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FOOD: Gluten-free comfort food for the winter

  • Gluten-free pancakes Photo credit: Sonya LeClair

  • Gluten-free molasses cookies Photo credit: Sonya LeClair

  • Gluten-free cider donut muffins Photo credit: Sonya LeClair—

  • Jarrod's Deli and Classic Meals offers a number of gluten-free options on their menu, including a meatloaf sandwich. Staff photo by Ben Conant



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, February 18, 2019 9:19PM

On a cold, snowy day, sometimes there’s nothing better than going home and digging into a hearty piece of meatloaf, or perhaps a luxurious slab of lasagna.

But, for at least three million Americans these comfort foods cannot be enjoyed – at least in their traditional configuration – because they contain gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.

“First and foremost, you need to be real clear on your ingredients,” said Lynn Howard, who co-owns Jarrod’s Deli and Classic Meals in Jaffrey with her son Ryan Lecomte. “You need to make sure you know what your ingredients entail. There are hidden glutens in a lot of things, like some caramel colorings and sometimes soy sauce.”

Howard has been perfecting her gluten-free recipes since her son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease – an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack one’s small intestine when they ingest gluten – more than 30 years ago.

With resources on gluten-free eating not being readily available back then, Howard said she had to write to food companies to learn more about their ingredients.

When her son was growing up, Howard had to order gluten-free bread from Washinton state specifically, but it never really tasted all that good.

“There was a lot of trial and error and I had made some huge mistakes in the beginning,” Howard said.

The struggle for Howard and Lecomte was a major factor in their business model for Jarrod’s Deli and Classic Meals – creating a space where people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerances could come to get the same comfort foods that everyone else enjoys at no increased cost.

“People have come in and bought both [the gluten-free and the gluten option] and can’t tell the difference,” Howard said. “It’s great to reach that point, year’s ago things tasted terrible.”

Howard said as many items as possible – including sauces, meatloaf, meatballs, and soups – are prepared naturally gluten-free, meaning most items on the menu are gluten-free or have a gluten-free alternative.

“Ryan never had that, we didn’t have the offer to have comfort foods at a restaurant,” Howard said. “We want people to be able to eat whatever they want, and to offer a normal, homecooked meal.”

At Jarrod’s Deli and Classic Meals, gluten-free options are prepared and cooked before their gluten counterparts, which is important because a few specs of regular flour could set off a gluten intolerance.

“The toughest part has always been the cross-contamination,” said Peterborough resident and certified health coach Sonya LeClair. “… it’s the little things you don’t think about until you have to. One of the first things I realized was that I had to get rid of my toaster.”

LeClair, who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease last summer, said her transition to gluten-free eating hasn’t been too hard because of the wealth of items available at local grocery and health food stores.

Most of the foods I eat are veggies or lean proteins anyway,” LeClair said. “Other than bread, it wasn’t a tough transition… I still eat pretty well. Most of the things I enjoy, I can still eat, except for breads. I can still do potatoes, and I can eat gluten-free lasagna noodles.”

Through experimentation – which in part came from previously owning a baking business – LeClair said she has still been able to enjoy a variety of baked goods and other treats including pancakes, french toast, and muffins.

As a health coach, LeClair said she never pushes a pure gluten-free diet on a client, unless they have an intolerance or Celiac Disease. For LeClair, the research on health benefits just isn’t conclusive.

“If I didn’t have to eat gluten-free, I wouldn’t be doing it,” LeClair said. “If you can tolerate it and enjoy gluten, you can have it. There are plenty of healthy gluten grains. It sometimes gets a bad wrap, with things like white flour, Snoballs, and Ho Hos.”

Gluten-free dieting may be taking some of the legitimacy around gluten-free eating, but LeClair said it has led to some more awareness and food options.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” LeClair said. “Some things are pretty terrible still, but some things are pretty decent. Some of the cookies, cupcakes, and muffins, I don’t think you would even know [they were gluten-free.]”

