Twice in as many months, people have asked me for gluten-free advice. (Not that I generally cough wheat on people when I talk to them, but the advice was about switching to a gluten-free diet. Right.)

I decided to add a page to ye old bloge. Not that I have any ground-breaking recipes or anything, but I’ve been cooking gluten-free food for my son for a couple of years now, so I can share a bit of my experience. (I haven’t received any compensation, in the form of free goods or otherwise [you know, $] for any mention of certain products. But if a company decides to send me free stuff to test out, well, I’d certainly be happy to. I am a sucker for free stuff.)

I am going to give you the condensed version, since I don’t know where you are in the gf journey. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions if I don’t explain something thoroughly. So, first of all, I’d recommend reading a general “So you think you have celiac disease” type book. I read Gluten Free for Dummies and was quite impressed (since I vowed long ago to never read one of them–really, my intelligence is one of my few assets, so I can’t go around undermining that). Anyway, it gives a good overview and is easy to read. 

Instead of trying to find new recipes for everything, I’ve just ended up figuring out how to modify the recipes I was already using to work in a gluten-free diet. For instance, homemade macaroni and cheese–I use rice flour in my roux and gf macaroni. (We eat that at least once a week. My children are allergic to variety, unfortunately.) (And, actually, I make two pots of noodles because my girls are picky, and also because gf is expensive.) So, rice flour works well in a roux, but you can’t just use rice flour to make pancakes. Well, you could, but they would taste like sand. To do quick breads, you have to have a flour mix.

This is the mix I use:

1 part white rice flour

1 part brown rice flour

1/3 part tapioca starch

1/3 part potato starch (NOT flour–that’s different)

It’s a pretty basic mix, and works well for my purposes–those being getting Zack to eat. So it’s starchy and not very good for you (although the brown rice flour is a whole grain), but it tastes very similar to white flour in quick breads. Once you have your mix, you can use it cup for cup in your regular recipes.

The other thing you need to add is xantham gum. You find it in health food stores, either in the bulk spices section or in the Bob’s Red Mill section. I have a plastic container of it in my cupboard right next to my salt and baking powder. I’m not entirely sure exactly how it works, but during the cooking process it kind of glues all the flours together (like gluten does, usually) to make a smoother end product. It doesn’t change the way the dough tastes, though, so that will still taste grainy (if you are the type to eat the dough, like some [cough, cough] people). A general rule of thumb is to add 1/2 tsp. for every cup of flour in your recipe. In the above-mentioned book, she has a little chart that I use, but if I’m too lazy to drag it out I just go with the 1/2 tsp.

I haven’t experimented much with yeast breads from scratch. There are some pretty good mixes for bread–I just found one called Bread by Anna (I think) that is pretty good. Along with that, here are some of the brand-names that I like. I haven’t tried everything, because when we find something we like pretty well we usually just keep buying it. Still, gf stuff can get pricey, so this is at least a starting point.

Spaghetti, lasagna noodles, macaroni: Tinkyada. Good stuff. We’ve also used Bionaturae (? I think) and it’s pretty good. The quinoa kind (it’s in a turquoise box and is called “Quinoa”) is okay; edible, but not my first choice.

For pizza crust, I really like the Namaste mix. I also got a ready-made crust last week from Schar, and it was quite good–very chewy.

For basic crackers, like Ritz or saltines, Zack likes the Glutino brand. We’ve had the Nut Thins (Nabisco?), too, and I think they’re tasty, but he doesn’t like the ones that are really crunchy. He uses the Glutino for the sacrament.

We tried lots of different Ranch dressings. Most contain msg, which is gluten-free if it is from a domestic source. However, if it’s from a foreign source there is no guarantee that it’s gluten free. Easiest way to get around that (since it’s a pretty deep question, even for those trained to answer questions on the help line) is to find one that doesn’t have msg. Zack has crowned Ken’s Ranch the gf Ranch king.

I’ve been converted to Pamela’s Baking Mix for pancakes. I still prefer waffles from scratch, but the pancakes from her mix have a whole-grain taste that is nice.

Betty Crocker has some new dessert mixes out–cookies and cakes–that are REALLY good. Now, you might buy them and think, “But this just tastes like a cake mix.” If you’ve had some other gf mixes, though, that are sweetened with cane juice or whatever, you can definitely appreciate the food scientists at General Mills for their work. Another bonus is you can buy these at any grocery store. They’re shelved with all the other cake mixes on the baking aisle.

Most gluten-free items you have to get at either health food stores or in a store like Fred Meyer that has a large health food section in it.

Another thing that is nice is that Rice Chex and Corn Chex are now certified gluten-free. You can use these in recipes that ask for Rice Krispies or corn flakes. I’ve also used them to bread chicken nuggets and stuff like that.

One thing (which is kind of random, but it didn’t fit into the stuff above) is to beware of brown rice flour–it goes rancid quickly after it has been cooked. When I first read that, I thought, “How will I know?” Believe me, though–you’ll know. 

Another concern is eating out. You’ll need to research and ask lots of questions, especially when it comes to fast food which is so amalgamated gluten is slipped in easily. Most fast food websites have pages with allergen information. Two types of cuisine that are generally low on the gluten scale are Mexican and Thai. (Beware of soy sauce! It contains wheat.)

Be sure to check out my friend Michele’s blog, The Wheat-free Life. I have known Michele for years–way before celiac entered our personal picture–and I know from experience that she is an amazing cook. She makes it look easy.

Here’s one of my favorite modified recipes, taken from The Pampered Chef Classics cookbook originally:

Lil’ Citrus Muffins (gf muffins taste great!)

1 cup gluten-free flour mix

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. xantham gum

1/4 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 orange

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/4 cup sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 375. Spray cups of mini muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper liners. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xantham gum in a 1-qt. bowl; mix well. In 2-qt. bowl, beat 1/4 cup softened butter and 2/3 cup sugar until creamy. Add egg; beat until smooth. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Using a zester or small grater, use short strokes to get about 2 tsp. orange zest. Stir zest into batter. Add flour mixture; mix well. Drop rounded scoops of batter into muffin cups, filling each cup 3/4 full. Bake 12-13 minutes or until light golden brown. Do not overbake. Cool in pan 3 minutes; remove from pan. While warm, dip tops of muffins into melted butter then in sugar, if desired.

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