October 19, 2011

Cross Contamination

Oh goodness! Cross Contamination... Where to even begin? It is such a huge topic in the gluten free community and it is so important to know and understand COMPLETELY if you are ever going to cook for someone who is gluten intolerant.

So many people think cross contamination is complicated and hard to understand, when really, it is extremely simple. All you need to do is pay attention to what you are doing. Here is a very good example of cross contamination when someone isn't paying attention. On the stove is two pots of pasta. One pot has GF pasta and the other pot has G pasta in it. When cooking a "mixed meal", we will call it, you must have separate utensils for the GF items and the G items and you MUST keep them separate. If you take the G spoon and stir the GF pasta, then you have contaminated the GF pasta and the gluten intolerant person can not eat it.

A type of cross contamination that I have mentioned in previos posts has to do with jars or containers of things that you dip into. For example, peanut butter, jelly, butter, mayonnaise, mustard, cheese spreads, etc. Anything in your pantry or refrigerator that is dipped out of, you need to label "Gluten Free" or "Gluten" and you will need two jars of that specific thing. At our house, we are completely gluten free, so I do not have two jars of everything BUT, I still have everything labeled "Gluten Free" or "GF" so that my guests will know. (Obviously I do not deprive my guests of gluten while they are in my house, they just simply get a quick cross contamination lesson and they are all set!)

There are other types of cross contamination that people do not even think about. Here is a quick list of those things:
-Toaster- bread crumbs get stuck on the sides that hold the bread in place.
-Hand Mixer/Stand Mixer-when you turn the mixer on, flour flies everywhere and gets into the mixer, when you turn it on again, the flour falls into whatever you are mixing next.
-Counter Tops
-Knife blocks (Some people use the bread knife and simply wipe it and put it away, this gets the block contaminated as well)
-Sugar container-When you are baking from scratch, do you use the same measuring cup for the sugar after you have dipped it into the flour?
-Sifters-If you use a flour sifter, flour gets stuck into the rim of the sifter. I feel in order for things like this to be cleaned properly, they need to go through the diswasher.
-Frying oil-DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, fry something covered in glutened flour and then use the same oil to fry something gluten free.

Cross contamination is so dangerous. For some people who are gluten intolerant or have Celiac disease, cross contamination is as bad as them actually consuming something that contains gluten on purpose. Even the smallest molecule could cause this person to have a reaction. If you are ever cooking for someone who is gluten intolerant and you are afraid you are going to mess something up, or you have questions about an ingredient, all you need to do is ask them for help. I know people who end up not cooking for that person who is gluten intolerant because they don't want to get them sick. All you need to do, is read the ingredients and be careful. If you are too concerned about cooking a meal and contaminating something, all you have to do is cook a 100% gluten free meal!! I promise, it's not as bad as some people make it out to be!!!

October 17, 2011

Your First Grocery Trip

Your first grocery trip will probably be more stressful than shopping for groceries the day before Thanksgiving. You may think I'm kidding but you will understand when this dreaded trip is over.

As you read this blog, please keep in mind that I am a frugal shopper because funds are very limited for me. We live on about $100 in groceries per month, and some months it is less. I know that sounds absolutely crazy in this day and time with grocery prices the way they are but I have no choice and I make it work. (And no, I am not an extreme couponer, I just don't buy "JUNK")

When I was diagnosed, a trip to the grocery store was difficult. "Gluten Free" was not written on the outside of any box that was gluten free. I had to read every ingredient of every single item I picked up. I got to the point where I would rather just buy things that I knew were naturally gluten free instead of reading ingredients for hours. Some of you may have the luxury of going to a health food store or grocery store and stand on the gluten free aisle and pick up whatever you want. I am mainly referring to the specialty cereals, pretzels, packaged cookies and things like that. There was ONE time where I made a trip to a health food store and purchased gluten free "goodies". I think I walked out of the store with six or seven items and I spent over $50. I decided after that trip that I would never do that again, and I haven't.

