixes on the planet are Kyra’s Bakeshop cake mixes (02). They make great cakes and cupcakes as-is, or you can dump the cake mix (the snicker doodle variety, if you have it) on a pan of frozen peaches, add a little melted butter or oil, and you have an easy, peasy cobbler.

When I saw this mix at the GFAF Expo in April, I wasn’t sure what I loved more – the mix or the outfits that all the Bumbalooza staff members were wearing. Their mixes are unique, fun and delicious. If baking from scratch isn’t your thing, and you want to make something a little more exciting than a basic cake or brownies, this pink lemonade donut mix (03) is a great place to start.

Last but not least is the bread and pizza flour blend (04) from Karen at Blackbird Bakery. It is by far my favorite pizza crust mix. All of the blends have been developed with a specific end-use in mind, rather than being multi-puropse like other blends. I think that is how this one is such a stand out. A pizza crust that is crunchy with just enough chew is hard to find in the gluten-free world, but this one is head and shoulders above the rest. It requires a bit more work and patience than some of the other blends out there, but it is well worth it.

Up next

I have officially moved into my new apartment, and it feels great to be cooking my food for every meal. I’ve started exploring the rich food culture in my new neighborhood. There is an asian grocery, a persian market, a middle eastern deli and a european importer all in walking distance from my new home. There is even a grocery store that I have dubbed food heaven on my way to work.

I’ve been spending my evenings inventing clever hashtags (#kaledit and #singleladysupper have been making regular appearances on my instagram) to use when I share my kitchen adventures.


The lovely folks at Cup4Cup are giving away one of their brownie mixes to one of my readers. Enter by leaving a comment with your idea of the perfect brownie. You must be in the US and over 18 to win. Entries must be in by 12am CST on June 12, 2014.

Cheerful Chimichurri Bowl from The Blender Girl by Tess Masters | FrannyCakes

Cooking the Books: The Blender Girl

the blender girl cookbook review

[box type=”info”]I was not compensated in any way for this post, but I do consider Tess a friend. The cookbook is great, and I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t love it.[/box]

I am never going to be a raw-food enthusiast or a vegan. It is really not ever going to happen – you know, with my love of butter and macarons and maybe even bacon. But I do love all kinds of foods – brussells sprouts, green beans fresh from the garden and carrots are a few of my favorite things. It’s all about balance because, for the most part, I want to eat better and have the chance to indulge on those cakes I so dearly love.

So, I have been collecting cookbooks with a healthier focus lately. I know how to make a killer cake and I can whip up pancakes or brownies from memory, and I can whip up a dinner from the random things in my pantry. But, and this is a big but, I tend to get in a rut. I buy the same vegetables week after week and my go-to dinners are always delicious. They aren’t as exciting as they could be.

Or, there is the breakfast connundrum. I know I need to eat it. I know that Fruity Pebbles are really not the best choice for a strong breakfast and I am struggling with the concept of greens for breakfast. (If you follow me on Instagram you know that I have been slowly adding greens to my smoothies but I have yet to declare kale smoothies a favorite food. It’s all about the baby steps).

This book, much like Brassicas, makes veggies and green beverages sexy. The photos hook you. The recipe names just sound delicious. The writing keeps you engaged. (Ok, most people don’t read cookbooks cover to cover like I do, but that is besides the point.) You might just start to believe that intense green smoothies taste good.

I can hear Tess in every recipe head note – friendly and passionate with just a dash of kooky. In The Blender Girl, Tess’ notes about health and ingredients come off as smart suggestions – the kind your best friend might make if she was a nutritionist or raw vegan belnder expert. She walks the line between confidently talking about nutrition/ her dietary preferences and diet evangelism. I almost believe I could be a vegan. Almost.

Cheerful Chimichurri Bowl from The Blender Girl by Tess Masters | FrannyCakes


While I am not turning into a raw vegan on an alkaline diet, I am working green smoothies into my mornings and I appreciate a good chimmichuri. When a recipe calls for a soaked date, I will probably substitute some local honey. If I can’t find maple syrup, I might just use agave nectar. It is quite possible that I will never embrace green powder or confuse cashew cream for the real deal. It’s all good with this cookbook. There are often substitutions listed so that you can use foods that fit your diet, taste or budget. If there aren’t any listed, you should go for it anyway. Cooking is about passion and making yourself happy.

So far, I have made the Chia Choo-Choo, Cheerful Chimichurri Bowls, Papaya Pleasure, and Rosewater and Cardamom Lassi. All of them have lived up to what I was imagining after reading the recipes. The book is perfect for anyone looking for creative ways to add fruits and veggies to their diet.

