Photo Credit: Stephen Scott Gross, "Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals"
Imagine discovering that the food you took pride in making was harming your child. That’s what happened to Silvana Nardone, owner of an Italian bakery and former editor in chief of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, upon discovering that her son, Isaiah, had food intolerances for gluten and dairy. Rather than abandoning her passion for baking, Nardone set to work in her test kitchen and challenged herself to find a solution. The result of her diligence takes the form of her new gluten- and dairy-free cookbook, Cooking for Isaiah, which is making life much easier—and tastier—for families of the 12 million Americans with food sensitivities.
Nardone’s book covers breakfasts, soups, salads and mains, as well as dishes that are the biggest hurdles for those with gluten intolerances, such as pasta, sandwiches, pizza and desserts. Tempting dishes like hash brown Belgian waffles, BBQ onion-smothered double bacon burgers, and strawberry cupcakes with strawberry frosting will leave your family wanting for nothing.
We spoke with Nardone to find out more about gluten- and dairy-free cooking. Here’s what she shared with us:
iVillage: When you first switched over to cooking gluten- and dairy-free cooking, what were your biggest challenges?
Silvana Nardone: Anything that Isaiah would eat for breakfast or dessert, and then pizza, of course, which every kid wants to eat. And then pasta, because I’m Italian. When I first told my father that Isaiah couldn’t eat gluten anymore, he literally said, “Just give the kid a plate of pasta and he’ll be fine,” which is so Italian of him. I said, “No, that’s exactly what he can’t eat!”
When we were in Florida visiting my parents, it was a real education—not just for me, but for anyone who takes care of him or feeds him. Not being able to pick up your go-to snacks is tough. Especially as a kid, everyone’s eating cheddar Goldfish. Your go-to snacks are no longer go-to. You’re left with “I don’t know what we’re eating.”
I really started by eliminating everything, cleaning out the refrigerator and starting from scratch. And saying, “Well, I know we can eat meats, fish, vegetables and fruit. And then what?” I really had to figure out how to make everything look and taste as good as, or better than, the original.
iVillage: Now that you’ve got your book to cook from, do you still require a lot of time to plan his meals every week?
SN: No, now it’s very easy, because after those two months of intense research and trial and error, I came up with a flour blend and a pancake mix blend that worked. I knew that once I cracked the code on those ingredients, which were the two that I use the most in all of my recipes for breakfast or desserts (or pizzas and sandwiches), I knew I could take that and create more and more recipes. From there, it was just playing around with different ratios and different ingredients. All the recipes in the cookbook are super-easy because I’ve done all the math for you. I’ve done all the testing. I tested these recipes, and I had a recipe tester test them separately to make sure that no matter who’s cooking it, it’s going to taste and look the same.
iVillage: Do you have trouble finding gluten-free products, such as pastas and breads, in the grocery store?
SN: Three years ago, it was a problem. There were very few brands that were putting them out. But now, whether people are calling gluten-free a fad or a trend, what it’s meant to me, and other moms like me, is there are more options for everyone. There are more of these products in the supermarkets, and not just in natural food stores. There are also more options on restaurant menus—it’s great. There’s such good stuff, and it’s made my life a lot easier. Now if I want to make him a quick pasta dinner, I can do that.
iVillage: Has the cost of groceries put a dent in your budget, or is there no difference?
SN: That’s a good point. It is a little bit more expensive—I’m not gonna lie. For instance, I used to buy these frozen [allergen-free] brownies that were really good—you basically got nine little brownies for $9.49, which is more than $1 for each brownie, and they were really small. I was like, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” So that’s why I developed a brownie recipe. I knew I could figure it out, and it would be a lot cheaper. Once you develop your flour blend, you can make brownies like you would normally make brownies, and it’s so much cheaper.
iVillage: When Isaiah’s friends come over and you feed them, do they notice a difference in the way the food tastes?
SN: No. For [my 4-year-old daughter] Chiara’s birthday party last year, I made chocolate cupcakes for everyone that were gluten- and dairy-free, and everyone was asking for the recipe—and I hadn’t told everyone that they were gluten- and dairy-free beforehand. Then, when I told them, they said, “All the better!”
It was hard at the beginning because Isaiah was a kid—and now he’s a teenager—but he didn’t want to be different from his friends, and I didn’t blame him. That was my motivation—how do I make him healthy and feed him good food, but also how do I make him happy so he doesn’t feel different when he’s eating his lunch at school?
iVillage: Are any recipes in your book better than the real thing?
SN: Interestingly, I had never used shortening in my life. I was a butter queen. But then I remembered that some people do split [shortening] with butter in piecrusts to make it extra flaky—I basically tried to psych myself up for shortening. But it turns out that the chocolate chunk cookies in my book—and it took me three tries to figure out the recipe—are really, really good. I’ve had so many people tell me, “You know what, these are the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had, period.”
iVillage: What advice do you have for moms of children with food intolerances? How do they go about dealing with the stress of feeding their kids?
SN: For me, it’s getting over the fear factor of “I’m never going to be able to feed my kids anything again.” I know one person who basically wrote that her daughter hadn’t had a doughnut for three years. And then she got my book, and the first thing she turned to was the doughnuts, and she was so happy to finally feed her daughter a doughnut.
For me, I don’t think you should ever think, “You’ll never eat that again.” None of us should be afraid of trying new things out. If it’s something really important, you can have it, you can figure out a way to do it. What I love most about cooking for Isaiah is that I’m happy because I’ve been able to let my family eat whatever they want, for the most part—it’s not perfect. And he gets to enjoy food he never thought he’d eat again. And now I’m hoping other families can do the same.