Monday, April 26, 2010

Absolutely Perfect Gluten-Free Flour Tortillas

(If you've linked over from Works for Me Wednesday or Gluten Free Wednesdays, I'm so excited for you to see this recipe. Let me know if you try it. It's really amazing. )

Oh yes. I. did! It's the holy grail people! They don't just bend. They ROLL. You could make those thin little taquitos out of these. And they're soft. I'm so EXCITED! You're not going to believe it. If you try these let me know what you think.

My decision to start developing this recipe began when I tried a GF flour tortilla recipe that turned out really good, but there were some problems. I wanted to see if I could make them better. I did a lot of research into what the traditional techniques were, as well as the ingredients. I watched YouTube videos with people showing how to make tortillas; everything from chefs to grandmas being filmed by their grandkids. All of that information helped me make a little change here and a little change there and I ended up turning it into a whole new recipe.

I've tested this recipe using shortening, lard and coconut oil. Every one of them works great. So no matter what you prefer to use, you're going to be able to make these.

The equipment I used that you may not have in your kitchen are a pastry cutter (you can use a fork), a griddle and a tortilla press. I only bought the tortilla press because it's faster when you're testing recipes. Rolling them out with a rolling pin was working fine.

To cook them I used my electric griddle and cranked it all the way up. Mine goes up to 400F. I cooked them right on the hottest part of the griddle. Right where the pancakes always burn. It worked perfectly.

Also, the damp towel seems to be one of the pieces of magic that makes these tortillas so soft and pliable. I'm sure it's the steam from all the heat in there after they're cooked. So don't skip that part.

Just to show you guys how good these are, I've made a little video. The only tortilla press I could find around here was a little six inch press. That's the only reason the tortilla is so small. I was making much bigger ones when I was rolling them with a rolling pin and they came out just as good.

Absolutely Perfect Gluten Free Flour Tortillas

1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp lard, shortening or coconut oil
1 cup very hot water

Whisk the gluten free flour, baking powder and salt together to combine thoroughly. Add the shortening. Combine with a pastry cutter or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the hot water a bit at a time until combined into a workable dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for half an hour.

Unwrap the dough and evaluate the texture. If the dough is too dry, add more water, a bit at a time. If too moist, add more flour. I good way to check the texture is to roll a pecan-sized piece into a ball and then squash it with your thumb. If it pretty much stays together, you're good. If it sticks to your hands it's too wet. If it crumbles apart and doesn't want to stay together, it's too dry.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Cover loosely with plastic to keep them from drying out.

Take a resealable, gallon-sized plastic bag and use scissors to cut off the top and down the sides, so you have a rectangular sheet. Put a dough ball on the plastic sheet, folding the other end of the plastic over the top of the dough ball.

If using a rolling pin, flatten the dough ball with your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll it out.

If using a tortilla press, place the plastic-covered dough ball into the press, a bit off center and press.

Peel one side of the plastic off the tortilla and invert it onto your hand. Slowly and carefully, peel the plastic off the other side of the tortilla.

Place the tortilla on a very hot griddle. Cook on one side just until bubbles start forming throughout the surface of the tortilla. Flip it over and cook that side about the same length of time. Flip it back and forth every 20-30 seconds or so until you get a bit of browning on the bubbles.

Cover your finished tortillas with a damp towel as they come off the griddle.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Taco Night!

This was one of the first things I realized I could make from mainstream ingredients. And, all it requires as far as cooking skills is browning hamburger. Which was right in my comfort zone. I make this at least once a week and used the taco meat for tacos, tostadas, taco salad, etc.

This is the type of recipe I think of when I think of the people who have just found out they have to eat gluten free, but don't really know how to cook. Like I was. So that's my frame of mind in writing this. It might be over-explaining for some, but for people just learning how to cook I hope it's helpful. As far as the product recommendations go, I'm sure there are other brands of these products that are gluten free. This is just what we've used for years. And it will make it easy for you if you just want to know what to get without having to make a bunch of phone calls to verify everything.

First you'll need a package of hamburger meat, or ground turkey, whatever you like. Brown that in a pan until it's done and drain the fat off. Add a packet of McCormick Original Taco seasoning.

Be sure to read the ingredients on the back of the package to make sure there isn't any gluten. Ingredients can and DO change. McCormick will fully disclose any gluten in plain English and won't hide it in vague language such as "natural flavors" or "spices". I know for sure the Original is GF. Not sure if the Hot or Mild is. I know the Cheesy Taco mix has wheat in it.

If you like to make your own taco seasonings, all McCormick single ingredient spices are gluten free. We're talking the little jars of "Cumin" or "Cayenne Pepper" or "Garlic Powder". Anything else you need to read the ingredients label to make sure McCormick hasn't included gluten of any kind.

So once your hamburger meat is done and you've drained the fat off, follow the package directions - dump the seasoning in, put in some water, let it cook until the water and seasonings are absorbed and the taco meat looks dry-ish. You don't want it watery. If it's still watery, let it cook some more.

Let's move on to the fixin's. Mission Taco Shells, Kraft shredded cheese, Daisy sour cream, Herdez salsa, Fresh Express shredded lettuce, Rosarita Traditional Refried Beans and Mission Tortilla Chips.

