The G-Free Kitchen
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder characterized by a toxic reaction to gluten, the protein found in certain grains. An autoimmune condition (meaning it causes the body to attack itself, dramatically weakening the body's ability to ward off infections and other disease), celiac disease is hereditary and chronic. It's not a food allergy, and for those with celiac, avoiding gluten completely is the only way to live (literally). The cure: G-FREE food.
According to researchers at the University of Chicago, 1 in 133 people have celiac disease-meaning 3 million Americans alone! The problem is, only 1 percent of those with it have received a diagnosis. The rest of the pack likely lives with chronic, inexplicable abdominal pain, low energy, and a host of other symptoms. Thankfully, in the past five years, diagnosis has improved (thanks to great physicians like Dr. Peter Green, who not only diagnosed me but has devoted his career to treating patients as well as educating those in his field in order to properly flag and test for the disease) and labeling on foods is more accurate, allowing those with celiac to navigate the g-free world more easily.
Though not classified as a disease, gluten sensitivity (sometimes called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance) affects an approximate 6 percent of the American population, causing digestive aggravation when gluten is ingested. With improvements to testing for these conditions and education in the medical establishment, more and more people are getting clear diagnoses and are beginning to go in search of gluten-free foods. The community of those eating g-free is therefore expanding, and we are hungry!
I wrote in great detail of the roadblocks I faced in my own journey to diagnosis, and the tips and strategies I learned as I began to eat food that would not make me sick, in my first book, The G-Free Diet. To this day, I hear from people from all walks of life-moms, dads, friends, colleagues, and even strangers on the street-who tell me that The G-Free Diet is a friend to them, an easy reference to navigating the proverbial food waters g-free style.
Whether you have celiac or gluten sensitivity (or even if you simply want to stop eating gluten for other health or energy reasons), your goals are to replace glutenous grains with more impactful, less harmful gluten-free grains; to avoid any kind of cross-contamination in your kitchen (and be on guard for it in restaurants and at parties); and to effectively and confidently communicate your food situation to those around you.
Creating a safe cooking haven for yourself-a completely g-free kitchen- will meet those goals. Living with a completely g-free kitchen will mean that any crumbs are not immediately suspect, and it'll mean less double washing and cleaning!
If this change is just not possible for you-perhaps you are aiming to please a houseful of non-g-free-ers in addition to your own needs-what I call "the hybrid kitchen" will be more your style. In my own home, I'd say we currently have a 60 percent g-free kitchen, though every day the percentage is growing as we find more and more products (and develop them, too) that are safe for my sensitive digestive system.
The initial step of g-freeing your kitchen to whatever extent you are able will pay big dividends in the end. The more g-free your kitchen, the less stress you will have when addressing cross-contamination. Simple steps have made food preparation a lot less worrisome for me- and they will for you, too.
STORING G-FREE PRODUCTS
I recently went into a coffee shop that sold g-free treats. The problem, though, was that they were on the shelf below the gluten-
containing muffins, which rained crumbs all over the supposedly g-free offerings every time one was pulled out.
With this in mind, think of anything with gluten like a leaking pen. Anything that it travels over will be "inked." Therefore, one of the most important considerations in a hybrid kitchen is where you store your products. If you can't dedicate a whole cabinet to g-free ingredients alone, you can still avoid gluten contamination by following this handy rule of thumb: Gluten "goes low" and g-free "flies high." That is, store your g-free products above the others. If you were to store gluten above g-free, you would run the risk of crumbs from gluten products falling into the g-free packaging or containers, as they did in that coffee shop.
Here's another rule of thumb: On a buffet, place g-free dishes first and in the front, and gluten options last and in the back. This way, there is less "fly-over," less possibility that gluten options will drip into or fall onto the g-free platters as people make their way down the line.
When setting up your hybrid g-free kitchen, remember my rule of thumb: Gluten goes low, g-free flies high! On a buffet, avoid "fly-over" contamination by placing g-free platters and dishes where your family and guests will serve themselves first.
