BECKET -- Tammy Merenda rarely cooked from scratch, until she went gluten-free.

For convenience's sake, the Becket woman regularly prepared packaged, processed foods, often a problem for those suffering from gluten allergies. By 2010, health problems prompted Merenda -- on the advice of her doctor -- to drastically change her diet and food preparation habits.

Three years later, Merenda takes the time to prepare all her family's meals, including one of her favorite recipes -- a gluten-free pizza.

She also has plenty of her homemade gluten-free flour on hand.

"It's a time-consuming process, but I make sure to prepare large quantities for future meals," said the wife and mother of two young boys.

Merenda is among the several Berkshirites sharing their insights about going gluten-free and the recipes that have helped them maintain their new dietary lifestyle.

The majority cite celiac disease -- the inability to digest gluten -- and other illnesses for eliminating the wheat protein from meals, while others did so simply to feel better.

Amy Smith and her daughters suffer from celiac disease and have been on gluten-free diets for the past four years.

The Pittsfield woman says she has gone from making all her family's food from scratch to a variety of homemade and store-bought food options.

Smith has found King Arthur gluten-free flour and a quarter-teaspoon per cup of flour of xanthan gum has been a time-saving measure.


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"This makes baking so much easier than measuring six different flours, starches and other starches," she noted. "It is costly, though."

Nevertheless, the ultimate goal of cooking gluten-free is staying healthy.

"When you know the outcome of deciding to eat just one piece of bread is painful and can lead to long-lasting damage to your body, you just accept it and move on," said Smith.

One West at the Crowne Plaza Hotel is among the many local restaurants gradually working gluten-free items onto their menus.

Executive chef Mike Mongeon flames the salmon for his gluten-free dish.
Executive chef Mike Mongeon flames the salmon for his gluten-free dish. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"On our a la carte menu, we have gluten-free choices, but our thought process is to move in the direction of having more," said executive chef Mike Mongeon. "Gluten-free seems to be getting larger."

Certified in allergen awareness, Mongeon says cooking gluten-free is more than dealing with pasta, breads and other starches.

"There are things in Worcestershire sauce and steak sauce that also affect those with celiac disease," he noted.

While Shannon Parise doesn't have gluten allergies, she has discovered the benefits of going gluten-free at home.

"My health has improved so much, I don't cheat," she said, "but if I do, I would notice the difference."

As for dining out, Parise relies on her smartphone to seek out eateries that cater to her dietary needs.

"I have all sorts of apps to find restaurants with gluten-free options," she said.

SEARED ATLANTIC SALMON WITH A
MANGO AND CRANBERRY CHUTNEY



Courtesy Executive Chef MIke Mongeon, One West restaurant, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Pittsfield

4 ea. 7oz. Filet of Salmon

4 cup Watercress

5 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 ea. Lemon

2 cup Fresh/Frozen Cranberries

2 cup Chopped Mango

1/2 cup Honey

1 4 cup Sugar

1 2 cup Cilantro

1 ea. Lime

Salt & Pepper to taste

Start by heating mango, cranberries, honey, sugar, cilantro, and the zest and juice of 1 lime in a medium sauce pot to make chutney. Simmer for 15-20 min and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature. Season salmon filets with salt and pepper to your liking and add to a large preheated sauté pan with 1 t of extra virgin olive oil. Cook on medium high heat for 3-5 min and carefully flip finishing them in the pan for an additional 2 to 4 minutes. In a medium size mixing bowl mix watercress, the remaining extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and the juice of 1 lemon and gently combine. Serve salmon with the watercress salad, topping the salmon filets with the chutney and crushed pistachios.

(Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
 

GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA

Makes 6 pizzas

Courtesy Tammy Merenda, Becket

3 cups gluten-free flour blend

2 packages active dry yeast

2 tsp. zantham gum

1 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cups warm water

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 egg whites

1 tbsp. honey

1 tsp. cider vinegar

Toppings: 1 can pizza sauce, Italian seasoning, 1 package sliced pepperoni, Shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 450. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix flour blend, yeast, xanthum gum and salt in a large bowl. Whisk 1 cup of warm water, oil, egg whites, honey and vinegar in medium bowl. Beat wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

Transfer one sixth of dough to prepared pan. Spread dough into 6 inch circle using dampened fingers making crust thicker around edges to hold toppings. Repeat with reaming dough.

Bake 8 to 12 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Top crust with sauce and toppings. Bake 2 to 5 minutes or until cheese melts.

After cooling you can wrap and store the pizza crusts for future use in the freezer for up to 3 months.

BREAKFAST MUFFINS

Courtesy Amy Smith of Pittsfield

2/3 cup Sorghum Flour

2/3 cup White Rice Flour

2/3 cup Tapioca Flour

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 tsp. xanthan gum

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large egg

1 cup vanilla yogurt (we use Chobani)

5 tbsp. melted butter

2 1/2 cups grated zucchini and carrots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In stand mixer, mix yogurt and egg, add sugar, then dry ingredients. Mix well (it will be stiff) add vegetables and mix well. Pour into muffin pan or loaf pan to make a small loaf. Bake 20-25 minutes for muffins or until golden and cooked through.

GLUTEN-FREE CHEESE CRACKERS

Courtesy Amy Smith

1/2 cups softened butter or margarine

2 cups packed, grated cheddar cheese

1 cup gluten-free flour mix (King Arthur is our favorite)

1 tsp. season salt

Cream together the butter and cheese. Add flour and salt, mix until a dough forms into a ball. Divide into 3 sections, roll each into 6" long and 1 1/2" in diameter. Wrap in wax paper, chill until firm then slice into 1/8" slices and bake on ungreased sheet pan for 10 minutes or until crisp at 400 degrees. Leave the dough in the wax paper in the freezer for use later in the week to make preparation easy and quick!

COOKIE DOUGH BITES

Courtesy Jeanne Abderhalden of Lee

1 1/4 cups chickpeas, well-rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter or almond butter

1/4 cup honey or real maple syrup

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all the ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) in a food processor and process until very smooth. Make sure to scrape the sides and the top to get the little chunks of chickpeas and process again until they're combined.

Put in the chocolate chips and stir it if you can, or pulse it once or twice. The mixture will be very thick and sticky.

With wet hands, form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place onto a cookie sheet. (If you want them to look more like normal cookies, press down slightly on the balls.) Bake for about 10-12 minutes.

PUMPKIN MUFFINS

Courtesy Kendi Ethier, Mill River

11 2 cups - Almond Flour (Used Bob's Red Mill (940cal)

3/4 cup - Canned Pumpkin (60cal)

3 large Whole Eggs (215cal)

1 tsp - Baking powder

1 tsp - Baking soda

1 2 tsp - Ground Cinnamon

11 2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (5cal)

1/8 tsp - Salt

1/4 cup - Honey (250cal) (optional)

2 tsp - almond butter (66cal)

5 whole almonds (or some sliced almonds)

Grease 6 muffin tins with coconut oil (or use paper muffin cups and add about 1/2 tsp melted coconut oil to batter)

Mix all ingredients. Pour mix into the 6 tins.

Bake at 350F for 25 minutes on the middle rack.

Stick almonds in the top when they come out hot.

PEANUT BUTTER
COOKIES

Courtesy Shannon Parise, Otis

1 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup white sugar (can use 1 cup white)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients. Place rounded teaspoonful of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with back of fork horizontally and vertically. Bake for 6-8 minutes.

This recipe is versatile you can also add gluten-free chocolate kisses into the center once removed from the oven, before cooled.