Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gluten Free Basics

Going gluten free is pretty easy these days. There have been many trailblazers that have made it that way for those of us that would come after. For that I am thankful. The problems arise because now there is SO much information and weeding through it is laborious, frustrating, and difficult. There are thousands of recipes and mixes for sandwich bread, for example. Who wants to try a thousand recipes to find one or two good ones? For all the cookbooks out there, I have tried many a "loser" recipe. Chalky, crumbly, desserts that taste, well... gluten free! Our family has the added challenge of also being dairy free and egg free. Egg free baking is, above all the other restrictions, tricky. There are good gluten free flour mixes and rice, almond, and coconut milk all work fine in recipes, but egg replacer is NO replacement for eggs!

Dinner is easy to handle gluten free, but breakfasts and lunches are the more challenging meals of the day. And desserts.....oh, what it the hardest part about going gluten free....DESSERTS!

I have a few suggestions for those of you that have asked me recently for some recipes to help you get started on the journey. You don't need a thousand bread recipes. You need one REALLY GOOD one.

My first suggestion is that if you are just thinking about trying a gluten free diet for 30 days to see if it helps what ails you, double your food budget for the month, go to Fred Meyers or your local health food store, and just buy pre-made gluten free items. It is too much work to build up a gluten free pantry if you are not going to go on a permanent gluten free diet. There is enough out there to get you through a month to see if you start feeling better. My only warning is that the pre-made gluten free products are pretty bad compared to a good homemade cookie or muffin or slice of bread. Don't think that the food you have eaten from the store is representative of how you'll have to live if you decide to stick to the diet.

If you have decided you want to wade in a little deeper and commit to cooking and baking gluten free, go straight to Azure Standard. This is a health food co-op that sells the flours and things you need for your gluten free cooking at a much cheaper price than local stores (unless you have a Trader Joes nearby, and if you do, I am really jealous! I buy $100 of rice noodles there whenever I am near one because they are the cheapest you can find at $2/lb) There is a drop off point in Kennewick if you are interested in purchasing.

If you can have eggs, your journey will be alot easier. Your baked good will have good lift and texture with most recipes out there. We are egg-free, so that is what I am going to focus on in this post. The only book you need for gluten, egg and dairy free baking is The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook. This book CHANGED MY LIFE! Okay, that is a bit melodramatic, but to own a cookbook where EVERY recipe I try is fantastic, could make me tear up a little bit! My only gripe about the cookbook is that you have to follow her directions EXACTLY. I am not much a a recipe follower, but I have tried doing the dump everything together and mix it up, and the results were not very good. Buy her book and follow her every command. It is worth it! The nice thing about her recipes is that the desserts use a rice/potato starch/tapioca mix that is easy to find and keep on hand, and the ingredient list isn't 10 miles long. I can't sing her praises enough!

My next suggestion is subscribe to The Gluten Free Goddess Blog. She is gluten, egg, and dairy free as well, although she does throw in how many eggs you can use if you can use them :) I did not care for her sandwich bread, but I have had good results with many of her muffin and dessert recipes. (I still like my GF Cookbook better though!) Karina, the gluten free goddess, had a killer zucchini bread recipe this summer!

Most of my bread recipes (sandwich bread, french bread, hamburger buns, pizza crust, graham crackers) are adapted from Bette Hagman. She is the pioneer of gluten free cooking, but most of her recipes contain eggs and her desserts I have tried aren't very good. I have my bread recipes saved in a pdf file that I can send you if you are interested. You can leave your email in the comments.

My final tip for those of you that stick with this and turn "hard core" in the pursuit of nutrition and health is the book, Nourishing Traditions. I have many health issues due to years of eating gluten, and this book has helped me to understand how I got to where I am now and what to do about it. Just to let you know, following the suggestions in this book will take alot more time and energy, so if you don't have that, don't bother with it. I now soak my flours in homemade coconut milk yogurt, soak my nuts for easier digestion and make my own bone broths.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so feel free to ask any questions you might have.