In my home, the refrigerator is already a mostly gluten-free zone, without our having to try too hard to make it so. Fresh foods (like vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy, and herbs) are naturally gluten- free, and most of our jarred foods and condiments long ago got a g- free makeover (everything from ketchup to mayo and syrups and flavorings now come in g-free brands) because having two of everything overcrowded the fridge. For products that we go through quickly, like peanut butter and jelly, we do stock both options, but I use labels on the g-free versions so that a knife that just made the trip across a piece of whole wheat bread does not go for a dip in my g-free jar.
As with the kitchen cabinets, I keep the non-g-free foods on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that if anything falls, drips, or spills out of a gluten-containing leftover or soupy dish, it does not travel over the items that are g-free. If g-free offerings will be in the minority in your fridge, keep them in a plastic tub (also labeled) to protect them from the g-full food.
Space permitting, many g-free families find that a small, dedicated "g- free-zer" is a huge time- and worry-saver. Try storing a supply of deliciously g-free cupcakes (pages 194-198), muffins (pages 43-48), g- free pizza dough (page 170), the double batch of chicken tenders (page 83), and cookie dough (page 215) this way. At a minimum, I recommend that you set aside a section of your freezer for non-g-free foods just the way you did in your fridge. Be sure to use the location rules, and keep your breaded non-
g-free chicken tenders or nuggets below or behind the g-free versions.
Once you start cooking from the recipes in this book, I hope you will feel that g-free flours, pastas, and flavorings are just as good as, if not better than, the gluten-heavy versions you might now have in your pantry. As g-free replacements begin to take up greater real estate in your kitchen, you might actually be looking to donate the boxes of pasta, unopened bags of flour, and a whole range of other ingredients that you just don't need around anymore! Or you might be inclined to have a "going away party" for your glutenous goodies: a big bakeoff and last hoorah.
Even if you're not giving your gluten products away entirely, when creating a hybrid kitchen it's a good idea to make a fresh start with your pantry. Opened bags of flour or boxes of pasta can rain potential contaminants onto your shelves and into the cracks and corners between them. Give your pantry, cupboards, and silverware drawers a thorough "spring cleaning," wiping them out with soap and hot water. For safe measure, put all your silverware and cooking utensils through a sanitizing dishwasher cycle, too.
Think about the crumbs that find their way into your cooking utensil or silverware drawers. Go ahead-I dare you to take a look right now! It's amazing how many crumbs congregate there, isn't it? You may not have the flexibility in your kitchen to move your silverware and utensils to a spot away from where food is prepared, but do strive to place your breadbox somewhere other than over your utensil drawer (and don't store any glutenous snacks on top of where the drawer opens). This will dramatically cut down on any possible contamination to the silverware and utensils you rely on, and it's one of the most effective (and easy) g-free steps you can take.
In our house, the breadbox is where we keep glutenous items-bread, baked goods-because it's a way to keep them separate from the rest of the kitchen. I happen to give my g-free baked goods the prime display space: a glass-covered cake dish on my counter! For extended storage, I place g-free breads and baked treats in the freezer or fridge. Whatever you decide to do, the key is to be consistent: explain the new system to the family, babysitters, houseguests, etc., and stick to it!
Be Loud and Clear
Once you've decided on your organizational system, do yourself the big favor of labeling containers and cookware (including knives, if one will be used for cutting or spreading with exclusively g-free foods) in a way that will remind the family to stick with the program. Use a label maker, a brand of labels that really adhere (I like Mabel's Labels or Stuck on You labels, which stick even when they go through a dishwasher), or a Sharpie pen, so that there's no confusion about what is g-free. Label drawers, shelves, bags of flours, jars of peanut butter and mayo. If there is a label on it, everyone will know that it is gluten-free. What a worry-saver for you, the person trying to avoid gluten altogether!
Here are some other handy tips for setting up and working in a hybrid kitchen:
Dishcloths, sponges, and scrubbers are hiding places for gluten if they've been used to clean up after a gluten meal. Keep a g-free set of them in a designated spot.
