Learning to Cook - A Celiac Disease Essential Guide
Is your New Year's resolution to eat less packaged foods? Well if so, then you're in luck because I'm about to share my favorite tips and videos for home cooking!
Going gluten free forces many people to cook regularly for the first time. Even if you believe that you can't boil water, there are some strategies you can use to learn to make yourself safe, gluten free food at home. And it will be better than what you find in restaurants anyway. Need another reason? Celiac is a disease that makes it hard for a body to absorb nutrients. Even people without Celiac disease are often deficient in vitamins. Fresh homemade foods are the best way to ensure you're getting optimum nutrition for healing or general health.
As a GF cook, you will need to get hip on how to travel with your own meals, where to safely heat up your food, how to safely use a shared kitchen, and many other strategies that the average cook doesn't need to worry about. I'm not sure I can cover all aspects of all of those things in one post, so I will limit this one to just cooking techniques I consider essential, and follow with a collection of videos that may help you.
So how does one learn to cook?
One good place to start is a free trial of the NY Times Cooking website. They give you 28 days for free, then you have to subscribe (so pick your time wisely). My suggestion is to go to their cooking basics page and target holiday cooking. I know that sounds complex, but actually it will teach the most important basic of all: that one food will have by-products that are used to make another food. A perfect example is the use of drippings to create gravy.
The downside is that NYT Cooking is not necessarily gluten free. You will have to convert recipes to gluten free whenever you see wheat, barley or rye ingredients, and if you see oat ingredients, you'll need to use Purity Protocol oats. This goes for anything where the ingredient listed is "flour" (such as roux or gravy), and for things like oatmeal cookies. However, they do a great job with recipes many people love.
When learning to cook, it's important to not be trying too hard to fit your diet into any unnecessary categories. Your gluten free diet will be for life. So don't go radically cutting out foods that don't contain gluten until you're comfortable with your skills. In other words, if you don't know how to cook yet, then going "Macrobiotic" or "Keto" right now might be overkill until you learn how to cook first. Those are both excellent healthful diets, in my opinion, but wait until later. The first priority is to learn how to make your favorite foods.
When I was younger and fitter I dabbled at giving dinner parties, just like my mom did. I only gave a couple, but they were well received. I can't compare to some of the best hosts I've ever known, but I can make someone feel welcome, and that's important to me. It naturally leads to people asking how I learned to cook. Of course, it was by osmosis from my mother. But that doesn't help anyone else.
So, when people have asked me how to learn to cook I say, "Buy the Fannie Farmer Cookbook first" and then convert the recipes via online advice as you need to. You can go through a basic book like Fannie Farmer (makes everything from scratch) or the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (uses more canned foods and mixes), and use it as a guide to learn how to cook something from each category. I know it sounds a bit boring, but you'll be surprised how interesting it is. Once again, these books are not gluten free, therefore, you will need to convert all recipes.
So, for example, Fannie Farmer has a gravy recipe. It uses roux (flour and oil, pan fried together, then mixed with a flavorful liquid to form a sauce). Roux uses flour that comes from wheat. But it doesn't require the gluten in the wheat (the way breads do). You can find many online recipes for gluten free roux. I consider it to be one of the most important milestones in learning to cook. With it, you can make a cream sauce that will knock your socks off.
Purely Gluten Free Cookbooks also exist of course. Here's a list from another blog that focuses on good health as well as gluten free.
Also, many people prefer to cook in the least complicated way because they are busy or they are traveling. If you prefer to look for cooking shortcuts, there are some tips in a previous article. This article is long-form cooking, the kind mom or grandma cooked, only gluten free.
I first fell in love with Gluten Free for Good because of its positive message of bringing everyone together to the same table. The author isn't a Celiac, but she was concerned about her friends becoming socially isolated, so she learned to cook for them. To do so with someone who does have Celiac is much more complicated than she says in the book, because of cross contamination, but with care and kindness, it can be done. Her message is a powerful one that we should listen to.
