I was joking with a friend the other day that my husband has never been to their house. I, being the running partner of ‘Mighty M’, had been to her house many times for various training runs. Her husband laughed and said, “well, we don’t want to kill you. We don’t exactly have a gluten free kitchen”.
That got me thinking. If I charted my dinners with friends both pre-celiac diagnosis and post, would the line plummet? Yes, it would.
I don’t blame my friends. Loving me enough to not want to kill me is very nice. But, is there a way to inform them, and your friends, in the ways of hosting a person with Celiac Disease? I thought, “yes”. So let’s get started.
Chances are good your friend not only has Celiac Disease, but also has other food restrictions. Don’t let this scare you! Ask your friend, even if you think you already know, about these needs and take notes so you don’t forget.
Planning The Menu
Think about your courses, one at a time, as to not get overwhelmed. Do you have a go-to meal? Perhaps it can be modified to accommodate your friend.
Let me just say, salad and fruit seems to be the purgatory of people with Celiac Disease. When we try to eat outside of our homes, these two items are sometimes (I’ll venture to say most times) the only offering. So, go beyond those choices. How about Prosciutto Wrapped Figs, or Artichoke Dip with gluten free chips or crackers.
If you have an omnivore, your favorite proteins will probably work. Normal cuts of chicken, beef, pork, fish and turkey are all naturally gluten free. Watch out for sausages or any other processed meat. How about trying Stealhead Trout with Rosemary or Beef Roast with Vegetables?
Starches and veg can vary from simply roasting potatoes and seasonal vegetables in the oven to more elaborate dishes such as Mushroom Risotto or a Mock Mac and Cheese.
Here is where things can get tricky… SO MANY desserts contain gluten and many gf desserts are below par by far. Not only that, but purchasing gluten free flour blends can be an investment. This is where your prowess in the kitchen, and consideration of your available time needs to be considered. If you have the gift of time, maybe a Pineapple Up Side Down Cake – I guarantee your friend with Celiac disease hasn’t had one of these in a long time! If this isn’t your bag, then I have (or, rather Aldi has) a solution for you. Their Live G Free line of cake, brownie and bar mixes are really quite good. Just follow the instructions on the box, and read through my preparation tips to eliminate possible cross contamination.
Let’s Not Forget About Drinks!
Refer to my first tip, Preliminary Investigation, and find out what your friend likes to drink. Chances are, if you are close friends, you already know. But, ask again to make sure. Try to steer clear of mixed and blended drinks like Long Island Iced Tea or Margaritas. With so many ingredients, this is playing with fire. Adopt the KISS method (Keep It Simple Stupid) and serve wine, hard cider, flavored seltzer or soda. Be aware that most sodas are gluten free, but look out for root beer because some brands are not.
Gluten is not just limited to flour-based items. Malt, barley, and rye are all glutenous and dangerous to a person with Celiac disease. Other surprising places gluten hides includes: Soy Sauce, oats, oat flour, rice cereals, pre-cooked/prepared rice products, bouillon cubes, sauces, malt vinegar, and pre-mixed seasonings. Other ingredients that should raise a red flag are listed here. Again, if in doubt, ask your friend!
Gluten free options have taken over our grocery isles and some are really good. For instance, Barilla Gluten Free pastas are very nice, and Crunchmaster crackers are delicious.
Danger Will Robinson! (Cooking in your kitchen)
You have planned your menu, read the labels and finished your shopping… now what?
Cross contamination in your kitchen is now the most dangerous part of the operation. Let’s talk equipment…
Your oven and grill: Just because it is super hot does not mean gluten is not hiding. To denature a gluten protein to the point of elimination the recommended minimum temperature is 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. After the heating process of the oven, use a wet cloth with metal tongs to wipe down the racks. For the grill, use metal tongs with crumpled foil to scrub the grates (don’t use your normal grill cleaning utensil – that probably has gluten on it).
Toasters should not be used no matter how ‘clean’.
Crockpots or slow cookers can be used, but ask your friend is they are comfortable with this, or use a liner.
Pots and Pans: Non-stick pots and pans and seasoned cast iron should never be used to cook gluten free food. Although these look clean, the coating certainly contains gluten. Stainless steel or thoroughly cleaned enameled cookware can be used.
Utensils: Soft plastic (like rubber spatulas) and wooden utensils should not be used unless brand new. Metal/stainless steel and hard plastic works well as long as they are thoroughly cleaned.
Cutting boards and other surfaces: Wooden cutting boards should not be used. Plastic cutting boards are typically ok as long as they are washed thoroughly. If you are still nervous about this, try disposable cutting sheets.
Foil is your friend: Cookie sheets, serving platters or anything else you might think is questionable can be carefully covered with heavy duty foil. Disposable aluminium products are also really great for cake pans, casseroles, breads, etc. Once cleaned, they can also be recycled, so that’s a bonus!
Residue: Give all your surfaces, cookware and dishes a once-over. Are they clean? Do they have dishwasher residue?
You Can Do This!
Don’t be nervous, just be thorough. Remember to ask your friend if you have any doubt (they are happy to answer your questions, believe me!) and don’t be offended if they watch over your shoulder in the kitchen or ask to see labels. Speaking of labels, keep all the packaging for review – don’t trash cans and cartons until well after they have left.
Sit Back and Enjoy!
Your friend is going to LOVE your hospitality and be grateful for your efforts!