Gluten-Free 101: What is Gluten Anyway?

Are you feeling confused by all the “gluten-free” labels popping up on everything from cereal boxes to sandwich meat?  Do you think celiac disease is an allergy to gluten?  Are you unsure whether it’s all a big hoax or maybe just a new celebrity fad diet?  Unsure what gluten even is?  Well, my friend, this informative yet entertaining little video is just what you need!

I kind of wish he would’ve gone into a bit more detail about what it feels like to get glutened when you have celiac disease: I end up in bed for a couple of days, miss work and school, and have the worse stomach pains I’ve ever had in my life.  And it takes a good week before I can eat normally again (I have to eat super soft gentle foods) and about two weeks (sometimes closer to three) before my stomach completely stops hurting after eating or drinking (water is the worse, it hurts so much).  And all of that drama and pain can happen if I were to just pick croutons out of my salad. 

But I suppose going into all of that would’ve made for a much longer video.  Check it out.  And let me know what you think. Smile


What to know more about living gluten-free?  Check out these posts:

It’s Official: I’m Allergic to the World

food-allergies“Wouldn’t it be bad if I found out I was allergic to more foods?”

My sister, Shannon, shot me back a worried look that said, “Don’t even joke about that!”

With my already nearly epic allergen list (peanuts, mushrooms, coconut, honeydew, and the inability to digest gluten or beef) I felt pretty confident that not a thing would show up during my food allergy testing.  How many food allergies can one gal have?  Apparently, quite a lot.

Yesterday, after my allergy testing was done, I felt like a car had run over me.  My body didn’t like the testing very much.  While the good news is that I’m feeling less like roadkill this morning,  the bad news is that I have TEN NEW FOOD ALLERGIES to try and navigate life with.  Oh, boy.

The happy woman doing my testing suddenly looked very grave: “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”  Not exactly what you want to hear.  She’d never seen anyone come out with so many food allergies.  And as she read of the list of the foods I had to say goodbye to, I felt like I was going into shock.

1. Milk
2. Eggs
3. Apples
4. Peaches
5. Pork
6. Shrimp
7. Soy bean
8. Strawberries
9. Tomatoes
10. Tuna

By the time she was finished reading off my new found food foes, I was laughing in that “better-call-the-men-in-the-white-coats” kind of way.  Seemed better than crying all over myself at the doctor’s office.

The results mean: buying pre-made foods is a luxury I don’t really have anymore, all of my favorite holiday dishes aren’t options, there’s no way I’m going on the four-week study abroad trip to Rome with my school, not sure how baking would even work, and just going to the grocery store will take even longer than usual thanks to all the ingredient-label reading.  And, also, every single recipe I’ve posted on The Crunchy Cook so far are things I can’t eat anymore.  That one probably makes me the most sad (I was already pretty sure Rome wasn’t happening).

The results also explain why I’m so hyper-sensitive to all of my allergies, why I feel crummy much of the time, and my stomach hurts so much.  It’s a shock to the system trying to wrap my head around my new list of food allergies, but I wouldn’t go back to not knowing about them for anything.  I wish I didn’t have any allergies, I wish I was easier to feed, but I don’t wish that I was blissfully unaware … because now I can start taking proper care of my body.

I know I’ll slowly figure out how to feed myself again, and eventually discover food I enjoy eating, too.  But I feel like I’m starting over completely and it’s overwhelming.

Mom hugged me and said, “You’re not on your own.  We’ll figure this out together.”  And she’s right.

Debi’s Sour Cream and Cheese Enchiladas

Sour cream and cheese enchiladas[Update: As a result of tomato and dairy allergies, this isn’t something I can eat anymore.  But it’s good!  Give it a try]

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m gluten-free the first thing they usually do is list off all of their favorite bready foods—breadsticks, sourdough, donuts, fried chicken, waffles—and lament my inability to eat them.  They imagine my regular diet being completely void of flavor and tasting like a second-rate imitation.  But what they don’t realize is that there are countless delicious, healthy foods and recipes that are naturally gluten-free.  No modification required.

Mexican food (both the authentic and Americanized variety) is an especially good source of naturally gluten-free meal ideas because a lot of the dishes tend to focus on rice or corn rather than wheat.  And this Sour Cream and Cheese Enchilada recipe, shared by Debi at The Original Simple Mom, is the perfect example.

