Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gluten free Thanksgiving (planning & ideas)

The first time I made a gluten free Thanksgiving, everyone thought I had gotten sick because after the meal I went upstairs to sleep. I was perfectly fine, it was just the tryptophan kicking in. That first year I sort of over did it. I was cooking for 8 hours strait and learned a bunch of lessons, mainly, that I needed to plan ahead and let some unnecessary dishes fall by the wayside.

Putting together a feast can be a little daunting, when all of a sudden you want to have classic dishes and you don't have a ton of time to do recipe testing and half of your ingredients are new, foreign and expensive.

The most important thing is to plan, in advance. While many stores are getting better about carrying gluten-free alternatives, they don't always order a ton. Stock up on staples, essentials and non-perishables before the holiday rush. So pretty much ignore the fact that I have yet to figure out the plan for dinner or stock up on millet bread. (I love Enjoy Life's gluten-free millet bread for both stuffed mushrooms and stuffing/dressing.)

Talk it out
If you are hosting or going somewhere for the big day, talk to participants ahead of time about cross-contamination and labeling. Set up a game plan but build in some emotional padding because its going to be hard for anyone new to this to succeed 100%. I think the hardest thing for friends and loved ones of those who cannot eat the gluten to understand is that most people don't have an instant, violent reaction. If a mistake is made in the kitchen or at the table, we are not going to get rushed, via ambulance, to the hospital in anaphylactic shock. Its a pain in the ass, literally and figuratively, but part of sharing meals is often explaining what happens with our bodies. Get yourself a few good articles that you can email - see list below - that will help clarify what is going on. Its also a good idea to have a rather standardized spiel about what you can and cannot eat. This way, everyone involved will be getting the same, clear message.

Read Labels
Ask people to save wrappers and packaging so you can inspect it and deem it safe. If people get touchy about it, most people don't like to feel like you are criticizing them or their food, just give an example of when you yourself thought something was gluten free and was surprised when it wasn't and that you got really sick for 2 weeks because [you ate the old version of Rice Chex, when the new gluten-free version was out].

Gobble tips
*If you are having a turkey, make sure that the bird itself isn't contaminated by being in "natural juices" of unknown origin.
*If a roaster bag is used, make sure that no one dusts the inside with flour - per the box's instructions.
*No gluten-stuffing in the bird. Don't let someone tell you that "oh you can have the drumstick" and just not eat the meat that's near the cavity. If you are stuffing a bird, your stuffing hands are all over that beast, flipping it and moving it around and no, its not gluten free. I am personally in the Alton Brown came of being against stuffing all together because it increases the cooking time and dries out the bird.

Making the food
Try to find recipes that you love or at least others have made several times with really clear, good directions. If you are making gluten free pie dough for the first time, its going to feel really weird. Find recipes that give good indications of color, touch and smell so you feel a bit more confident in your cooking/baking/preparations.

This is NOT the time to try out some new thing that you don't know if your body likes or not. (See me eating a bunch of cookies with soy flour and needing a nappity nap and some alone time shortly there after.) If friends bring along a gluten-free treat... you know, one of those pies from Whole Foods - there is NOTHING wrong with saying thank you and eating it the next day in the privacy of your own home with a pair of elastic waist pants to allow for the fun bubbles to easily accumulate and escape because you didn't think eating that much dairy could be "that bad."

Eating the food
My latest default is to be the excited person who dives into everything first -sometimes I even pull extra aside for seconds/left overs - so that I know what utensils have touched what. If you are feeling crafty (or channeling Martha) you could even make note or place setting cards to label each dish, and write "gluten-free" and/or "vegetarian" so everyone knows whats what.
Thanksgiving is about celebrating, and lets face it, eating a ton of food. So even if you label everything and remind people about cross-contamination... its still hard not to dollop on some mashed potatoes and avoid the spoon touching the stuffing.
So, either make everything gluten free, or seriously, serve yourself first.

Recipe & Resource Round-up Yeeeehaaaaah

Brining the Bird
Cooking the Bird

Gravy - arrowroot starch works the best! Use it like you would corn starch - mix it with cold water to make a slurry - and then slowly add it to the simmering pan drippings and stock, bring to a boil and lower down to a simmer. Add in salt and pepper to taste.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Cranberry Sauce

Apple Pie with a flaky crust

Vegan Pumpkin Custard (you can use this as pie filling)


Gling gluten free Thanksgiving

Celiac.com's Thanksgiving guide

Karina's Kitchen Thanksgiving guide

Gluten-free Review's Thanksgiving guide

I have no idea what is going to make it to the table this year, but I am excited about mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing, gravy and brussel sprouts for sure!


  1. Hey, if you want some other great recipe ideas. I found this woman by the name Rose Cole, she's a certified nutrition coach and she has awesome Holiday Recipes that are gluten free. Her site is www.RoseCole.com/HolidayCookbook. I highly recommend checking it out!

  2. Thanks Nancy, this looks interesting!