I have turned the blog over to my hubby for a post or two, and this is his first entry in our Gluten Free 101 series. Ladies, you might want to print this post and place it in a strategic location in your home!
GF Dad here, sharing some thoughts on keeping it simple and getting on board. I am particularly writing to all of those husbands/boyfriends who have a wife/girlfriend/child who has been told they need to be gluten-free. For all you do, this Bud’s for you (but you can’t have that in the house anymore!).
I remember when Heidi’s endocrinologist first suggested that she might have celiac disease, which I believe he described as an “intolerance” to gluten. I didn’t even know what gluten was; I heard the “glu” part of the word and thought of glucose. Just enough knowledge to be dangerous! When told that gluten was a protein found in wheat (I think he excluded barley and rye) I think every single synapse in my brain went into electrical overdrive. It wasn’t as though my life were flashing before me, but I did the fast and furious Bill Cosby ingredient inventory of our deliciously unhealthy diet and realized (slowly) that this was a game-changer.
Cook Breakfast? Without Opening a Box and Using the Nuker??
Yep, chocolate cake is OKAY for breakfast just as long as the kids are fed and the cake is GLUTEN-FREE!! (we don’t have to tell our wives everything, do we?). (Heidi here, I do not advocate for this approach).
A TOTAL game-changer indeed, like Deion Sanders lining up against your highly paid first round draft pick…let’s just take away an entire half of the field and try to win that way. But of course there is a way to win a game even in the presence of a shutdown cornerback. You go back to basics, that old Steelers/Packers/Bears type of football, better known as “three yards and a cloud of dust.” If you start getting cute with your game plan and design bizarre plays to get around Deion, it isn’t going to work at first. Nobody on your team really knows the new plays, your quarterback doesn’t have time to practice the downfield reads, and it generally just WON’T work. You have to start with what you know, what you can do, and what makes sense given the defense you are facing.
This is the essence of “going” gluten-free. Notice I didn’t say going HEALTHY? I said gluten-free. Because if someone in your family needs to be gluten-free, it will be impossible for them to get “healthy” until they modify their diet. The one necessarily comes before the other.
So we are going to focus on some simple running plays here for you guys, starting with breakfast. There are certainly many gluten-free alternatives to the foods you are used to (pancakes, fried chicken batter, chocolate cake) but there are many, many more foods that you already eat, can prepare, and love that are already gluten-free and can be consumed at will (think BACON!).
Happy Wife, Happy Life
Aside from the dietary aspects of needing to be gluten-free, there is another dimension to your participation in this process too, guys. You see, your lady is reeling right now, especially if you have kids who may or may not be picky eaters. After having spent eight hours on line burning up the Google servers, she is feeling overwhelmed and despondent. And to be honest with you, when you’re gnoshing on a bucket of fried chicken while inquiring if she has figured out what “she” can eat, you’re not helping your lady and inadvertently torpedoing your romantic life. Oh yes, dear gentlemen, women love two things (among many) in their men: guys who make them feel safe and guys who can cook. Men, this is a two-fer, so pay attention.
You may be thinking, “I didn’t even cook before, what am I going to cook now?” If you like fat, grease, salt, and cheese, you’ll be fine. Is that stuff healthy? Of course not. But your alternative is a radical and immediate conversion to a diet that is totally foreign to you, that you will resent, and that will alter more aspects of your family life than just your diet (trust me on this one). So let’s wander through the fridge and pantry and find some things you already enjoy that are naturally gluten-free, and let’s learn how to cook up a few without giving the family food poisoning or charring everything to ebony hockey-puck consistency.
We’ll start with breakfast.
Preparing breakfast for your family has multiple benefits. Your wife will LOVE you; not the “gaze-in-your-eyes-take-me-now” type of love you, but the “I-might-not-be-completely-exhausted-later-tonight-once-the-kids-are-in-bed” type of love you. ;) Maybe…no guarantees here.
Another benefit is that your kids will see you cooking for them…that whole “Dad-as-provider” thing. Depending on your kids ages, they may not completely understand the concept of your working your tail off to get the money to stock the fridge. Actually providing nourishment for them is much more concrete than laying down the plastic at the restaurant. Your boys will see a man who is not afraid to cook what he kills; and your daughters will pay very close attention to the way their Dad treats their Mom and her dietary restrictions. Isn’t this they type of man you want to walk her down the aisle to one day? (Okay, I know you don’t want to think about that right now, but if you really had a choice in the matter, doesn’t it kind of make sense?)
