“I never eat this sort of thing,” I muttered ungraciously, as Rhonda Barr presented me with an enormous oatmeal raisin cookie.
“Just taste a bit of it, to try it out,” she smiled, “it’s our ‘Go Big or Go Home Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie’ ” — and I took the first bite.
I was interviewing Rhonda in her tiny office at the Ya’d Never Know Bakery in downtown Dundas. The office is but an appendage to the large, open area where the real business is carried on — a pristine and organized space in which various people zipped about, cutting up chicken breasts, readying macaroni and cheese for browning, brewing coffee, making cookies and manning the counter which was lined with glass display cases containing butter tarts, scones, pastries, fudgie brownies and, of course, several types of bread. The whole place smelled like a proper bake shop — spicy and warm, buttery and rich.
Barr has just published her second cookbook — a handsome volume, illustrated with beautiful food photographs, some taken by her husband, Gavin Wells, along with Michelle Manzoni of PhotoSplash Photography and Simon VanSickle.
Called “What’s Up with Gluten? Against the Grain” the book contains 126 gluten-free recipes — everything from appetizers, dips and sauces, main dishes, vegetarian and outdoor cooking sections and — as might be expected — a chapter devoted to bakeshop items. There are lots of calorie-wise selections, but the book is not designed for losing weight; there are also plentiful amounts of cream, sugar and butter — reflecting Barr’s insistence upon quality ingredients and great flavour. The recipes are straightforward and the book is pleasantly readable and anecdotal with all sorts of tips interspersed, to provide context and to help the gluten-free novice design healthy, tasty and nutritious meals.
Barr notes that this book is much bolder and less timid that her first cookbook, “What’s Up With Gluten: A Chef’s Perspective from My Kitchen to Yours” published in 2009.
“I was afraid that no one would buy that first book and so I tried not to spend too much money on the production and limited the content to 60 recipes. It was very fundamental information.
“But since then, I’ve had so much more experience — I’ve learned a lot in five years. I realized that in my zeal to make great tasting gluten-free food, I had forgotten about nutrition — fibre, iron, protein, B vitamins. I’ve made an effort to put that back into this book. The food is still delicious but there’s a whole lot more knowledge — you might think of the first book as kindergarten and this book as high school. ”
As happens with so many people, Barr’s life was transformed by tragedy. Her beloved daughter Terra was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2004. Barr had been working in manufacturing for many years. She quit her job immediately and began to search for a more meaningful career realizing that life is too short not to follow your dreams. A natural cook, she apprenticed at several restaurants and opened her own off-site catering company, The Valley Gourmet, which was wildly successful. But, sadly, Terra eventually lost her battle with the disease and Barr, working through her grief, determined to devote herself to doing something that would be of real benefit to people.
“I had a lot of customers who complained about allergies and bloating,” she relates, and, after a year of soul searching and assiduously studying nutrition, in 2009, she sold her catering company and opened her bakery, focusing her energies on gluten-free food.
The “Ya’d Never Know Bakery”, on King Street East, is the second location for the business. Staples include scones, rich with berries, butter and cream, cookies, muffins and pastries, pizza crust and, of course, gluten free bread — white, garlic, cheese and multigrain. Barr had to re-write most of her recipes. (The name of the bakery comes from her constant search for food that doesn’t actually taste as if it’s gluten-free.) And she prides herself on using premium ingredients.
“I don’t cheap out on the products. I deal directly with farmers, when I can, to get good ingredients. Some gluten-free recipes use something called guar gum as a binder, for instance, which leaves a bitter aftertaste. I use xanthan gum, instead. And I never use white rice powder — it leaves a sort of coating on the tongue — there are so many blends and better flours available. Making it taste good is a passion with me and I stand behind every product.”
The new cookbook can be purchased online through Barr’s website http://www.yadneverknow.com/ or at the Bakery itself.
Oh, yes, and the cookie? I ate the entire thing on my drive home and savored every last crumb.
Here’s the recipe to try from the new cookbook.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
from Rhonda Barr’s “What’s Up With Gluten: Against the Grain”
Prep time Cook time Makes
25 min 12 min 48
1 1/2 cups Ya’d Never Know AP gluten free flour blend
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3 cups gluten-free oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 1/2 cups lard (or butter)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2) In a bowl combine the first seven ingredients together, set aside.
3) In a mixer, combine lard and sugars, beat for 1 minute, add eggs and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes
4) Add dry ingredients to wet and blend just until incorporated.
5) Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
6) Scoop 40 grams of mix for each cookie on parchment paper, flatter slightly.
7) Bake 6 minutes, rotate cookie sheet and bake an additional 6 minutes.
Rhonda’s Notes (you know what I think …)
When getting oatmeal for this recipe, make sure that it’s certified gluten-free. A lot of brands of oatmeal will be from a facility that processes gluten products as well, so there is a significant risk of cross-contamination. Never forget to check your labels. And you can always stop by out bakery, where we have gluten-free oatmeal available.