Special thanks to Debi for being willing to be The Crunchy Cook’s very first guest post. The following is copyrighted to Deborah Taylor-Hough. And used with permission.


I usually serve these with something simple like refried beans and rice as a side dish with a tossed green salad.  And don’t forget the mandatory basket of chips and salsa.  I personally feel that these taste the best when the tortillas are fried first to soften, but when I’m pressed for time or want to cut down on the amount of oil used, I simply place the stack of tortillas on a plate and microwave for about 1 minute to soften.

Sour Cream and Cheese Enchiladas
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
  • 1/4 cup salad oil
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 3 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups green onions (chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 cups (about 1 pound) shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Pour enchilada sauce into a flat pan or pie plate (you’ll be dipping freshly softened tortillas in the sauce).
  3. In small frying pan, heat salad oil over medium-high heat. Fry the tortillas–one at a time–turning once, just to soften (won’t take more than about 10 to 15 seconds). Remove from oil.
  4. Dip softened tortilla on both sides into the enchilada sauce. Stack dipped tortillas in an empty pan or pie plate.
  5. Repeat the softening/dipping process for each tortilla. Add more oil to the frying pan, if needed.
  6. Don’t forget to turn off the oil when you’re done softening the tortillas!
  7. In a large mixing bowl, blend 2 cups of the sour cream, 1 cup of the green onions, the cumin, and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. (Remaining sour cream, onions and cheese will be used later.)
  8. In a 9×13-inch casserole or baking dish, carefully roll each tortilla around about 3 tablespoons of the sour cream mixture. Work gently because the tortillas will want to rip.
  9. Repeat with all tortillas, placing them side-by-side and covering the bottom of the baking dish. If it’s tight, just squeeze them in as best you can.
  10. Sprinkle the remaining 3 cups of cheese evenly over the top.
  11. Bake uncovered at 375 F degrees for 20 minutes.
  12. Garnish with more sour cream spooned down the center and sprinkle with chopped green onions.

MAKE-AHEAD NOTE: This can be covered and frozen (or stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours) before baking. Save garnishes for serving day. If frozen, thaw completely and then bake for 20 minutes at 375.

Optional Ingredients: Depending on what I have on hand, these can morph into all sorts of things with just a few changes or simple additions:  Shredded leftover chicken, fresh cilantro, jalapeno slices, diced chilis, freshly diced tomatoes, Jack cheese instead of Cheddar.  Don’t be afraid to play with these a bit.  But be sure to try the recipe “as is” first … it’s SUPER good!

Enjoy!  And don’t forget to check out Debi’s website, The Original Simple Mom.

Cream Cheese Cookies (gluten & sugar free)

DSCF1450[Update: This is no longer something I can eat due to my dairy allergy, but I highly recommend it!]

I stumbled across the original recipe for cream cheese cookies on Food 52 thanks to Pinterest.  The lady sharing said the recipe has been in her family since the 1970s when her mom went to a Tupperware party and came home with a simple, yummy cookie recipe.   

The cookies sounded soft and delicious, so I modified the recipe to make it gluten-free by using brown rice flour, sugar-free by using Splenda©, and just for kicks I added a little bit of vanilla.  

These cookies were great!  My first very successful gluten-free, sugar-free cookies.


Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
  • 3 ounces cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups Spenda©/sucralose (or 1 cup sugar)
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Beat butter, cream cheese, and Spenda© together in a bowl for a couple of minutes until the texture is fluffy and light.
  2. Add brown rice flour, vanilla, and salt and mix together.
  3. Once completely mixed, roll one-teaspoon-sized balls and place on cookie sheet (they can be a little bit larger than this but it’ll mean you may have to keep them in the oven for a little longer).  I patted mine down ever so slightly so that they would be a little rounder and thinner. 
  4. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  Be very careful to not over bake the cookies, don’t want them to lose their soft centers.
  5. Once done, let them cool and eat up.    

Disneyland: The Happiest (Gluten-Free) Place on Earth

DPP_923I’ll be honest with you, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Disneyland.  Spending a day at Mickey’s lair makes me feel like I’m vacationing inside of a giant advertisement—an entire theme park dedicated to living in, wearing, and practically even breathing Disney.  And brands aren’t exactly my thing even when I’m not feeling suffocated by them.

To Disney’s credit,  the rides are fun and it can be a nice place to relax and play.  And it truly is magical when you’re young enough to not be concentrating on brands or how things like gender or social-economic status are portrayed (or maybe that’s just me).  But what really convinced me that I could have a nice—maybe even “magical”—time at  Disneyland was the food.

