I was so honored when Donielle asked me to guest post on living gluten free easily, or “gfe” as I call it. As stated on my blog’s sidebar, “My passion is educating folks on gluten issues and showing how eating gluten free can be easy if you focus on “real” foods versus processed and specialty foods.” My approach is real food first and foremost, some mainstream processed foods that are gluten free (and worthy of eating), and just a few gluten-free specialty foods (i.e., the ones with the “gluten-free” label). I think this approach is the healthiest, most economical, and most delicious way to live gluten free. You don’t have to shop exclusively in the “special” aisle of the grocery store, “live” at health food stores, or test one weird-tasting gluten-free product after another (and give up most of your paycheck for food!) when you live gfe. And, your family and friends won’t revolt … because you’ll be feeding them gluten-free food that tastes normal, and good!
As a gluten intolerance and celiac support group leader and blog author who helps folks transition to living gfe, the first thing I state is that real food is gluten free. By that I mean real food that we can eat raw or cooked, but that doesn’t need processing before we can eat it. Then I talk about what gluten is. In simple terms, gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats (the latter via cross contamination in the fields and in processing). I return to the real food concept and I explain that meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and dairy are gluten free in their natural state. It’s when we season, flavor, bread, add other ingredients, and process these real foods that we may add the gluten. Someone always asks, well, aren’t wheat, rye, barley, and oats “real food”? Well, yes, but they aren’t foods that you’d eat “as is.” They’d have to processed in some way, ground, etc. before one would eat them. Just remember they’re out of the gluten-free equation anyway.
So back to the real food list that we would eat—the foods that would be without gluten: meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. It’s a pretty big group if you think about it. Now I ask folks to think about all the meals they’d eat from that category. The answers are meat, seafood, and veggies that may be grilled or steamed. Fruit is obviously gluten free when eaten raw. For dairy, there’s milk, butter, and cheese (without gluten additives). Okay, you might be thinking this doesn’t sound like much, but really in that group there are so many possibilities. Usually when each of us eats out for a fancy meal, we eat gluten free naturally. Some of our classic meals when eating out are grilled steak, grilled fish, grilled chicken, steamed lobster, and steamed shrimp. The sides are often grilled or steamed veggies with a baked potato with butter. A frequent side today is mashed potatoes or garlic mashed potatoes. These are almost always gluten free. (The traditional way of making mashed potatoes is to use potatoes, butter, and milk—gluten free ingredients. One would have to be concerned about flour being added or if a chicken broth is used versus milk that could contain gluten.) Often these meals are what are referred to as “meat and potato” dishes and again they are almost always gluten free. Note that spices, seasonings (be sure all ingredients are gluten free), juices and zests (like lemon and lime), and oils (e.g., olive) are great aids to producing wonderful gfe meals.
Next I ask folks to consider other favorites that could be made gfe just by simple substitutions. Some answers might be lasagna, meat loaf, enchiladas, chicken a la king, casseroles, and so forth. We’ll step through each one.
- Lasagna is easily made gluten free by using gluten-free lasagna noodles. There are many choices for gluten-free pasta these days.
- Meat loaf often calls for bread or bread crumbs, but neither is really needed for a great meat loaf.
- Enchiladas are easily made gluten free by using corn tortillas. (Corn tortillas are also great for quesadillas, an alternative grilled cheese, and “crisps”—homemade fried tortilla chips—that make great soup crackers.)
- Chicken a la king is often a naturally gluten-free recipe, but sometimes a small amount of flour is required; just add gluten-free flour.
- Casseroles usually contain gluten in the form of condensed soups, pasta, bread crumbs, etc. Gluten-free casseroles instead may use a sauce that’s been cooked down a few minutes (a reduction sauce), gluten-free pasta, rice (naturally gluten free), gluten-free bread crumbs, potato chips (most are gluten free), and the like. Or they could be naturally gluten free, like corn pudding made with cornstarch.
- Are you a pizza lover? Wonderful flourless pizza, which is naturally gluten free, can be made using eggs and cheese for the crust; it’s one of my most popular recipes!
Once one starts thinking gfe, making recipes gluten free just seems to come with ease.How about desserts and baking you might be thinking? Well, again, let’s return to the eating out scenario. Which are the desserts that are naturally gluten free on the menu of average and high-end restaurants? Well, there’s ice cream. As long as it’s not an ice cream flavor that has cookies, brownies, or cookie dough added, and it’s not served with a cookie, you’re good to go. There’s the classic crème brulee, which is naturally gluten free. Again, be sure no cookie or other gluten garnish has been added. Chocolate mousse is naturally gluten free, but inquire in case a prepared product (which may contain gluten) is being offered. Pudding is almost always gluten free; make sure no crunchies or the like have been added.