It’s About More Than Food
This whole process begins with you getting up about fifteen minutes before her alarm is set to go off. You sneak around to her side of the bed and turn her alarm off. She gets to sleep. I think mothers with small children crave sleep more than diamonds; ummm…I don’t think that, I KNOW it! You can start on a lazy weekend morning when you have some time, but if you really want to score points, pick a crazy weekday “rush-the-kids-off-to-school” day for maximum effect. Maybe Wednesdays could be your day: she will start looking forward to Tuesday evenings, and you will too!
So you march to the kitchen and pour yourself a four gallon cup of coffee after injecting half a cup directly into your veins. Now you are ready, sort of. The key here is preparation, and if you are making an un-Godly amount of noise early in the morning while fetching pans, you will spoil the effect. Have your pans on the stove the night before and know what goes where. Remember, you are trying to do this with minimum noise and minimum light…you want the aromas to awaken your family, not the Alex Van Halen drum solo that you will turn your kitchen into if you are fumbling in the dark.
Think of your kitchen like a tool-box
Right tool for the right job. A symphony of nuts and bolts, radial saws, cordless drills and bits, hex and metric, and a bad-ass four outlet 50 foot extension cord (I’m gonna pop a circuit-breaker, I know). You gotta have the right stuff and you can’t get halfway into something and realize you need to run to Lowe’s for something.
Here’s what you will need for your early morning meat and potatoes family breakfast:
- A cast iron skillet, or other skillet if you don’t have one (that’s the kind of flat looking one with a long handle)
- A teflon skillet for the eggs, also sometimes called “non-stick” (trust me on this one)
- A pair of tongs (they look like pliers with little teeth on the end)
- A spatula (looks like a fancy fly-swatter)
- A rubber spatula (that thing you used to lick the batter out of the bowl when your Mom made a cake)
- A splash guard for the hashed browns (not mandatory, but will make cleanup easier and may prevent annoying burns on your forearms)
- A couple of pot-holders (garden or mechanic’s gloves will work as well, just be sure they are relatively clean)
- A decent sized mixing bowl
Put the pans on the stove before you go to bed. Have your utensils on the counter (in the kitchen they are called “utensils” but you can think of them as tools if you like). You want the size of the stove burner to roughly match the size of the pan. And please remember to keep the handles turned to the side…if they are hanging over the edge of the stove you’re likely to pull a Clumsy Smurf and create more of a mess than necessary.
While you slumber, you should have the following items in the fridge (not the freezer) ready to go:
- Eggs (any will do, organic/free range is better, but do the best with your budget)
- Jimmy Dean All-Natural Pork Sausage (or Bacon, Ham, etc.) – if you are wondering whether monosodium glutamate (MSG) is in fact gluten-free, don’t worry because it is (but that still doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you). MSG is an ingredient found in most of Jimmy Dean’s “regular” sausage…do just spend the extra buck and go with the All-Natural (and it tastes GREAT).
- Ore-Ida Shredded Hash Browns (Ore-Ida has a gluten-free page on their website)
- Cooking Oil (the healthier/safer the better, but Wesson or Crisco will still do the job)
- Splash of milk or water (optional)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
FYI: Be sure your sausage and hash browns are thawed; you cannot cook a frozen sausage brick, you will get a burned outer layer and a raw inner core (trust me on this).
Time to Attack
The very first thing you should do is begin warming your two skillets:
Try to keep in mind that your stove is NOT a blow-torch; you are not trying to achieve maximum temperature. Set both burners to “medium” or “5” depending on your range. Drop enough cooking oil into your cast-iron hash brown skillet to cover then entire bottom of the pan with about an eighth of an inch (basically you just want to be sure the entire bottom of the pan has some oil on it…don’t drown it). DO NOT PUT THE HASH BROWNS IN!! If you put cold hash browns into a cold pan with cold oil, the potatoes will soak up all of the oil and won’t really cook correctly. You will end up with mushy oil-soaked potatoes that taste like….mushy oil-soaked potatoes, only warmed up. So just let the oil heat up for now.
Cut open the sausage tube (I am assuming you can locate a knife, scissors, or garden shears… just be sure they are clean) and make patties (see pictures below). Let your sausage pan warm up for about three or four minutes before you drop those bad boys in. And if you use a plate to form your raw sausage patties prior to cooking, please understand that that plate is now out of commission. Put it in the sink (or better yet, the dishwasher) and get a clean one for the finished product. NEVER NEVER NEVER put cooked food on a surface that you have used to prepare raw food! You may as well stick your face next to the band-saw while not wearing protective eye gear; I can pretty much guarantee a bad outcome.