The Rating

Author: Tess Masters
Title: The Blender Girl
Format: paperback, full color photos
Stars: 5/5*
Buy it or Forget it: Buy it, buy it, buy it.
Must try recipes: Every one in the book? I might be addicted to the Chia Choo Choo, Cheerful Chimichurri Bowls and Rosewater Cardamom Lassi
*Read more about my cookbook review criteria.

Make something


Cheerful Chimichurri Bowl from The Blender Girl by Tess Masters | FrannyCakes

The recipe requires a few pans and some coordination in the kitchen for all of the moving parts, but the results are delightful. You could substitute whatever veggies you happen to have on hand or that are in season where you live in place of the ones used in the recipe. You could grill the veggies outside in the summer and make the quinoa in a rice cooker. The star of the recipe is the chimichurri. A vibrant herb-based sauce much like pesto or pistou but without the nuts or cheese, chimichurri is a great alternative to those sauces for people with dairy or nut allergies. It is also fabulous on grilled steak or fish.

Cheerful Chimichurri Bowls from The Blender Girl
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Tess Masters
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Total time: 55 mins
Serves: 6
This awesome vegetarian entree is one of my favorites from the book. It is easy to put together, and the ingredients can be swapped out based on what you have on hand. Plus, you can make this dish in under an hour, and there is no wasted time.
  • Sauce
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) olive oil
  • 1 cup (50g) finely chopped flat leaf parsley, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (white and green parts), plus more to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon natural salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
  • Bowls
  • 4 large sweet potatoes, cut in to large chunks
  • olive oil
  • 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Natural salt
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 2 1/2 cups (475g) quinoa
  • 4 large portobello mushrooms, stemmed and cut into large slices
  • 1 brunch asparagus, ends snapped off
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 bunches rainbow chard, stalks removed and leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 avocados, pitted, peeled and thickly sliced
Make the sauce
  1. In a blender, combine all the chimichurri ingredients and blend on high for 30 to 60 seconds – you want the herbs well pureed. Taste and tweak the flavors to your liking.
Make the bowls
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss the sweet potato, a generous pour of olive oil (1/4-1/2 cup) and 8 cloves of the garlic with a healthy pinch each of salt and pepper flakes. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 45 minutes, when the sweet potatoes are tender.
  3. Meanwhile, in a dutch oven (or any oven-proof pot with a lid), combine the quinoa with 5 cups of water, a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the water has reduced to below the level of the quinoa. Place the lid on the pot and transfer the quinoa to the oven to bake for 30-40 more minutes alongside your veggies.
  4. In one bowl, toss the mushrooms with olive oil, coating them well. (The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup, but I used half that). In a separate bowl, toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  5. in a large frying pan, over medium high heat, sauté the mushrooms for about 10 minutes – until tender and cooked through. Remove from the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Sauté the asparagus in the pan next. They should cook for about 5 minutes – you want them to still have a little bite. Once cooked, place them on the plate with the mushrooms.
  6. Add the chard, a tablespoon of olive oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper flakes for about 2 minutes – until just wilted.
  7. This should all finish up cooking right about the time your sweet potatoes and quinoa are ready to eat. Dish up the quinoa and veggies and top with about 1/4 cup of the chimichurri and a couple slices of the avocado in each bowl.



relish 16 | april 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish 15: Fools rush in

relish 16 | april 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish is a compendium of things to enjoy greatly and that add a little flavor to your gluten-free life. Sometimes we get a little foolish.

Spring is full of fresh starts and new beginnings. Ok, and the start of patio season. Pedicure season. Beach walking season.

Oh yeah, I said beach walking season.

In a bittersweet turn of events, one of my dearest friends is moving to Indianapolis, and needed to sublet her place. I just happened to be in the market for a city apartment. I’m only in it for the vintage built-ins and the proximity to the beach. I can spend lazy Saturdays gazing at the lake and finding a nice piece of sand for reading and writing.

This was one of those decisions that I didn’t think much about – it just felt right. And it had a fire place. Oh, and a good friend with a love of red wine that might just trump mine. Sure, I’m rushing in. Starting fresh. And moving forward.

Did you miss it?

I hand-lettered an inspirational phrase on a post-it note every day in April. You can check out the project and see all the notes on the Chronic Positivity Project.

Just eat it!

