Category Archives: People

Gluten-Free Staples: What do you have in your cupboards?

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I think we can all agree that learning about Gluten-free living is *definitely* a gradual process. While “giving up gluten’ can be instantaneous, it is a huge process to get back in the kitchen with confidence. Please help add whatever information you feel is lacking in the comments section.
I’ve thought about this post for a long time. Never quite sure how to lay it all out so that it made sense. Then I got an email from Stacy asking me about my standard pantry ingredients. And she’s right. It’s time to stop putting this post off and just get to it.

When I was diagnosed, we lived in a funky apartment in Chicago. It was in a brown stone in Wrigleyville. The building had obviously been a single family home that had once been converted into three flats. And then the flats had been divided in half and six apartments were born. Thus my funky apartment had a kitchen actually larger than one of the bedrooms. It was a weird layout. My favorite part of it was the fact that in addition to the awesome kitchen space, there was a walk in pantry.

A walk in pantry which had been filled to the brim with glorious gluten-filled food stuffs. All of which need to find new homes when I learned I couldn’t eat them any more. The unopened items were all donated to the food shelter. The opened ones either hit the trash or were given to close friends. A few were saved and eaten by my love.

And then the restructuring of the pantry began.

Are you in the process of restructuring your pantry? Well then, this post is for you.

  • First things first. Don’t worry if it feels like a slow process. It is. It *has* to start slowly. Not only are the ingredients more expensive than what you may have been purchasing, but they also work differently.
  • Only buy the basics that you will use. Build from there. Check out a few recipes you want to try, on blogs, at the library, at the bookstore or from your GI’s office or local support group. What are the basic flours they use? Some people find it easier to begin with – or even stick with – using a flour mix (like “Pamela’s” or Bob’s Red Mill GF Mix – Two general, and widely known, gluten-free flour mixes).
  • Pick up some basic cookbooks -but be warned: as with any cookbook, they depend greatly on your cooking knowledge and comfort. Many gluten-free cookbooks highlight basic recipes that are gluten-free and others cater to people who are more adventurous or experienced in baking. Cooking gluten free is easier to learn than baking gluten free. (See note above about flours.)

And What do we have in our pantry now? Well, a lot!
I sometimes think that each diagnosis of Celiac or Gluten-Intolerance should come with a gift certificate for a kitchen renovation. Mine is seriously lacking in storage space to begin with…and then enter the Gluten-Free baker? Oh yea. It’s a tight fit around here.

Basic Starches: There are three basic starches used in the majority of gluten free cooking. While there are more gluten free starches (like arrowroot), I have only included the ones I have used the most frequently. Hands down, I prefer to work with Tapioca Starch for most of my gluten-free baking needs.

  • Cornstarch
    Called corn flour in Europe. Not to be confused with American corn flour used for corn bread or tamales, etc.
    Has a relatively neutral flavor for most people
    Lightens heavy textures and creates a smooth crisp crust
  • Potato Starch
    Sometimes called Potato Starch Flour. It is NOT the same as potato flour.
    Has a sweet, strong potato flavor
    Creats a moist crumb, lightens heavy textures
  • Tapioca Starch
    Sometimes called Tapioca Starch Flour or Manioc Flour
    Slightly sweet flavor
    Creates a chewy, slightly springy texture and a crisp smooth crust

Basic Flours:

If you are a visual person, this is a great page to look at. It has photos of many of the flours so you can compare and contrast what they look like.

I actually have several flours on hand at any given time. But I began with basic rice flour. Sorghum (or Jowar) flour was not as widely available even 8 years ago, but now it is another staple. My top four flours are sorghum, rice, sweet rice, and millet. For other things I love to use coconut flour, almond flour, teff flour, quinoa flour, buckwheat flour, etc. I actually find it enjoyable to try out the new flavors available to us. I consider it a “perk”, if you will. Who knows if I would have been so adventurous had I not been diagnosed with Celiac Sprue.

