When my dad was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in the early 90s, my mom proceeded to purchase a myriad of gluten free (gf) flours, meals and xanthum gum in an attempt to make bread and other baked goods for him. They were less than exciting by no fault of her own and broke the bank to add insult to injury.
Having watched that process only makes me more thankful that my daughter and I were diagnosed at a time when you don't have to be a chemist, a chef or wealthy to eat tasty gf bread, muffins, cakes, brownies, spaghetti and even pizza. Let's face it, those are the very delicacies that flash through our minds the moment we hear, "You have to cut out gluten." (After we find out what gluten is, of course.)
Discouragement and a short mourning period followed my own diagnosis, but my love for food prevailed. I knew I couldn't have gluten; there was no way around that. I liked my small intestine too much. But I refused to accept gluey noodles and brownies that taste like beans as my lot in life.
If you're newly diagnosed, the gauntlet that is gf eating can seem daunting, but if you don't cook or bake much, it's even more of an enigma. Take heart! There are so many delicious and easy to prepare products out there...and often available in the regular grocery store (even WalMart if you're into that).
I've compiled a list of some of my favorite gf products and all the reasons why, along with their web sites so you can check them out more thoroughly if you so desire. Organized by meal, they are:
Pancakes. Ah, the fluffy, steaming cakes soaked in syrup. I thought I would go mad searching for a gf pancake that didn't double as a hockey puck. Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix (www.pamelasproducts.com) rescued me. So light and fluffy without that weird taste you get from so many other gf mixes. And gf syrup is pretty easy to find. Pamela's has become my best friend in the kitchen. Gluten-free Bisquick is okay for pancakes, but I prefer to use it for pizza crust (see below under dinner options).
Donuts. My daughter said the other day, "When I get to heaven, I'm going to run barefoot, (She has spina bifida and can't walk without braces.), never sleep and eat donuts." I concur with the donut part. They probably are my favorite carbohydrate. I use Pamela's for donut holes as well. Just mix it up with some water, fry it in hot oil til golden and voila. Toss them in some powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar and you'll almost forget you're being deprived.
Cereal. I've written a whole blog post on cereal (www.glutenfreecauseihavetobe.blogspot.com). This is an area that has come leaps and bounds just in the last couple of years. I'm thrilled because we are big cereal lovers. My husband courted me with cereal. Yes, I said courting. (Really, I'm only 37.)
Sandwiches. I was never a big sandwich eater until someone told me I couldn't eat sandwiches anymore. Since then I have found several great options for making gf sammies.
1. Udi's (www.udisglutenfree.com) makes the most delicious bread I've found, though I think it's a little pricey for us to keep in regular supply. Several local restaurants use it as their gf option and it tastes like my old wheat-laden life, which makes me happy.
2. EnerG Light Tapioca loaf (www.ener-g.com) is a great lower calorie option (45 calories per slice) and isn't quite as expensive. I get it on-line and save a little more that way. I prefer it toasted but my absolute favorite use for it is grilled cheese sandwiches. After I had my first grilled cheese upon discovering this bread, I think I gained five pounds of purely bread, butter and cheese. It was worth it.
3. Corn tortillas. I used to watch my dad eat hot dogs wrapped in corn tortillas and thought it was so sad. It's not so bad--it kind of tastes like a corn dog. I wouldn't put it at the top of my list, but it will do in a pinch. I definitely used tortillas for all kinds of Mexican fare. The other great thing about them is that they're only about 80 calories for 2! My favorite brand is Mission. (www.missionfoods.com)
Soup. A little soup and sandwich never hurt anyone...or so we thought! We've got the sandwich part down, and if you don't want to make your own soup, a good substitute is Amy's line of gf options. My favorite is Chunky Tomato Bisque (to go with my grilled cheese) but they are all mighty tasty. Check her out at www.amys.com
Mac and cheese. For the kid you have or the kid in you...Annie's Homegrown Gluten-free Rice Pasta & Cheddar Mac and Cheese (www.annies.com) is the best m&c I've found short of making my own from scratch. It's not quite the same as the blue box, but the closest my daughter deems acceptable--just be careful not to overcook the noodles or they become pure mush. She actually prefers the one I make but it's more time consuming and this is great when you only have a few minutes to whip it up.
Pizza. I admit, this has been the hardest to replicate. For a long time I used a frozen crust that passed in my book (only because I was desperate for pizza), but the rest of the family thought it tasted like cardboard. I since have started using the recipe on the Gluten-free Bisquick box (www.bettycrocker.com). It's still not exactly like what you remember pizza crust to be, but it's very good. I think the key is following the directions, but making sure to pre-bake the crust almost to golden brown. If you don't, you end up with too wet of a dough and the finished product is sort of limp and unappetizing. If you bake it long enough before putting on the toppings, the result is a pleasantly crisp but tender crust. I think it's best warm rather than hot--gives the flavors a chance to meld and lets the crust rest a bit.
Pasta. When I started my hunt for pasta, it was clear after trial #1 with rice pastas that I wasn't a fan. It always was super starchy and gluey unless you rinsed it off--which to me defeats the purpose of pasta. Plus, it was relatively flavorless. My favorite is corn pasta or a corn/rice blend. The corn really beefs it up and adds some flavor. It doesn't get as sticky and holds up well to sauce. (The times I've dined at Maggiano's they've used corn pasta and I feel like I'm normal again.) As with any pasta, you really have to be careful not to overcook it. It's great just with sauce or in any recipe you love that includes pasta. Heartland makes a good corn/rice blend (www.heartlandpasta.com) and DeBoles makes great corn pasta products (www.deboles.com).
Keeping it real. Sticking to fresh veggies and fruits, rice, potatoes and a wide variety of proteins can keep a lot of people pretty happy, but sometimes you need the stuff from your old repetoire in gf form to make you feel less less like you're giving things up.
I gotta have it. I know I became most determined to find tasty gf sweets than any other food item and I have succeeded! Thanks to Pamela's, Betty Crocker and gf bread, I am never without a cookie, brownie, cake or even bread pudding!
Cake and brownies. I so enjoy Betty Crocker's chocolate cake and brownie mixes. I highly recommend waiting until they are cool to enjoy them, however. They have a bit of an odd taste when they are hot or warm that disappears when they cool down. To me, they taste like traditional cake and brownies and I am a fan of anything that can fool my wheat-eating friends. I use the cake mix to make cupcakes when my daughter has events at school. The yellow cake is good, too, but plan on eating the whole thing the day you make it because it kind of settles on itself over time and gets mushy.
Chocolate chip cookies. Pamela's has an excellent cc cookie recipe. I even substitute canola oil for some of the butter and they are marvelous. This is another one that can fool the wheat-eaters. FYI--the looser the dough, the more the cookies spread out.
Bread pudding. Oh my word. The day I made bread pudding out of my gf bread for the first time, I thanked Jesus for giving me the courage to try. It was beyond delectable. I used a regular bread pudding recipe I found on-line and just substituted my own bread (light tapioca). I could go on and on. This is another one that I think is best at room temperature. Just be careful--I ate half the pan that day.
Do not be discouraged, disheartened or depressed. You can do this! Stick with it and believe it or not you'll find gluten free products you never thought you could love (or make all by yourself!).