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Chef Rachel Q&A on Gluten Free


Chef Rachel

Chef Rachel taught a group of our patients that there is life after gluten, corn, and dairy. One attendee said, “You just gave me hope for living!” Making changes is easy when a pro shows you the way.

For the past 22 years, Chef Rachel has led more than 900 whole foods cooking classes in five states and had more than 225 articles published in national magazines and regional papers, including Natural Home, Living Without, The Herb Companion, Oxygen Women’s Fitness, and The Well Being Journal.

Our thanks to Chef Rachel for sharing some key pointers with us:

Q - What do you say when parents say, “What am I going feed my child, there is nothing left if I can’t serve wheat or dairy?”

A – For every food you take out of your diet, you can find 3 to 5 new foods to put in. There are actually a lot of options. Most of us didn’t learn about them when we were growing up or learning how to cook. For example, if you want to delete wheat, you can buy one of the many gluten-free flour blends. You can also make your own using recipes from books or online.

Q - What can home cooks use if they want to avoid wheat and other gluten flours for baking?

A - The montina flour blend for example uses a native grass, a cousin of wild rice, that is mixed montina flour blendwith tapioca and rice flour and I find it works well. I’ve used it in muffins, corn bread, bars, and cookies. It contains some whole grain whereas most of the ready-to-use gluten-free flour bends are made from 100% refined flours. I prefer a mix that has some whole grains in it because it provides a more toothsome texture and is less likely to taste spongy.

A simple blend to make at home = 1/3 sorghum flour, 1/3 brown rice flour, and 1/3 tapioca starch. If the ready-to-use mix does not have guar gum or xantham gum, I recommend you add 1/4 teaspoon of one of those gums for each cup of gluten free flour in the recipe to reduce crumbling and improve the rise and texture. If someone can tolerate oats, oat flour can be used to replace wheat flour in things like pancakes, muffins and waffles. There are also celiac safe oats, meaning they have been grown, harvested, and processed in dedicated facilities that don’t handle the gluten flours – wheat, barley and rye.

Q - What if you need to avoid eggs, what do you use in baking for the binder?

A - Substitute 1 tablespoon flax seed meal and 3 tablespoons of boiling hot water, or, 3 tablespoons of apple sauce and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of baking powder for each egg you omit.

Wet ingredients:
• 1/2 cup packed soft, pitted dates
• 1/4 to 1/3 cup virgin pressed coconut oil or palm shortening
• 1/4 cup honey or agave nectar
• 2 medium to large eggs, room temp
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or alcohol-free vanilla flavoring

Dry Ingredients:
• 1/3 cup millet flour, sweet brown rice flour, sorghum flour or a combination of two
• 2 tablespoons unmodified potato starch (spoon into measuring cup and level)
• 1/3 cup almond, walnut or pecan meal (made from lightly toasted nuts)
• 1/2 teaspoon gluten-free, non aluminum baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum
• 1/4 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pure stevia extract powder or 1/2 teaspoon clear stevia extract liquid added with the wet ingredients.
• 1/2 cup bittersweet dark chocolate chips or a 4-oz bittersweet dark chocolate (70-73%), coarsely chopped

1. Place dates in bowl. Add water to cover by 1-inch. Soak 2 hours. Drain and save the liquid to drink or sweeten tea.
2. Position oven rack in middle, preheat to 350 degrees F. Generously grease an 8-inch square or 9-inch round cake pan. Line with unbleached parchment paper cut to fit the bottom and sides, lightly oil the paper.
3. Combine the wet ingredients in a blender or food processor, then blend until smooth and creamy.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients until well combines. Add them to food processor with the date-oil-egg and vanilla mixture and blend briefly to combine, then scrape into a medium bowl. If mixing by hand, add dry ingredients to wet puree and mix well until combined.
5. Fold optional chocolate chips or bits into the batter and scrape into prepared pan.
6. Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Do not over bake. The center may seem unset but will form up as it cools. Place tray on cooling rack.
7. Cut into 16 squares. Remove with metal spatula. Store in a cookie jar or covered tin for up to one week; refrigerate for longer storage.

© Copyright 2008 Rachel Albert-Matesz
From The Ice Dream Cookbook

Q - What do you recommend for those with peanut allergies? Almond butter may not have peanuts in it but it is usually made on equipment used for peanuts and so it can contain trace amounts of peanuts.

