Wednesday, May 1, 2013

All about gluten free

As I get asked quite frequently about getting started going gluten free and since May is officially the gluten free month, I decided to write up a quick reference guide/post thingy that hopefully will help answer any questions you might have about eating and cooking gluten free. I will most likely be updating this blog quite frequently as I get new information or find new tools on the web.

To start.....going gluten free is actually very easy. Cut out the processed foods and go back to whole foods. Namely, meats, vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, nuts, and gluten free grains. Most of gluten will lie in processed foods like bread, cookies, crackers, sauces, frozen dinners, boxed meals (hamburger helper anyone?). So if you are nervous about completely changing your eating lifestyle or are so confused with gluten free and it's flour blends, weird grains, xanthan gum, ect.....take a deep breath and realize, that you can still eat and eat well just by shopping around the EDGES of the grocery store. Seriously, that is where you will find the food that is NATURALLY gluten free. It's the isles of the store where most of the food containing gluten lies.

Now that you have an idea of where to start.....lets talk about food ingredients that are taboo. That will help you on your way to learning to read labels and knowing exactly what you are putting into your body. Prepare to become a label reading Nazi. Basically, to avoid gluten you will need to cut out wheat, barley, and rye. Now.....here is the thing about oats. Oats are NATURALLY gluten free, BUT are cross contaminated VERY easily. They can even pick up gluten from the fields they are grown in. So unless the package states Certified Gluten free, do not consume. Here is a wonderful link that lists everything to steer clear from:Unsafe Foods List. It's a wonderful quick reference to all ingredients that would contain gluten. If you have a smart phone, put it as one of your favorites so you can reference it quickly while on the go. Now, my blog is a gluten free AND corn free blog as I am intolerant to corn and it affects me much as gluten does. The good news is, corn IS gluten free AND is very versatile. So by all means, enjoy your nachos, corn tortillas, polenta, and good ol corn on the cob :)

Next is how and where to eat out. Most restaurants are wanting to capitalize on the "gluten free movement" so you will be able to find many places will offer choices that he can eat. There is a great app you can get called FindMeGlutenFree. It searches using the gps location function on your phone to search for all fast food joints and restaurants that offer gluten free options or a gluten free menu. It also has user's comments which is great because some places that state that they offer gluten free, may either have a pitiful selection or the food was cross contaminated by an uneducated staff. Even though this app works wonderfully and I use it weekly, I still find it's best to call ahead to an establishment to verify IF they offer gluten free and what are the menu items/options.

Speaking of cross contamination.....it is imperative to be super duper uber careful if you are celiac or gluten intolerant. The littlest spec of gluten will make you sick and if you are celiac, throw your body into an auto-immune reaction. You will need to have your own toaster, condiments (mayo, peanut butter, butter, ect) as it is SO easy to contaminate jars if there is still normal bread in the house. This is how easy it is to cc (cross contaminate).....you use a butter knife to spread some jam on a roll or bread of the regular gluten filled variety, then stick it back in the jar to get a bit more and BAM! It's been contaminated and is no longer safe for us anti-glutites. For more tips and information on avoiding cc in your home and kitchen please visit this link: Avoiding Cross Contamination

Next on the list are gluten free flours and baking. Now, I do not doubt that even the thought of gluten free eating is scary, let alone being overwhelmed with the plethora of flours, flour blends, and gums. So I will try to explain things simply so you have a better understanding of gluten free flours, why we use blends, and the need for gums like xanthan or guar. Gluten is a binding protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. If you have ever made bread or watched someone make it, you can see the strands of gluten when kneading your dough. It's what creates those lovely little fluffy bubbles in your bread and holds all of your baked items together. Now, unfortunately when you bake gluten free, there is no more bind. That is where xanthan gum or guar gum come in. In the correct ratio's, it will replace the gluten's binding and will help your baked goods stay together. Here is a "rule of thumb" ratio on different types of baked goods:

Bread and pizza dough recipes: Add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour used in bread and pizza dough recipes
 
Cake, muffin and quick bread recipes: Add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum per one cup of gluten-free flour used
 
Cookie and bar recipes: Add 1/2 teaspoon (or less) xanthan gum or guar gum per one cup gluten-free flour used 
 
Now, as for gluten free flours. Unfortunately there is not one gluten free flour that can be used as a cup for cup replacement with regular all purpose flour. You will need to have a combination of flours to mimic the protein and starch that regular flour contains. I'm sure it's overwhelming when you start seeing flours like sorghum, teff, millet, bean, sweet rice, tapioca starch. The good news is that many wonderful gluten free bakers and bloggers have come up with wonderful gluten free flour blends that are premade AND can contain the proper flour/gum ratio and will measure cup for cup with regular flour. So the guess work is taken out and you can bake pretty much ANY recipe out there just by using your gluten free all purpose flour blend. So don't toss out your good ol' Betty Crocker cookbook, keep it and keep using your recipes JUST like you would with normal flour. The drawback to premade gluten free flour blends is that they are expensive. By being a stay at home mom, I have needed to learn how to pinch my pennies. I have found the most cost effective way to feed me and my family is to just make everything from scratch. I buy my gluten free flours in bulk and keep them in containers in my spare freezer. The reason I keep them frozen is that some flours like brown rice flour has a very short shelf life. By keeping it frozen, I can extend my use of it by MONTHS. I buy my flours at two different places. First being Winco and second at the Asian store. Most Asian stores will have potato starch, tapioca starch, and both sweet and white rice flour. Winco is awesome because I can buy my xanthan gum, brown rice flour, tapioca starch all in their bulk section. Another wonderful thing about Winco is that they offer gluten free noodles, granola, oats, quinoa, and many different types of rice in their bulk saving you TONS. I can get a pound of gluten free noodles for $2 vs. $7 at a health food store. All I am paying for is pretty packaging which will just be tossed in the trash anyway. Next is a little list of flours that I have found to work wonderfully with cooking:
 
Sweet rice (otherwise known as glutinous rice) works wonderfully with creating white sauces and gravies. It will make a nice thick cream soup or make divine gravy. It is very finely ground and will not have a grainy texture
 
Bob's red mill gluten free flour blend is great for making roux for gumbo's as it has a hearty rich flavor. It also works well with baked goods, just don't taste the batter before it's baked, you will have a bitter batter that is not so pleasing to the palate haha!
 
Corn starch works great as a thickening agent to create glazes or sauces like sweet and sour chicken sauce. If you are intolerant to corn, then arrowroot starch or tapioca starch work well as a substitute.
 
There are many wonderful blogs and websites that feature gluten free cooking and baking. I try to keep mine updated, but unfortunately life gets ahold of me and I can get pretty busy. Here are some of my "go to" places when I need inspiration in the kitchen:
 
Gluten Free Homemaker not only does she offer family friendly gluten free recipes, but she hosts a gluten free Wednesday where other bloggers can showcase their recipes.
 
Fave Gluten Free Recipes this website ROCKS! Everything listed is gluten free and there are TONS of recipes to pick from :)
 
Jules Gluten Free blog is wonderful! She offers a great gluten free flour blend with lots of yummy treats and baked goods recipes.
 
Hopefully you can feel a little more confident in delving into the world of gluten free. Please feel free to ask any questions you might have. I will be updating this post periodically as new information comes my way or I learn new tricks to the gf trade.
 
Jill - The Pink Cowgirl
 
 
 

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