Taco Shells
HerdezĀ® Salsa Cesera

You can use any kind of fresh veggies to add to this. Chop up some tomatoes or onions. Make some fresh guacamole. All fresh veggies and fruit are gluten free.


Recipe Development

I spent most of the day researching, developing and testing a recipe I'm working on.

Let me just say how surreal it is for me to say that. By the time I graduated from high school, I didn't even know how to brown hamburger meat. I knew how to bake. Mostly cookies. I made bread several times. It was even edible once or twice. (badumpbump!)

I learned a few things over the years, but just enough to get by. Before I went gluten free, I barely cooked at all. I could make dinner, but I never really knew how to cook. Let's just say that I could do everything they asked me to do on the back of a box of Hamburger Helper. There were a couple "from scratch" recipes I knew how to make, but the only additional skill those recipes required was chopping an onion. Which I didn't even do most of the time because they sell prechopped onions right by the bagged salad at the grocery store. I did make pot roast using the bag and season packet a few times, so I quartered some potatoes for that.

I was comfortable browning hamburger meat, chopping an onion (if I had to), doing that bag and season roast, cooking pasta and... I think that's about it. I couldn't have told you what I was supposed to do with a steak. As for chicken.. Chicken scared the heck out of me. You have to be careful with raw chicken or you could DIE. You have to cook it all the way or you could DIE. Seriously. I can't deal with that kind of pressure. When I did cook chicken I was so freaked out about making sure it was done that I cooked it so long it was dead all over again.

When I went gluten free, I spent the first few weeks just trying to figure out what I could eat that wouldn't make me sick. I ate like a teenage boy trapped in a convenience store. Cool Ranch Doritos are gluten free? Awesome! I also discovered that most flavors of EZ Cheese, that aerosol spray cheese, are gluten free. So are cheetos, lots of different candy, some chips and salsa, peanut butter, soda, some mixed nuts, etc.

I've come a LONG way since then. There isn't much I don't know how to do as far as basic cooking goes. And more advanced cooking techniques don't intimidate me like they used to. I'm willing to try just about anything.

I'm not so worried anymore about wasting food. I used to be so worried about it that I wouldn't try making anything. I figured whatever I made wouldn't be as good. Now I figure why not try something. It might be awesome.

My husband is even more adventurous than I am. He's the better cook in the family. He likes the process. The chopping, the prepping, the simmering, the stirring.

The waiting. And the more waiting.


I'm not so much with the waiting.

I'm more of an end result kind of girl. I want to see if what I'm doing is going to turn out like I want it to.

This recipe that I'm working on is a baking recipe actually. It's the first time that I've tried to take something that was pretty darn good, but I wanted to see if I could make better and more dependable from a gluten-free standpoint. It's a traditional recipe that has been made from scratch for probably hundreds of years. So I'm going back to basics and figuring out some of those traditional techniques and see if they transfer to the gluten free version.

That's one thing that I've learned. Sometimes it's not the gluten, but the technique that makes the recipe do what it does. It's really quite amazing. One of these days I swear I'm going to try pita bread, which I've never been a fan of, JUST to see if I can get it to do that splitty thing.

I had a lot of fun today. I'm not quite there with this recipe. I've done a pretty standard, modern version of the traditional recipe. The one that most gluten-eaters who make this from scratch use. But then there are some people who go really old school with it and use an ingredient that I've never used before that they say is the key to an even better result. So I'm going to see what I can do to find that final ingredient that I need.

I did do some pretty successful temperature testing today though. Now I know cooking it hotter and faster is the technique I need to use. So we'll see if the traditional ingredient helps our gluten-free flour do it's thing just a little bit better.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gluten Free Croutons

In my early days of being gluten free, I found replacement products for a lot of stuff, but never did find croutons. As far as I'm concerned, a salad isn't a salad without croutons. This was the first thing I ever figured out and made on my own. This was also the first gluten free recipe that my husband really liked. It was the beginning of hope for a truly delicious gluten free future.

These croutons are very popular around here. Not just with us, but with our gluten eating friends. I just put these out in a bowl and people eat them like snack food.

If you live near a Whole Foods, most of the work that goes into making these croutons is done for you. In the Gluten Free freezer section, with the breads, scones, etc, you should see Gluten Free Stuffing cubes.


I usually get two containers of them so there's plenty for first night snacking and then some left over for the next few days. They come frozen so make sure you set them out to thaw before making them into croutons.

In my early gluten free days, Whole Foods didn't have these, so I was just using my favorite gluten free bread. Just bake a loaf, let it cool and cut it into crouton-sized cubes.

Picture 209

Dump the two containers of stuffing cubes in a bowl. Melt a whole stick of real butter, or your favorite butter substitute. Add garlic powder to taste. We like our's really garlicky, so we add quite a bit.

You can also use real garlic instead of garlic powder. But I'm all about making cooking as easy as possible. I figure I'm already making croutons from scratch so I'll just use the garlic powder.

4388574047_eca6851e6b_m-1.jpg picture by nantzie 4388574603_88581ef77a_m-1.jpg picture by nantzie

Pour the butter and garlic powder mixture over the stuffing cubes. Even that goo at the bottom. Especially the goo at the bottom. It's not pretty, but it's going to be yummy. Trust me on this.