Vacationing Gluten-Free:

My fiancé, Mr. Munger, and his family took me along on vacation last September to Disneyland.  I hadn’t taken a major vacation since going gluten-free, so the idea of traveling out of state and eating in unfamiliar places was downright scary at first.  I imagined being surrounded by happy vacationers as my stomach loudly demanded food or cried out in pain because I’d accidentally been glutened.

To my surprise, vacationing at Disneyland was almost magical—the ultimate food vacation.

The very first day we arrived we stopped by Town Hall (the welcome center right inside the park) because we’d been told they’d be able to supply us with a list of celiac-safe dining.  I was presented with a huge packet.  It listed every restaurant in Disneyland and California Adventure and what I could eat.  When you’re used to only being able to eat only one thing on the menu being handed a stack of papers detailing all the foods you can safely have feels almost like Christmas.

The Menu:

We usually didn’t eat inside the park for breakfast, so I packed Udi’s gluten-free bagels and put cream cheese on them.  When I did have breakfast at Disneyland, though, I was able to eat eggs, bacon, hash browns, and ever pancakes shaped like Mickey’s head.  For lunches I ate tacos, salads, gluten-free pizza, chicken burgers on gluten-free buns, and kabobs.  For snacks I could grab a turkey leg or fruit or French-fries.  And for dinner, because I’m madly in love with sea food, I usually ate some  sort of shrimp or fish.

What was truly magical about the trip is that after an entire week of eating away from home I never got sick from cross-contamination.  Not to mention I had so many healthy, delicious options while there that a year later and I still find myself missing the restaurants inside the park.  The fact Disney is so well prepared for accommodating their gluten-free guests also kept the planning ahead of time to a minimal, which made the trip feel more relaxing.

Despite my love-hate relationship with Disney, I decided that for gluten-free folks Disneyland truly is one of the happiest (and safest) places on Earth.  I’d hands down recommend Disneyland as a destination vacation for anyone with celiac.

Eating Gluten-Free in Disneyland:

  1. Eat inside the park.  Yes, it’s a lot more expensive than eating at McDonalds but it’s also so much safer.  And the food tastes great and there are lots of healthy options.  Honestly, if I ever go again I’d rather have a shorter trip and be able to eat in the park than stay for a week and risk getting sick.  There are also counter-service options that are around what you’d spend at McDonalds and offer gluten-free choices.
  2. Talk to the staff at Town Hall.  They can give you a list of everything you can eat in the Disneyland and California Adventure.  And they also provide complete lists of peanut-safe foods and other common allergies.
  3. Ask questions.  All of the staff I interacted with was friendly and more than willing to answer any questions I had in order to help keep me safe.  Don’t risk your health. If you’re not sure about something, ask.
  4. Always tell the waiter you’re gluten-free.  Whenever I went to a sit-down restaurant, the cook who’d be specifically making my food would come out to talk to me about the area they’d be cooking my food in and what they could do to make sure cross-contamination wasn’t an issue.  It made eating out so much more relaxing!
  5. Have fun.  Enjoy being able to have choices, try something new.

Gluten-Free Living: What the Menu Isn’t Telling You

Eating outI used to blindly walk into an unfamiliar restaurant with my fingers thoroughly crossed in the hopes that there was something on the menu I could eat without too much modification.  And then I’d see it.  That small little asterisk in the corner of the menu indicating that they served gluten-free bread.  I’m safe here!  They know how to feed me!  I’d breath a sigh of relief.

As I later discovered though, I was wrong.  Those little notes on the menu or that the cute little homemade “It’s gluten-free!” sign can’t always be trusted.  Sometimes, even my favorite little indie restaurants don’t have a clue.

A little sandwich shop with their grandma’s-kitchen theme made me completely drop my guard once I saw those six deceptive words: “gluten-free bread available upon request.”  Perhaps it was the partly due to the homey tone of the place, but I felt like these folks most know how to take care of me.  So I ordered fried eggs and gluten-free toast (not something I’d order now, thanks to my egg allergy).  It wasn’t until I was getting up to leave that I realized these well-intended people had thrown my bread right into the same crumb-filled, gluten-infested toaster as everyone else’s.  And, without knowing it, they’d put my health in danger.

