Hello readers! This is Robyn from What’s Cooking on Planet Byn. I’m guest blogging today to show you how easy it is to cook for your gluten-free (GF) friends, even when you don’t live or eat GF yourself.
I’ve been friends with Dr. Aoife for over 15 years, and we were in university when she first told me she wasn’t eating wheat/gluten anymore. I was practically traumatized on her behalf, because 21 year-old Byn just could not comprehend a life without bread! I remember going over to our friend Lydia’s house for a BBQ shortly thereafter and struggling to find a dessert to bring. She can’t have cake! She can’t have cookies! She can’t have pie! I think I just picked up some ice cream and called it a day. I’ve come so far since then.
What I want to talk about today is how easy it is to prepare food for your GF or celiac friends and loved ones. You don’t have to fret over what to cook for them when they come over. You don’t have to go to Whole Foods and empty your wallet for GF specialty items like breads and pastas. You don’t have to make them a separate meal. It’s actually easy to cook GF, even if you don’t live/eat GF and I’ll share my approach with you after the jump!
1. Stop, think, plan
My main strategy for cooking for my GF friends is to just stop and think first about what I want to make. Just because you’re feeding someone who doesn’t eat gluten doesn’t mean you have to buy GF items. (Side note: Not that they aren’t delicious — I’ve found that I actually like GF pasta better than whole wheat pasta). If you stop and think about it, so many delicious things you want to cook are naturally gluten free. As long as your friend isn’t also a vegetarian, start with a protein: beef, pork, chicken or any kind of seafood! Add a few sides — if you want something starchy, you can still go with potatoes and rice — there’s no gluten there. Then add some vegetables to round everything out! The key to a great GF meal (or any meal really) is planning ahead, as long as you…
2. Read the labels and recipes
This is where things can get tricky. You want to marinate your chicken with a seasoning packet you picked up at the grocery store? You want to dress your salad in a bottled dressing? Not so fast, you better read that label first! Many packaged items (think bottled sauces, marinades, seasoned rice packets etc.) contain gluten or will have a note that they “may contain wheat”. I like to just make my own dressings (shake up some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper) and sauces so I can control what goes into them. A couple of sneaky suspects are soy sauce and worcestershire sauce — both contain gluten. So what do I do if a recipe I want to make contains one of these items? Do I wander around Whole Foods looking for substitutes that cost $15 a bottle that I’ll never use again? No my friends, I just leave it out. Toss in some extra salt and garlic and move on with your life.
3. Hit up a farmer’s market
This isn’t really a GF specific cooking tip, but just a tip in general that I try to live by. If you cook with produce that’s in season, and can find fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables, you’re going to be a rock star in the kitchen! Right now we’re at the end of tomato and corn season, soon to transition into root vegetable season (butternut squash — my favourite!).
4. Watch out for flying flour
I’m not saying you have to scrub down your entire kitchen before starting to cook your GF meal, but use a little common sense. If you were baking with flour the day before (a common occurrence in my kitchen), make sure you wipe down all your counters, and wash the bowls and spoons you used very well before using them to prepare something GF. My co-worker Jill is celiac, and if she ingests even a little bit of flour, it’s game over for her digestive system. I always make sure my kitchen is a flour free zone before making something for her.
So now I’ll show you how I put my four rules into practice! I had a little faux BBQ last weekend (it’s faux because I live in a condo, and I don’t actually have a barbecue, but I don’t let that stop me!), and wanted my whole menu to be GF so Aoife could enjoy everything. First I decided that I wanted to make pulled pork in my slowcooker, with a couple of summery sides (Rule #1: Stop, think, plan). I printed out the recipes and carefully read through the ingredients to see if there were any GF warning signs: worcestershire sauce was included in the sauce for the pork, so I just left that one out (Rule #2: Read the labels and recipes). If you have any questions (i.e. is cider vinegar okay?) just confirm with your friend, as sometimes Google reveals inconsistent results. It’s better to ask, instead of adding something you’re not sure of, and then watching hives form at the dinner table! For my sides I made some coleslaw, leaving out the celery seed because the label said “may contain wheat” — no big deal! I also grabbed the most amazing tomatoes of the summer (I’m a huge tomato snob), sliced them up, spooned over an easy vinaigrette and sprinkled the whole thing with fresh cilantro (Rule #3: Hit up a farmer’s market). There wasn’t any flour flying around (Rule #4), so I was in the clear on that one. You can find another example of GF menu planning here, for a little party I had for my co-workers over the holidays.
This same approach can work for any type of menu planning, no matter who’s coming over (I also have a friend who’s a vegetarian and another one who’s lactose intolerant). I just go through the same steps, only substituting meat or dairy for wheat/gluten). I guess the main point I want to drive home is that you can pretty much cook anything you want, with a little extra thinking and planning up front, and your GF friend feels loved and included, and she doesn’t have to eat dry salad while everyone else is chowing down on something way more delicious!
I’ll be back soon with my approach to GF baking, because I have some strong views on xantham gum, and I know you can’t wait to hear them. I’ll also show you what we had for dessert at my faux BBQ because it was awesome!