Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gluten-Free Holiday Ideas

Gluten-free stuffing, made by my mother-in-law with quinoa instead of bread

I am often asked, "How on earth do you do a gluten-free Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter/any holiday meal?"

I find cooking gluten-free holiday food to be even easier than usual cooking.  One of my biggest suggestions for friends going gluten-free for the first time is to start by eating foods they love that are naturally gluten-free.  Have scrambled eggs and fruit for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, tortilla chips and salsa for snack, steak and a baked potato for dinner, and a bowl of ice-cream for dessert.  Easy-peasy!  Does that look like a day of food that will leave you feeling "deprived?"  Nope!  Big holiday meals are similar.  Turkey?  Gluten-free.  Mashed potatoes?  Gluten-free.  Roasted veggies?  Gluten-free.  Cranberry sauce?  Gluten-free.  

I know, though.  It gets really tricky when you get down to the nitty-gritty with rolls, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie.  So here are a few ideas and tips to help if you need to have a gluten-free holiday.

1.  Pay attention to details.

If you are making gluten-free food for yourself or a loved one, you need to check the labels.  Ham, for example is gluten-free in and of itself, but often the glaze packets that come with them have flour in them.  My favorite alternative glaze for ham is brown sugar mixed into Grey Poupon dijion mustard.  (I add the sugar by tablespoons until it tastes right to me, and add a little water if it's too thick.)  Pay attention to your spices, too.  McCormick brand plain spices are gluten-free, but you need to watch it with off-brands or with pre-mixed seasoning packets.

2.  Gravy

This one is easy!  As long as you know your spices are ok, make your gravy just like usual, but thicken it with cornstarch or sweet rice flour instead of regular flour.  Sweet rice flour is actually often used by top chefs for thickening gravies and sauces and making roux because it makes for a much a smoother sauce and you can't get that pasty taste that flour can add.

3.  Stuffing

It can get really pricey to make gluten-free stuffing with gluten-free bread.  You would probably need about 3 loaves for enough stuffing to serve 10.  Since gluten-free bread can be as much as $7 a loaf, you're talking 20 bucks just for stuffing.  Yikes!  Instead, you can make your usual stuffing recipe but use wild rice or quinoa instead of bread.  If you really want to use bread, I recommend this one.  It makes a terrible sandwich bread, but my whole family agreed (gluten eaters and non-gluten eaters alike) that it made the best stuffing we'd ever had.  Just keep an eye on the liquid; gluten-free bread soaks it up more than regular bread, so you will probably need to about double the chicken broth in your recipe.

4.  Casseroles

I know a lot of people love and adore a classic green bean casserole or something similar at a holiday meal.  My family usually has creamed kale instead (I adore this recipe, although I add cheese to mine).  You can also try scalloped potatoes (remember to thicken with cornstarch or rice flour).  If you really want a casserole, try this one by Pioneer Woman.  It's essentially just green beans with white bechamel sauce.  You can sprinkle the top with tortilla chips or even (gasp!) potato chips.  There are also several brands of gluten-free cream of mushroom soups out there, or you can make your own.     

5.  Rolls

Honestly, do you need them?  Why fill up on bread when you've got all this other yummy stuff?  Skip 'em and save the calories for the bacon you mixed into your brussel sprouts.  

6.  Dessert

My mom invested in a chocolate fountain a few years back and our family has never looked back.  Fresh fruit and nuts and chocolate?  Way to make a statement!  For pies and such, I find adore Whole Foods brand gluten-free pie crusts.  Expensive, but worth it.  You can also skip the crusts and do baked apples over ice-cream, or make pumpkin pie filling as usually but bake it crustless like a pudding.  If you want a crust, these gluten-free graham crackers make an amazing substitute for a graham cracker crust, or you could just crush them and sprinkle over the pumpkin pie "pudding."  All those Betty Crocker gluten-free mixes make it easy for everyone to bake gluten-free.  (The brownies are great!)  Just remember to bake anything gluten-free for a little less time than the box or recipes calls for or it will get too dry.

Seriously, the recipes and ideas out there are endless.  The moral of the story?  Don't panic!  Being gluten-free is really, truly, seriously easier than you think and way better for everyone's health.  Focus on whole, natural foods you already love and try to avoid too much gluten-free processed carbohydrate stuff.  (They might not have wheat, but they usually call for more fat than a wheat-flour recipe and all of the starches and sugar aren't good for your blood sugar.)  A little extra thought (and love) in your food goes a long way!

This photo doesn't have anything to do with anything,
I just think Sweet Pea looks like a pilgrim.

*No, this post isn't sponsored.  I just wanted to share some ideas and suggestions!               

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