A - Make your own nut butter. You can buy almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts, etc., and toast S-shaped metal bladethem on a dry, rimmed baking sheet at 325 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes - until they are lightly golden and fragrant. About halfway through, stir them with a wooden spoon. Set a timer so you don’t get distracted and find them charred. Once you have roasted them, you can put them in a food processor - use the S-shaped metal blade - for about 3 minutes until it turns into a thick, creamy nut butter. You could add some sea salt if you want. Now you are in control and you can avoid cross contamination.

Q - Can I use a blender for the nuts?

A - I don’t recommend it. Most don’t have a strong enough motor, but you can use a VitaMix with some virgin-pressed coconut oil or expeller pressed almond oil. You’ll need to stop the motor and scrape down the sides several times with a spatula.

Q - Why do natural brands of nut butters have oil on top?

A - Some separation is natural with products that don’t contain hydrogenated oils. But now some natural foods companies are adding palm oil to it, a good oil, to emulsify it and so you don’t have to stir. But beware:Often they also add sugar so the product will taste more like grocery store peanut butter. And it really pays to buy organic. Peanuts are often grown in rotation with cotton and heavily sprayed with pesticides. Peanuts are also famous for containing high amounts of mold, which produce one of the most deadly carcinogens known to man: Aflatoxin. Arrowhead mills tests for the toxin. And some people give good reviews for “Barney Butter” at Whole Foods - an almond butter you don’t have to stir that comes in creamy or crunchy.

Q - If you do buy grocery store nut butters, what do you do with that oil on the top?

A - I don’t recommend trying to stir it in the jar because you end up with thin butter at the top, and sticky butter at the bottom. I open a new jar, scrape the contents in a bowl, and mix it by hand thoroughly to emulsify it. Then I put it back in the jar. In 24 years, I’ve never had it separate once I’ve emulsified it. When you open a jar of nut butter, refrigerate it after stirring to prevent oxidation - spoilage. Don’t buy brands in plastic containers because the chemicals can leach into the nut butter and those thin containers don’t keep the air out.

Prep: 15 minutes
Cooking: 5 to 7 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

I didn’t invent this recipe. I found it on-line at and made a few modifications. I replaced the refined white pita bread with 100% brown rice tortillas. I halved the amount of oil, and reduced the salt. These crispy low-fat dippers go well with hummus, babaganoush, and other bean dips. They also taste great without any topping. Use them to replace fried chips and conventional high-fat crackers made from refined flour and oil. For a gluten-free cracker, see variations below.

Note: To grind fennel seeds, place them in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder (i.e., not one you use to grind coffee beans). Pulse until finely powdered.

• 1 package gluten free brown rice tortillas
• 1 tablespoon olive oil or enough olive oil spray to lightly mist the top of each pita
• 1/2 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt (e.g., Celtic, Lima, Eden, Si, or RealSalt)
• 2 teaspoons ground fennel seeds, or to taste (see note above about grinding)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cut tortillas into wedges and arrange on baking sheets without overlapping. Brush or mist with oil, then sprinkle with sea salt, and fennel seeds.
3. Bake on a cookie sheet for 5 to 7 minutes minutes or until barely crisp. Do not over bake. Crackers will continue to harden after removal from the oven. Serve warm.
4. Store any leftovers in an airtight container and use with 48 hours.

* Replace ground fennel seeds with coarsely crushed cumin or mustard seeds or your favorite herb or spice blend, such as Herbs de Provence or an Italian or Greek blend.
* Omit sea salt from the recipe for a lower sodium content.

© Copyright 2008 Rachel Albert-Matesz

Q - If I want to avoid dairy and soy, what do I do for ice cream?

A - There are several alternatives. Some commercially prepared alternatives made with coconut milk can be found at Whole Foods and Healthy Habit (7th Street and Bethany Home). Coconut-based frozen deserts are good for the immune system. Coconut is much healthier than soy and vegetable oil based products. If you want to cut the price in half, you can make it at home with coconut milk and honey or agave or stevia and a few other ingredients. I have dozens of recipes in my Ice Dream Cookbook. Agave nectar is low in the glycemic index because it is high in fructose. However, too much fructose is hard on the liver. I prefer raw, unfiltered honey over agavé. Honey contains the propolis and bee pollen and enzymes in it and those are very healthy co-factors. Raw honey is used to speed healing of wounds because of its special properties.

Q - When I want to make creamy soups, smoothies and deserts, but I can’t use cream, what do I do?

