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some gluten-free flours I've been sampling lately

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10 October 2005

some gluten-free flours I've been sampling lately

chicken with gf flour, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

t occurs to me that I have been so exuberant about good foods, good friends, and stories about Disneyland lately that I haven’t written anything about foods specific to celiacs or those who must eat gluten-free. And I’m fine with that. As I told my writing students today, you have to write what compels you, fearlessly. Or else, it will only be obligatory, and safe. Boring. Besides, I’m eager to share this with everyone: eating gluten-free isn’t about buying special mixes and packaged cookies all the time. Being gluten-free is about being free, free to eat well, cook gorgeous foods, and feel well. Man does not love by bread alone, and this woman doesn’t even live by bread. Give me sauteed mushrooms, saffron risotto, and a square of dark chocolate any time.

But lately, I have been experimenting with some specific, gluten-free flours, and I thought I’d share the results with you.

On Friday night, I came home exhausted. Flummoxed with all the responsibilities facing me, all the pressing problems I had still bulging at school, I just wanted to flop. The head cold that has been passed from clutches of people to another threatened the back of my throat. So, instead of going to the potluck I had planned to attend, I stayed home. Looking out my kitchen window, past the rain, I saw Malena’s tacos, my favorite little Mexican restaurant, on McGraw, here in Seattle. A tiny shack of a place, tucked next to a yoga studio, and run by people newly arrived from Mexico, this marvelous place has fed me more times than I can remember. When I first moved into this place, I fell prey to its intoxications at least twice a week, maybe more. Their fish tacos fall apart in the mouth, all the spices blending and diving on the tongue. And their chile relleno is the best I have ever tasted. Many a time I have taken people visiting to the little place down the street, the one with the windows perpetually steamed up, and they leave smiling. On Friday night, I was tempted to walk down there again. But I haven’t been in awhile. Even though I can see the grill behind the counter, and they mostly use corn tortillas, I just didn’t want to take the chance of cross-contamination. With a cold coming on, who needs to be glutenized?

avocado for guacamole
And then I saw the avocado on my table.

When I lived in New York, I lived on 101st and Broadway, in the building above Mama Mexico. They opened the same year I moved there, so I took it as a good sign. Horribly expensive by west coast standards, the place was constantly packed. Late at night, I’d still mariachi horns wafting up to my room on the seventh floor. Their margaritas knocked me on my ass. And their food exploded on the tongue, the spices layered, the tastes deep in me. But one of the best parts of going, with friends and lovers over the years, was the guacamole. If you ordered guacamole, the waiter wheeled over a tray with little bowls filled: tiny diced tomatoes; small, pungent chiles; ground cumin; slices of lime. He’d ask how you wanted your guacamole, and you pointed. I’ll some of that. More chiles. Less onion, please. And he’d expertly extract the avocado from its shell, then spoon it into the black, earthy mortar. With a quick flick of the wrist, he’d grind it all, the lime juice springing, the green mash forming. And within a minute, the best guacamole I’d ever tasted. Every time, I exulted in it. And every time, my companions and I would close our eyes and moan into our corn chips.

I had to have guacamole.

But not just guacamole. Salsa. Black beans. Chiles. Beecher’s cheese with flecks of red pepper. Little sprigs of lettuce. Fresh corn tortillas. And spicy strips of chicken.

Luckily, I know how to make the corn tortillas in my sleep now. Since I first made them in August, and wrote about them here, I’ve perpetually kept a bag of masa in my refrigerator. I’ll never buy packaged tortillas again. Thick and hot, slightly singed from the skillet, fresh tortillas burst with flavor. I like to eat them straight from the stove, nothing on them, just the satisfying taste of corn and lime. But on Friday, I made a little stack of them in preparation for my spontaneous feast.

