Confessions of a Self-Taught Gluten-Free Cook

Our food editor explains how she learned to cook and bake gluten-free like a pro—and how she put together our new 8-week online Gluten-Free Vegetarian Cooking Course to help you make your own easy, healthy gluten-free recipes too.
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I never set out to be a gluten-free expert. My experience is born out of necessity—in my case, a food editor’s necessity to have easy, tasty gluten-free recipes in a magazine. But then, I think most people come to gluten-free cooking out of necessity when the gluten in foods starts throwing their bodies (or the bodies of the ones they love) curve balls.

Because I didn’t plan on this culinary specialization, my learning has been pretty haphazard. I read books, blogs, magazines, medical websites—even supermarket pamphlets. And I developed the down-and-dirty strategy below for revising and creating gluten-free recipes so that they suited my tastes and expectations. After all, no one was born knowing how to cook and bake gluten-free.

1) Question Gluten-free recipes can get crazy-complicated—especially baking recipes. So, I’ve taken to questioning everything. Do I really need six different types of flour to make a brownie? Can I substitute potato starch I have in my cupboard for the (more expensive) arrowroot that’s called for? And why should I knead a bread dough if there’s no gluten to develop? Very few of those complicated recipes have to stay complicated. And really, they should be simplified for your own sanity.

2) Copy To paraphrase a quote from T.S. Eliot: “Good cooks borrow, great cooks steal.” I get my gluten-free ideas and insights everywhere: from restaurant menus, supermarket food bars, and friendly asides. (“I had the best quinoa salad the other day,” a friend says to me. “Really? TELL ME MORE.” One of the biggest Eureka moments I have ever had in the kitchen was when I was playing around with gluten-free pie crusts and thought to read the ingredients list or a prepared gluten-free pie crust. I immediately knew what no one had told me, that I had the ratios all wrong.

3) Correct Think that just because I am a professional cook I get all my recipes right on the first try? Think again. Most recipes, even the ones I follow down to the last teaspoon, need a little adjusting or a second try before they suit my criteria—and my personal tastes. Heck, I’m the type to micromanage the seasoning of steamed rice until it tastes just right!

These steps are all part of how I’ve put together the new online Gluten-Free Vegetarian Cooking Course for Vegetarian Times. Sign up to see for yourself—and learn how you can question, copy, and correct to make your own gluten-free recipes.