Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Basics for Beginners

I've focused mainly on baking in this blog, which is all fine and good, unless you've just been diagnosed, and don't want to go out and buy a ton of flours to make one simple thing. There are many everyday meals that do not require extra flours to make, or even any baking. I just want to have a simple post to give some ideas. I'll add full recipes later, and hopefully pictures, but I have to start somewhere.

For those new to the diagnosis, it just keeps getting easier to be celiac. I get a call from someone at least once a week asking for help for a friend or acquaintance new to cooking gluten free, and that's just through people I know personally. Because the diagnosis is becoming much more common, food manufacturers are becoming much more aware of gluten in their foods. Many companies now include on the packaging whether the food contains gluten or not. Which can be very helpful since simply reading labels can be far too enigmatic. I recently bought some apple cider from Celestial Seasonings, and was glad that I noticed the line on the side which read "Contains gluten". I don't know if it was the caramel color, or the maltodextrin, but at least I know that it was there in some form, and not to feed it to John. Our rule of thumb tends to be that if we're not sure, he just doesn't eat it. But, there are many ways that he stays good and healthy.

So, some basics. Because we have a split family (celiac and non-celiac) we have to divide a lot of things in our kitchen. We have a toaster for glutenous breads, and the toaster oven is for the gluten free variety. We have separate butter, peanut butter, and other spreadables for each, with the gluten-free varieties marked on the top with GF in magic marker. Any more, the only pastas we buy are gluten free, because they're getting cheaper, and the De Bole's rice and corn pastas are widely found in grocery stores, I buy mine at Walmart. Most spaghetti sauces that I find are actually okay, but I also have a good recipe for making your own sauce in the crockpot that's a favorite at our house, it just requires some planning. (I'll add this later)
It's also easy to get Tinkyada lasagna noodles and make your favorite old lasagna recipe. Most companies have a number on the jar of pasta sauce to call if you have any questions as to whether or not they're gluten free.

Two of our standard meals are naturally gluten free. First of all: John loves tacos. We had a standing joke in my family for the first few years of our marriage that if there was ever a special ocassion for John, I'd make tacos. In my family, food is the centerpiece for our celebrations. I remember asking John for our first Valentine's day what his favorite food was, so I could make a nice romantic dinner for us to have at home (as we were both graduate students and couldn't afford going out to a restaurant). He said tacos. I ended up making some kind of coconut kourma instead, because I wanted it to be nice. But John's just a basic kind of guy, and tacos work perfectly for him. We use corn tortillas, fried up, shredded cheese, ground beef with McCormick taco seasoning (this is gluten free, though others aren't), and lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa. Most fresh salsas say right on the package if they're gluten free. Our favorite brand is the Garden Fresh Gourmet, which is gluten free. It's an easy, cheap meal, that tastes great.

Our second favorite meal, is also favorite because of its inexpensive nature, and ease of cooking. I love to roast a whole fryer chicken (usually under $1/lb at Walmart and other grocery stores) in the crockpot. It makes it so tender and juicy, and for about $4 I can use the meat for at least three meals for my family of 4. I love to do a lemon basil chicken. I take a handful of fresh basil, chop it up, and place a few tablespoons of it under the skin at the breast, then I put the rest in the cavity. I take a lemon, cut it in half, and pierce it through a few times, then add it to the cavity. I spray the bird with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put it in the crock on high for 3-5 hours. It tastes great! I also like to use Italian seasoning. It tastes really great to cut up a carrot, celery stick, and white onion, and add to the cavity with some fresh flat-leaf parsley if you have any. Then, I'll use a McCormick italian seasoning grinder and grind some seasoning all over the outside of the bird. This also tastes great.
The chicken can be served with potatoes or rice and steamed vegetables or a salad. It's easy and naturally gluten free. Watch out for various salad dressings. I am lucky enough to live by a Wegman's here in PA and so they mark each of their dressings as gluten free or not, so I really rely on that, but I've also been able to tell fairly easily with some Newman's Own dressings (our favorite is the Raspberry Vinaigrette). If you're making your own fresh vegetables, there's never any question as to what's in them. Generally stay away from frozen veggies in sauces, as they usually use wheat as a thickener, but some are okay. Check labels, and call companies.
Then, with the leftover chicken meat, we love to make soup. I don't like to make my own stock, I guess I'm just lazy, so I use Herbox boullion for the broth of my soup. They say right on the container that they're gluten free. I like to use some vegetable broth and some chicken broth, just because I like to mix things up. Then I add celery, carrots, onions and the chicken. We used to love to do chicken and rice soup, which does work very well, but lately we've been more into chicken noodle soup. You can use any type of gluten free pasta for this. I've recently come upon the Schar brand, which is a European brand that makes really great pasta, and I like the Fusilli for my soup, but we also just use De Bole's rice spaghetti.
I also love to use the chicken to make tacquitos. I learned the recipe from my friend two years ago, and she learned it from her Mexican mother-in-law. It's authentic, it's easy, and it tastes great. You just pull out your corn tortillas, heat some vegetable oil on medium heat, fry the tortialls slightly until they're pliable, put a bit of shredded chicken right down the center, roll them up, place them back in the frying pan seam-down, and fry up till browned. Then, serve with whatever garnish you like. We love to dip ours in a mixture of sourcream and fresh salsa.

