My Food Story: Preparing a Gluten-Free Feast
by Mary Beth Court
In my family we use food to celebrate. Not everything, of course, but there’s nothing better than a big family feast. Gathering loved ones around the table is a time honored tradition and it’s so rewarding.
Except, when it isn’t. The first time I planned a big dinner involving a friend with special food needs, I actually made two meals. He is diabetic (Type I) and I was a little overenthusiastic. I made low or no-sugar versions of every dish so he wouldn’t feel like an outcast who couldn’t try everything (and this was Thanksgiving so I tried making Sweet Potato casserole and cranberry squares that are low sugar) and if that wasn’t overboard, I even ordered a blood glucose monitor from Mountainside Medical Supplies just in case he needed to test his blood sugar. Now, my friend is an adult who manages his diabetes very well. I needed to ensure he had something to eat, but i didn’t need to make two of everything and panic about who was eating from what dish.
Several years later I was preparing a big meal to celebrate my cousin’s graduation from college. My aunt has celiac disease, so I did some research. It turns out wheat is one of the top eight allergens; the most serious wheat sensitivity is celiac disease. Rather than repeat mistakes of years past, I made one meal everyone could enjoy.Since we’re never all together for Thanksgiving, living all over the country the way we do, I made a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings. It wasn’t until about halfway through the meal everyone realized they were eating the same meal and it all tasted great! So here are my tips for making a fantastic feast, devoid of gluten.
The safest method to keeping your meat gluten-free is to order it fresh from the farm. Let them know you’re preparing a gluten-free meal just to be safe. Farm-raised turkeys are ideal birds because they won’t have any added flavors or preservatives that might contain wheat protein. If you can’t go farm fresh, look for a turkey without the self-basting feature, as those often contain some sort of wheat protein or additive. Cook your turkey as usual, using caution and good judgment before seasoning.
Go for the Gravy
Simply substitute cornstarch or gluten-free flour into your gravy making process. Double check the ingredients on any gravy thickeners or additives you use or skip them altogether.
Mashed potatoes are glorious and gluten-free. Boil those potatoes and mash them with some milk and butter (or margarine) to taste. Give them an extra kick with a bit of garlic.
Sweet potato casserole is a simultaneously sweet and savory addition to your feast. Mash four cooked sweet potatoes together with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter and a pinch of salt. Place into a casserole dish. For the topping mix together one tablespoon each of brown sugar and melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg and 1/4 cup of chopped pecans. Spread the topping evenly and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Marshmallows can top the sweet potato casserole for, as they have no wheat components.
Stuffing will likely be the biggest challenge. Just substituting gluten-free materials probably isn’t the best solution as gluten-free breads are expensive and have a significantly different taste profile. Instead, try a new stuffing recipe altogether like any of these from the-gluten-free-chef.com like cranberry rice, celery, apple and walnut, sage and onion or old-fashioned chestnut stuffing.
Cakes and pies are loaded with gluten, but there are plenty of ways to work around that. Replace apple pie with apple crisp. Mix together one cup of certified gluten-free oats (quick-cooking or old-fashioned), 3/4 cup brown sugar, one teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 2/3 cup melted butter or margarine. Simply spread the mixture over five cut-up Granny Smith apples, place in a microwave-safe baking dish and cook on high for 12-15 minutes.
A homemade vanilla custard pairs perfectly with your apple crisp or stands on it’s own with some tasty toppings. Making custard does require an ice cream maker, but you can make it a few days ahead and store it until it’s time to enjoy it — if you can wait that long!
Freelance writer, mom, and professional chef Mary Beth shares tips and recipes with moms who have kids who have special dietary needs. She makes the yummiest snacks and gives the coolest tips for moms who are on the go.