Here's how to do gluten free on a budget... Stay on the perimeter! Think about it, fresh and frozen veggies, fresh and frozen meats, milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt. Yes, I buy cereal and I buy ketchup and coffee and all those good things, but after your first initial trip of buying absolutely EVERYTHING you need, you mainly stick to the perimeter unless you are re-stocking something.

Your first trip should consist of the things on your list that you labeled "Gluten" in your refrigerator and some other basics like GF pasta, chips and a gluten free baking mix. Baking mixes are usually multi-purpose.( I use a specific one, which I will talk about it an other post about the different products that I recommend) The baking mix I use can do a lot of things. I use it to make pancakes, biscuits, gravy, bread, breading if I fry anything (which is never), thickeners for soup if I do not have cornstarch, muffins, etc. I would say baking mix is a necessity to purchase on your first shopping trip.

If you shop at Walmart, they have a very good variety of gluten free items. The Walmart I shop at here in Florida, has recently added the world's smallest gluten free section. Ha!! I can't complain, they added my gf cornbread mix that I can not find anywhere else.

Here is what a good "first" GF shopping trip may look like:
-Mustard (if you have the kind in the jar and not the squeeze)
-Butter (if you do not use squeeze butter)
-Peanut Butter (Cross Contamination!!)
-Jelly or Jam
-GF Pasta
-GF Cereal (Chex has great cereals, Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles are GF also)
-GF Chips (Many chips are GF. Doritos has some GF chips, NOTE: nacho cheese is NOT GF.)
-GF Canned Soups (if you need something to easily grab for lunch)
-GF All Purpose Baking Mix (Note: it should be able to do more than pancakes and I do not recommend Bisquick's GF Mix)
-GF Cake Mix or Brownie Mix (One that is easy to prepare since all of this GF is new to you)
-Veggies (if you do not have any)
-Fresh or frozen chicken, beef, turkey (if you do not have any)
-Corn Tortillas (I use them for sandwiches!!)

I am sure I have missed something, but that gives you an idea of what some basics are that you will need to get you through the first few days of your new lifestyle. As an added bonus, here is another helpful list!

Things to stay away from:
-Cream of... Soups (Mushroom, Chicken, Veggie, etc.)
-Campbell's Red label soups (many are thickened with flour)
-Anything in the frozen section that is fried or breaded. (This should be a no-brainer, but you never know)
-Majority of Breakfast Cereals
-Breakfast bars, protein bars, anything with Oats. (This is for someone going GF, not wheat free)
-Prepared Breakfast foods in general (breakfast bars, pop tarts, etc.)
-Some Barbeque Sauces and other prepared sauces
-Packaged seasoning mixes (Some are GF, some are not, if you have time, stay a while and read them all!)
-Prepared Baked Goods
-Baking mixes (Cake mixes, cookie mixes, muffin mixes, brownie mixes, etc.)
-Chex Mix (The Chex cereal is GF but they put pretzels in the trail mix)

There are many items to stay away from, so just read labels and be smart!!

Good Luck!!!

Preparing Your Kitchen... the Refrigerator

Preparing your kitchen is important. I have already covered how to prepare your pantry and now I am going to cover how to prepare your refrigerator. I know these things may seem so simple and petty but you are preparing your kitchen to make life easier when you return from the most difficult grocery trip you have ever experienced! Trust me, you want everything organized and done before you even make your grocery list!

When you are preparing your refrigerator, there's no need to clean it out and separate everything unless you just absolutely want to. On the other hand, you may need to if you want to clean your shelves, but remember, these things are refrigerated for a reason! Don't leave them out for too long! While you are going through your refrigerator, those of you that are energy conscious may cringe because there will be a lot of opening and closing and maybe even leaving the door open. It's ok, I promise, because this is a one time thing!

Here is what you need before you even open your refrigerator: A sharpie, a piece of paper and a writing utensil. The sharpie is so you can write "Gluten" on jars and the paper and writing utensil are so you can make your grocery list as you go.