A - Use coconut milk. Make sure the coconut milk is unsweetened and full fat. If you have coconut milkproblems with sulfites, make sure there is no sulfur dioxide or sulfites listed in the ingredients. If you use a light hand, it will not taste of coconut. I use it in my Pumpkin Pudding Pie, Creamy Carrot Soup, and to make chocolate mousse and custards. Now, it won’t whip up like cream. So open the can, stir it well, and put it in the refrigerator. It will thicken a little. You could use arrowroot with it to make it thicker like custard. In the Garden of Eating cookbook, I have recipes for this. And here’s another tip: Unflavored gelatin and fruit juices make a healthy version of jello and you can put layers of creamy custard made with coconut milk in between.

Q - If I’m going gluten-free, what do I use for bread crumbs in meatloaf and meatballs?

A - You can replace the bread crumbs one for one with rolled oats (oatmeal). If you are avoiding oats, an option is to take brown rice crackers and powder them in a blender or food processor and use those in the recipe.

Q - Isn’t all shortening made with bad vegetable oils?

A - Not quite. Conventional shortening is made from partially hydrogenated oils which remain shorteningsolid at room temp. These are unhealthy and contain trans fats. Spectrum came out with a shortening made from 100% organic expeller pressed palm oil. That is a tropical oil that is heat stable and healthful]. It does not contain any trans fats. You can use it in baking of course, and you can also use it to sauté, scramble eggs, oil baking pans, and stir fry.

Nuts have enzyme inhibitors, especially peanuts. Nature included enzyme inhibitors to ensure the seeds’ survival by keeping them in a dormant state until good growing conditions are present. When we eat raw nuts and seeds, our bodies have to supply extra enzymes to neutralize the inhibitors – a drain on our energy. According to Dr. Edward Howell, an expert on enzyme therapy, eating foods with enzyme inhibitors causes a swelling of the pancreas. There are two ways to destroy enzyme inhibitors. The first is cooking; however, this also destroys the enzymes, and in the case of almonds, destroys a rich source of vitamin E. The other way is soaking for 4 hours or more until the outer skin comes loose. This destroys the enzyme inhibitors and increases the enzyme content from a factor as much as six-fold. But you must soak truly raw nuts; it won’t work with pasteurized nuts.

Q - Can I use baking powder?

A - Yes, but choose healthfully. Many baking powders contain baking soda, alkaline, combined baking powderwith sodium aluminum sulfate, a heat-activated acid. I recommend buying non-aluminum baking powder, such as Rumford brand or Bob’s Red Mill. Aluminum ingestion has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.

Q - What are guar gum and xanthan gum?

A - Guar Gum is derived from the ground endosperm guar gumof Cyamopsis Tetragonolobus, a plant of the Leguminosae family. Xanthan gum comes from corn and is produced through fermentation. Both are used as thickeners and stabilizers. These gums give gluten free baked goods a better texture, reduce crumbling, and prevent ice crystals from forming in frozen desserts. You can use the gums interchangeably in recipes although some people prefer guar gum because it is a more natural product.

Q - What do I eat if I don’t do eggs or cereal for breakfast?

Have you ever eaten something that tasted bland to you, but seemed just right to someone else? Have you ever liked a dish that someone else thought was too spicy or too sweet?

You’re not alone. People think the taste is in the food. That’s only half right. How a food tastes to you depends on what you’re accustomed to eating. Taste is relative.

If you regularly drink soda or other sugared or artificially sweetened beverages, plain water might seem dull and uninteresting. If you eat white bread and white rice, you might find 100% whole wheat bread and brown rice to be heavy, dry, and bland. If you eat conventional sweets, you may find that fresh fruit or baked sweet potatoes don’t satisfy your sweet tooth.

Why? If you eat very salty or intensely sweet foods on a daily basis, your taste receptors will down-regulate. Your body shuts off some of your taste receptors because it no longer needs them. Then, if you eat more plain and simple foods, the flavors don’t register. The tastes are there, but you can’t sense them because your taste receptors have a higher threshold. You need more stimulation - more salt, more sugar, more spice - to notice the flavors.

Let me give you an analogy. If you regularly drink alcohol, you’ll have a higher tolerance for it than someone who rarely or never drinks. It takes more booze for you to get a buzz than it does for a nondrinker. We each experience the alcohol differently depending on whether or how much we normally drink. It’s the same with foods and flavors.

If you decide to reduce or eliminate sugar, it can take 30 to 90 days for your taste receptors to up-regulate so they have greater sensitivity. If you persist, you can reset your taste receptors. I’ve done it, and I’ve watched other people do it.