You are going to get more than one pan full of sausage, so you can do this in stages. Grab a plate and put a paper towel on top of it. This is where you will put your sausage as it finishes. Let the sausage cook about two to three minutes per side, or until it gets brown on the outside (this is why you don’t want your pan to be too hot, because the outside will brown up before the inside is cooked…it’s a physics thing).
The Art of Frying Hash Browns
Once you have your first sausages cooking (in the non-stick pan), you should begin to see some smoke coming from your hash brown pan. Notice I said “some” smoke…you don’t want it to be going crazy, just heating up. Now if you were in Boy Scouts, you already know that water and hot oil don’t mix too well, but that you can also get a cool effect from pouring a cup of water over a pan of hot oil that is ever so slightly on fire (we used to get a long stick to flame at its tip and then hold it over the pan while some other moron tossed a cup of water into the pan…oh man it was so cool, even if we all lost our eyebrows in the process). So if you open your hash brown bag and they seem particularly wet (not cold or moist, but actually wet) then you will want to make a paper towel sandwich and dry off your hash browns before you put them in the pan. You really want only potatoes and hot oil in your pan…water is your enemy here (think of it in terms of staining or sealing wood…dry dry dry).
Now, take the biggest handful (only one handful, not the two hand scoop) of hash browns and sprinkle them into your pan of oil. The reason you only use one hand for this is because you must have your splatter guard at the ready with your other hand. You must SPRINKLE the potatoes into the pan, don’t glob them. Few things are worse in the kitchen than globs. Globs are very bad, especially when you are trying to make gluten-free foods. You will get some snap crackle and pop as the potatoes hit the oil, but if you have eliminated most of the moisture, this should be subdued. As soon as you have a nice potato spread, put the splash guard on.
Now the key to good hash browns is not to poke at them too much. Just let them cook, about 5 minutes before you even look at them. Then flip them over and let them cook for another 5 minutes, or until you start to see the edges get brown.
So at this point, your hash browns should look something like this:
Get your bowls out and your carton of eggs. I always assume two eggs per person, but it depends on the age of your kids (teenagers and boxers will eat five).
Don’t Knock Yourself Out (Get it?)
In the interest of keeping this simple, we are going to make scrambled eggs. There are two reasons for this. The first is that they are easy. The second is that you get to capture some of that awesome sausage grease flavor in your eggs. Crack the appropriate number of eggs into your bowl (cracking an egg is kind of like hammering a nail…if you can’t figure out this basic operation, it’s pretty much hopeless). Don’t smash the egg onto the side of the bowl, just firmly tap the middle of it until it cracks. If you have to jam your thumbs into it to get it to open, you haven’t cracked it enough yet. It should open with minimal effort.
Splash some milk or water into your egg bowl. Not a lot, just enough to notice that you there is some extra liquid in there. You will want to make the eggs in individual servings (read: don’t make all eight eggs at once, they will get cold).
Put that mixing bowl to the side until your sausage is done, because you will need the non-stick pan for the eggs. Once your sausage is finished, grab a paper towel and just “dab” some of the fat/oil out of the pan, but leave all that great crunchy brown stuff if you can. The pan should still be hot so just go ahead and pour your eggs into the pan…you will hear a whooshing sound as they begin to cook. Get your rubber spatula and flop them around every so often; remember, you are not making an omelette (don’t even attempt this until you have mastered the art of cooking great eggs).
Be sure to keep an eye on your hash browns while your eggs are cooking…they should be finished right about this time. If you haven’t used too much oil, you can plate the hash browns right from the pan, but you may need to repeat the paper towel sandwich if they are too greasy. Drop some more oil in the pan and start another batch of hash browns, wait five minutes, then start another batch of eggs.
(Heidi told me I should have “prettied” up my plate with something red or green…so here ya go, a “text” garnish!)
You May Go Hungry
Repeat this process until everyone is fed except you.
That’s right, guys…you get to eat last, even if you run out of food. For maximum effect, take a plate up to your wife and let her eat in bed (this is a big thing in romantic movies, and she will start to think you are a heartthrob vampire who can see into her soul!).
Try to get the kids to eat at least some of their food, then kick back with your massive plate of man-food and watch SportsCenter for a bit.
Oh yeah, you get to clean up as well. All of the good work you have done to this point will mean nothing if you say this particular phrase out loud: “I cooked, you should clean.” Very, very bad.
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