Monday, November 19, 2012

Cooking for Gluten-Free Guests

Last night, I had dinner with my dad and some family friends. One of the friends had made the dessert, and she admitted she’d considered telling me the base was made of gluten-free biscuits when in fact it was made of Digestive Wheat Biscuits. While I was very thankful she did own up, and admit the food was gluten-packed in this case, I know very well she’s done similar things in the past and only admitted in when it’s far too late and I was already suffering the consequences of being glutened. 

For anyone else who’s considering lying about the content of their food – PLEASE don’t do this. It’s not about the person being picky, the consequences of eating food when you can’t safely do so are usually pretty hideous, and can even be life-threatening. Even if you think the person is exaggerating their allergy, are you willing to bet their life (and your friendship) on it? I know I for one would much rather be hungry than sick, so if the food's not allergy-friendly just let the person know.

In my case, Coeliacs Disease isn’t life-threatening, and this was not a case of the friend thinking I was exaggerating – she just didn’t really understand what Coeliac Disease is. After a quick explanation of the long and short term effects of it, I’m confident she won’t be doing this again.  

When you first get a diagnosis of Coeliac Disease, it can be kind of intimidating not knowing what to cook. Even more intimidating, figuring out what to make if you’re having guests over and they’re gluten-free but you’re not. I often get asked what my advice is for catering to gluten-free guests and these are my top tips. They may also be helpful coming up to the holidays if you’ve only recently been diagnosed.

1)    Whole food are often naturally gluten free, i.e. meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables – basically anything that’s pretty close to the state you would find in nature. Be careful of anything that comes in packets though, as these may have extra bits and pieces added. Always check labels!

2)   When thickening things like soups and sauces, you can easily sub rice flour, which is gluten free, in place of normal flour (again, check the labels to make sure.) I’d actually recommend doing this for sauces and soups even if you’re not gluten-free, as they come out smoother and freeze better.

3)    If you’re making a pasta dish, you can sub GF pasta for regular pasta pretty easily. They cook in about the same amount of time, and have a similar texture. Probably best to ask your guests for recommendations for brands, as these will vary from country to country. I always go for a brown rice pasta, rather than a white rice or corn one, as brown rice is a bit easier for sensitive tummy’s to process. When it comes to bread on the side of dishes – you can buy some gluten bread yourself, or ask your guest to bring a couple of slices with them. Most gluten free breads taste better when toasted or heated, so you may want to try that.

4)    Desserts: Creamy desserts are more likely to be gluten free. Recipes for custards, Panacottas, homemade ice creams, ambrosias – all those kinds of things – are often gluten-free already or can be easily converted. Many bought ice creams or frozen desserts are also gluten free, and will be labelled as such. Meringues and Pavlovas are also usually an option – just steer clear of the malt vinegar!

5)    If you want to convert a favourite cake, biscuit, or slice recipe, this is my method. It took much experimentation, but this does give results very similar in flavour and texture to the original recipe. So much so, that people often don’t realise it’s gluten free.

                  Cakes: Replace the flour with half ground almonds/half rice flour. Use a                                 gluten-free baking powder (most supermarkets stock this.)

                        Slices: Replace the flour with half ground almonds/half rice flour. Omit                                       the baking powder.

                        Biscuits: Replace the flour with one third ground almonds/one third 
                                          rice flour/one third corn flour. 

Of course, as always, check the labels of any other ingredients. Things like chocolate chips or vanilla essence may have gluten in them, but there will usually be at least one brand that doesn’t.

These tips only apply to gluten-free. If your guests are grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free, soy-free, or have other allergies, as well – you’ll need to check with them for details of what they can and can’t eat, or you may like to have a look at websites such as Allergy Free Alaska, or Against All Grain (there are lots of others but those two are my favourites.) If you’re not sure about a particular product, ask. I can’t tell you how many times someone has very kindly bought a gluten free product for me, only to discover it contains apple or cider vinegar and I’m allergic to apples. 

As always, this is not intended to be medical advice. If you’re not sure about anything, check with your health provider as they will be able to give you far better answers than I can.

If you have any other tips or question you’d like to share, feel free to add them in the comments.

Thanks for reading
Little Miss Autoimmune.

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