4388575223_082123ff58_m-1.jpg picture by nantzie

Stir it all up and wait about five minutes to let the butter and garlic soak in a bit. Then stir it again to make sure you're not leaving any of that garlicky butter at the bottom of the bowl.
4388575641_9693ae6ab9_m-1.jpg picture by nantzie

Pour the croutons onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Put them in a 250 degree oven and just keep an eye on them. I use a big plastic spoon to turn the croutons over so they cook evenly. They'll turn a deeper golden brown when they're done.

If you're using fresh gluten free bread rather than Whole Foods' stuffing cubes, which are already crunchy, you'll want to reduce the oven temp down to 200 or as low as it will go. With fresh bread you not only need to bake the butter and garlic into it, you need to get them dried out and crispy. Just keep an eye on them, taste occasionally to test the crunchiness and be patient with it. It's worth the wait.


Gluten Free Cooking Tutorial for Gluten Eaters - Part 3 - Jump!

Okay. You've got your recipe. You've asked your gluten-free loved one if it's okay for you to cook for them. You've gotten their advice and recommendations on ingredients. You've verified that your ingredients are gluten free. You might have even bought a new cutting board or a new strainer. You're ready.

So let's get started.

1. Take a Deep Breath. We're going to take this step by step. Everything is going to turn out great.

2. Inform the Other People in Your House What You Are Doing. Let everybody know that you're making a special dish and there will be no touching or tasting of anything in the kitchen until you are done.

3. Re-Read Your Recipe. Make sure you have all of the ingredients and all of the food prep items (bowls, knives, cutting boards, measuring spoons and cups, etc.) you need. Make sure all of your food prep items are clean and ready to go.

4. Wash Your Hands. I'm only saying this once, but you should wash your hands a LOT when cooking gluten free food in a non-gluten-free kitchen. Use gluten free soap and use a clean dishtowel to dry your hands. You could completely clean your whole kitchen and wipe down every surface to make sure there isn't gluten on it, but who wants to do that? Not me, that's for sure. Need to get your kid a snack? Wash your hands when you're done. Answer the phone? Wash your hands when you're done. The way I've learned to navigate in a non-gluten free kitchen is just wash my hands before I touch my gluten-free food or food prep items. Once I've had to break the "gluten free zone" and handle something I'm not sure is gluten free, I wash my hands.

5. Clean Your Food Prep Surfaces. Clean off the counter you will be working on. Even if the food won't directly touch the counter, your hands and other food prep items will.

6. Put All of Your Ingredients and Food Prep Items Out on Your Counter. You don't want to have to break your "gluten-free zone" if you don't need to.

7. Do Your Magic. It's cooking time baby!

8. Guard The Food. Walking away is asking for unknown fingers to gluten the food without you being aware of it. When the food is cooking and the whole house smells amazing, that's when your family will be tempted to sneak a bite without realizing it can cause a serious problem.

9. Promise the People in Your House That They Can Have Some When You're Done. If you're making your world famous chili, dish some out for your family. If you're making cookies, set some aside for them. Remember, we're just one person. We don't need the WHOLE THING. Although we probably could polish off a whole batch of cookies, we're definitely not going to be able to eat the whole pot of chili on our own.

10. Contain, Cover, Label and Secure. Once your food is cooked, put our portion in a container that can be covered. Label the container in some way. I love bright Post-It notes for this. I've found that just writing gluten free on the note doesn't give enough information if you need to keep other people out of the food that might not understand cross contact. Writing something like "UNCLE JIM ONLY - DO NOT OPEN" is more effective. I also recommend securing the lid in some way. A rubber band or tape usually works well. People tend to not read labels or notes when food is involved. Just about every container of food in your kitchen probably has words on the label, and it may not stop someone who is just going through the fridge on automatic looking for something to snack on. A rubber band or tape is just unusual enough that it will make someone stop and look at what they've got in their hands.

11. If Something Goes Wrong, Don't Serve it to Us. Just about every gluten free person I've ever encountered has glutened themselves in their own kitchen many times. Especially the first few weeks. All of this stuff is a lot to remember. If you're getting ready to put the chili in a container and you turn around to find your son dipping a piece of gluten bread in the chili to take a big bite, it's just over. There's nothing you can do. Don't worry about it. Your loved one will be grateful to you that you're putting their health above everything else. Hand your son a bowl and tell the rest of your family that dinner is ready.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gluten Free Flour Mix for Baking

I use this mix as a 1 to 1 exact replacement in all of my cookie recipes, including my old family recipes. It’s never let me down. It’s also good if you like to eat some of the cookie dough because it doesn’t have any bean flour. If you’re using a flour mix that has bean flour in it don’t eat it. I know it smells good, but seriously. Don’t. I still have flashbacks from when I did that about four years ago. {shudder…}

I found the flour mix on page 6 of Annalise Roberts’ book – Gluten-Free Baking Classics. Make sure you get the extra fine rice flour. It is the reason this flour mix works. It’s very powdery. Not gritty at all. I think that one of the many reasons that GF products tend to fall apart is because the gritty rice flour doesn’t stick together well. With all of the other roadblocks to good GF baked goods, why not take one out of the equation. :)

For three cups of this flour mix you need:

2 cups Superfine Rice Flour (made by Authentic Foods)

2/3 cup Potato Starch (not potato flour)

1/3 cup Tapioca Flour (tapioca starch is the same thing in this case)

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

Mix all of this together thoroughly. I use a whisk to get it all mixed.