The foundations of gluten free baking are probably best expressed in the two volume series, How Can It Be Gluten Free 1 and 2. Although they discuss the properties of bean flours, and how the proteins in them can substitute for gluten, their recipes do not use it. Each recipe uses xanthan gum, so if you're sensitive to it (like I am), you may need to adjust their recipes. If you need to adjust to remove xanthan gum, the simplest is to use guar gum instead. But if even that bothers you, then look into black gram (available in Indian food stores) or chickpea flour, as additives to typical rice-tapioca flour. More GF flour tips.
Another skill you will be learning as you learn to cook is knife skills. It's perhaps the hardest of the skills because it takes so much practice to become fast. There's a basic video for knife skills here. But there is a more comprehensive guide to the various finished cuts here. Put in a bit of practice a few times a week and don't be afraid to try a new cut. Knife skills are an area where many chefs have very strong feelings about what parts of a food you should and should not eat. For instance I believe you should cross cut the fibrous center of ginger, while many chefs think you should cut out the fibrous center. Knife skills are one area of cooking that has a lot of dogma.
Dinner - Something New Every Night
Here's a suggestion for how to get started cooking. Pick a week that you know will not include special events like a wedding, a children's dance recital, or extra work shifts. Then buy a piece of roasting meat, some gluten free pasta, some gluten free flour, some cheese or cream that's safe for you, and some vegetables that you like as side dishes. Then follow along:
1. Learning to make a basic roux based sauce such as cream sauce - Roux + Bechamel (cream sauce) + Gluten free pasta (for instance Jovial's Egg Pasta) Some people might enjoy making their own pasta, and it can be much cheaper to do so. However, it's a lot of work, so save it for a weekend. Now you can use your roux skills for gravy or gluten free mac and cheese. There are Southern variations, and even dairy free green mac and cheese (please be careful to use GF nutritional yeast). Roux is the gateway to a lot of comfort foods, but it isn't always required (notice the Southern one doesn't use it?).
Dinner #1 -- Any casserole made with roux, such as green mac and cheese.
2. Once you have roux under your belt, roast a turkey or just a turkey breast, save the drippings, and make gravy with it. If roasting only a turkey breast, you may want to brine it, and add some water to the roasting pan, so the drippings don't burn. This is a fancy brine recipe, but you can use just salt and water. Beware of any turkey products that have added liquids, they may have gluten in them. Look for a straight-up whole or partial turkey to roast. This is not only a good skill for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but as you will see, it can lead to much more. NOTE: Refrigerate the cooked skin for later.
As soon as the turkey is done roasting, let it rest, then move it to a carving platter and recover the drippings for gravy. Another GF gravy recipe is here. Many recipes tell you to skim the fat from the gravy then make roux with butter then add the skimmed drippings to the roux. This seems illogical to me. Why remove fat and then add fat? I guess if the fat burned in the oven, then it makes sense. I take precautions to make sure it doesn't burn, I add a little extra broth to the pan, so I use the fat on the strained drippings to make the roux.
3. Choose a couple of side dishes you like (green beans? rice pilaf? baked potato? mashed squash? sweet potatoes?), seek out the best recipes for them and convert to gluten free if needed. Note that some of the side dishes might go well as a vegetable boost to the cream sauce in #1. For instance, sweet potato cream sauce is pure divinity and not available in restaurants, only your own kitchen.
Dinner #2 --Roasted meat, gravy and a few sides, fit for a small holiday meal.
4. Slice about 1/3 to 1/2 the leftovers thin enough to make sandwiches, or turn them into "turkey salad" with either home made or store bought Mirepoix mix (onions, carrots, celery). In the South we also like Trinity mix (onions, celery, green pepper), add whichever you like best and in this case, there's no need to cook it first. Either way you'll need to buy or make mayo and mustard, based on your preference. Add a few slices of tomato and a few lettuce leaves and you have a sandwich.
