Menus & Entertaining

How to throw a gluten-free cocktail party

By: Natalka Falcomer

Author: Canadian Living

Menus & Entertaining

How to throw a gluten-free cocktail party

By: Natalka Falcomer
Along with the holidays comes the tradition of gathering around the buffet table with friends and family, and indulging in delicious cakes, cookies, dips and hors d'oeuvres. Unfortunately, I've never experienced this tradition because of my wheat allergy.

Instead, I'm the awkward girl standing by the buffet table nibbling on carrot sticks and enviously eyeing others as they gobble down slices of cake. True, I might be making the better nutritional decision, but it gets lonely (and I get hungry) standing by the buffet sidelines. This year, however, I might not be alone as the number of people with food allergies and intolerances is growing in leaps and bounds. Given this fact, here are a few tips to make sure that all of your holiday guests get to enjoy the tradition of overeating.

Surprise! It has gluten!: Spreads, dips, gravies, malt vinegar, veggie burgers, and even California rolls
I've made the mistake of eating artichoke dip and cheese fondue, assuming that they must be wheat free. After all, dips and cheese are not in the shape of bread and they're creamy, not baked! Too bad the common rule of "If it walks like a duck…" doesn't apply to allergy-free eating.

My early holiday gift to the gluten avoiders: Spreads and dips contain wheat and, therefore, gluten. The same rule applies to gravies and most sauces, such as béchamel sauce. Why? The first reason is because these foods contain "mysterious" fillers such as brown rice syrup, spice blends and stabilizers, which are usually contaminated with wheat. The second reason is because flour is an excellent (and cheap!) thickening agent. So, steer clear of anything using sauces, gravies or creams – and that includes those yummy cocktail meatballs.

Wheat alternatives can still have gluten
Another early holiday gift for the allergic: Wheat alternatives such as spelt, rye or kamut contain gluten – and so does anything containing malt vinegar or triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Sorry my wheat-allergic vegetarians and vegans, but you're also banned from faux meats like veggie meatballs or veggie burgers if they contain seitan (a chewy meat substitution that is made from gluten and is often used in vegetarian dishes). And don't opt for the seemingly innocent California Roll either – sushi isn't safe if it has soy sauce, imitation crabmeat or any other type of imitation seafood in it.

If you can't eat gluten, the next banned holiday favourites can do a lot of damage to more than just your liver: beer, cocktails and colas that use distilled spirits or malt contain gluten. So double-check what you're drinking! I know that this gluten-packed list seems extensive, but there are lots of things that you can indulge in or prepare for gluten avoiders this holiday season.

Eating gluten-free this holiday? Go for naturally gluten-free hors d'oeuvres My favourite go-to wheat- and gluten-free foods are unsalted nuts, shrimp and sushi that is free from sauces and imitation seafood.

Page 1 of 3 -- Find great gluten-free recipe ideas fit for entertaining on page 2.

Of course, fruit, olives, devilled eggs, cheese, uncured/unpreserved meats and anything made with potatoes, corn or rice are also great options. For example, polenta topped with cheese and unpreserved meat is a great and satisfying hors d'oeuvre. I like to wash these snacks down with either a glass of wine or champagne, or a cocktail using gin, cherry liqueur (Kirschwassr), rum or sake.

Top off the night with great, gluten-free desserts
Dessert is also possible if I can find plain chocolates, macaroons, chocolate fondue, puddings, whipped cream and fruit, mousses, truffles or crème brûlée. Of course, I always double-check with the host to ensure that these hors d'oeuvres and desserts are actually gluten free. You never know if someone is "cheating" by adding wheat fillers or spices. However, if you are highly allergic to specific foods, you should always bring your own snacks, as the potential for cross-contamination can happen anywhere from the preparation of the meal all the way to the table (double-dippers have caused some of my allergic reactions!).

Related: See our list of Tested-Till-Perfect gluen-free cookie recipes

I once starved at a holiday party because there was nothing that I could eat. To avoid this from happening to you, offer to pitch in and make a meal for everyone at the party that you can also eat. I'm sure that the host wouldn't mind a little bit of help during this busy season anyway. In any event, I've learned that it is always best to eat a light snack before heading out and to always carry a homemade "mini" meal.

Hosting gluten-free guests?
Follow the KISS (keep it safe and simple) rule! The first step to allergy-free cooking is the most important – preparing your kitchen. This begins with a thorough wash of your cookware at high temperatures. But, no matter how hard you scrub, you cannot use any cookware that is porous, such as wood or plastic, as food tends to get stuck in these materials. Stick to stainless steel. If you don't have stainless steel, then just line your cookware with aluminum foil. Also, to avoid cross-contamination, dedicate some cookware and ingredients for only allergy-free cooking.

The next step is cooking – and this can be difficult if you're making complicated gluten-free foods. Gluten-free flours do not have the same baking and cooking properties as regular flours. For example, gluten-free flours must be balanced with starches and can have an odd taste if the sugar, spices or fats aren't adjusted – never mind trying to figure out the liquid and temperature modifications!

Gluten- and wheat-free cooking also require special (and expensive!) ingredients like xanthan gum. So, for those who have no time to go to pastry school or hunt for special gluten-free foods, I'd recommend making simple gluten-free dishes that use easy to find ingredients.

Visit Natalka Falcomer's website to find her favourite gluten-free holiday recipes including: Vietnamese Rice Wraps and Creamy White Bean "Mock Tuna" Dip, Crispy Polenta, and Brown Rice Orange Date Cookies for dessert.

Page 2 of 3 -- See page 3 for Natalka's recipe: Karma Brownies.
Karma Brownies
By Natalka Falcomer and Odessa Gill of The Accommodating Kitchen (Earth Spirit Press, 2011)

Yield: 12 servings

1 (19-ounce/540 mL) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 eggs
1/4 cup (60 mL) agave syrup or maple syrup or honey
1 small avocado
6 tbsp (90 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
6 tbsp (90 mL) brown sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) instant espresso (or cream if serving to children)

Suggested accompaniments:
Fresh raspberries or strawberries, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line an 8-inch (20.5 cm) square baking dish with parchment paper.

2. Put the beans, eggs, agave syrup, and avocado in a food processor and blend until completely smooth Add the cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, sugar, and espresso and continue blending until fully combined.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 33 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

4. Regrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours. Cut unto squares and serve with berries.

The Accommodating KitchenExcerpted from The Accommodating Kitchen Copyright 2011 by Odessa Gill & Natalka Falcomer. Used by permission of Odessa Gill and Natalka Falcomer. All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.

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How to throw a gluten-free cocktail party