By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
It’s not every day that an email offering you the opportunity to achieve your dream makes it’s way to your inbox. But for local cookbook author Quelcy Kogel, that’s basically what happened.
“The editor found me out of the blue, she was just searching ancient grain recipes and found my blog,” Kogel says. “She emailed me and asked me if I’d ever thought about doing a book, and I was like ‘yeah, every day for the last ten years.’”
And while it may sound like a serendipitous internet search, Kogel didn’t just get lucky. She’s been putting the work in for years. She started her successful food and lifestyle blog, With the Grains, in 2010. She’s a food and prop stylist who works with brands like Modcloth and publications like TABLE Magazine. She does interior and event design.
Through all of it, Kogel has developed an undeniably gorgeous personal aesthetic that is somehow whimsical and grounded, rustic and refreshing all at once. And every ounce of that style is present in her first book, “The Gluten-Free Grains Cookbook,” which comes out on April 9.
While it’s her first cookbook of her own, Kogel is no stranger to the process of putting a book like this together. She styled the images for Lindsey Smith’s ravely-reviewed book “Eat Your Feelings” in 2017, and styled Smith’s west coast book tour in 2018.
Working together, the two became fast friends. So Smith was happy to get to help Kogel with her own project, acting as Kogel’s agent.
“I dove in from a business standpoint to help her throughout the process,” Smith says. “From there, she went full-steam ahead into creative mode and I have to say, I enjoyed eating her creations and not having to be the one making them for once.”
Full-steam ahead is almost an understatement. Kogel was on a tight timeline with about four months to research and develop 75 gluten-free recipes for the book.
Kogel herself doesn’t follow a gluten-free diet. The publishers at Page Street Publishing wanted her to do a gluten-free book because of recent food and health trends. As evidenced by her “With the Grains” blog, Kogel does love to cook and bake with all sorts of whole grains. But, she knows that she isn’t a nutritionist and that wrestling with the research was a rabbit hole with no clear answers.
“I started researching gluten-free and like what’s the healthiest and I had to kind of shut that off because everyone has a staunch opinion on what is the healthiest and it can be so daunting to try to please everyone,” Kogel says.
So Kogel says she pushed the book in a direction that is more about the recipes and the stories behind them than it is about a diet. The book is almost equal parts recipes, stories and beautiful images. Kogel’s writing provides a personality and substance that backs up the books aesthetics with something deeper.
An introduction gives readers a background on how Kogel’s relationship with food has changed over time, and talks about what she values. For her, food is all about sharing and the book is about making food accessible.
“The thing that’s important to me is sharing food and bringing people together and I hate when someone at the table can’t partake in the food because of dietary restrictions,” Kogel says. “So making gluten-free recipes for me is just a way of making a more inclusive table.”
For the same reasons, in addition to all of the recipes being gluten-free, many are vegetarian or vegan, or offer an easily made substitution for animal products.
Whether you’re cooking for someone who is gluten-free or not, Kogel’s book can expand your mind and your pantry to include grains like amaranth, millet, cornmeal and sorghum. In a culture so attached to white flour, we can all get stuck cooking the way we’ve always cooked and eating the way we’ve always eaten. “The Gluten-Free Grains Cookbook” is a great opportunity to have a paradigm shift and see what’s possible with ingredients you’ve never considered before.
When you think “gluten-free” you may think of attempts to mimic ‘regular’ foods by substituting different ingredients with results of varying levels of success. But that’s not what Kogel offers.
“I’m really picky that if something is called ‘pizza’ it should be pizza,” Kogel says. “I’m not trying to mimic [foods with gluten].”
Kogel says that even though she thinks her amaranth flatbread recipe is “magical,” it won’t replace pizza—so she didn’t call it a pizza.
Unlike so many other collections of gluten-free recipes, Kogel’s aren’t trying to disguise any of the ingredients. For so many of them—like her Thai-Inspired Slow Cooker Pork with Cornmeal Sopes, or her Mushroom Bourguignon with Lemon-Herb Millet—the names of the grains are right there in the title.
“These are whole grains, they have nuances, they have flavors and textures that add to your food versus just trying to mimic something else,” Kogel says.
In addition to all of the recipes, “The Gluten-Free Grains Cookbook” includes a few special guides for amateurs. There’s a section that gives a guide to building up a whole-grain, gluten-free pantry, as well as “quick tips and tricks” for using those ingredients in baking.
Kogel says she’s of the “grandma” school of thought when it comes to cooking: you throw in a bit of this and a bit of that and see what feels right.
“I’m not a precise cook or baker, so I just see this more as a guide for people,” she says.
She hopes that people will try her gluten-free recipes and then make them their own.