Now go make some chocolate chip cookies. And eat some cookie dough while you’re at it. Or dig out an old family cookie recipe and give it a try.

Locals note: If you live in the Sacramento, CA area, you can find the superfine rice flour at Sunrise Natural Foods in Roseville. For the tapioca and potato starches, as well as the xanthan gum, I use Bob's Red Mill (be sure to look for gluten free on the label), which can be found at Sunrise Natural Foods, Elliott's Natural Foods and some Raley's and Bel Air locations in their natural food section.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gluten Free Cooking Tutorial for Gluten Eaters - Part 2 - Analyzing and Modifying Your Cooking Environment

Today we're going to talk about how to prepare gluten free food and protect against cross-contact, usually referred to as cross-contamination. These are the things that are vital for you to do when preparing gluten-free food.

1. Understand Cross-Contact. When I first started eating gluten free, someone explained it to me in the best and simplest way I've ever heard. Treat gluten the same way you'd treat raw chicken. That means, (a) anything that comes in contact with gluten has to be washed thoroughly before touching gluten free food, and (b) if it can't be washed thoroughly, a new item that is used ONLY for gluten free food must be used.

2. Believe Completely that Protecting Against Cross-Contact is Vital. Okay.. We know that cross-contact sounds completely over-the-top. It sounds paranoid. It sounds self-involved. We know. We really do. That's probably why we haven't mentioned it and just bring our own little container of food when we come over. We don't want to sound azycray at the family arbequebay. (Do people speak pig latin anymore..?)

3. Don't Be So Freaked Out by Cross Contact That it Keeps You From Trying to Cook Gluten Free. By now you probably are. But you really shouldn't be. We had to take our own gluten-riddled kitchens and transform them into the gluten-free oasises (oases..? oasi...?) that they are today. We had to go grocery shopping for the first time, make a safe spot for ourselves in our kitchen and figure out cross contact. You can too.

4. Let Yourself Off the Hook if You Need To. Even though I said in #3 that you shouldn't be scared about cross contact, if you read this series and know that you can't do what's required, it's okay to back out. If you promised us you'd make cookies for us and you realize it's going to be impossible to keep your kids fingers out of the cookie dough, and you have no reasonable way make sure that every hand passing through your kitchen is gluten free, it's okay to say you can't do it. We will totally understand. Maybe it's something you'd like to try at some point in the future. If not, that's fine too.

5. Gluten is Sticky. It sticks to everything. The only way to effectively remove gluten is soap and water. If you can't wash every nook and cranny of an item with soap and water, you can't use it.

6. Understand What Things You Already Have Can Be Used for Gluten Free Food and What Can't. Existing cutting boards, wooden utensils, whisks, strainers, colanders, toasters, scratched up nonstick pans, baking pans, etc. The grain in wood traps and holds gluten and comes off in the food. Whisks have tiny holes where the wires attach to the handle. Strainers and colanders have tiny holes everywhere. Plastic can develop scratches where gluten can attach itself. The same goes for nonstick pans. Baking pans, such as those used to bake breads, cakes, cookies, etc., usually have all sorts of baked on residue. I just wouldn't trust them. It would probably be fine with a layer of foil, but you'd have to make sure the sides and bottom of the pan where your oven mitt or potholder would touch was covered too. As for toasters, there is no way to wash the inside of a toaster with soap and water. Toaster ovens are another story, but you'd have to cover the shelf thing with foil. You could wash it really well, but it would take a lot of time, so I'd go with the foil.

6. Buy New Things if You Need To. I'm not talking about going to your favorite kitchen store and buying all new stuff. If you're not cooking for your gluten free friend or loved on on a daily basis, just pick up what you need from the dollar store. You can also get things like aluminum foil loaf and cake pans on the baking aisle of any grocery store. There's no need to spend a lot of money on this stuff. Even if you need a whisk, you can use a couple of forks held together to simulate what a whisk would do.

7. Gluten-Containing Flour Can Remain Airborne for Up to 48 Hours. If you are a big baker or like to make fried foods coated in flour, this is just something to be aware of. Food manufacturers take this into consideration when they determine if their food is gluten free or not. For the most part, home cooks aren't dumping flour into their mixing bowls and putting all sorts of flour dust in the air like major food manufacturers do with huge bags of flour and giant mixing bowls. You know your home better than I do of course, so if you think that flour dust might be a problem, clean any surfaces, such as counters or open pots and pans, before cooking gluten free. This isn't something I'd worry too much about, but it bears mentioning.

8. Use Clean Dishtowels, Potholders and Oven Mitts. If you wipe your hands off on a dishtowel and you have gluten on your hands, the dishtowel can't be used to wipe your hands off after you wash them in order to cook gluten free. I've also never used a potholder or oven mitt that didn't end up in the food.