We also love simple pot roasts, beef and pork. A lot of pot roast recipes might tell you to dredge the meat before browning, but this is unnecessary, and you don't need to use flour to make the gravy, just cornstarch. Also, be sure to use a gluten free boullion, but this can be very simple to just modify your own favorite recipes.

I have neglected to mention Asian cuisine. We love Chinese food, but you need to be careful of the soy sauce you use, since most brands are made with wheat. La Choy is gluten free, and so are a lot of store brands. We really like Tamari sauce, made by San J, but sometimes tamari's that are gluten free can be hard to find. I even have my own knock off version of PF Chang's (wonderful gluten free menu if you're not aware) lemon chicken. I'll have to post it later. And, usually cornstarch is used as a thickener. Serve over rice, and you're good to go.

We've also recently become big fans of Thai food. Thai Kitchen, and many other brands, mark clearly which products are gluten free. We love to make curries with Thai Kitchen curry pastes, just using the recipes on the sides, which are gluten free. If spicy foods scare you, don't worry, when you make your own, you can make it as spicy or as mild as you want.

We also have a couple favorite steak recipes. One of which is as simple as you get. Take the steak, cover it in rock salt, then let it sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes (no more), put it on the grill and cook to your desired doneness. This gives it a really great saltiness and really tenderizes your meat so it's totally tasty.

In terms of side dishes, there are a lot of ways to mix up the basic rice and potatoes to not feel like you're always eating the same things. At first, we got really into risottos, adding asparagus or mushrooms or peppers to make it taste different. We also started varying the type of rice used, we love jasmine and basmati rice, and like to throw brown rice in sometimes. You can also add juices, broths, cocount milk, salsas, etc to your rice to flavor it differently. John loves mashed potatoes, but we also really like to mash sweet potatoes with some brown sugar, butter and pumpkin pie spice. I love those new microwave steamer bags and will cut up red potatoes, and all kinds of vegetables for an easy meal. If you're feeling ambitious, polenta can be a very tasty side as well, it just takes the right seasoning and some time to make it really good.

I hope this is at all helpful, but wanted to at least include it here for those of you not sure how to start cooking after the initial diagnosis, or for friends of celiacs who want to cook them a dinner from time to time. Good luck!


Mom with the best job in the world! said...

I was curious about you now eating more gluten free foods and not necessarily needing to... did either of you loose weight?

I am not a celiac but am considering going GF to loose weight. It does seem like a hard way to do it. I guess if loosing weight was easy everyone would look the way they want to.

John, Megan and girls said...

Eating gluten free actually helped John finally gain weight, on the diet he's put on 25 lbs so he's finally a healthy weight. I also gained weight at first when we shifted because it changed the way we ate so much. I don't eat gluten free all day, only when I'm eating what he will eat, because it's worth it to keep him healthy since he gets deathly ill if he has gluten. I've had to work really hard to lose weight, I run and I try to eat a lot of high fiber whole grains, that are not included in the gluten-free diet. I wouldn't recommend it for weight loss. We just do it for convenience and to help my husband stay gluten free. A lot of celiacs stay thin because they mostly eat fruits and vegetables because they're so much cheaper than other gluten free goods.
Good luck finding what's right for you.

Jasmine said...

Thank you so much for all the details you shared. I'm the mom of Emily's friend who was just diagnosed with DH. What you have written will be amazingly helpful. What you have written makes me excited about the journey we are embarking on.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your experiences. Looking forward to more :-)

Bunny Trails said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this! I am newly diagnosed with a non-gluten wheat allergy and struggling. This really helped. THANKS!