Cookbook review: Against the Grain

If you are interested in this book, you had better stock up on tapioca flour (same thing as tapioca starch) and light buckwheat flour.  There are recipes that call for other types of flour such as rice flour and oat flour, but you can make quite a few recipes with just tapioca starch and light buckwheat flour.  In case you are new to gluten-free eating, despite the name, buckwheat doesn’t actually contain any wheat and is gluten free.  If you can find someplace that sells the flours in bulk, great.  Otherwise, be prepared to shell out up to $10 for a small bag of these gluten free alternatives.

The food turned out just fine.  It’s definitely different from baked goods with regular gluten, but the food was certainly edible.  The recipes were easy to follow and understand.  Most seemed to be fairly simple.  The most “difficult” part to trying recipes in this book was that I didn’t have many of the gluten free alternatives on hand so had to do some shopping.  Tapioca starch was easy to find, but I had trouble finding light buckwheat flour and brown rice flour.

The concern that I have with this book is that it uses tapioca starch quite a bit.  They call it tapioca “flour,” but they’re the same thing.  Starch is pretty much sugars (carbs) with very little other nutritional value.  That being said, tapioca starch is used in all of the gluten-free cookbooks that I have seen because it gives structure/texture so I guess you get the gluten-free, but have to deal with the carbs to make up for it.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review from Blogging for Books.

Cookbook review: The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food

I had high hopes for The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food, but I was disappointed upon receiving this book.  First, the book is huge.  It’s one of those big cookbooks that looks good on your coffee table.  Unfortunately, that’s the most use I’ll be getting out of this book.

My first disappointment came with the formatting of the pages.  Even though the pages are big, the recipes themselves are written in small font.  There is a lot of white (wasted) space on the pages with recipes.  You can look at the preview on Amazon to see what I’m talking about.  When you’re in the kitchen, you want a recipe book that is easier to read.  I don’t know why the author and publisher didn’t fill up the wasted space to make the recipes easier to read.  Note: my eyesight is fine; I just don’t understand why they didn’t use the space to their advantage?

The second issue I had was with the format of the book itself.  It seemed like appetizers were listed first and then were listed again after cocktails.  There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the order of the recipes.  The restaurant stories that preceded the recipes weren’t very interesting to me because I’m not a regular at The Slanted Door and really didn’t want to learn about how their business started.

This leads me to my third gripe about the book.  I wanted a cookbook with Vietnamese recipes.  The stories about the restaurant, as I mentioned earlier, were not interesting.  I didn’t care for the cocktail recipes.  There were also a lot of recipes that were not Vietnamese – they were Western dishes to which the author added some fish sauce.  This does not make a Vietnamese dish, even if you stick the word “modern” in front of it.

Even simple recipes like the spring rolls were a failure for me.  I understand that mayo is popular in California (many people dip their fries in mayonnaise).  Putting mayo in a spring roll is just wrong.  Spring rolls are supposed to have light, delicate flavors.  The rice noodles, shrimp, mint, and cilantro complement each other subtly and pick up on the nouc cham to make the dish.  Mayonnaise in the spring roll overpowers those light flavors.  The vegetarian spring roll recipe called for cabbage.  I find that cabbage is too tough a texture for spring rolls.  It’s much better with green leaf lettuce.  Again, spring rolls are supposed to be light.

This book was not for me.  Mai Pham has better Vietnamese cookbooks.

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.