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A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

A little over two years ago, after numerous doctors appointments and blood tests, I discovered that the odd ailments I had been experiencing were not caused by a deadly disease or parasite but were caused by a wheat allergy. Most of my life I lived off of pasta and sandwiches, but all of a sudden my body revolted and no longer could tolerate wheat in any form. I was devastated. The thought of never having a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread or a moist piece of baklava brought tears to my eyes. But I did not have a choice.


Hidden gluten
At firstI turned to products I thought for sure were wheat-free. It took me a while to realize that so many food products have hidden wheat gluten I was unaware of. Soups, dressings, condiments, and all kinds of items have wheat gluten hidden in the unpronounceable words listed in the ingredients. As I lay in pain on the sofa, I realized I should just stick to “gluten-free” certified products.


Gluten-free products
There are a ton of gluten-free products out there. Most of the time, they taste fine but they lack the flavor I so desperately desire. The majority of the gluten-free options out there are more processed than the wheat products I was attempting to replace. Pre-made gluten-free breads are perhaps the driest, most disturbing form of bread I have ever had. I eventually gave up on them and turned to making them from scratch. Another interesting fact, “gluten-free” does not necessarily mean completely gluten-free. Law requires “gluten-free” products to contain less than 1% of gluten, much like most of the nutritional facts on grocery products. The safest, most healthy option is to rely on whole, fresh ingredients that you can control which is what I began to do. It was a blessing in disguise.


The holidays
Then the holidays came. It started with Thanksgiving. At my family gathering I thought I would just stick to the obviously gluten-free options. I was left with turkey and mashed potatoes as I watched everyone devour the sweet potato and green bean casseroles. Gravy smothered stuffing looked so good! And then the pies...I won’t even talk about it. The next year, I was determined to do things differently.


Thanksgiving From scratch
The first step was getting rid of all the processed ingredients my mother and grandmother used. No more Campbell’s soup, canned gravy, pre-packaged stuffing, fried onions, rolls of biscuits, well you get the idea. I realized I had to bring my own options. And let me tell you, it is the best thing that ever happened to me. Who knew that something like cranberry sauce could be so easy to make and so much more delicious than the canned variety!


Favorite holiday dishes
I want to share some of my favorite holiday dishes that have made my transition to a gluten-free diet the best move I ever made. Not only did my joy for cooking grow exponentially, but now my holidays are filled with the healthiest dishes around. In a way, I feel like I’m truly experiencing the holidays just as they were originally intended. Here are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!


Grain-Free Stuffing (w/GF grain option)
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 35 min
Total Time: 45 min
1 large onion, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 large fennel bulb, cut into strips
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4-1 cup gluten-free chicken broth (add a tablespoon at a time if too dry)
1-1 1/2 cups mushrooms (I use a mix of varieties)
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 Tbs. fresh parsley
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
Optional- 2 cups wild rice or dried gluten-free bread if you wish (I usually go for the grain-free but not as traditional)


Directions: Heat oil in a deep saute pan. Add onions, shallots, fennel and celery. Stir to coat vegetables in oil. Brown slightly on medium heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover pan. Simmer ingredients for 10 minutes. Add sage, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Add optional wild rice or dried bread cubes, cover and continue to cook mixture, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Addmushrooms and gluten-free meat (optional). Cover and cook on medium for an additional 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. When mushrooms are cooked the stuffing is done. If there is excess liquid, cook uncovered to reduce, but leave some liquid for reheating. This might not be the case if using grains. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve warm or refrigerate and reheat when ready to serve. When serving, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley leaves. Serves 4-6.


Sweet Potato Casserole
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Total Time: 50 min
Filling:
4 large sweet potatoes
2/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil (or butter)
1 tsp. GF vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg (I consider this optional)
Topping:
1 1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup light brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
1/4 cup coconut oil (or butter)


Directions: Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into large 2-inch chunks. Place the chunks in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring it to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer until the sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a quart-size casserole dish. In a bowl, combine the pecans and sugar. Cut in the butter or oil with a fork until the mixture is sandy with pea-sized chunks of butter or coconut oil. Set aside. When done cooking, drain the sweet potatoes well. Process the sweet potatoes in a food processor until smooth and creamy. You may have to do this in batches. Alternatively you can whip them up with a hand or stand mixer. Measure out 3 cups of the mashed sweet potatoes and place into the bowl of a stand mixer or bowl to use with a hand mixer. Any extras make a yummy snack for later!


Add the coconut milk, maple syrup, butter or oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to the bowl. Whip to combine. Optional: add the egg and continue to whip until smooth and creamy. Pour the sweet potatoes into the prepared dish and top with the pecan mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden and the sweet potatoes are bubbling. Yummy! One of my favorites! Serves 8.


Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 15 min
Total Time: 30 min
2 pints fresh cranberries
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup water
1-2 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, juice and zest
4 Tbs. honey or to taste


Directions: Combine cranberries, pineapple juice, applesauce, cinnamon and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Keep on medium heat, stirring constantly until the cranberries begin to burst which will be about 10-15 min, depending on how many whole cranberries you want left. Reduce heat to simmer and pour orange juice and zest over the cranberry sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes more and then remove from heat. As it cools, add honey or stevia to taste. Once completely cool, store in fridge overnight or at least 4 hours before serving. Oh so delicious! Serves: Not enough! Or 8 people if you share well.


Roasted Veggies
This one is so straightforward and a great replacement for the out of season green bean casserole.
Prep Time: 20 min (for cutting and seeding squash mostly)
Cook Time: 40 min
Total Time: 60 min
4-6 cups winter squash, seeded, peeled, and cubed (I like delicata, honeynut, kuri, and acorn)
1 cup fall veggie, chopped in half (Brussels sprouts if you can get them are my fave)
1 cup root veggies cubed (parsnips, rutabaga, or celeriac)
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium leek, chopped
1 garlic, minced
1/4 cup coconut oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Directions: Preheat oven to 400ºF. Combine all ingredients into a large casserole dish and cover wellwith oil. Season as you wish but the less the better. Bake covered for 30 min. Uncover and cook for 10 minutes more.


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