My friends make the most delicious things. I very much want them to adopt me.

relish 16 | april 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

I was spoiled last week with a wood-fired gluten-free pizza topped with romanesco sauce and ramps. It might just be my new favorite sauce, and Meg at Beard and Bonnet breaks it down (01) for you. Beth from Tasty-Yummies might just find me outside her house with a bag of groceries so that she can make me this Sweet Potato & Kale Coconut Curry (02). (I’m not that crazy, I’d call first 🙂 ). Before I wrote a food blog, I had no idea that there were people, *cough* Melissa *cough*, who didn’t know how to roast veggies. Cindy at Vegetarian Mamma has a great, easy to follow recipe for one of my favorite vegetables (03). And life isn’t complete without the occasional cocktail. This Grapefruit, Thyme & Lillet cocktail (04) from Willow at Will Cook for Friends is going into my summer drink rotation.

Get yourself a little something

Reading cookbooks helps you become a better cook. You learn different techniques, see flavor combinations you might have never thought of and discover foods that are new to you.

relish 16 | april 2014 | fabulous gluten-free cookbooks

My friends keep writing awesome cookbooks, and two of them came out this month. First up, Tess from The Blender Girl, released her first cookbook of the same name (01). It is filled with so much more than just smoothies and it will teach you all sorts of things you can make with your blender. I reviewed Brassicas by Laura Russell (02) earlier this month, and it was just fabulous. You’ll fall in love with leafy green things on every page.

If you follow the food world, Shauna and Daniel Ahern from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef just won a James Beard Award (basically food-world Oscars) for last year’s Gluten-Free Girl Every Day (03). If you don’t have a copy, go order one now. It is a must-own.And to round out all this healthy stuff, if you don’t own cupcake wars triple threat Kyra Bussanich’s Sweet Cravings (04), go buy a copy, make me the Persian Love Cakes and send them to me for my birthday.

May the Fourth be with you.

As you live long and prosper with the odds ever in your favor. Ok, I’m a bit of a nerd… but May is really going to be awesome. It is Celiac Awareness Month, and Erica at Celiac and the Beast is giving away some pretty fabulous prizes every day. But it is about more than just prizes. Celiac has caused some pretty nasty complications for some of the people I love the most in this world. It is about raising awareness of Celiac and gluten-related disorders. Teaching others so that they don’t have to fall back on the “gluten allergy” explanation when trying to order a meal at a restaurant. It is showing that kids getting bullied on TV for what they can and cannot eat is a bad, bad precedent. Or that the comic from the New York Times that mocked people following a gluten-free lifestyle by calling them “annoying” just isn’t ok. It’s about coming together as a community and showing support.

I told you that I am moving up top to prep you for some news. For the next couple of weeks, this space is going to be filled with the voices of some friends as they help me keep you filled with inspiration for some delicious gluten-free treats. Because three weeks is not nearly enough time to pack up everything and get ready to move.

Here’s to a May full of advocacy and fresh starts!

a review of brassicas by laura russell

Cooking the Books: Brassicas by Laura Russell

a review of brassicas by laura russell

[box]Two disclaimers: First, a copy of Brassicas was provided by Ten Speed Press free of charge for this review. Second, I consider Laura a friend, but I would not have written about the book if I didn’t love it.
Jump to the recipe for Charred Brussels Sprouts with Fig Glaze[/box]

Vegetables are beautiful. I seem them all the time on Pinterest. Looking just a little bit sexy and tempting…and then I see a macaron. I have this problem. You all know about it. I love dessert. If candied kale were a thing, I probably would have jumped on that band wagon ages ago. Probably around the same time I decided that cupcakes were an acceptable coping mechanism.

It’s why this blog is mostly of the dessert flavor.

But I’ve been branching out lately. I even made Gluten-Free Kale & Sweet Potato Lasagna. So, when my friend Laura Russell (the brilliant writer behind the Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen), told me she was writing a cookbook about vegetables, I was tentatively excited. I mean, we’re talking veggies. And she had to go and choose the healthiest type of veggies – brassicas, which incidentally, is the title of the lovely cookbook that comes out on April 8th.

Spicy Kale Stir Fry from Brassicas by Laura Russell

There are no recipes for candied kale or broccoli brownies in this book. (I am actually relieved by this – the whole avocado / black beans in brownies trend freaks me out). And it is downright amazing. That’s right. I said that about a cookbook all about vegetables. Freaking amazing. I want to make and eat everything in the cookbook kind of amazing.