Just before I was diagnosed with celiac, I figured out the easiest way to make perfectly sauteed chicken breasts. Cover them, lightly, with flour, just a thin dusting on each side, before putting them into olive oil on medium-high heat. The veneer of flour keeps the juices of the chicken inside the breast, instead of in the skillet. It also keeps the meat from burning. It’s not fried chicken. Instead, just a hint of crunch, a small memory of something else. Every time I make it this way, my chicken tastes entirely memorable.

But then I had to stop eating gluten. And I didn’t eat meat for several months either. Only recently have I returned to making chicken. Wonderfully, I have found that most gluten-free flours work just as well as traditional wheat flour for this purpose. And on Friday, I used Tom Sawyer’s Gluten-free Flour, which had been sent to me by the people at My Gluten-free Store. Lovely people with two children who have to eat gluten-free, Mike and Cherin are just starting their web venture. I applaud any small company that wants to make the world more safe for those of us who can’t eat gluten. They may be just starting, and their website is clearly a little handmade, but they still deserve your attention. They have partnered with a flour maker in Arizona who has just invented this mix. It has various rice flours and starches, and they insist we can use it as a direct substitute for traditional flours. I made some biscuits, some gingersnaps, and this chicken with it. For my taste, it doesn’t work as well for baking as the next flour I’m going to mention, but for savory foods, it’s just fine. The binding agent in this mix is gelatin, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for vegetarians. (And I have to say that it didn’t sit that well in my innards either.) But it’s a good flour, put together by good people.

And on Friday, I dredged my chicken in the Tom Sawyer flour, mixed with some of my Survival Spice. This mix is quickly becoming one of my favorites—it colors everything beautifully. With the combination of these two, my gluten-free chicken just gleamed. And with the fresh-made guacamole, and the local cheese, these taco concoctions were just what I needed to start off my weekend right.

pancakes with Pamelas'
On Saturday morning, I made pancakes.

I don’t know what came over me. I haven’t eaten pancakes in months, not since my birthday in August. And I’ve been so focused on foods that are gluten-free in their natural state that it just didn’t occur to me to make pancakes. But I’d just returned from a vigorous Hydro-fit class, I was not going to be home for hours, and I had a bowl full of farm-fresh eggs from my brother’s chickens. Pancakes it is.

On top of it all, I wanted to try out a new flour I had bought the week before at Minglement, the lovely health food store on Vashon Island. Pamela’s makes some of the best gluten-free cookies on the market (along with Ener-G and WOW baking). And they’ve been making these cookies for years. Now, they’re selling their baking mix flour, in small bags, and in four-pound bags. Wow, it’s almost like regular flour! You know, I’ve been feeling slightly guilty that I don’t make my gluten-free mix from scratch. And someday, I might. But then I think, “Wait a second, Shauna. When you thought you could eat wheat, did you insist that you make your own flour from scratch?” Nope. And what I’m finding is that these gluten-free mixes, in bulk, are only just a bit more expensive than the fine flours I used to buy before the celiac diagnosis.

Pamela’s baking mix is truly meant for just that. It’s a combination of rice flours and the usual suspects, with the addition of cultured buttermilk and almond meal. This makes for a freckled, slightly brown flour. And the slight sweetness that ground almonds can have. When the call for pancakes came, I listened.

Ah, these were truly spectacular. I just couldn’t flip them off the griddle fast enough. Thick, filled with density, deeply flavorful--I forgot that they were gluten-free in three bites. I just started gobbling them instead of thinking. I ran out of maple syrup and switched to powdered sugar--just as good. I paused only to take photographs, as well.

So there you have it: my favorite gluten-free flours, along with the old standby, the Gluten-free Pantry’s French Bread and Pizza Mix. Isn’t it good to know that there exists such a plethora of choices for us?


At 11:32 PM, Blogger ilva said...

Yes! Even though I'm not a fellow sufferer I realize that it must be so difficult to live with a disease like yours. Your blog has made me realize that cooking gluten free is possible and even delicious!
You still haven't answered my question: what type of camera do you use? Your photos are so NICE!

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Shauna said...