Sandwiches, with leftover sides or gluten free chips and pickle. Alternatively, a local market sells GF pita bread (frozen) so you don't even have to buy expensive bread.
Dinner #3 -- Turkey salad sandwich with fixin's.
5. If you have enough to use two cups of diced turkey today, then you can do a night or two of stir-fry. Just add the turkey to the pan with some chopped veggies, or a bag of frozen "Asian mix" (watch out for not GF mushrooms though!), or cauliflower, and stir fry. Cover the pan until it steams, then uncover and stir fry until it gets some color.
Dinner #4 -- Stir-fry from leftover turkey and seasonal veggies.
6. Whatever's left, hopefully 2 cups or more, cut it chunky, add it to a crock pot with broth and any leftovers you still have. Add some fresh root veggies, perhaps some okra, also cut chunky, include any leftover gravy and the skin you saved, a splash of citrus juice (such as lime), a few pieces of seaweed (for minerals), and in 4-8 hours, you have a comforting stew.
Turkey stew (or soup), dinner #5.
A note on soups: many people are thrown by soup, who are otherwise good cooks. Here are some principles I use to make sure every soup I make is delicious, not watery and flavorless. First, I choose either, a strong broth that comes from lots of bones with joints and skin, or I choose to make a roux or other thickener to ensure that the soup feels substantial in the mouth. Soup shouldn't feel like flavored water, but more like a silky thin sauce. Second, I roast or pan-sear, any ingredients that roast well, such as meat or bones, vegetables, or in the very least one quarter of an onion.A common way to begin a tasty soup is to make mirepoix (or trinity) first, by sauteing chopped carrots, celery and onions, then add some gluten free flour and toast it in the oil and vegetables, then add liquid and other ingredients. That would be a roux soup. The flavor of roux, I think, is essential to ensure a tasty vegetable soup, even a cream soup. If you cook pasta for the soup, do it in a separate pot with salted water. Then refrigerate it separately so the soup doesn't make it mushy. This works for dumplings too.
7. If there's any left after all that, you can chop the rest fine, and make it part of a spaghetti dinner, to enrich the sauce. Here's an easy one dish recipe for spaghetti that's much less fussy (below).
Spaghetti night dinner #6.
See how that works? One thing becomes part of the next thing... Although I said #1,2,3.. what I usually do is stretch it so the turkey lasts all week, or at least 5 days, then I take a day to make something like a meal salad (Cobb salad is a good one), on the day I shop for next week's meals. You can skip one of these and still have enough ideas to make something new every day, from one purchase of meat. This can help with budgeting since larger cuts of meat are cheaper per pound.
You can keep this up indefinitely. You can switch to beef roast, pork roast, or lamb roast, depending on what your culture prefers or requires. This method works for each one. This is how mom magically made something different each night but only shopped weekly. Once you get good at this, try two roasts, one done on Sunday perhaps, and the next on Tuesday. By staggering the meats, you can use your freezer to store up meals and have them ready to heat and serve on days when you are running too fast to cook.
I started off with Turkey because it causes a huge leftover crisis for many people at Thanksgiving and around the Holidays, you can often find organic turkey in Harris Teeter and other regular supermarkets. For some reason organic turkey is harder to find at Earthfare or Whole Foods locally. You generally have to order it and I'm not always together enough to remember to do so. So check your regular supermarket for organic turkey during the holidays.
Any of these can be brought to work in containers as long as you are careful about how you reheat them. You might want to bring your own bowls if you use a shared microwave, and if you're unsure about the health of the paper towels, bring your own bowl cover too. A little extra cleaning and space in your bag can save you from hunger if you can't find anything safe locally.
Change ups, Eggs, Fish, Liver, Shellfish, Oysters
The above will seem routine after a while, and not difficult at all, but it can develop too much same-ness. Not only is it good nutrition practice to change up your meals, it helps keep things interesting. Some people really don't like some of these foods, so start with the ones you do like. Learn to make just one or two dishes you love before stretching for unusual ingredients.
