Monday, July 25, 2011

Little Miss Cross-Contamination Detector (And when "gluten-free" ain't so gluten-free)

It's a picture of me!  Little Miss Cross-Contamination Detector!  Complete with a typical hive breakout after I have ingested gluten!

Probably the most frustraiting thing about being gluten-free for medical reasons is having to find out, the hard way, when things are not really gluten-free.

In the past few weeks I've had allergic reactions (and as you can see by the picture, this means a fun breakout of hives all over) to canned beans, pine nuts, rice, and "gluten-free" soup.  All things that should be fine, but were not.


It doesn't take much to impact someone who is sensative to those items.  We've all heard stories on the news about some people's reactions to peanut allergies that sadly, result in death.  It's not typical for celiacs or adult-onset wheat allergy folks like myself to have a reaction that drastic, but once you start saying the word "allergy" some people can get really scared about serving you anything.  Before our last trip to Vegas I was researching food options and I contacted one place that was on our bucket list for Vegas, Hot 'N' Juicy Crawfish.  I just wanted to know if they had any soy sauce or wheat in their seasoning and I gave a list of usual things that might cause a problem.  The email response I got?  "Maybe you better not eat here."

Thankfully I found the Las Vegas celiac group and someone there confirmed that really, the place was fine for anyone with problems with wheat.  And we did eat there, and I had no problems afterwards.

But a couple of weeks ago I met a friend for lunch and I ordered two things off their "gluten-free" menu - soup and a salad.  And when I ordered I did also mention I had a wheat allergy and asked if they could ask the kitchen staff to be careful.  I got my salad and started picking it apart, and promptly found a piece of pasta in the salad (they place has small tube pasta in some of their salads).  I brought it back to the servers, they apoligized, and then they brought me a fresh salad.  But I still ended up getting sick, and since then I've not been able to get a response from them if they use a dedicated pot for their "gluten-free" soup - I suspect they do not, and that was enough cross-contamination to have me in misery for a couple of days.

I understand the risks in eating out.  There are places that are usually fine - a bunless burger from Five Guys when you ask them to please put on new gloves before handling your burger, salads from Wendy's (all their croutons are in packages), my local Jimmy Johns will make me a sandwich on a clean surface and take all meats/cheeses from the bottom of the stack of meats so they aren't covered with crumbs.  I can eat at our local taco place if I get a tostada (whenever I go they are also usually heating bread for tortas on their flat-top grill which means even corn tortillas are out, and their toastadas are fried offsite by the tortilla makers in oil used only for tortilla chips and toastadas) and one of the meat options that is also not heated up on the grilltop.

Cross-contamination can also come early in the process... in the processing of raw ingredients.  That canister of cornmeal you have in the cabinet?  Guess what, it's not gluten-free.  They also process wheat flour, and it is enough to contaminate the cornmeal. I've pretty much given up on dried lentils since the ones I find always, ALWAYS, also have a grain of wheat in the bag.  One time I didn't look before I added them to a chili, and then a wheat grain bobbed to the surface.  I had to throw out 10 pounds of chili.

And a lot of places now will have a "No Gluten Ingredients Used" disclaimer on their product.  Which is NOT the same as gluten-free.  You can use the cornmeal from the example above - cornmeal on its own does not contain gluten - but if it is already cross-contaminated, you're going to have problems.  And I've come to learn that tricky statement usually always means it really does contain enough trace gluten to cause problems.

All that said... gluten-free is still not something to be totally scared of.  I do not maintain a wheat-free kitchen, or household.  I will cook and serve regular pasta to my husband, I keep fluffy white wheat bread on hand so he can have sandwiches and toast (I did have to give up the toaster to his wheat toast and if I want toast, it's broiler city for me), he'll eat fast food sandwiches.  If I have a sauce for the pasta, I'll put some aside so my hubby can serve himself from that dish (he's a smoosher of pasta sauce into his pasta and he always forgets and uses the spoon he's using to serve himself and then flops it right back into the container without thinking).  I try to keep a side of the sink clean so if he's had bread or pasta he can put his dishes right in there and they will be scrubbed before they go into the dishwasher.  If wheat bread was used in any form, the counters get wiped down when I am cleaning the kitchen.  There is no "X second rule" in our house - if it touches the ground, it goes in the garbage.  And I haven't had a problem in MONTHS from anything within my house (well, that wasn't a contaminated ingredient).

It's not that hard to at least make a good-effort to do gluten-free when you're not in a gluten-free environment.  It just takes some work.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pie Party - Gluten-Free Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Anyone who has been on a diet misses pie.

