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.

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