By Marsha Fottler.
May is National Celiac Awareness Month, a good time to learn more about this disease and the food revolution it started.
There are some two million people in the United States who have celiac sprue and require a life-long gluten-free diet. Until recently dining out was a nightmare for these people since gluten-free meals hardly existed. Cooking at home wasn’t any better.
Today because of the sudden popularity of gluten-free foods with both celiac sufferers and with other segments of the population who see benefit in eliminating wheat from their diets, there are more delicious gluten-free options at home and in your favorite restaurant.
From high-flautin’-no-gluten places such as Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse to casual-dining chains such Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Outback Steakhouse to neighborhood bakeries, offering a gluten-free menu is the newest – and maybe most appreciated – trend in the restaurant business.
People with celiac sprue (one in 133 Americans) suffer from an inherited autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with food absorption. The disease can develop at any point in life, but more women are affected than men and the disorder is most common in Caucasians and those of European ancestry. Alarming symptoms include seizures, skin disorders, abdominal pain, anemia and malnutrition among others. Complications from untreated celiac sprue include miscarriage, caner and osteoporosis. Blood tests and an intestinal biopsy can identify the disease.
The cure is a life-long gluten-free diet. Why is gluten the villain? Gluten is a many processed foods that have a high carbohydrate content. Gluten aggravates intestinal irritation in those with celiac making the disease ever more serious, putting the patient at high risk for life-threatening complications.
When wheat, rye and barley are eliminated from baking ingredients, what is substituted? Gluten-free bakers uses grains such millet and sorghum. Xantham gum is the necessary starch and because it is a costly ingredient, the prices of gluten-free baked goods are usually higher than those made with gluten.
Outback Steakhouse has been in the vanguard of catering to gluten-free guests according to Tim Wong, a managing partner of an Outback in southwest Florida. “We developed a cooking technique and we started training cooks more than a decade ago,” Wong said. “When a customer comes in and requests a gluten-free meal, we take a cook off the line and assign the cook to a separate station. Cook changes gloves, gets all new utensils and composes a custom-crafted meal for that customer.”
Not all of Wong’s customers have celiac disease. Gluten-free foods have become popular with dieters who want to cut down on carbohydrates. Also, many parents of autistic children insist that gluten-free diets are beneficial in alleviating symptoms. The market for gluten-free foods and products has grown at an average annual rate of 28 percent since 2004. It will be a $2.6- billion industry by 2012. Food producers are ready to cash in.
King Arthur Flour now produces a collection of gluten-free mixes including bread mix, pizza crust mix, cookie and brownie mixes, muffin and pancake mixes and one for chocolate cake. The company also makes gluten-free flour for scratch baking. Idaho Outpost makes a line of gluten-free soup mixes that are excellent, hearty and delicious. Potato leek or corn chowder or broccoli and cheddar average about $6 per package and serve five. The soups take about 45 minutes from start to finish.
Conte makes a line of gluten-free pasta favorites (such as ravioli) as well as pizzas. And Udi’s brand will satisfy a craving for gluten-free bagels and breads. Coconut Bliss offers a gluten-free collection of ice cream products and Hero Nutritionals produce a full line of gluten-free vitamins.
Outback’s popular dessert Chocolate Thunder From Down Under is a gluten-free brownie piled high with ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Here’s how to make it at home.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a small saucepan over low heat, heat chocolate chips and whipping cream, stirring constantly. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and sauce is smooth. Stir in vanilla.
Chocolate Thunder Brownie Pie
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 ounces butter
4 ounces sugar
6 eggs (separated)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup pecans (chopped)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 325°F. Lightly butter a 9”x12” pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper. Dust the sides of the pan with sugar and tap out the excess. In the top part of a double boiler over very hot, but not simmering, water, or in a microwave at medium power, melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat or the oven, and let stand, stirring until completed melted. Beat the butter in the bowl with mixer fitted on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. On low speed sugar. Return the speed to medium-high and beat until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the chocolate, vanilla and pecans.
In a separate clean bowl beat the egg whites in a large bowl with a mixer on high speed just until they form soft, shiny peaks. Do not over beat. Stir about one fourth of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, and then fold in the remaining whites, leaving a few visible wisps of whites. Spread batter evenly into the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (The cake will dome in the center.) Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the paper and invert on another rack to turn right side up. Cool completely.