We have been dealing with gluten free cooking in our home for over 17 years now. It started with our youngest daughter being diagnosed as having celiac disease when she was 14. Next was my husband who was diagnosed about 10 years ago. Then my father was diagnosed a few years ago in his 80’s. All 3 of them have celiac disease. Both my husband and my father were in denial for many years but now are serious about their gluten free diets.
Over the years I have experimented with many gluten free recipes and products. A high percentage of them were epic fails. I have learned that keeping it simple is the best strategy. I have also learned particularly with baked goods which lets face it we all want to indulge in at Christmas time, it is best to just make them as you need them. Trying to make too much ahead of time doesn’t always work. Gluten free baked goods have a short shelf life and go stale very quickly. I have made gluten free sugar cookies and shortbread cookies which do freeze well. I just take out what I need for that day and keep the rest frozen until needed. Other things I just make as I need them, serve them that day. This goes for appetizers, main courses and desserts. I feel that serving them right away gives the best result rather than making ahead.
Here are a few Christmas dinner tips that have worked for us:
- Stuffing. Best to not put it in the turkey. Do it in a casserole and heat it up while turkey is resting. The recipe that has worked the best from all that I have tried is over on the blog of Wheat Free Mom.(wwwwheatfreemom.com) It uses a package of Udi’s hot dog buns of all things. I cut them up the day before and toast them. I just leave them on the baking sheet and cover them with wax paper over night once they have cooled and use them the next day to put the casserole together. Check out her blog and give it a try. I have made this one quite a few times and find it excellent for a traditional stuffing. (especially with lots of gravy!)
- Gravy. I have tried tapioca, corn starch, potato starch and all purpose GF flour. They all work but I find the best is the all purpose flours on the market now. They are sooo much better than they used to be. I stir a couple of tablespoons of the flour into the drippings and cook that for a couple of minutes. Then add chicken stock and stir until consistency is right for you. If you find it a bit thin, then shake up a bit of flour with water in a jar and add it slowly until it works for you. If you need to supplement it the gluten free gravy mixes on the market today are not bad. I always have some on hand. The trick in making gluten free gravy is to not to use too much thickener. It makes it way too like wallpaper paste. So add it sparingly until you have it right and/or use a mix if you need to. The problem with using cornstarch is when you want to reheat it the next day. I find it very gelatinous. I much prefer using the flour.
- Vegetables. Going with old fashioned mashed potatoes and plain old carrots and peas or beans works for us. Trying to do things with sauces has been a disaster most of the time. Keep it simple and you won’t go wrong. One successful thing I have done on occasions where I want to have the potatoes done ahead of time is to boil the potatoes in chicken stock. Also boil some parsnips and turnips. Combine it all and mash. Add some carmelized onions and put it all into a casserole dish. This can simply be reheated in the oven while the turkey is resting.
- Pies. I have not had a lot of success with gluten free pie crust. My Mom who always turned out the most awesome pies all her life has also tried to make gluten free pie crust without much luck either. My answer to a fruit pie is that I turn to a crisp or crumble with an oat topping. You can substitute any kind of fruit in season and they always turn out great. My recipe is on the blog. I have tried buying frozen gluten free crusts and tart shells from the health food store. Some have been OK and some not so much. I do buy the occasional pie crust to make a lemon pie but really I have been having better luck using gluten free cookies and whizzing them up in a food processor and using them for crusts. My Mom always makes mince tarts at Christmas time and has been buying frozen tart shells for them. The tart shells seem to bake up a wee bit better than the larger pie shells. Another tip is to make a gluten free version of a date square and substitute mincemeat for the filling. Very festive! When making a turkey pot pie with leftover turkey, I have started to make it more like a shepherd’s pie type with a mashed potato top.
- Cakes. In the beginning of our gluten free quest 17 years ago, making a cake was pretty much a disaster. Fast forward to today and it’s a totally different story. The gluten free flours on the market now are really pretty good. Some have xantham gum already in them. If not, then add some to your recipe. There are some good mixes available now also.
- Muffins, Scones, Pancakes, Cookies. My go to ingredient in this category is oats. Make sure you buy oats that are certified as gluten free. I also recommend starting out slow with oats if you haven’t tried them as a celiac. We have had no problem with oats. Try them and see if you get any reaction. Oat flour and almond flour are good choices for muffins, cookies and pancakes. I find that using mashed banana or applesauce helps to keep muffins and loaves moist enough. The sugar cookies pictured below are made with Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Sugar Cookies recipe. For gluten free pancakes, there is a good recipe over on the blog: www.hometoheather.com using buckwheat flour. One of the better pancake mixes out there right now is Pamela’s.
- Appetizers. I have never been a big appetizer girl. Stick a bit of cheese and a few crackers on a plate and that is about the extent of it. One success I have had has been parmesan quinoa bites. These things are awesome. Easy to make and get ready early in the day and just pop them in the oven just before you want to serve them. GF guests as well as everyone else, love them.
I use a lot of recipes from the blogs of both Home to Heather and Wheat Free Mom. I find that these bloggers really test and tweak their recipes before publishing them so I have confidence that they turn out. Gluten free baking is an art form unto itself! I have tried various recipes floating around facebook and pinterest and they quite often fail. You cannot just use an ordinary recipe and just substitute GF flour. That does not always work. These blogs also have recipes that are dairy free as well as gluten free. My husband and daughter both feel better avoiding dairy, so lots of tips on those blogs. Wheat Free Mom’s recipes are always gluten free. Home to Heather has both gluten free and non. There are many other bloggers out there with good gluten free recipes as well. Find one that really tests the recipes. That is important.
It is totally possible to turn out a wonderful tasty gluten free Christmas dinner. Keeping it simple has worked for me. If I try and get too fancy, that is when it will all go wrong! So try these tips and have a very Merry Gluten Free Christmas!