9. What's In Your Soap? There are some soaps that have gluten in them. Many of the products from Bath and Body Works and other fancy soap companies have gluten in them in the form of wheat germ oil, oat protein, etc. Personally, I use the basic clear Soft Soap. It's gluten free, inexpensive and they sell it everywhere. I'm sure there are plenty of other handsoaps that are also gluten free, but basic Soft Soap was what I used before I went gluten free and I've never had to look any further. I have no idea if the creamy or scented Soft Soap is gluten free however.

10. Label Anything You Plan to Use Again to Cook Gluten Free. If you only plan to cook gluten free occasionally, don't worry about this. But if you know you'll be using something again for your friend or loved one, label the item and set it aside. For food prep items such as cutting boards, strainers, wooden spoons, etc., put them in a small box with a lid and label the box gluten free. It's usually helpful to keep this box out of the way on a low (or high) shelf, or in another room so it doesn't get confused with your normal kitchen prep items.

11. Mistakes Happen. You've gotten through all of this, made the gluten free cookies, and set them out to cool. You leave the room only to come back to find your husband, with a gluten bread sandwich he has just made in one hand, helping you out by putting the "gluten-free" cookies in the cookie jar with the other. I hate to say it, but those cookies aren't gluten free anymore. Just him touching the cookies is more than enough to cause a reaction. Just smile, offer to pour him some milk for his cookies and let us know it didn't work out. We'd rather you be honest about it not working out than to end up getting sick.

Gluten Free Cooking Tutorial for Gluten Eaters - Part 1 - Choosing a Recipe and Ingredients

If you've found this post, you're probably looking for some gluten free recipes to make for a friend or loved one who needs to eat gluten free. Let me be the first to say thank you. Just the fact that you're even thinking about doing this says so much about how much you care.

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.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Shared Kitchen - Part 3

In Part 1, we discussed why we need to be so careful in a household where there are gluten-free and non-gluten-free people.

In Part 2, we discussed how to create a safe environment for your gluten-free food.

Today we’ll be discussing why you have to verify EVERY SINGLE THING to determine its gluten-free status and how to best do that.

The FDA is actually working on better labeling requirements for gluten-free food (as well as other food intolerances). You may have already seen notes at the bottom of ingredient statements that say “Processed on the same equipment with wheat, soy and tree nuts.” So they understand exactly how specific people with food intolerances have to be.

The easy part of being on the gluten-free diet is not eating the obvious things – bread, pizza, pasta, crackers, cookies, etc. If that was all there was to it, it would be easy.

But hidden gluten is where the real work comes in. The short version is that you MUST verify every single thing that goes into your mouth whether you think it might have gluten in it (or on it) or not. Because a lot of it is what I call Stupid Gluten. Just because there is no good reason a product should have to have gluten in it, yet there it is.

It’s not really stupid from the food manufacturer’s point of view though. Wheat and barley (malt) are actually very good flavor enhancers. Infuriating Gluten would probably be a better description, but I think Stupid Gluten just sounds better.

Some examples of Stupid Gluten (or sometimes just surprising) would be -

Red Licorice ( most of which is actually made from a wheat based dough – who’da guessed?)


Campbells Cream of … Soups

Tea (Bigelow and Traditional Medicinals for sure have a few with gluten)

Soy Sauce

Oatmeal (usually processed on the same equipment as wheat)

Most cereals, even rice krispies and corn flakes

Spice mixes

Imitation Crab

Rice Dream rice milk

Candy Corn

Nuts and seeds – sometimes are dusted with flour or as part of the seasoning mix

CHARCOAL (for pete’s sake)

Nathan’s Hot Dogs

And on, and on and on… And we haven’t even gotten to arts and craft supplies, shampoos, cosmetics, health and beauty items, lotions, soaps, cleaning products, etc.

You also have to verify that gluten isn’t hidden behind ingredient statements such as “natural flavorings” or “modified food starch”. Either could contain gluten.

So you can see, you have to verify EV.ER.Y.THING. That list could easily be three times as long, but I think you get the point that it’s in the weirdest and stupidest places.

So Verify, Verify, Verify. You also have to verify often. Read the label every time you buy a product, even if you just bought it – ingredients change all the time. For gluten-free product lists from manufacturers, verify every few months.

I have found that the easiest and most straight-forward way to verify a product is to go to that product’s website. 99.999% of products have a website nowadays. If there is a search function, I just type in gluten. If not, find the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section. The FAQ is sometimes not obviously shown. Look under customer service, or sometimes at the very bottom of the homepage. Many times you can find the gluten question already addressed in the FAQ.

If not, you can either email the company or call them. Most companies I’ve emailed have gotten back to me in a day or two. I’m not a caller (yea, I’ve got issues – another topic for another day…), but I’ve heard that a very nice person on the other end who gets the question of the gluten status 20x a day looks up your product and lets you know if it’s gluten-free.

There are some companies that have a policy of full disclosure on all their products. They won’t hide gluten behind phrases like “natural flavorings” or “modified food starch”. These companies request that we read the full ingredient label each time we buy a product, but in turn they also promise to fully disclose any and all gluten-containing ingredients. The companies I trust and have never had any problems with are:

Kraft – You’d be shocked at how many food “brands” are actually Kraft companies.

McCormick – the spice and seasonings people

Frito Lay

ConAgra – Again, shocking how many food brands are ConAgra companies.