And when the word "diet" no longer means "what I am doing temporarily to drop a few pounds" and it means "the dietary restrictions that I have to follow and can't 'cheat' on for the rest of my life", it may seem like you'll never be able to have a pie again.

Yes, I get irrationally (or maybe rationally) angry about all the talk of "The Gluten-Free Diet" as the next big weight loss diet.  It is not a weight loss diet.  It is dietary restrictions that you need to follow, and those things are very, very different.  A few break crumbs WILL make me sick.  (And as I often say, you never hear of anyone offering someone with a peanut allergy a scoop of peanut butter asking them to cheat a little, but it happens ALL the time when you say you're allergic to wheat).

It's been 10 months since I learned I can't have anything wheat.  And that includes pie.

I tried last Christmas to be normal and at least make some cookies and things to try and feel normal.  It was a horrible failure.

I bought the Culinary Institute of America's Gluten-Free Baking book, and I had a couple of successes and a couple of failures (I blame silicone pans).

Then I finally ran across Gluten-Free Girl and all the talk of ratios and how it plays into using non-wheat flours.

Well, duh. Of course.

Thank you, Shauna.  I can at least bake something again.

It makes so much sense, when you actually think about it.  The reason why white wheat flour works like it does is a magic ratio of elements.  And the 70/30 ratio of whole grain to starch.  My mix was brown rice flour and potato starch (I had both on hand in amounts needed to make the blend).

For the actual pie recipe, I was thinking of actually attempting a rolled dough.  But I still have yet to replace my rolling pin (used on flour items before, and gluten hides in wood) and really, I know the reality of any time I try to roll out ANYTHING.  It end up shaped more like Texas than a circle.

Well, you have the ratio and weights and a kitchen scale, dummy, why not just try it on your favorite crust recipe??

Again... duh.

My favorite pie crust recipe is actually a pressed (not rolled) tart crust recipe from an older version of the Fanny Farmer cookbook.  It is the recipe my mother has used for years to make pecan pie, and it was the recipe I used when I moved out and started making pies on my own.  When I decided to buy my own copy of the cookbook I sadly learned it was not the same in current editions of the cookbook (the first copy I bought went to my mother-in-law, and I thankfully found a used copy that was the edition I needed).

I've also adapted the recipe to make more dough, since I always seemed to be a little short on dough.

I know my recipe calls for a cup and a half of wheat flour, which translates to 210 g of flour.  Measured that out from my flour mix.

Threw that into the Cuisinart, and pulsed a few times to mix up the flour.

Then comes 9 T of cold butter.

After I pulsed that for about 30 seconds, I added 2 egg yolks and pulsed for about another 30 seconds.

Kinda looks like panko, doesn't it?

At that point, I started to add ice water until it all started to come together and look like a dough.

After it looks like a dough, you can flop the stuff right into your pie pan, no rolling needed, and press it into shape.

Since I was making this and adding cooked fillings, I docked the bottom of the crust.  Then I threw it in the fridge to chill for an hour.

Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the "just crust".  Although it took a little longer than the original recipe says, it looked like crust.  It smelled like crust.  It didn't crumble into pieces (and when I broke off a small piece just to taste, it tasted kinda like crust).

From there, it was time to work on the fillings.

What... everyone doesn't work off recipe notes on bright pink Post-It notes in their kitchen??  Well, since most of my recipes are digital. this is how I tend to work. 

Once I got the Black Bottom filling done, I sliced in two ripe bananas

When done, topped with the other filling, then put plastic wrap on top of it and put it in the fridge to chill.

Several hours later, I cut out a slice and topped it with whipped cream.

For the first time in over ten months, I've eaten a slice of pie.

And it was good.

Crust might be a little gritty.  My big issue with no-wheat flours is they all tend to be a little more gritty than soft wheat flour... don't know if more resting time for the dough would have helped that, but I do plan on trying that.

Gluten-Free Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Flour mix - 70% brown rice flour, 30% potato starch

210 g flour mix
9 T butter
2 egg yolks
2-4 T cold water

Bake at 425 for 12-18 min  (original recipe called for 12 minutes, I cooked it for 18)

1 T cornstarch
2 T sugar
2 T cocoa powder
pinch salt
1/3 cup milk
1 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 ripe bananas, sliced
2 T cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 oz cream cheese, room temperature
whipped cream

  1. Mix the first five ingredients together and pour into a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Add the semi-sweet chocolate and mix until melted.  Pour into prepared crust.
  2. Top chocolate mixture with sliced bananas.
  3. Mix the cornstarch through milk together, and same as above, pour into a small sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Add 1/3 of the mixture to your cream cheese and beat together, then combine the two mixtures.  Pour on top of bananas.
  4. Cover the pie with cling wrap and chill.  Top with whipped cream before serving.