But what about desserts at home? Most of us don’t make crème brulee and chocolate mousse at home; however, we can certainly enjoy ice cream and pudding. As long as you follow the guidelines stated above, they will be gluten free—whether homemade or purchased. As far as making your own gfe desserts, I first suggest that folks make other treats that are also naturally gluten free, flourless cookies like peanut butter cookies (that hold together with just the peanut butter, egg, and brown sugar), meringues, forgotten cookies, and macaroons. Then I suggest some traditional desserts just made a little differently. For example, pies made crustless by adding ¼ cup of gluten-free flour. Pies like pumpkin, coconut, and chocolate can be made crustless this way. Heavier pies, like apple pie, may require a little more flour in the crust mix, but still can be made easily with “pour-over” crusts.
Now what if you want to bake cookies and cakes? I use an easy gluten-free flour mix that is made up of 3 parts Asian white rice flour and 2 parts cornstarch. I mix up a large quantity ahead of time and then use this mix, measure for measure, in place of a wheat-based flour mix. Gluten acts as a binder in baking, so often one has to use a little xanthan gum, which can take the place of gluten for binding, in the recipe as well. Usually ½ tsp of xanthan gum per cup of flour mix used is the right ratio. I also use millet flour and almond flour, but for folks just starting out and especially folks who usually bake with all-purpose flour, I recommend this gluten-free flour mix. Later, one can use brown rice flour, millet flour, sorghum flour, and almond flour. Asian white rice flour is very finely ground and similar to all-purpose flour. It’s also very economical. I purchase mine at either an Asian or an international grocery store. (Note: The Asians use wheat in soy sauce, but otherwise do not use a lot of wheat. I’ve never had an issue with cross contamination from Asian white rice flour.) I use this mix to make cookies, quick/sweet breads, muffins, popovers, pound cake, cobblers, and more.
What about bread? Everyone always wants to know how to make a good gluten-free bread. The truth is that most folks who go gluten free don’t miss bread if they have given it up for a period of time. I don’t miss bread; the occasional muffin or popover satisfies me. I did try a number of gluten-free breads early on and was not impressed. But, now there are several commercial gluten-free loaf breads on the market that people love. So far I have only tried Udi’s bread. It’s great and my 22-year old, gluten-free son buys it regularly, but I am happy just eating it on occasion. Therefore, you won’t be surprised to find out that I don’t really bake bread often either. I have made a grain-free flax and almond bread, which I loved, and just made some savory gluten-free waffles that made terrific sandwich waffles. But several gluten-free bloggers do gluten-free bread well. Shauna and Danny Ahern, gluten-free girl and the chef , have a new cookbook coming out that has a fabulous bread recipe. I just enjoyed this bread at the International Food Blogger Conference when Shauna and Danny cooked lunch for all of us gluten-free folks. This bread had perfect inner and outer texture and taste. So if you are looking for amazing gluten-free bread, buy their book , which will be released later this month.
That’s probably a lot to take in and may not sound simple or easy, but it truly is. It’s just a matter of putting it all into practice. The more one lives gfe, the easier it becomes. Someone said that going gluten free is like having to learn a new language. And, it’s true. It seems very awkward at first, but again once you put it into practice—especially using the gfe approach—the easier it becomes. Much like an “immersion” language program. I have several gfe “tip sheets” that can help you make the transition. They are: 50 foods you can eat today , 50+ meals that are gfe , 50+ gfe sweet treats , and the gfe pantry —all PDF files, which are printable for reference. Be sure to check out my recipe index , too. If you’re not sure you need to eat gluten free, you’ll want to check out 20+ reasons to get tested for gluten issues and top 20 things you should know about gluten. Last, I’m always available to answer any questions and offer help via email at glutenfreeeasily AT gmail.com.
Not just gf, but gfe!
You can also check out all of the posts from the week we focused on wheat and gluten:
The Silent Cause to Poor Health – a fabulous, everyone should listen to podcast
The Transition to Gluten Free – a guest post by Kat from SCDKat.com
Gluten Free Easily – a guest post from Shirley of GFE
Gluten Free Beauty – a guest post by Kristen of Gluten Free Beauty
Gluten, Grains, and Children with Developmental Issues – guest post by Cara or Health, Home, Happiness