There are other companies with this policy, but with just these four it’s totally easy to go grocery shopping.

All that being said, I’ve also had run ins with products that were verified gluten-free and a couple even LABELED gluten-free that made me sick. (None of the above companies.) It can take some trial and error to narrow down the culprit. When you’ve figured out what is making you sick, there may be several things going on -

- Cross contamination on the packaging of the product. Maybe you got gluten on your hands outside the house, maybe the person stocking the shelves at the grocery store just came from stocking the flour aisle.

- Cross contamination within the product. Just like in a home kitchen, in a food manufacturing plant, it’s easy for gluten to inadvertantly contaminate a batch of food. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen.

- Another food intolerance. During the healing phase of celiac disease, other food intolerances can come and go. Dairy is an extremely common co-existing food intolerance for the first several months. The reason for this is that the tips of the intestinal villi that are destroyed in the celiac disease process are where the enzymes for digesting dairy are located. It can take up to a couple years for the villi to fully heal. So it can take a while. People with one food intolerance are also more likely to have other food intolerances. Keep a food / symptoms diary and see if you can figure out what the pattern might be.

Don’t worry though, after a while, it all actually becomes second nature. Just take one thing at a time. I found that just knowing that Kraft, McCormick, Frito Lay and ConAgra would put gluten in plain English in the ingredient statement has fed me just fine up to now. Probably 90% of the mainstream food I buy is from those companies.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Shared Kitchen - Part 2

Today I’m going to be talking about how to create safe areas in which to keep your food and ingredients.

In order to keep your food and ingredients safe in a shared kitchen, you’ll need to be honest with yourself about what you’re dealing with as far as the other people in your house are concerned. For the most part it isn’t reasonable to expect everyone who enters your kitchen to be just as careful as you are with your food. So you have to plan accordingly. Especially at first because everyone is learning this along with you.

The best case scenario would be that you have an entire cabinet in which to keep your pantry foods and an entire shelf or drawer in the refrigerater in which to keep your refrigerated foods.

If you can do that, find a way to visually block off those areas. A cheap and easy way to do this is with brightly colored post-it notes, a piece of paper with a note indicating that this is your area (For Dad Only!! or Gluten-free only, please don’t touch!!) taped to the cabinet, shelf or drawer.

If you don’t have enough space to commandeer whole areas, you can also go the box route. In most stores such as Walmart, Target, etc. you can get various sizes of plastic boxes with lids. (Make sure you measure the areas where you’re going to keep your food so you don’t end up with boxes that don’t fit.) You can put your food in the boxes without anyone having to worry about using the wrong thing.

Boxes are also very helpful in protecting against any airborne flour if other family members still use gluten-containing flour in your home for baking or coating fried foods. Flour is such a fine particle that it can stay airborne for up to 48 hours, and settle on surfaces. Keeping your food (and food prep items) in a cabinet, a drawer or a covered box will keep this from being a problem. Just remember to clean off any exposed work areas, such as countertops, before preparing your food.

If you don't have the space to have a separate area or a box for your food, you can label the lids of all your foods and secure them with rubber bands. In theory just a note or label written on it should keep people out, but I’ve learned from experience that most people are on autopilot and just grab the mayo, peanut butter or whatever and don’t pay too much attention to notes. So a rubber band usually does the trick to remind them that they shouldn’t be using it.

You probably won’t have to go to such extremes forever. Once the whole household is used to everything you should be able to relax a bit. But when you’re all in the learning process, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Shared Kitchen - Part 1

This is my first post in a series of how to create a shared kitchen for people on the gluten-free diet. A shared kitchen means that you have gluten-free people and non-GF people in the same household.

Also, leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions about this, or anything gluten-related that I can address in future blog entries. I’d love to help.

If you’re just getting started on the gluten-free diet, a kitchen makeover is essential. In the best case scenario, my advice would be to have a gluten-free household at least for a few months in order to help in the recovery of the person recovering from gluten-induced health problems. But that isn’t always possible.

If you have decided to have a shared kitchen, or having a completely GF kitchen just isn’t possible, there are some ways to make it work.

You will need:

- Safe ingredients and a safe place to store them.

- Safe cookware, bakeware and cooking utensils, and a safe place to store them.

- Safe cleaning items and a safe place to store them.

I guess the best place to start is an explanation of WHY all of this is necessary. The short answer is that gluten is sticky. It sticks to and in everything. Remember making paste out of flour and water in elementary school? Well, it’s the gluten that makes makes it stick.

Since gluten causes an autoimmune reaction (not an allergic reaction) in people who are intolerant to it, as soon as even a tiny amount of gluten enters your system that reaction starts. It’s more comparable to food poisoning than it is to an allergic reaction, because your immune system incorrectly thinks that gluten is a toxin and will do everything it can to get it out of your system.

It is very important for someone on the gluten-free diet to have complete understanding and cooperation when it comes to their food and food preparation. If not, their recovery will be slow and they may develop worsening symptoms or other related health problems.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Goals. I've got 'em.

This isn't my first blog. My first blog was called You'll Crack Your Head Open! because that's what I was constantly telling my kids when they asked me why they couldn't do backflips off the couches in our tile-floor house. Well.. actually what I used to tell them was you'll crack your head open and have to go live at the hospital and mommy would cry and cry forever and ever.