Many grocery stores and restaurants in the region have increased their gluten-free offerings over the years, but now there are even businesses that cater exclusively to a gluten-free audience.

Darci Hammer of Peterborough currently offers gluten-free, toaster pastry style pies and gluten-free breads through her company Doodle Eats.

“There’s a lot of things I just started to crave,” said Hammer, who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease after college. “I knew what I was missing.”

Hammer said the inspiration for her Doodle Pies came from wanting to create a silly, different product that harkened back to the comfort of being a child and having a special treat to enjoy.

“I want food that is delicious for everyone, and you don’t have to be gluten-free to enjoy it,” Hammer said.

Hammer’s products are currently sold out of a number of local shops including Nature’s Green Grocer in Peterborough, The Hancock Market, and the Monadnock Food Co-Op in Keene.

The following gluten-free recipes were provided by Sonya LeClair.

GLUTEN-FREEBUTTERMILK PANCAKES

■2 cups gluten-free flour

■2 tablespoons sugar

■3 teaspoons baking powder

■1/2 teaspoon baking soda

■1 1/2 teaspoons salt

■2 teaspoons egg replacer

■2 1/2 to 3 cups buttermilk

■1/4 cup oil (I usually use sunflower, safflower, walnut or canola)

■Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons chia/flax meal

In a medium bowl, combine your dry ingredients, then add your buttermilk and oil. I typically add the buttermilk at the lower measurement end first, then add more if I can tell the batter is too thick.

Mix all ingredients until well-combined and let sit for three to five minutes while the pan heats. Note that if you use egg replacer and/or chia-flax meal, the batter will thicken as it sits. So if it seems thick now, it will probably thicken even more while it sits. In that case, you can add extra buttermilk (or regular milk) to thin it out. But it’s all personal preference in how thick (or thin) you like your pancakes.

Because I like my pancakes on the thicker side of thin, I usually shimmy the pan a bit when I add the batter to make sure that the pancakes spread out.

Cook over medium heat, approximately two minutes per side (give or take). This full recipe makes 10 to 12 pancakes, depending upon how large you make them.

For a more authentic “diner” flavor, cook in a cast-iron skillet with a bit of butter to develop lightly browned, crispy edges and a rich flavor.

GLUTEN-FREE CIDER DONUT RECIPE

■2 cups gluten-free flour

■1/2 cup cane sugar

■1 teaspoon baking soda

■1/2 teaspoon salt

■1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I like Saigon cinnamon best)

■1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

■1 1/4 cup apple cider

■1/3 cup oil*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and either grease or line your muffin tin.

Add dry ingredients to medium mixing bowl and mix until well combined. Add cider and oil and mix until just combined. Fill muffin tin, and bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

If desired, you can top them with cinnamon sugar before baking. Preferences differ, but I tend to use 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon per 1/4 cup of sugar.

GLUTEN-FREEMOLASSES COOKIES

■3/4 cup salted butter

■3/4 cup brown sugar

■1/4 cup unsulphured molasses

■1 large egg

■1 teaspoon vanilla

■2 1/4 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour

■1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

■1/4 teaspoon salt

■3/4 teaspoon ginger

■1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

■1/4 teaspoon cloves

Whisk all dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter & sugar, then add egg, vanilla, and molasses. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until well mixed, approximately one minute.

Slowly add dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. The dough will be sticky.

Bake at 350 degrees for right to 10 minutes.


Gluten-free pancakes Photo credit: Sonya LeClair Gluten-free pancakes - Photo credit: Sonya LeClair
Gluten-free molasses cookies Photo credit: Sonya LeClair Gluten-free molasses cookies - Photo credit: Sonya LeClair
Jarrod's Deli and Classic Meals offers a number of gluten-free options on their menu, including a meatloaf sandwich. Staff photo by Ben Conant Jarrod's Deli and Classic Meals offers a number of gluten-free options on their menu, including a meatloaf sandwich. - Staff photo by Ben Conant