Even one of my very favorite indie coffee shops is guilty of a similar offense.  I know the manager by name and every Monday a group of friends and I meet there for a few games of Apples to Apples.  They care about their customers and the quality of their products, but that doesn’t mean they know the first thing about gluten.  In fact, the “gluten-free” cookies were made on a wooden cutting board and on the counter right next to a pizza and a couple of sandwiches (all major don’ts due to cross-contamination).  It might be wheat-free, but it’s not really gluten-free.  And it’s not safe.

Yesterday, while on the bus, I ended up talking with the manager at a new little diner that just opened.  He was more than happy to talk about his restaurant, even informing me that he’d tried offering gluten-free bread for a while.  It was no longer on the menu though because it hadn’t sold enough.  “But you could order something in a wrap,” he said very sincerely, “because that would have less gluten.” Less?  But I can’t even have a crumb!

Anyone who tries to sell me on a wheat flour wrap because it has “less gluten” doesn’t know nearly enough about celiac disease for me to feel comfortable with them feeding me.  I don’t think any of these independent businesses are intentionally misleading their customers; like a lot of people, they just don’t understand.

I’ve eaten at some wonderful, extremely careful indie restaurant run by people who go out of their way to keep me safe, but because not every place is like that we have to do some investigating because anyone can write “gluten-free” on cardstock or buy a loaf of bread.

By Kelsey Hough.   All rights reserved.  Contact me for reprint permission by leaving a comment bellow or follow me on Facebook.  


More Crunchy Posts:

Oatmeal Muffins (gluten-free & sugar-free)

Muffins[Update: Sadly, due to things like eggs, milk, and oats this recipe is no longer something I can eat.  But it’s yummy, so I’ve left it on the blog]

My gluten-free oatmeal muffins were very loosely based on the basic muffin recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens® Cook Book.  Even though I can’t eat most of the recipes without making alterations, it’s still one of my favorite cookbooks because it’s great for getting ideas and the cooking tips and suggestions are helpful.  I love it.       

I was very happy with how well these muffins turned out.  And, to my surprise, the wheat-eaters in the family even enjoyed them, commenting how they wouldn’t have known they were gluten-free.  The oatmeal (gluten-free variety, of course) added texture, which was nice since most nuts are off limits due to allergies.  Perhaps next time I’ll try banana or blueberry.  What are your favorite types of muffins?


Serving: Makes 12 muffins (if you’re using a standard sized cupcake tin)

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/3 cup rice flour
  • 3/4 cup oats (most oats are not gluten-free, so I recommend Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free Oats)
  • 1 cup Spenda (or generic brand of sucralose)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil

Directions:

1.  Place liners in the cupcake tin.

Step 1

2.  Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl (everything except the oil, milk, and egg).  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until moistened (it’s fine if it’s still lumpy).

Step 2

3.  Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, leaving room for them to grow (filling about 2/3 of the way seems to work well).

DSCF0764

4.  Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes (a toothpick should come out clean).

5.  They can be served hot, but they’ll be more apt to fall apart when you’re eating them.  Or if you let them cool in the refrigerator before eating, they’ll hold together better.  Whenever you decide to serve them, enjoy.  They taste great with butter.

Step 5 (2)

Pepperoni Pizza (gluten-free & low carb)

Pizza[Update: Sadly, due to new allergies, this isn’t something I can eat anymore.  But I still highly recommend it if you’re gluten-free or on a low carb diet]

One of the low points commonly reached by newly gluten-free folks is the oh-my-gosh-I’ll-never-eat-pizza-again phase.

Of course, this isn’t true because there are several good pizza options and some restaurants now even serve gluten-free pizzas.  But when you’re new, all you know is that your favorite comfort food is suddenly strictly off-limits.

That’s why this cream cheese crust was such an exciting discovery when I first went gluten-free.  This recipe is a modified version of Suzanne Somers’ Mini-Pepperoni Pizzas from her book Suzanne Somers’ Fast & Easy.  While I don’t recommend Suzanne’s books for newbies because they’re not specifically gluten-free, she has a lot of low-carb, grain-free recipes in her books that I’ve found very helpful!  


Ingredients for Crust:

  • 1 (8-ounce) packed of cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Ingredients for Toppings:

  • 1/3 cup marinara sauce (if you use a can, make sure to read the ingredient list to make sure it’s okay for your diet)
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded)
  • Package peperoni (I used turkey because I can’t eat beef)
  • 2 small zucchinis (optional)
  • 3 Tomatoes (optional)
  •   Parmesan (just enough to sprinkle on top of the pizza)

Directions:

1. Mix cream cheese and eggs together with a spoon.  Once mixed together, add salt and pepper (just a dash for seasoning).  And then blend in the parmesan.

2. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Pour the cream cheese mixture into the dish and bake at 350 for 15 minutes (the crust should be a light golden brown but not burnt).  Once out of the oven, let the crust cool before adding marinara sauce or toppings.

DSCF06892

4. Cut up the zucchini and tomatoes and sauté them in a pan with the pepperoni.

DSCF0699

5. Thinly spread marinara sauce over the cooled cream cheese crust.

DSCF0701

6. Add mozzarella cheese, zucchini, pepperoni, tomatoes, olives, and parmesan on top (it helps glue everything in place).

DSCF07162

7. Bake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees (cheese should be gooey).  If you want to be able to eat it with your fingers, let the pizza cool completely in the refrigerator.  It makes a great breakfast if you have leftovers!  Or if you’re in a hurry, let it cool for a couple of minutes so you don’t burn yourself and then grab a fork.

Eggplant Bake (gluten-free & vegetarian)

Step 4[Update: This is no longer something I can eat due to new allergies, but still something I recommend.  I know it looks weird in the picture but it’s actually really tasty!]

Well, I might not have been posting but I’ve still been photographing pictures of my food and taking notes on how I’ve altered different recipes.  My laptop was temporarily out of commission, but now that I’m back online I can finally share what I’ve been up to.

Eggplant bake is one of my new favorite naturally gluten-free dinners.  The original version of this recipe came from  Frozen Assets: Lite and Easy by Deborah Taylor-Hough (check out her blog Cheap Eats).  In addition to being gluten-free, it’s also vegetarian and it’s easily made vegan (just leave off the yogurt topping).  So, what have all of you been cooking/baking this week?


Ingredients:

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 (4 ounce) can of green chili
  • 1 (16 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 8 small tomatoes (sliced)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I used white cheddar)

Directions:

1.  Caramelize onions that have been cut into rings (sauté until golden brown) .

2.  Then, add can of green chili, onions, and turmeric  to the skillet.  After you’ve mixed it together, let it cook for a couple of minutes.

3.  Remove onion mixture from the skillet and put in the blender or a food processer with the can of stewed tomatoes.  Blend until it’s a sauce (but it’s okay if it’s still kind of chunky).

4.  Put the slices of eggplant evenly in the bottom of a dish (see bellow).

Step 1

6. Spoon the tomato/onion sauce onto the eggplant.  Top with another layer of eggplant.  And then another layer of sauce and sliced tomatoes (the layering will go every other until the ingredients are used up, like you’re making a lasagna).

Step 2

7.  Combine plain yogurt, cheddar, and pepper together in a bowl.  Once mixed, spread over the top layer of the eggplant bake.

Step 3

8. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Serve and enjoy.  Or you can wrap it with foil and freeze it for later.

Mr. Yuck Stickers: Helping You Stay Gluten-Free

220px-Poison_Help.svgMy friend, Emmalie, who is gluten and lactose free as well as vegetarian, and I were talking about the complicated process of going gluten-free.  And she shared an excellent idea with me about how she keeps track of what foods she can’t eat. 

Emmalie said that when she first became gluten-free, she bought a bunch of Mr. Yuck stickers and “put them on all the glutenous foods” in her house to help reminder her which foods were off limits.  Covering foods she couldn’t eat in the stickers helped her make the transition to a gluten-free / dairy-free / meat-free lifestyle a lot easier.  “It also helped my family understand what I could and couldn’t eat.”  Someone could easily use another type of sticker though (might be smart to use a different kind if you’re dealing with small children and are concerned the poison label might confuse them).  But whatever type of labels you use, I think stickers are a very simple way to effectively mark all the food foes in the kitchen.  

In addition to using Mr. Yuck, Emmalie also found star stickers to be helpful.  “I got tired of checking my food all of the time so I would stick a star sticker on food that I had checked and found to be gluten-free.”  The stickers have helped Emmalie to keep track of her food foes and now she says that she only uses “stickers for condiments and foods that aren’t obvious.” 

“Mr. Yuk’s face really helped me come to terms with the idea that foods that I loved don’t always love me back.  Love should be a two-way street.”  Absolutely.