Thank you! I'm so happy to know that this site is making you happy, even though you can eat gluten. It really is pretty easy to eat well and be healthy with celiac.

As far as my camera goes (and I'm so sorry I didn't answer this earlier!), it's not complicated. I use a Nikon Coolpix 4100. It doesn't cost much, and it's about the size of the palm of my hand. But it has a wonderful macro lens, and i'm not afraid to bend down and stick my nose into food!

I have two more photos for this post, and links, of course. But Blogger is being irrational at the moment, and won't let me edit them in. Check back later for more.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous TEC said...

Sunday night I followed your advice and subbed the GFP Country French Bread/Pizza Mix for the AP flour in the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe. I baked a few cookies off to see if they needed any additional flour, and they did. I then added another 2T of mix and they were perfect. They look like the cookies of my childhood. I'm about ready to get rid of all those tiny bags of flour taking up way too much space in my pantry. Thanks for the tip!

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Cornstarch often works well subbed one-for-one in any recipe that calls for cake flour. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of xanthan gum per cup of cornstarch.

Barbara Kafka's "Microwave Gourment" has some accidentally gluten-free recipes for cakes and other desserts. The gluten flours don't work well in the microwave so she used other flours in her recipes.

And garbanzo bean flour makes a luscious roux. Sub one-for-one for wheat flour and cook with fat as usual. The roux won't lose the "beany" tase until after you add the liquid and cook the gravy or sauce a bit. Store the garbanzo bean flour in the freezer so it doesn't go off.

Lisa in Baltimore

At 4:55 PM, Blogger michelle said...

Hi Shauna,
Is there a link to your corn tortillas somewhere? They sounds scrumptious! I'm happy to know that there are so many good options out there for you!

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


So glad to hear it worked for you! I'd try the Pamela's with those cookies too. In fact, I'm starting to believe that it's even better for sweets than the GF Pantry mix. But how great is it that we have choices?

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Hey Lisa in Baltimore!

Thanks for the tip on cornstarch. I've never tried that before. And garbanzo bean flour? I'm glad to hear that it loses that beany flavor. I'll be happy to try it and report back here. Thanks so much for stopping by.


There are so many food options, for all of us. I swear, this has been such a blessing for me, because it forced me out of my food rut. Everything feels wide open now.

Oh, and the link to the tortillas post is up in this post now. Blogger was being recalcitrant for 24 hours and wouldn't let me edit my posts! But it's back to normal now.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Oooh, this is very useful. I've got a few friends who are intermittently off gluten so I'll bave to try one f these next time one of them comes to visit.

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


You're a doll if you keep gluten-free flour on hand for friends. I'd stop by your kitchen any time.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Meri said...

I am Gluten and Lactose Intolerant as well as extremely sensative to bean flour. This is making it very hard for me to get a ready made mix.

Pamelas Amazing Bread hurt my stomach, it says made in a facility that processes milk so I guess it was the lactose. Her all purpose also is that way. Bobs redmill has bean flour.

For bread I finally came up with a nice homemade mix of sorghum and tapioca flour, I actually love the way it tastes! It is a pain in the neck and quite expensive putting this together.

But I would love to bake cookies! I already have the gluten free, lactose free chocolate chips but now I need a good flour. I already looked into Tom Sawyer, it is completely safe for me but I have never tried it. I googled it and found your blog :) Now I am not sure if its worth buying for the baking. I was hoping it would be a good thing since the price is right for the amount you can buy!

Is there something I could do/add to the Tom Sawyer flour to make it perfect for cookies, cakes or other sweet treats?

Or can someone reccommend a good homemade mixture or ready made mix that is gluten and lactose free?

At 4:03 PM, Blogger suew said...

I have been baking with new flours lately, which have livened up my gluten-free world: teff flour in breads, muffins and pancakes, and buckwheat flour in crepes. The buckwheat truly allows for that smooth crepe texture and has a yummy nutty taste.


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