When the book first arrived, I opened it and left it on my desk at work. At least three coworkers paged through it at my desk when they came to see me – before I even got to look. There is currently a waiting list of friends who want to borrow it because they can’t buy it yet. The book itself is gorgeous. Rich, slightly moody photos of vegetables making you want to saunter into your kitchen and get to cooking. The book has chapters on kale, broccoli, root brassicas and leafy brassicas.

There is a handy-dandy chart in the back to help you identify and adapt the recipes no matter if you are gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, egg-free, vegetarian, vegan or fish/shellfish free. Most of the recipes are naturally gluten-free or say right in the recipe notes how to make the recipe without an gluten-containing ingredients. Which is excellent, because when I am making dinner, I need it all spelled out for me – it’s nothing like making cupcakes (those I can do blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back).

This cookbook might just get me to eat my vegetables with a bit more zeal. Let’s be clear though – this is not your mamma’s diet food. This is not a lose weight in three weeks kind of book. This is a see how wonderful and complex these ingredients are kind of book. This is an explore that crazy looking UFO veggie kind of book. This is a make your friends jealous when you Instagram your dinner kind of book.

The Rating

Author: Laura Russell Title: Brassicas: Cooking the world’s healthiest vegetables
Format: hard cover, full color photos
Stars: 5/5*
Buy it or Forget it: Buy it, Instagram your dinner and fall in love with vegetables
Must try recipes: Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze, Spicy Kale Stir Fry
*Read more about my cookbook review criteria.  

Let’s get cooking

The best part of cookbooks? Trying new recipes! I made the Spicy Kale Stir Fry last week and ate it for three meals straight. Then I made these Brussels sprouts, and I decided that the recipe really was only 2 servings – my dinner and leftovers for lunch.

making charred brussels sprouts with fig glaze

Due to my dad’s pork allergy, I made this recipe using turkey bacon in place of the pancetta. It was still incredibly delicious, but I can only imagine how good it would be as written. That might just be the best part of this cookbook – the recipes can work as a framework for a dish, rather than being a roadmap that has to be followed to the letter.

This recipe might be love.

charred brussels sprouts with fig glaze from brassicas by laura russell

Cooking the Books: Brassicas by Laura Russell
Recipe Type: Vegetable
Author: Laura Russell
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 25 mins
Serves: 4
“NOTHING TASTES BETTER with Brussels sprouts than cured pork, which is why I unapologetically offer you recipes that flavor sprouts with both pancetta and bacon. Here, the salty pancetta plays well with the sweetness from the fig jam, and you can finish the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to add a tangy note (see variations). I found fig jam near the grocery store’s cheese counter (not in the jams and jellies aisle), but you could also try apricot or peach jam instead. You may want to add a touch more jam than I suggest, but strive for a subtle sweetness rather than a cloying, sticky mess.”
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 3 to 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or quartered if large) through the stem end (about 6 cups)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fig jam
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large (12 inches or wider) frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the Brussels sprouts, keeping them in a single layer as much as possible. Having a few extra sprouts is fine, but if they are mounded in a pile, they will not brown or cook evenly. If necessary, use a larger pan, cook them in two batches, or pull out the extra for another use. Stir in the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and well browned—even charred in spots. If the sprouts are browning too quickly, lower the heat to medium.
  2. Add the fig jam and the water and stir until the jam melts and coats the Brussels sprouts. Add the reserved pancetta and the pepper and stir to combine. Taste and add additional salt or pepper if needed. Serve warm.
  3. variations
  4. For a sweet, salty, tangy version, add a drizzle (a teaspoon or less) of balsamic vinegar at the end. Aged balsamic is an especially good choice. Although I prefer pancetta here (I like its unsmoked rich pork flavor), you can use bacon in its place.
Reprinted with permission from Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More by Laura B. Russell. Copyright © 2014 by Laura B. Russell. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher


relish 15 | march 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish 15: March to a different beat

relish 15 | march 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Relish is a compendium of things to enjoy greatly and that add a little flavor to your gluten-free life. And it’s even better with a pinch of love.

Winter in Chicago is officially over, and, knock on wood, the snow has made a graceful exit for the season. Spring is here and that means brighter produce, longer evenings and plenty of rain.

Chow time

Food is starting to get a bit more vibrant as the seasons change.

relish 15 | march 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

Pea Risotto (01) from Vegetarian Mamma is a delightful spring dinner when there is still a bit of bite to the wind. Life isn’t complete without a cocktail, and I’ve become quite a gin fan lately. The Scotsman’s Holiday (02) from Dine x Design is on my list for next weekend. Produce gets kicked up a notch in this recipe for Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Strawberries (03) from The Tomato Tart. And when all else fails, some Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancakes from A Girl Defloured make a perfect comfort meal any time.

