Gluten free cooking basics

Gluten free cooking is not difficult, but there are things to keep in mind when it comes to ensuring what you cook is safe to eat! It can be easy to make a simple mistake and end up cross contaminating your meal.

There are also new, and different, cooking methods to conquer, especially if dinner in the past was a case of heating up a ready meal in the microwave.

Let's look at each of these in turn.

gluten free cooking

Avoiding cross contamination

Avoiding cross contamination is more than just pure cleanliness in the kitchen, although that is important of course.

To this end I would always recommend an indispensable appliance - the dishwasher. This machine will do a much better job of ensuring that your plates, bowls and cutlery are perfectly clean and safe to use, than you can achieve when washing up by hand.

There is something else to keep in mind though.

It is important to keep foods you CAN eat, away from those you CAN'T!

I would even go so far as to suggest you have one cupboard specifically for storing your gluten free foods. The height of this cupboard would depend on who it is who is on the special diet.

If you are the one with gluten intolerance, then you may want to use a wall cupboard that your children cannot reach, so that they don't eat your special food items. However, if your child is the celiac, you could use a lower cupboard so that they can reach their own food, and not be tempted by things that they should not eat. 

It isn't just the ingredients themselves that should be kept separate in a gluten free kitchen, however....

Cooking utensils and equipment

Even with a dishwasher in the kitchen, there are still some items of cooking equipment that you will want to have duplicates of so that you can ensure you are at less risk of cross contamination. This list would include, at a minimum...

  • your own toaster (or use toaster bags)
  • a separate colander
  • a dedicated bread board
  • marked wooden spoons
  • a gluten free ONLY bread machine (if you use one)

Let's run through the reasons why I included those items above.

Toasters are a crumb magnet! If you toast wheat bread in them, there is no way to avoid crumbs falling into the machine. If you then toast gluten free bread in them, the risk of contamination is just too high.

Different colored or shaped toasters make it easy to distinguish between the safe, and not safe, versions. In my house we also keep them far away from each other, at opposite ends of the kitchen!

The colander is problematic if you cook wheat pasta as well as the non-wheat variety. Even if you thoroughly wash it after doing so, there could still be a sticky residue that could contaminate your gluten free pasta. Again have two, in different styles, or colors, for safety.

If you are cooking two separate meals, it is essential to use a separate spoon for stirring each. I like to mark the handle of my wooden spoons with a dab of paint so that I know which ones have only been used in my food.

Having a separate bread board on which to slice your bread makes things a lot safer.

If you have a bread machine, and it has been used in the past for making wheat bread, then I would advise getting a separate one for your own use. They are notoriously hard to clean and there is a risk of flour remaining inside the machine.

Tips for reducing the risk

The following tips will also help to reduce the risk of cross contamination when preparing and cooking gluten free meals...

  • Wipe down all work surfaces thoroughly before you start
  • Do not grill unsafe foods on the same rack as gf items
  • Use a separate deep fat fryer for gluten free foods
  • Always place the gluten free dish on a higher shelf in the oven, so nothing can overflow and spill onto it
  • Do not dip meats into wheat flour or breadcrumbs before frying them
  • Do not marinate meats in soy sauce (unless it is Tamari)
  • If you are cooking unsafe foods for the rest of the family, keep the gf plate off to one side when dishing up*

* Keeping the plated up food separate acts as a reminder not to pour oxo gravy on your plate - I talk from experience as my Mum did that to my meal one Sunday lunchtime!

Gluten free cooking and food preparation

Now we have discovered ways to avoid cross contamination, let's move on to other things to consider when tackling gluten free cooking for the first time

Unusual ingredients

As I mentioned at the top of the page, you are likely to come across ingredients that you have never heard of before, let alone cooked, when you start a gluten free diet.

I suggest introducing them gradually and learning what you can do with each one, before moving on.

My gluten free grains page gives a list of what I consider essential, along with the "nice to know about" ingredients.

Starting to learn gluten free cooking with items that are easily obtainable in your grocery store is a good idea. These will seem less "alien" to you. Find recipes that use these ingredients and try them out. See what works for you, and which you, and your family, like the taste of, before moving on to the more unusual grains, such as quinoa and millet.

Move on to try baking with gluten free flours, again starting with the commercial mixes available and then experimenting with mixing your own flour blend. You will find lots of recipes on this site.

Cooking processes

Perhaps one of the most dramatic differences between cooking at home before diagnosis and afterwards, is the method used when baking bread.

Wheat bread recipes include instructions for kneading and proving the dough. These stages are not necessary when making gluten free bread, as the dough itself is of a completely different consistency. Instead of a stretchy dough, breads made without gluten will be more like a thick batter.

Thickening foods such as sauces and soups will be handled in different ways, too. Ingredients such as arrowroot or cornflour (cornstarch) are used in place of wheat flour.

Gluten free cooking - a summary

I hope this introduction to gluten free cooking has helped to calm the nerves a little. Keep it simple to begin with, until you build up more confidence. And maybe put off entertaining for a while, to avoid any embarrassment if things don't go according to plan.

- - Gluten Free Cooking


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