As you open your refrigerator, look at the items and think, has anyone double dipped in this container? If they have, then that item could be contaminated. Anything in a jar or tub, mayonnaise, mustard, jam, jelly, butter, etc. You need to now take your sharpie and write "Gluten" on them, or an "X". Whatever works for you is what you need to do. As you place "Gluten" or "X" on these things, you need to write it down on your grocery list. There is no need to throw anything away unless everyone in your family is going completely gluten free.

Just like suggested with your pantry, you need to try to keep gluten free things in the same area or on the same shelf. In the refrigerator it is a little bit different. It's mainly so that you do not get items mixed up and grab the incorrect mayonnaise jar when making a gluten free sandwich. If you use the incorrect jar, it's called cross contamination. Cross contamination will be covered in it's own post because it is nearly as dangerous as eating a sandwich on regular wheat bread.

The refrigerator was a pretty easy task!! Just a little time consuming!! Next stop... The Grocery Store!

Preparing Your Kitchen... the Pantry

One of the hardest things to do if you have recently discovered you are gluten intolerant or suffer from celiac disease, is preparing your kitchen for the big change in your life. Three and a half years ago when I was diagnosed, I was clueless. I had a friend who gave me some basics on what I needed to do and I did a TON of research on my own. If you do not have hours and days to do research, this post is for you.

I am (was) such a cookie and cake junkie!! I guess you can just say "gluten junkie". I would not eat a whole package of double stuffed oreos in one sitting, but I could! Your first stop in your kitchen needs to be your pantry. Look through absolutely EVERYTHING. This may sound crazy, but the easiest thing to do is to completely empty your pantry on to your kitchen table or kitchen counters and start separating. More often than not, you will have an extremely large pile of "gluten" items and a small pile of gluten free.

Steps to cleaning out your pantry:
-Empty your pantry
-Separate as you go or separate after it's empty.
-Read every ingredient on every package.
 (Some items will say gluten free, that makes it easy!! Some items say Contains Wheat, this will not help you if you are going gluten free, only wheat free)
-After you have emptied and separated all of your items, wipe your pantry shelves. (You may not have them covered in gluten or flour, or you might. Either way, how often do they get cleaned?)
-When you go to put everything back in your pantry, have a shelf designated for gluten free foods. If you have a child who is used to being able to eat the cookies and things that contain gluten and now they are gluten free, put the gluten items out of sight for them. Make sure that their new gluten free things are at eye level, or easily seen. This makes the lack of snacks much easier to handle. This little tid bit of information is from experience. I was 21 when I was diagnosed and I was not as depressed when I saw my gluten free items before I saw the gluten loaded, ever so scrumptious cookies.

If you have only one person in your family who is gluten intolerant, it is going to be easiest for everyone to make the adjustment to a gluten free lifestyle when you guys eat a meal together. For example, if you are making pasta for dinner, make gluten free pasta for everyone. That way, you do not get the spoons mixed up if you are cooking two separate pastas. (Cross contamination is just as dangerous as eating a few oreos. Cross contamination will be covered when we talk about cleaning out your refrigerator) By saying have everyone make the adjustment to gluten free, I am not suggesting that they convert to gluten free forever. As the household chef, I have found that it is easier and less time consuming to only cook one meal at dinner time instead of two. As you cook, you will find very quickly, that a gluten free meal tends to be a lot healthier than a meal that contains gluten. I never thought I would see the day when I did not miss the casseroles (made with creamed soups that contain wheat and are topped with buttery crackers, which also contain gluten).

Next... Preparing Your Kitchen, the refrigerator.

I'm A Slacker...

I feel like such a slacker. I know it has been LAST December since I posted a recipe. Life has changed dramatically since then. Clint went to boot camp, we have a beautiful little girl and we now life in Florida. It has been quite a whirlwind of an experience but life is amazing and I can not imagine my life without my Sailor or my baby girl!!!

Over the last few weeks I have come in contact with so many people who are just beginning the long journey of becoming gluten free. If you are choosing to go gluten free, it is completely different then being diagnosed and having no other choice but to change your "food lifestyle".

I am going to post some separate blogs about what you need to do to prep your kitchen to become gluten free and shopping gluten free. I hope they will be extremely helpful for anyone who is in the spot that I was in three and a half years ago.