Air Mail

Life is better when presents come in the mail. It is even better when the contents of those presents are a surprise. I get everything from art supplies to snack mixes.

relish 15 | march 2014 | frannycakes picks gluten-free treats

As a designer, I often miss the hands on creativity that I used to have time for, and my Art Snacks box (01) allows me to try out new art supplies that I probably wouldn’t have bought for myself. To keep myself feeling pretty, I subscribe to BirchBox (02). They send a box of deluxe-sized cosmetic samples each month so I can try out new products before I buy them. When it come to food, there seems to be an ever-growing list of gluten-free subscription boxes, but my favorite is the G-Free Foodie box (03). Each month you get a box of gourmet gluten-free treats, and you can get paleo, GF DF and other allergen friendly boxes. Finally, I get a graze box (04) every week. Each box contains 4 snacks, and you can customize what snacks you get by letting them know how you like the different treats. If you click on the link, you’ll get your first box free.

What’s on deck

The Gluten & Allergen Free Expo is going to be in Chicago this week, and I can’t wait to see old friends, make new ones and try all the new products. I am also working on a project for the month of April on the Chronic Positivity Project called #onapositivenote . You can follow along on Instagram.

Housewares 2014: Cookware & Gadgets

I would voluntarily live in 75% of the booths at the International Home & Housewares Show. Seriously, the kitchen accoutrements there had me swooning (after I recovered from cooking with Curtis Stone).

International Home & Housewares Show 2014 Picks from FrannyCakes

First up, from Mr. Stone, is one enviably gorgeous Go With the Flow Oil Can.  It’s functional art! Since it is opaque, the oil inside will not deteriorate from exposure to light, no matter how sunshine-y your kitchen is. The nozzle is designed to keep the pour nice and slow (no accidental doubling of the oil in your skillet or on your salad!) and to stop drips.

Oil cans like this are also so much easier to manage in the kitchen when you buy your olive oil from Costco…

It comes in 2 sizes, 16 and 24 oz and starts at $59.95 retail. You can buy your own from Amazon*.

I am not sure how people live without Dutch French ovens, mine is one of my most-used pots (MammaCakes still has hers from when she got married). I think Le Creuset had me in mind when they picked out Palm as their latest color. The modern green feels friendly and this dutch oven is something you’ll still have when your kids are getting married themselves.

It comes in a variety of sizes (and colors) on the Le Creuset website for around $360 or you can get it on Amazon for a steal!

This next one isn’t so much a cooking tool as it is a kitchen necessity. As someone who loves spices, I find it particularly hard to keep them all in an orderly fashion in the cabinets because of all the different sizes and shapes of the bottles. Youcopia has designed a few genius organizing tools, my favorite just happens to be their Chef Edition Spice Rack and you can get it on Amazon for $39.99.

KitchenAid is going to be taking over my entire kitchen soon, I am sure of it. I might still be using Old Faithful, the stand mixer my mom got when she got married 30 years ago, but I keep eying the new models. And they have fashion accessories now! These new ceramic bowls are simply beautiful and they fit perfectly into that dream kitchen I have been pinning cabinets for…

They are microwave and dishwasher safe and will be available starting in June for a suggested retail of $79.99.

Any knife that stars in a comic book must be pretty epic, and thus a must-have. The Shun Blue line was designed with chef & butcher extraordinaire (the dude won Top Chef Masters), Chris Cosentino. The blue steel is sandwiched between stainless steel, and the blades are made with Shun’s commitment to precision and quality. The knives are an investment and range in price from $225 to $350, but an investment that you only have to make once.

I like a little humor in my kitchen, particularly with my wine, so when I saw this wine aerator from Fred & Friends, I might have giggled a bit. (Although, I was kind of hoping it actually was a straw…). All those other wine aerators are a bit to proper for me. It isn’t available quite yet, but I am pretty sure my cousins are getting these for Christmas this year (last year they got Crafting with Cat Hair, so I am keeping up the tradition of excellent gift giving).

Last, but certainly not least, is the Weston Roma 3-in-1 Grater. I have my fair share of cheese graters and choppers, but this one replaces several tools and doesn’t leave you at risk of grating off your knuckles (I’ve done that one too many times with my Microplane…). It’s a good looking and ergonomic tool that can replace a couple of other graters and choppers in your cupboards. You can order it directly from Weston for $29.99.