With a strong family tradition in home cooking, it's only natural for mother-daughter Nancy and Amber to team up on a cookbook and a food blog. They see the preparation of a meal for family and friends as an act of love, and enjoy the sharing of great food, which includes creating allergy-friendly recipes that will make everyone around the dining table happy.
Tell us about The Whisk and the Spoon. And how the cookbook 'A World of Flavor: Your Gluten-Free Passport' came into the picture.
Nancy: The Whisk and the Spoon is a mother-daughter team with a great blog for foodies and a new gluten-free cookbook. We actually started cooking and baking gluten-free a few years ago out of necessity (both of us are gluten-intolerant), and at the suggestion of friends and family we decided to get serious about it and work on a cookbook. The blog was a natural outcropping of that effort, and a way to get our presence out there. We do have some regular recipes on the blog—mostly those are recipes from my mom's recipe box—just because we want to attract all foodies to our blog. When we make the regular recipes, either co-workers or Amber's husband do the tasting and critiques. The premise of the cookbook is that those who have to live without gluten should not have to give up taste, flavor and delicious food.
When you found out about your gluten intolerance, what were the immediate adjustments you made to your diet and how did that affect cooking and eating with the family?
Nancy: At first it was pretty overwhelming because we had to educate ourselves and learn new techniques. Then it was also frustrating in the grocery store where we had to read the labels so carefully. Eating out was the most troubling, and it still is. You just never know when there will be some cross-contamination that may make you really sick. So, immediately we started cooking more at home, which as it turns out is actually a blessing, because it is so much healthier. From the beginning we both pretty much decided to just cook gluten-free for everyone, and that is why we have created the recipes in our cookbook and in the gluten-free recipe box on our blog that are fantastic enough that everyone will love them. We are all too busy to have to cook double, so we both cook gluten-free for everyone.
Why do you write about food?
Nancy: Well, everyone has to eat, so why not make your food interesting and delicious. Also, eating is such a social activity. It brings families together and every gathering really centers around food. We think it should be great food, especially if you are making it for those people you care about. It is a way to express your love for your friends and family.
Why have you chosen to do this together as a mother-daughter team?
Nancy: We really complete each other as a team. We have different ideas and approaches, so the two of us working together results in more creative products. Amber has a very imaginative approach to recipe development, and loves highly spiced food, so she comes up with some very creative recipes. I have a more exacting approach so I do more of the baking, which requires a lot of trial and error to get just the right texture and taste. We have always been very close and love doing things together, so it was just a natural evolution to do this as a team.
Amber: We are friends and get along great with each other. We each play specific roles: Nancy does the cooking and handles the recipe development. I handle the photography and food styling for our pictures. We both work on blog posts and take turns. I handle any webmaster duties and social media sites. We both work on cookbook marketing as it is an enormous task.
Together, you have such a rich background in home cooking: Nancy was raised on a farm and learned to cook from farmer parents, and passed down that knowledge to Amber, who later also learned to cook Indian food from Indian parents-in-law. Can you each share the best thing you've learned from one another in the kitchen?
Nancy: My mother taught me to read and follow recipes precisely. She always said that anyone who can read can cook, and I became a good cook by following her recipes and instructions. But, I have become a much better cook thanks to Amber, because I have learned from her to be more experimental. I have learned to use foods and spices in combinations that I would normally never think of, and I have learned to step out of my comfort zone and create recipes, not just follow them.
Amber: My marriage to my husband from Kolkata, India transformed my view of food. The food culture in India is special and unique to each region of the country. My mother in-law taught me about the Indo-Chinese dishes in West Bengal, and also the Kolkata street food special to their city. Learning from her really got me to view food in a whole new dimension and I wanted to incorporate that in to our new food blog and cookbook. My mom has taught me to never give up on my creative passions of cooking and photography. She has encouraged me to keep bringing unique material to our food blog and cookbook project. But she also knows when in life you need to be a stickler for details, and when going classic is best. Her ability to be a sounding board has been the most important thing I have learned from her in the kitchen.
What are you currently reading?
Nancy: In the very little spare time between working part-time as a contractor and working full-time on our food business, I don't have much time for pleasure reading. When I do have a few minutes, I like to read spy novels and food magazines that catch my eye in the grocery check-out line. I get ideas for food styling from them.
Amber: You can usually find me reading books on my Nikon D800 camera or on the subject of photography in general. Before our food blog project you could find me reading books on non-fiction subjects related to historical espionage.
What's your favorite recipe on The Whisk and the Spoon?
Nancy: My favorite is the chocolate soufflé because it is so delicious and elegant, yet it is amazingly simple to make.
Amber: My favorite is our eggplant curry dish. It is easy and delicious, and shows that other cultures have a handle on gluten-free in ways we just don't here in the United States.
Question from Sarah and Laura of Wandercooks: What do you struggle with most in the kitchen? Sarah can’t cook rice, and Laura can’t flip a pancake! (Click here to read Sarah and Laura's interview)
Nancy: My gluten-free bread recipes. Making one that is truly delicious is difficult. I use a nine-by-four-inch bread pan that has higher sides and it helps give extra support to the bread as it rises and prevents collapse. In addition, I use more eggs, yeast and a combination of different gluten-free flours and starches. Besides gluten-free bread baking, I tailor the particular mix of flours and starches to the exact item. For example, a light and fluffy cake will have more tapioca starch than a dense brownie. It takes much trial and error to get things just right. We have incorporated this into our new gluten-free cookbook so that the recipes actually deliver and don't disappoint.