But that seemed a little long for a blog name.

At the time I thought I was going to be a Sassy Mommy Blogger. Turns out? It's a LOT harder than it looks. So I had some semi-sassy posts mixed in with some gluten free information and recipes. All in all it was a mess.

As time went on I realized that I really enjoy helping people get started on a gluten free diet. In my real life, more and more people are telling me about friends and relatives who are eating gluten free. I've given a few people that blog address, but it needs so much work. So I decided to start from scratch.

I want to start this blog with some informational posts. Partly just to get the information out there, and partly so I can link back to those informational posts as a resource for people. When I post a gluten free recipe, I don't want some well-meaning friend or relative to surprise someone with celiac disease with "gluten free" food that may not be gluten free. I want to have a link that friends and family can go to that will explain exactly what they would need to do to cook for their loved one, including asking them if it would be okay to cook for them. Because there is nothing more heart-wrenching than your favorite aunt showing up with "gluten free" food and trying to decide whether you'd rather risk being sick for days or hurt her feelings. Personally, I'd rather be sick than hurt someone's feelings. Which is NOT smart.

But those friends and relatives of ours, who love us and want us to be healthy and happy? Those people who go online to search out recipes and take extra time to make something special just for us? If there are extra steps they need to take to make sure something is truly gluten free, they truly want to know them. Trust me on this. I have a whole family of these wonderful people.

I'm going to be copying over some of my informational posts from my old blog and posting them here, as well as writing some additional informational posts before I start posting recipes and product recommendations. I want to feel like I've done everything I can to keep non-gluten-free friends and relatives well-informed, and those of us who need to eat gluten free as safe and healthy as possible.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Story

I've been sitting here trying to decide what to write for my first post, and I decided to just start at the beginning and tell you my story.

Like a lot of people, my celiac symptoms developed over the course of many years. I don't recall ever having any symptoms of celiac during my childhood, other than sleep problems. Looking back, I can say that my early celiac symptoms began after I developed mononucleosis the autumn after I graduated from high school. I used to tell people that I never felt the same after that. My stomach became more sensitive and I was prone to IBS-like symptoms. I was tired during the day and had chronic insomnia at night. But, aside from some minor inconvenience, I was pretty much fine. I kept Maalox in my purse and beside my bed. I also chose my career based on its typical flexible schedule that would allow me to work odd hours so I could sleep during the day if I needed to.

This went on just fine for years until a bad relationship started getting just plain scary and finally ended. Around that time, my stomach symptoms started getting worse and I actually had to cut foods out of my diet that I had merely avoided before. Dairy would cause "bathroom issues" and if I ate salad, it felt like I was trying to digest sharp rocks.

At this point I started trying all sorts of things to get my digestion under control. I tried herbal supplements from the health food store and went to alternative doctors. For the most part, everything worked a little bit or worked well for a period of time and then stopped working. All in all though, it was still not too bad.

It wasn't until my husband and I had our first child in 2002 that things really got bad. Lets just say I knew where all the bathrooms were at every place I went. This was the first point where I had to modify my life to work around my symptoms. But I learned to live with it. I walked off my pregnancy weight by putting my daughter in her stroller and walking laps around our local mall rather than around the neighborhood. That way I could go to the bathroom when I needed to. It worked just fine.

During my pregnancy with my second child, who was born in 2004, things really started getting bad. I went from walking 3-4 miles a day 3-4 times a week to not being able to walk to the end of the mall. I wasn't just tired. I felt like I was going to collapse or pass out. It was really scary. I noticed that if I pushed myself physically I would feel the same way. It was like I had developed a very low energy threshold and I had to conserve as much energy as possible. I figured that this was just what it was like to be pregnant and have a one-year old (my kids are 19 months apart). It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But again, I just got used to it.

It was after my son was born that things really got out of control. I had a very easy birth, to say the least. It was the easiest birth my OB had ever seen. That's a whole 'nother story in itself. So there was no damage, no birth trauma that could have caused these next things to happen.

Not long after my son was born, days..? Maybe a couple of weeks? I started having the most horrible, nearly constant electric shock type pains that would shoot through my hips and lower back. I had had chronic back pain for years, and I remember these pains happening before this to some degree, but they had gone to a whole new level at this point. These pains would come suddenly and completely lock me up and make me gasp out in pain. Any bending at my waist, even a few degrees, would cause the pain to shoot through my hips.

Every part of my life had to be modified at this point. I had to put my clothes on differently. I couldn't run errands by myself with the kids. I had to lay down and get out of bed differently. Walking up or down even the most gradual slope would cause the pains to shoot through my hips.

It took me two hours to just go grocery shopping if I had to go by myself (without the kids) because I had to use the grocery cart as a walker and could only get things that I didn't have to bend over to reach. I knew what grocery stores had the milk (for the kids) at eye level and which had it down at knee level. Because the milk at knee level may as well have been on Mars. I never went grocery shopping by myself with the kids because there was just no way. At all.

From a digestive symptom standpoint, if you don't have celiac you probably don't want to know. If you do have celiac, you already know. Horrific and constant are the two adjectives that most apply to this time in my life.