Dinner worthy eggs.
Carb-conscious spaghetti squash.
Trendy pork belly ramen with kelp noodles.
Tiny sea monsters, errr, shrimp. (show your kids, hehe)
Melt in your mouth fish.
Guests-worthy roast duck. (Don't forget to save the duck fat, yum!)
People sometimes miss fried foods because they're unsafe in restaurants. So if you choose to make fried food at home, you'll want to view this video that showcases some basic skills for frying at https://youtu.be/2NPQxxH3F84
At some point, you might want to bake some bread, if so, you might want to have this list of 10 bread recipes without xanthan gum. Many websites treat it as if it's essential to bread baking in gluten free, and it's not. If you want to just make some simple breads to begin with, make Oopsie bread or any flatbread that you enjoy (see videos below). Pitas are easy to make gluten free, as are tortillas.
If you want to bake a loaf style bread, you might consider buying a bread machine. Not having to haul out, clean and put away a heavy stand mixer is worth the price. I used to bake bread and never use a mixer for kneading the dough because I didn't want the hassle. If I were doing that every day, and not just once in a while, for special, then I'd buy a bread machine.
Low energy for the holidays? Staying home? Consider turkey loaf for a low-work, yet very nutritious alternative to the usual roast. Meyhem Lauren's really fun to watch, and makes me feel at home, like I'm hanging out with a friend I might've met in younger days.
Breakfast of Champions
Here are some ideas for both ordinary and unusual breakfasts. It's important for children especially, to get protein in their breakfast. And not just a bit of protein, but a decent amount, at least 15 to 20 grams. It's important to help them pay attention in school and not be terribly hungry before lunch.The same is true for adults, a high protein breakfast helps us stay focused and less hungry.
Soothing Savory Porridge
- I developed a taste for Porridge and Sausage mixture with vegetables instead of cheese. It feels primeval and cozy to eat it. I can almost hear a crackling campfire.
- A similar food is Congee with eggs - this is one of my favorites.
Purity Protocol Oatmeal (sweet hot cereal)
- If you haven't heard of PP Oats, it's an important thing to google if you're Celiac. Additions for a meal-bowl of oatmeal can include milk, butter, sausage and/or bacon, or it can be limited to a side dish and have sweeteners of your choice. Here's a high protein, Celiac safe oatmeal you can consider: https://www.montanaglutenfree.com/shop/product/organic-gluten-free-raw-oatmeal/
- If you can't find any PP Oats, or can't afford it, then the safest thing to do is use a hot cereal made from something else. I like Buckwheat Grits for that (not Kasha, which is cut too large). But plain hominy grits are an excellent choice too. For nutrition and fiber, I add ground flax seeds to mine. Ground chia seeds are a good choice too.
I highly recommend Pocono Buckwheat products if you can't tolerate oats (up to an estimated 10% of Celiacs may be sensitive to avenin, the prolamin found in oats, so you're not imagining it). This is why I like Pocono specifically. Pocono is not an affiliate. I have no sponsors, affiliates or ads. But this product has been reliable in my life since the 1980s when it was only in "natural food stores." It's a goody.
- Eggs,made in your favorite way.
- Frittatas can be large enough to slice and keep for another day, speeding up your morning.
- Make friends with poached eggs, it's a skill worth developing, but this link is the 'easy way' to do it. Until you've tasted the incredible creamy texture, you won't think it's worth the effort.
- Waffles, pancakes, pastries, etc, an archive of breakfast recipes!
- Pumpkin or other squash pudding is a surprisingly satisfying breakfast, and it hides a bit of silken tofu in it perfectly, while increasing the protein content. If you don't do soy, then I guess any protein powder you like or some eggs would work. Squashes are a great source of Vitamin A too!
- Gluten free rice or sugar free tapioca pudding can help sweeten and speed up a morning.
