I hope this tutorial series is helpful and answers any questions you might have about cooking and baking gluten free. It's a pretty big learning curve, but once you understand everything, the process never changes. Your loved one had to go through the same learning process. I promise you'll be a pro in no time.
1. Ask your loved one if it's okay for you to make something for them. I know we all love to surprise people with their favorite foods. I know I love to see the look on their face or hear the excitement in their voice when I bring someone's favorite. You bring the pan in, peel back the foil. There's hugging. There's giggling. Sometimes there's jumping. People come in from the next room. It's so. much. fun!
I get it. I really do. I'm right there with you.
Surprise food isn't fun for someone who has to eat gluten free.
We sit there with a plate of our favorite cookies that our best friend just made "gluten free" and brought over. (Panic! Panic!) She's chatting along. Over there making coffee and getting some plates for us.
Oh Dear God..., we think. What am I supposed to do now? I can't hurt her feelings. But what if she used that wooden spoon to mix it? Oh my gosh! They smell so good! Did she use a new package of brown sugar or did she dip from the same canister she dips from when she makes gluten cookies? Oooo... Pecans! I love pecans! What about the butter? Were there toast crumbs? Did she put foil down on the cookie sheet? What did she use for cooking spray? Stupid Pam for Baking...
The thing is that we love you, we love the cookies. We love that you want to make the cookies for us. But we probably haven't told you all of the things we have to do to successfully bake something gluten free. We don't want to hurt your feelings. But we also don't want to be sick for days.
If we sound anything less than enthusiastic about you cooking for us, just let it go. We were all raised to be polite. We don't want to say no, and we may not be able to come out and say that no we don't want you to cook for us. Please don't be offended.
2. Tell us what's in the recipe. You don't have to give away your secret recipe, but we do need to know all of the ingredients. There are a lot of random things that can have gluten in it that would never occur to you. When I first went gluten free, there was a major brand of shredded cheese that used wheat starch on their equipment to keep things from sticking. Yea. I know. Gluten on cheese. Who would ever think to look at something like that? And most soy sauces? Full of gluten.
Your loved one may also need to avoid other foods. He may have discovered that some completely gluten free foods are just too harsh on his system or he may have other food intolerances. Everybody is different. Dairy intolerance is very common in people who have to eat gluten free. Rice or raw veggies might be too hard to digest. They may need to use corn oil instead of vegetable oil.
There are also foods that are generally considered gluten free that not everybody can tolerate. Some people are more sensitive than others too. Vinegar is fine for a lot of people, but if your loved one avoids it, then just trust him. He's probably learned the hard way.
3. Ask us what mainstream brands to buy. Brands are very important to people who eat gluten free. By mainstream brands, I mean brands that you get in your regular grocery store. Kraft, Frito-Lay, McCormick, etc. For one ingredient there may be only one manufacturer that makes a gluten free version. Even if you've seen us make gluten free Seven Layer Dip a hundred times, don't assume that every brand of taco sauce, or even every flavor of that brand you've noticed us using is gluten free.
4. Ask us what gluten free specialty brands to buy and where to buy them. There are a lot of fantastic gluten free foods out there. And then there are some that are so horrible, that I wouldn't even know how to explain it. There are just. no. words.
Unfortunately, there are also some products that are marked gluten free that still give people reactions. Sometimes the manufacturer isn't as well-educated on how to make gluten free products as they should be.
5. Work with us. When first going gluten free, many of us don't venture out into using unusual ingredients and cook with a lot of fresh foods. We may have no idea if there is a gluten free hot wing sauce, or if sun-dried tomatoes are gluten free.
Manufacturers these days will generally have a website. Many of them have a list of gluten free products on their website. If not, they always have some way to contact them. If the manufacturer doesn't have a website, they will generally have contact information on the product packaging. Be sure to find out if products containing gluten are made on the same equipment or in the same facility as the gluten free product. Let your loved one know what you find out and leave it up to them to decide whether to use it. Some people are more sensitive than others.
6. If in doubt, leave it out. If your recipe calls for an ingredient that you and your loved one can't find a safe brand for, just leave it out. It's better for it to not taste entirely perfect than to risk him getting sick. If it's not going to work without that ingredient, you can always choose something else to make.
7. New, new, new. Buy new ingredients. Like I alluded to in my best friend cookie story above, an ingredient that has been used for gluten-containing foods can't be used for gluten-free foods. The butter you use to spread on toast in the morning can't be used to make gluten free cookies in the afternoon. This is also true of anything else you dip a knife or fork into and put on bread, crackers, cake, cookies, bagels, pasta, or anything else containing gluten. Mayonaise, mustard, peanut butter, jelly, spreadable cheese, frosting, etc, all tend to have a knife dipped into them several times. Things like pickles can also end up with gluten on them from fingers or forks reaching in when making a sandwich.
If you're planning on baking something, you'll need to buy ingredients as well. I know before I was gluten free, I used the same measuring cup in the regular sugar and brown sugar that I did in the flour.
All in all, it's better to buy a small container of something and know it's gluten free, than to use something you already have and not be sure. Depending on whether you're planning on cooking gluten free often, or just occasionally, you can either label it as gluten free and use it in your gluten free food next time, or you can use it as you regularly would after you're done with your recipe.
The next part in this series will cover how to analyze and modify your cooking environment.