Cooking to suit a gluten-free diet

I like to honor requests for recipes in my food column, and two weeks ago I got a call from my Jefferson County Fair friend, Ray “Rainbow” Hilderbrand.

He asked if I would do something on gluten-free cooking. I never thought he could be defeated by a little grain such as wheat, but he tells me that he is a celiac, and it makes cooking a problem.

So, I am digging deep into gluten-free cooking at his request and will learn much along the way, I am sure.

Making it easier is a recipe book I received from Andrews McMeel Publishing, Universal Press Syndicate, for a “Gluten-Free Every Day Cookbook,” helping to cope in the kitchen and having a great outlook on cooking, eating and the gluten-free life.

Chapter one deals with gluten-free flours, starches, nut meats and seeds. It tells that most flour made from finely milled wheat is a supposition made by most people when asked. But there are many tasty and healthy flours made from other grains that do not contain gluten.

The author, Robert M. Landolphi, says that when giving cooking demonstrations, participants are asked to describe the flavor of flour. After some thought, most will reply that flour doesn’t taste like anything. Refined white wheat flour has almost no flavor of its own. It is the spices, herbs and other ingredients incorporated in it that provide the flavor. On the other hand, whole wheat flour has a grainier, nuttier taste, as do whole grain brown rice flour and soy flours. Therefore, when baking gluten-free, I suggest experimenting with a flour that is most similar to what you normally use.

There are some good gluten-free flour mixes on the market which are convenient and save time in the kitchen. However, it is important to note that the mix that makes a great cake likely won’t make a good pizza crust.

Flours and starches used most often and which are the most versatile are brown and white rice flours, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, potato starch and cornstarch. Sweet rice flour, soy flour, quinoa flour and nut flours are secondary on the author’s list. In addition, xanthan gum is a “must have” for gluten-free baking as well.

The density of the flour is to be considered for baking. The lighter, starchier flours, such as corn, potato, tapioca and arrowroot, are easily interchangeable and will yield a lighter, fluffier texture to the finished baked item.

Heavier, denser flours, such as rice, sorghum and chickpea, can be substituted for one another and will result in a more weighty and dense final product. Flours such as coconut or nut meat flours should only be used in small amounts to add flavor and should not be used solely on their own, it was noted.

When following a recipe calling for wheat flour, combine 2/3 cup heavier, denser gluten-free flours with 1/3 cup lighter, starchier flours, substituting this for each cup of wheat flour. After trying the finished product, you can make adjustments according to the preference with regard to taste, texture and color.

Making mention of nuts and seeds, they have a nutritious value and will add texture, moisture and great flavor to a product, according to the book.

Some nuts to be used are hazelnuts, dry roasted macadamia nuts, raw pecans, raw pine nuts, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. To enhance the flavor of the nut flour, try toasting in a heavy, dry skillet over medium heat and stir until they become a shade or two darker than normal.

There are now gluten- free stock bases in stores and with the advent of new labeling laws, gluten-free varieties are easier to find. Always check the labels, as companies may add or change ingredients over time.

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I tried to find recipes that I thought Ray would like, but if I failed in that department, I want him to know that I can get him other recipes from the book quite easily. Since I love French onion soup, I thought someone else might enjoy it, too.

Caramelized French Onion Soup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

7 medium sweet onions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

8 cups beef stock or broth, gluten-free

2 cups dry white wine

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound Gruyere cheese

In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions have softened. Increase the heat slightly and sprinkle in the sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add the stock and wine and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Ladle the soup into individual 10-inch crocks and sprinkle with a layer of Gruyere cheese. Place the crocks on a baking pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serves six to eight.

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Pasta for good mac and cheese must be cooked al dente, tender but firm, before being baked. Gluten-free pastas often require less cooking time than that stated on the package. Always take small bites of the pasta during the cooking process to determine the optimal firmness.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound brown rice elbow or shell pasta

Cheese sauce:

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 cups shredded sharp yellow or white Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup sliced green onions, optional


2/3 cup Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup gluten-free dried bread crumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and return to the pot. For the topping: In a small bowl, stir all the ingredients together. For the cheese sauce: In a medium saucepan, whisk the cream, mustard, salt and cayenne pepper together. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat and whisk in the Cheddar cheese until smooth. Pour sauce over pasta and stir in green onions. Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the topping and bake until edges are bubbly and the top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serves four to six.

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This is for a baked chicken strip flavored with Cheddar and sour cream potato chips, or any flavor chips desired that are gluten-free. This recipe serves four and will help blot out memories of a famous fried chicken that has tempted people for years.

Cheddar and Sour Cream Chicken Strips

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1- by 3-inch strips

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 large egg

2 cups Cheddar and sour cream-flavored potato chips, pulverized in a food processor

Put chicken in a large resealable plastic bag with 1 cup buttermilk and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet. Put pulverized chips in a large resealable plastic bag. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons buttermilk and egg. Take four to five strips of chicken, allowing excess buttermilk to drip off into the egg mixture. Put in plastic bag with potato chips. Toss to coat thoroughly. Transfer coated chicken to the prepared pan and repeat with the remaining chicken. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden crisp on the outside and opaque throughout.

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The “Gluten-Free Everyday Cookbook” tells that this recipe participant is reminded of her Aunt Doris and her secret recipe for awesome baked beans. The beans are cooked slowly with molasses and brown sugar to give them the great taste.

Jitter Baked Beans

1 pound dried navy beans

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 white onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup strong brewed coffee

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, soak beans overnight in water to cover by 2 inches. Drain the beans and transfer to a large saucepan. Add water to cover and stir in the baking soda. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes. Skim off foam, drain the bean liquid into another pot or bowl and save the liquid for later use. Place half the onions, half the garlic and half the beans in the bottom of a slow cooker. Repeat the step another time with the onions, garlic and beans. In a medium bowl, whisk together half of the bean liquid and the olive oil, coffee, brown sugar, molasses, ketchup, dr mustard, salt, chili powder and pepper. Pour over beans, cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Decrease the heat to low and cook for eight more hours. Serves six.

Note: You also can prepare this in a kettle or large pot with a lid instead of a slow cooker. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 1 hour and then decrease the heat to 275 degrees and cook for five to six hours.

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This is a pie crust made with white rice flour, tapioca flour and xanthan gum, and it is told that it is just as flaky and flavorful as any that grandma made. And it it gluten-free and can be filled with a fruit that has been thickened with cornstarch.

Pie crust

1 1/4 cups white rice flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

4 tablespoons cold butter

1/2 cup milk

In a medium bowl, whisk together white rice flour, tapioca flour, sugar, baking soda, xanathan gum and salt. Add shortening and butter. Using the fingertips, a pastry blender or two dinner knives rub or cut the shortening and butter into the dry ingredients until they are the texture of a coarse meal with pea-size pieces.

Gradually stir in the milk with a fork to moisten the ingredients. On a board lightly floured with tapioca flour, form the dough into a ball, then a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to two days. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set aside. Roll out dough between two pieces of waxed paper into a 12-inch round.

Remove the waxed paper from the top of the round and invert the pie plate on top of the dough. Place other hand under the waxed paper and turn the round over so the dough falls into the pan. Tuck the dough into the pan and peel off the waxed paper. Let the overhand drape over the edge of the pie plate while gently fitting the dough into the pan. Trim with scissors to a 1-inch overhand and crimp the edges with thumb and forefinger.

To make a fully baked crust, use the tines of a fork to evenly poke holes in the bottom and sides of the crust to prevent it from rising when prebaked.

Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool before filling with a cooked pudding that is made with cornstarch or an instant pudding.

(McCoy can be contacted at