Bowls and Smoothies
- Breakfast bowls are a new idea I hadn't thought of before. A cousin of smoothies, they can really be a pick me up. Remember the daily kale smoothie we all drank a few years ago? Still a good idea too!
- Soup is a nourishing breakfast if you can develop the habit. The Japanese already do this with miso soup in the morning. You can use an Asian theme if it's more comfortable at first, (perhaps Pho?) but it's not wrong to have a basic chicken and rice soup for breakfast. In fact, it's very right, if you're trying to avoid sugar.
- There are many cold cereals out there that are Gluten Free. I think the ones with amaranth are perhaps the best. When cereal is what you're craving, thankfully there are organic GF brands in abundance, such as this one (my fave).
- If you're dairy free, you might want to consider whether soy milk is OK for you. If so, then I like Edensoy's plain soy milk best. Earthfare has it locally. But watch out, it's really fresh, and goes bad in a week or two, just like cow's milk. Check out the ingredients on it - that's what I call, least processed!
- Westsoy also makes a two ingredient soy milk (soybeans and water), but it is thinner. I'll use it in a pinch though. Obviously if soy is not good for you, then you will need to go with another non dairy milk. Just watch out for the ones with tons of ingredients. Keep in mind those extra ingredients are not needed or healthy, and hint at over-processing.
As if it's possible to have a low guilt dessert, right? Well some desserts are a bit more nutritious or low sugar than others.
I would warn you against too much use of fake sweeteners though. I don't think that any sweetener really saves you much in calories when you calculate it cup for cup. And when you bake cookies, you use a cup of sugar when you cream the butter, right? So when you use something like cup for cup sweetener of whatever kind, the fillers in it outweigh the sweetener, and the calories add up, nearly back to the sugar level. So just avoid it, use real sugar and eat sweets in moderation, or not at all, OK?
Liquid stevia is an exception to this, but even that one, I think it's better to use it in combination with a bit of real sugar so the body isn't fooled into lowering your blood sugar by the taste of sweetness.
Blueberry Muffin Mug Cake (Stevia sweetened)
Consider making a nutritious carrot halwa, rice pudding, or egg custard for dessert:
Carrot Halwa (Carrot Fudge)
Vegan Rice Pudding (contains soy)
Old Fashioned Baked Custard
Exploring Cooking Videos
Here's a selection of Youtube videos you can start with to help you learn to cook. I think these are very helpful and I wish I had Youtube when I was young and wishing I'd paid more attention to mom.
Cooking tips for beginners at https://youtu.be/TCVTOa01uN8
Note: Be sure that your mushrooms are not grown on gluten grains!Here's a source that I know for a fact is gluten free, but if you ask around, there may be others, and there may be kits you can buy if you want to grow them at home.
Cooking tricks and time-savers at https://youtu.be/NCZaq9pSBxQ
Chopping vegetables is always nicer with a little help. This video (below) is charming and has a lot of good tips. Roasted veggies are a great way to get variety without a ton of effort.
I like bodybuilders and strong-(ahem)-persons because they're focused and have great tips, plus they show us what's possible if you work hard for it (a lesson my mom would've approved of). But here's another benefit of watching them: they often prep their food ahead of time because they can't just eat whatever they find anywhere. I think they're very inspiring for how to prep your meals. Even on an off day, you can have healthy food. And I like this video (below) for what he says about leaving the veggies to prep on the day you're going to eat it, so they're fresher. Good tips.
Overall, watching bodybuilders prep all their meals is a great way to be inspired and not feel like you're the only one who has to make all your own meals.
The downside is they tend to be worried about trimming fat off and I think for gut health, it's better to have it (even the gristle). They also tend to put "macros" above cooking creativity. Macros is short for macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate), which are strictly controlled by many athletes. The "salt free" issue with bodybuilders is very, um, special. There are tricks to using salt, or lack of it, to get a certain look in bodybuilding when they are going to a competition. So keep in mind their goals may not match your goals. To find more of this type of video, search Youtube for "meal prep" There are also playlists for meal prep!
