When Food is Love

When Food is Love

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Read on as Chef Ken shares how to keep gluten-free gourmet for National Celiac Disease Awareness Month.

If a holiday gathering at your house is anything like it is at mine, you know that food equals love.

In the same way that we surround ourselves with the close friends and family that give us comfort and warmth, we also incorporate into our entertaining a lot of the foods that give us comfort and warmth too. Whether it’s you Italian great-grandmother’s recipe for meatballs in sauce that have been a staple of every Sunday supper for decades or that one calorie-laden, cheesy dip that all your friends devour at the neighborhood potluck, our signature dishes are as unique as each of us are and are an integral part of our gatherings as they feed our bellies and our hearts.

But there’s a downside to all that comfort food. Enjoying celebrations where there is food involved can be hard for a lot of us. Many of us struggle with avoiding diet temptations when we’ve got delicious, high-fat, high-carbohydrate snacks at arm’s length. If you’re nodding your head and licking lips right now as you think back to that last party where the munchies got away from you, then you know how problematic party foods can be. 

Dieting is tough. Choosing the right foods day in and day out can be hard enough when there are not outside influences. But then, put that chicken dip or garlic bread right in front of our faces, add alcohol, and you’ve got a recipe for flushing all your hard work at the gym down the drain. 

So what steps do we take to avoid the calories? Sometimes we’ll starve ourselves all day if we know that we’re going to over-indulge at a party (which is, according to dieticians and trainers, usually a terrible idea since it just makes you eat more). 

Sometimes, we volunteer to bring the veggie tray and hover over it angrily, trying to avoid contact with the steam coming off of the crockpot of Cincinnati chili across the room that’s beckoning to us with all it’s salty, cheesy goodness. And, some of us, sadly, will go as far as to avoid attending a family gathering all together if we think that there won’t be enough healthy foods there.

All of us know how bad it feels to look around a party full of chips, dips, and spreads and feel like there is nothing we can eat. Luckily, for many of us, we can learn to strike a good balance of consuming the rich party foods that we love while still managing to get a few fruits and veggies on the snack plate, too. But for people with dietary restrictions due to health conditions, you might look around and not find a single thing you can enjoy at the party. And that’s every single party you attend. 

Take Celiac Disease, for instance. May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month. While many of us may choose to avoid gluten or have mild gluten sensitivities, Celiac disease sufferers can get very sick from eating any wheat, rye or barley at all. If your friends and family know you can’t eat any gluten, yet don’t take it upon themselves to provide any gluten-free foods at your gatherings, then it can feel like you’re being personally attacked. If food is love, then looking around a room of foods you can’t eat, can make you feel really unloved.

Providing foods that your gluten-intolerant family and friends can enjoy is not all that difficult to do. Many of your favorite signature recipes can easily be made as a gluten-free version without sacrificing any of the taste. It just takes a little attention to detail, especially when you go to the grocery store. Many of the pastas and starches that you normally use are available as gluten-free versions, either in their own gluten-free aisle of the store or sometimes next to its gluten counterpart in the pasta or bread aisle. 

Many of the pastas and starches that you normally use are available as gluten-free versions, either in their own gluten-free aisle of the store or sometimes next to its gluten counterpart in the pasta or bread aisle. It’s also crucial that you do your own research if you’re unsure about something. A popular question I receive all the time… is coffee gluten free? In such cases, simply checking the packaging may not be enough… and this is why it’s important to do your own research online to find the correct answers you need.

A few more tips that may help you adapt your recipes to gluten-free versions: 

Since they don’t clump together as well, gluten-free recipe portions should be on the smaller side so they aren’t too crumbly or fall apart as you’re eating them. 

Use a stickiness agent like sweet rice flour.

A gluten-free recipe typically tastes better if you increase the amount of baking powder and baking soda by a quarter.

To help kick off National Celiac Disease Awareness Month, I’ll be going on Fox19’s morning show on Wednesday to share one of my favorite recipes for a gluten-free apple pie cheesecake. Tune in to hear how I adapt my cooking to a gluten-free pie crust and still keep it gourmet, or click over to my blog for the instructions and recipe. 

An accomplished graduate of the Midwest Culinary Institute, Chef Ken Durbin went on to cook professionally at The University Club and numerous other prestigious local dining establishments before establishing The At Home Chef in 2013 to offer intimate, one-of-a-kind epicurean experiences to a distinguished clientele throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Follow him on Instagram at @chefken and go to www.theathomechef.com to learn more or book a party.