  • Rice Flour
    Available as Brown rice flour, White rice flour, or Superfine (finely ground) rice flour.
    People have found the superfine rice flour to create lighter goods with a less dense texture than typical rice flour based baked goods.
    Creates a dry, fine crumb with a soft crust
  • Sorghum Flour
    Also called Jowar Flour
    Has a slightly sweet flavor.
    Creates baked goods with a fine crumb and a crisp crust.
  • Sweet Rice Flour
    Also called “Glutinous rice flour” or Mochi flour. (It is gluten free.)
    Ground from a different type of rice than the regular rice flour, this is still gluten free
    It can be used as a starch (for thickening) or as part of a flour combination (for cakes, dumplings, etc)
    Slightly sweet in flavor.
    Creates a tender crumb
  • Millet Flour
    Mildly sweet when fresh to slightly bitter if old.
    Creates a dry, delicate crumb and a smooth thin crust.

I have pages and pages of more information for the other flours and starches I use. I thought maybe this would be a great place to start. There are a few other posts from others that you may find helpful as well.

Check out these posts as you begin your gluten-free journey as well.

I hope this helps someone get a start on this lifestyle. It really is an adventure.

If you are looking for more information about the texture, crumb, etc of a particular flour, please just ask or leave a comment. I would love to know how to better develop this post and resource.


PS. I’ve gotten a couple emails asking about the containers I use. I used to have a mishmash of containers of different shapes – which made storage a mess! I recently purchased a bunch of Lock & Lock airtight containers. These have worked GREAT. In fact, I’ve even had one fly out of my hands and crash into the flour… WITHOUT it opening! Oh man! It would have been a HUGE mess (it was a tub of tapioca starch) to clean up. The ones that I bought have locking tabs on all four sides – which is why, I’m sure, it didn’t open. While I have linked to the ones available on Amazon, you can often find them at larger Asian markets in urban areas for relatively the same price and sometimes MUCH cheaper on sale.

A shout out to Shauna

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So… I am still home sick. Apparently when I want to get sick, I’m going to do it well and get it ALL!!! Wahoo! (Not really though.) This morning I opened my work email only to discover 68 unread messages (OMG OMG OMG) and as I began to plow through them with as many responses as I could. Dang. Next week is going to be a busy one for me.

So I did the only thing a girl can do in this situation. I made some toast, poured a glass of OJ and finished reading Shauna’s new book, “Gluten Free Girl”. Rarely do I get a chance to actually read a whole non-work related novel during the school year (non-vacation days, anyway) and I love to read. It was fun to get Shauna’s book in the mail a while back when it came out and I’ve flipping through it on/off since it arrived.

A little shout out to Shauna – Well done, Gluten-Free Girl!

When I was first diagnosed, I read a book called “Against the Grain” by Jax Peters Lowell. I liked Jax’s book – but only because I needed to see some other example of survival without denial of life at the time. At the onset, I dragged my love to a poor example of a “support” group meeting where we were the only people within 25 years of our age set either direction. The people in attendance listened to a speaker talk about testing for Celiac (and he made many inaccurate statements). What made it worse was the attitude they exuded when they talked about food. It was all very Eeyore-like. We didn’t go back.

What I learned by reading Jax’s book (which was published 4 short years before my diagnosis in 1996) was how quickly our knowledge of food and gluten has evolved – let alone our knowledge of Celiac Sprue. Many of the statements in Jax’s book may have been accurate at the time of her writing, but they were no longer applicable. Just like many of the statements the medical professional made at the support meeting – inaccurate and no longer true, but still being given to people who wanted new information.

Take this tidbit from the medical guy: “All Celiac patients will have positive blood test results.” Um. No. We don’t. I was diagnosed with a biopsy and have never had a positive blood test result for Celiac. At my latest physical and blood work follow-up, my doctor assured me that I am not an anomaly, but that it is common. The only “gold standard” of diagnosis of Celiac Sprue is in fact a biopsy for many cases. Fortunately, not everyone has to undergo a biopsy and they can have blood tests done that indicate the disease as well. (Ah well… there goes my last hold out hope… LOL – KIDDING!)