Sometimes a kitchen gadget can really help reduce work. The Instant Pot is a new type of pressure cooker. For the third recipe, if you can't find a safe BBQ sauce, you can just use honey and a safe mustard, mixed up together. Link: https://youtu.be/nDBlDQGmJP0
The Brothers Green also did an Instant Pot how-to at https://youtu.be/p3xjloyS4EU
I like the cooking compilations too, like the next one at https://youtu.be/rHW2B1JqfDQ
The next video is a tutorial for the classic spaghetti dinner, including many options and why you might choose one option over another. It's amazing how much debate and variation there is on a simple food like spaghetti and meatballs! This video doesn't cover the best part: garlic bread on the side, so be sure to grab some fresh, local, gluten free bread from the Durham Farmer's Market whenever you can, and make some epic gluten free garlic bread to go with this.
Video link: https://youtu.be/79_IsTV8X-c
Homemade gluten free pasta without xanthan gum, and no pasta machine at https://youtu.be/rymLqt49hR8
Homemade Simple Breads
Don't have a bread machine? No problem, you can still make bread. Bread can be a tricky and labor intensive project. But there are several quick breads just perfect for a healthy gluten free diet. Oopsie rolls are a nice cooking hack if you can't handle gums in store bought GF breads.
Video link: https://youtu.be/EykHPDZP0V8
Here's a dairy free version of oopsie bread:
This quinoa bread recipe below, is actually very traditional in method, and many cultures probably recognize the process of grinding seed or grain with water as a basis for flatbread. If you don't like the taste of quinoa (I don't), just use something you do like, perhaps amaranth? Any high-protein grain or seed or a combination, might work.
Video link: https://youtu.be/bEqNSiyauGQ
Are you opting for a Keto diet and need some kind of bread to make food taste less "oily"? But of course almost all breads are full of carbs and the point of keto is to avoid them. Here's a video demonstration of mug cakes. Have you heard of mug muffins/cakes? They are single serve microwaved muffins, which are appropriate for low carb dieting.
Note that it's not common for keto recipes to avoid common allergens for people with Celiac, so if you have problems with milk, I'd suggest you skip this one. But if milk is OK for you, then these treats can really help on the keto diet.
Not all mug cakes are keto and you can find a large variation of recipes for them. But make sure the recipe is gluten free, if you're adding other requirements like "keto" "paleo" or "vegan" when you search. This recipe works pretty well when you just want a bun with dinner and don't want to fuss with dough.
If you prefer to watch longer videos at home offline, Julia Child is still one of the best TV chefs ever. The Way to Cook is phenomenal, worth every penny, in my opinion. (Currently $19 in case Amazon changes prices.) I think she's maybe a bit glib in places and the food may turn out a bit bland. But that's where your intuition comes in. If your intuition says to do something a bit different, then do it her way once, then change it the next time. It's not gluten free though, so you'll need to switch flours from the start and may have trouble with her bread recipes if you're not familiar with the use of gums or bean flour to replace gluten flours such as rye, barley and wheat.
I'm an advocate of making things from scratch, but that's a tall order for someone who's busy with kids and a job. And when your life is already upside down from having to transfer your choices to gluten free, it's helpful to have some special help. This website (GFJules Shop) is one I trust for baking mixes and I recommend it here so you can take it easy on baking while you learn other skills.
I haven't forgotten lunches. I'm assuming you will either pack a lunch using the method outlined by the bodybuilder video above, or pack sandwiches from the roast of the week. Using oopsie bread can be an economical way to avoid buying the ever more expensive gluten free bread of the week too! And now the news says one of my favorite brands was bought by Wonder?
I don't know if that's s good sign or a bad sign yet. But it's another good reason to learn to cook as much as possible. We all get busy, we all have days when there is a migraine, or knees act up, or an infirmity is making us avoid the kitchen. But it's not every day. Cooking is an important way to take control of your health. Make a resolution this year to learn more about it.
Happy New Year!