Between the digestive symptoms and the shooting pain, I was pretty much house bound most days for almost two years. I couldn't lift my kids into their carseats on my own, much less lift them up into a shopping cart. My best friend would help me run errands a couple times a week. She would help me with the kids, help me when I couldn't reach something without triggering the pain and watch my kids if I needed to get to the bathroom NOW (!!!).

But then there were always days when for some reason I was totally fine. No pain. No digestive issues. But they were random and unpredictable. I would have a few days in a row of no symptoms and I'd venture out with the kids on my own for a taste of freedom in our lives. I'd stop for hamburgers on the way to Target or the mall and then it would hit again.

There were also a lot of other random things that were happening. I had the most horrific nightmares that made me scared to go to sleep. I had a constant headache. I felt like I was trying to think through wet cement. I was exhausted and irritable. My hair was falling out.

At one point I decided that I'd try taking wheat grass capsules. Those were supposed to be good for you right? Well, after two days of that I came so close to passing out that I realized why they call it tunnel-vision. (Hey, that actually looks like a tunnel!) I was home alone with a two-year-old and a six-month-old and Daddy wouldn't have been home for several more hours.

Then there was the time when I stood up out of bed only to find that my legs had turned into the equivalent of cooked spaghetti. I dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes and had to pull myself back into bed with just the "strength" (ha!) of my arms. I thought at first that my legs had fallen asleep, but once I got back in bed I realized that my legs weren't numb and I could move them fine. I tried to stand up again and I dropped again.

In September 2005 I decided enough was enough and I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss starting the process of getting a handicapped placard for my car and some sort of motorized scooter. I just couldn't do it anymore. I would see the commercials for the motorized scooters and think about how much freedom it would give me.

Then, just a few days before my doctor's appointment, I was looking at news stories on the internet and came across an article about a company making a wheat free pizza crust. I knew someone who avoided wheat because it caused blood sugar problems for her. So I read the article with her in mind.

As I read the article, it explained a little bit about celiac disease, including serious digestive problems. It also said that most people who had celiac disease had no idea they had it and it usually took years for people to be diagnosed with it.

I was doing a web search within seconds of finishing the article. I found a medical site with a list of symptoms. I was stunned. My entire list of health problems was staring me in the face.

Over the next few hours I found a message board for people with celiac disease. I spent the next few days reading everything I could. The more I read, the more it made sense. There were people who had the exact same, seemingly random symptoms as I did. Not just the digestive symptoms, but the pain, the difficulty walking, the insomnia, the clouded thinking, the headaches, the irritability. Just everything.

I learned what tests to ask for and the limits of the tests. Several people who had my particular brand of symptoms (digestive, neurological and psychological, rather than just digestive) said that their type of celiac often didn't show up on medical tests and that no matter what the tests said that I should try the diet because that's what happened to them.

I went to my doctor's appointment with printouts of celiac disease information, symptom lists and tests to request. When I handed it to her, her eyebrows went straight up. She ordered the blood tests and put in for a referral to a gastroenterologist for a biopsy of my small intestine. The biopsy would show if I there was visible damage to my small intestine. The blood test came back as a high negative, a few points below the cutoff for a positive celiac blood test.

As I waited for the GI referral to go through, I started experimenting with gluten free food and cooking gluten free. My plan was just to have enough food that I knew I liked so that when I tried the diet, I'd know what I was doing. It quickly became clear that those random symptom free days when I felt almost normal were the days when I didn't eat any gluten. The days when I ate gluten I could count on to be just horrible. I tried to keep eating gluten for the biopsy, but on the days I didn't eat gluten I felt so good that I didn't want it to end. Rather than eating gluten free a few days here and there just to try things, I started only eating gluten a few days here and there. It was just really hard to make myself do it.

The scary part was when my symptoms started getting worse. When I ate gluten I wouldn't just get a headache, it would feel like my head was being crushed. I wouldn't just need to RUN to the bathroom, I wouldn't be able to make it to the bathroom in time. I also developed symptoms that I hadn't had before. My speech started to slur, my ears and scalp itched and I started getting a skin reaction. My body was evidently finally free of something it had been fighting for years, and it wanted me to know in no uncertain terms that it wasn't going to stand for it anymore.

By the time I was able to get in to see the GI doctor for my consult, it was the holiday season. Because of vacations, etc., my biopsy wasn't scheduled until February. By the time I had my biopsy I hadn't eaten gluten in five weeks. I ate what I thought was going to be the last Christmas cookie of my life, spent the next few days paying for it and called it done. I did the biopsy anyway just to make sure there wasn't anything else going on.

And that's my story. I've been gluten free ever since then. I have a completely normal life now. I can walk wherever I want. I can go places without having the slightest clue where the bathroom is. I can sleep. I don't have nightmares. I don't struggle to stay awake.

My life now is nothing short of a miracle to me. I'm still constantly amazed. Every time I park my car and walk up the slope of the driveway to my kids' school, I'm grateful. Every time I speed-shop through the grocery store or bend over to get something from a low shelf it amazes me.

When I tell people that I have to eat gluten free, they say it must be so hard to eat that way. But it's just not. My life now is so easy. So worry free. So full.

I wouldn't trade it for the world.