Enter stage left, a new book with a personal story of going gluten-free. Shauna takes you for a ride as she revisits her foodie-beginnings. And believe me you, this girl is a foodie. After reading what she digested as a youth, I can see why she jumped in to the foodie world with both feet and a backpack. My god, my mom would be proud of me when I tell her I read this book and couldn’t relate to the foods devoured in Shauna’s home. In fact, I don’t think my mom ever bought a loaf of “Wonderbread” even if I would have begged for it. LOL

The beauty of Shauna’s book is, however, instead of a finite list of things one MUST do or NOT do, there is information about grains, oils, salts, etc. Shauna’s book is joining my cooking resources in the kitchen. Oh sure, she has some interesting and delectable recipes within (many with twists of things she’s posted on her blog and others are just new), but the reality of Shauna’s book is this:


Shauna gives a list of the grains that we enjoy and explore like Amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum, etc. She gives us lists of shi-shi salts, oils, seasonings, etc that are worthy of exploration and entertainment. She has comfort recipes and recipes for easy entertainment. There’s something about her foodie-obsession that makes me realize what a huge benefit to our gluten-free community she is.

Think about this for a moment.

Living in Seattle – or any other metropolitan area, there is greater access to some basic food ideas and staples from all over the world. (I know I miss my Chicago groceries immensely!) I learned recently that my buddy Ginger was having a hard time finding spring roll wrapper sheets. This blew my mind. How can this be? Oh wait – totally different area of the country = totally different grocery access. It makes SOME sense, but it’s sad regardless.

Shauna has great access to a wide variety of foods, great experience and an easy writing style that will make people want to try the things she writes about. It will have you wondering just where you can buy a wide variety of high -quality olive oils in your town (I promise). And then the best part will happen – we will all start asking for these things to come to our towns.

Think of how radically your local grocer has changed since you were younger – the variety of produce, products, “ethnic” items, etc. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Why did it change? Because the populous and the consumers demanded it, craved it and thereby we created the change. Nothing is more evident to me than walking through the various grocery stores in Chicago – depending on the neighborhood and finding a drastic difference in what is available to purchase. All of the items are targeting the neighborhood population – which meant in some neighborhoods, I could find greens and in some, I couldn’t.

In my town, for example, we live practically in the middle of two Fred Meyer grocery stores. Each of these stores has a “Natural Foods” or “Gluten-free” section, but one store has a “gluten free section” that takes up nearly five sets of 8 shelves. The other, its sister store about 7 miles south, has a 5 shelf section for the same goods. What gives? Apparently one of these stores has a more active consumer group than the other – or so I imagine.

I’ve gotten more courageous now too. When I see the woman who stocks the “Natural Foods” (by the way, isn’t it CRAZY that a GROCERY store has to label some food as NATURAL?? Good lord, what the hell else are they selling? Oh yea. That’s a whole other topic too. LOL). Anyway, when I see her, I now stop and talk to her. The other day, she actually stopped me. Her brother had just been diagnosed with Celiac and she asked if I could help. You bet. I wrote down several places to start, books to read, foods to find, ingredients to have on hand at home, and websites to check. I think I’m going to have to start carrying some of this information around with me though. In the middle of my conversation with her, three more people stopped to tune in and ask similar questions.

I’m no expert. But how long have we been doing this? And how hard is that first year? Or couple years? Ok. I’ll help. I’ll start asking my grocers and food co-ops (who are really great, by the way) to get in items that are helpful and explore new ones. It’s worth it. We all benefit when the “Natural Food” aisles expand.

Funny, as I’m writing this my love called from work to check on me and ask me to call about our turkey. We ordered our turkey from a local butcher – a free-range, locally raised Turkey that they will brine for me tonight in kosher salt. Nothing else. No additives, nothing bizarre added to “maintain freshness”. It will be fabulous. I can’t wait. (Oh! I must be getting better – food is starting to sound good again!)

So, Shauna, thank you. Thank you for living out your glorious foodie ways in our gluten-free world. Thank you for sharing ideas, creative missives for the foodie in all of us, and your recipes. Thank you for sharing your love story with the Chef. And YES, Shauna, YES. Isn’t that what life is all about anyway?