If you want to achieve better health, you have to make choices that meet your body’s nutritional needs first, and then have patience while your taste buds catch up. Your body will gradually begin to respond in noticeable ways. In the meantime, you have to use the power of positive intention to retrain your body and mind.

Excerpt from: The Ice Dream Cookbook: Dairy-Free Ice Dream Alternatives with Gluten-Free Cookies, Compotes and Sauces (Planetary Press, October, 2008)

A - Great question! Be open to new foods. You could have a BLT in a brown rice tortilla. Try hamburger or last night’s left over salmon or roasted chicken. Serve a cooked green leafy vegetable or green beans or salad. Add an orange, red, yellow vegetable or fruit - an apple or left over sweet potato or bell pepper. This gives a variety of flavors and nutrients. You also want some good fat in there so sauté in coconut or olive oil or serve steamed veggies in butter or add a salad dressing, guacamole, or nuts at the table.

You need fat to not be hungry two hours later and to foster healthy blood sugar levels. Bacon is a good choice or perhaps cream or coconut butter on fruit. Try raw coconut butter from Whole Foods or Healthy Habit spooned over berries. How about apple slices sprinkled with toasted nuts?

Meat for breakfast? A protein and produce-rich breakfast with ample fat provides more nutrients than a breakfast of waffles, cereal, or pancakes. You want to maximize the number of nutrients coming in.

Q - What about lunch?

A - There is life after sandwiches. In most parts of the world, people do not eat sandwiches; it’s a Western thing. And loaves of bread made with gluten-free flours can be spongy.

Focus on meat, green veggies, and some kind of fruit and fat. Stabilize the blood sugar.

Soups are great for lunch. Get a wide mouth thermos and heat the soup in the morning and take it with you. Do not microwave food. And soup is not the whole meal. If you have broccoli soup, have some chicken salad on the side, or carrot soup with a green salad and salmon on the side. Leftovers from dinner are great - shred last night’s chicken to make a tuna-like salad. A hearty leftover stew plus a handful of nuts and an apple is healthy and filling.

Eat as much as you want of vegetables. However, I do not recommend raw broccoli or cauliflower because they are harder to digest and bitter and contain thyroid inhibitors. I have recipes for blanched vegetables in The Garden of Eating cookbook. You can make a cashew dill dip or guacamole to serve with the blanched veggies.

Q - What about dinner?

Building meals around meat and vegetables doesn’t have to be monotonous. Beef and chicken are not your only options. Try lamb, buffalo, pork, Cornish game hens, quail, turkey breast. There are so many vegetable options beyond broccoli and spinach. Experiment with kale, collard greens, and bok choy. They don’t do well steamed, but if sautéed and seasoned well, they can taste delicious. Recipes are very helpful here. Try coleslaw in place of the usual green salad. For potatoes, substitute sweet potatoes, winter squash, roasted carrots, beets, peppers, onions and other vegetables.

Also your tastes are not etched in stone. Look at page 118 in The Garden of Eating where I recommend everyone try new foods at last 3 times, and take 3 bites, and try it prepared 3 different ways. Unfamiliar foods are like strangers. Your best friends were once strangers. I was cooking dinner for a client, and I fixed mustard greens for him which he had never had. He sent me an email two months later saying he was craving those greens. Your sense of taste can change. You will grow to like different foods. Suppose the first time you ever tasted pineapple, you got an unripe one. That would not have tasted good. But, when you try it the second or third time and get a ripe, juicy one, you might find you like it.

Cooking with new foods can be intimidating, particularly if you never cooked with fresh, whole foods. Cooking classes are a great way to explore new foods. You can learn what to buy, where to buy it, how to store it, and how to cook with new ingredients. I teach group and private cooking classes. Sometimes I cook with people in their homes so they can learn to work more efficiently in their own kitchens. I also take people on healthy shopping tours so they can learn how to navigate the aisles and find the healthiest foods. I also teach people how to modify recipes or develop strategies so they can eat well when they travel.

Whether you have medical issues, a loved-one with special dietary needs, or you just want to get out of your cooking rut, you can!

Chef Rachel MateszChef Rachel co-authored The Garden of Eating – A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook (Planetary Press, 2004) and developed 130 recipes for two cookbooks by best-selling author Barry Sears, including Zone Meals in Seconds (HarperCollins, 2004). She is on the faculty of the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe. She leads cooking parties, healthy shopping tours, helps her clients stock, outfit, and organize their kitchens, and coaches people who want to change their diets. Learn more at and