Even if you've designated several sponges or scrubbers for g-free use, run them through the dishwasher every time it cycles to banish g- crumbs and buildup that may have come through exposure to gluten food.
Develop a simple system for wiping down the countertop before cooking your evening meal. Use soap and hot water, and the sponge or cloth that you've designated for g-free use. Better safe than sorry. If you have celiac disease, it takes only 1/8 teaspoon of gluten a day to damage the intestine. Every crumb counts.
Paper towels are the unsung hero of any kitchen-think about how often you use them!-but nowhere more so than in the hybrid kitchen. If you don't know which dishcloth or sponge is the g-free one, grab a paper towel for a fast and effective wipe down or hand drying.
Be sure to inspect the ingredients in the soap and hand lotion you keep by your kitchen sink to make sure that there is no gluten in them. Think about it: If you wash or moisturize your hands (or both) and then turn your attention to, say, making a salad, you may well be contaminating the lettuce with the trace gluten on your hands.
READY, SET, COOK!
Okay, your kitchen is clean, organized, and ready to go. You want to get down to business, so what about cooking equipment? There is no need to invest in a whole new set of cookware to set your kitchen up for g-free gourmet goodness, but there are a few things to consider for safety.
Plastic can trap gluten if it is badly scratched and really worn. Relegate scratched plastic containers to the gluten cabinet or invest in a set of glass storage containers that will last a lifetime and can easily be washed if something with gluten does mistakenly get stored in them. If you don't choose to label your containers as
g-free and gluten-allowed, use two sets with different-colored tops to make the difference clear for everyone.
Baking Pans and Baking Sheets
If you have an old family pie dish or cake pan-inherited from your grandmother's kitchen, perhaps-there is a fast and simple solution to continuing to use it in your gluten-free cooking: line pie dishes or cake pans with aluminum foil, and spread parchment paper or foil over the baking sheet. Since cupcakes and muffins are regularly requested at my house (and since I find that cookies tend to stick to foil, even when it's greased), I have a designated and completely g-free muffin tin, and to avoid mishaps I also have two designated g-free baking sheets.
Since my diagnosis with celiac disease, I have been steadily building up a g-free set of kitchen items. My wish list for birthdays always includes a "double" of something I've had in my kitchen since Tim and I got married: a pot, a pan, a mixing bowl, a set of knives, a cutting board. This is a slow but steady way to duplicate the basic equipment we've been using, and a good way to substitute g-free items as the older ones get scuffed, stained, and cracked.
One-hundred-percent stainless steel pots and pans are a go! I recommend scrubbing them well with plenty of dishwashing soap and then also running them through the dishwasher before considering them a part of your g-free tool set.
Glass is a nonporous surface, so once they are really clean, glass bowls and bakeware will be a great asset to you. They are great for mixing, measuring, and baking. Glass baking dishes tend to conduct heat faster than metal, though, so to avoid dry baked goods, be careful with recommended cook times. My mom usually made brownies in a Pyrex dish-the smooth surface is so easy to clean-and so do I.
Some nonstick surfaces like Teflon may trap gluten if they are damaged and/or not washed properly. I use ceramic-lined pans for a healthier nonstick surface. Investing in one large ceramic-lined frying pan for recipes like chicken fingers (page 85), and one small one for eggs, like the omelet (page 31) and frittata (page 35), is ideal. Of course, if your entire kitchen is g-free, and not hybrid, any pan you have will work.
Utensils and Knives
Just like stainless steel pots and pans, stainless steel utensils are safe if they are properly cleaned. Stainless steel knives are a must and are very durable; an 8-inch chef's knife and one or two paring knives are all you'll need for the recipes in this book. If you already own stainless steel knives, just be sure to take extra time to clean around the handle and hilt to be sure no food particles linger in any crevices.
A flexible high-heat nylon or silicone spatula is a great, inexpensive addition to your gluten-free utensil drawer and will make flipping eggs and pancakes easier. (Sometimes they can be a little too floppy, though, so select one that you can maneuver well.)