As for the rest of us, may I just suggest that we continue to build the supportive communities that help us flourish, survive and dine on finger-licking (or fork-licking) good gluten-free delights. There are many things to be thankful of this holiday season. YES, there are.

Happy Gluten-Free Holidays to All –

By the way, Shauna has just posted an AWESOME round-up post of her own advice for a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving.  Check it out if you are working on your first one.  I will post your recipe round up pictures of your glorious Gluten-Free Holiday food here on the 30th.

GF: Plantain Empanadas with Queso Fresco

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Oh… sometimes you just have to try a new recipe. And… well.. sometimes you make it once, take a picture for your blog, and then spend the next week dreaming about the next time you get to make it. It was that tasty. Next time, I think I’ll try baking these empanadas – but dang… the fried version was wonderful.

Rick Bayless inspired these empanadas. He’s an amazing chef who spent many, many years studying the many different regional cooking styles in Mexico. The flavors he imparts into the food with the methods are amazing. All of his cookbooks do an incredible job of teaching about the food, ingredients, culture and offer adaptations. I think we own every single one of his books. We frequently check the local bookstores to see if he has made another one. Yeap. We’re Rick-Bayless Groupies. (Ok, *I* am. I don’t think my love would make the same claim, but I know he likes the food as well as Rick’s TV Show.)

To make the empanadas, make sure you have some time to do it. While this takes a while, the end-results were worth it for me. I think this is an interesting process. The next time we have a cooking party, I will make these with our friends/family. Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think I need to plan a “Let’s Make Tamales and Empanadas Together” Party. Boy! That would be fun! We could sit and chat while making these and then everyone could go home with part of the bounty for their families! OH OH OH – Hmmm… I wonder….. do you think this sounds like a good idea?

I know the empanadas were tasty enough for me to be thinking of them over and over again since I made them! I know I will have to try to make these again sometime soon – that’s for sure! The more the merrier, right? :)

Plantain Empanadas
2-3 plantains, semi-ripe
1 cup GF flour mix
1/2 teaspoon salt (don’t add the salt if using broth)
1/4 – 1/2 cup warm water or warm chicken broth (don’t add salt if using broth)
1 cup queso fresco
2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs of your choosing (cilantro, parsley, etc)


  1. Slice open each plantain with one, long slit length-wise. Lay on foil or parchment paper and bake at 400F for 35-45 minutes until slightly seeping. Once cool enough to handle, peel the plantains and leave the plantain “meat” in a bowl to cool a bit longer.
  2. Once the plantains have cooled, process the plantain “meat” in a food processor until finely ground/flour-like. Add the GF flour mix and pulse until well blended.
  3. Add warm water/warm broth by the tablespoon while pulsing until a semi-soft dough forms (the same consistency as making tortillas).
  4. Divide the dough into 16 small pieces.
  5. Using a tortilla press – or a rolling pin, press/roll each small piece into a round disk no thicker than 1/4″. When making the rounds, use a cut open Ziploc bag – or similar style plastic bag. Cut the bag so that three sides are open but one is still attached. Put the dough ball on one side of the ziplock and then lay the other side on top. Then roll/press. The thickness of the Ziploc bag will last much longer than parchment paper or wax paper and make it easier to fill the empanada.
  6. Mix together the fresh herbs/seasonings of your choosing in a small bowl.
  7. Fill each flattened disk with 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of queso fresco (be sure not to overfill!) by placing the cheese on one side. Fold the other side over the top and seal the empanada by pressing the dough together firmly. Be sure to fill or press together any parts of the dough that open accidentally. Lay aside filled/sealed empanadas until you have finished filling them all.
  8. Preheat the oven to 200F and heat a generous amount of oil (I used about 1 1/2″ of vegetable oil in a deep 3 quart pan) until a small amount of leftover dough will begin to fry easily when placed into the oil.
  9. Fry the empanadas in small batches (of 3-4) until golden brown (3-4 minutes) then flip and continue frying for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove from oil with slotted spoon/tongs and lay on paper towels in an ovenproof dish. Place the finished empanadas in the heated/warm oven to keep them warm until serving time.

I know this one is a bit of work, but I’m really glad I tried this recipe. I will make these again and again.