PROFITEROLES

Gluten-free profiteroles are virtually indistinguishable from their wheat-full counterparts.

There are so many things about my first trip to France to meet my future husband’s (then-boyfriend’s) family that I will never forget.

There was the huge plate of raw oysters that they, delightedly, put in front of me on Christmas Eve, when I had never once considered eating a raw oyster in my life. There was the stick shift car that I had to drive, and stalled five times, with my future siblings-in-law all watching. (Since I was the only sober one, and therefore the driver, meant that no one actually said anything about this. But, I was mortified nonetheless). Perhaps the strangest culture clash of the whole trip, however, was when my future in-laws learned that I was vegetarian. American they could handle, but what were they going to feed me for the holidays?

Of course, we managed well (my future nieces and nephews all did a great job slyly swiping the oysters off my plate and downing them for me). And over the years everyone has adjusted and it’s truly no big deal at all to accommodate my preference. I think for many people vegetarians at the table have become common and less intimidating. The biggest challenge these days, when you’re entertaining family and the guests that tag along is when someone shows up who’s gluten free.

When we first opened our restaurant Chez Nous, now Café Triskele, in 2005, we’d hear from our guests that they were avoiding gluten fairly infrequently. So infrequently, in fact, that we were still questioning which grains actually had gluten. We knew about wheat, but rye, barley, grains processed in a non-gluten-free facility ... this was news to us. Things quickly changed, however, and our guests, as well as various food consultants, educated us on what we needed to do to feed everyone safely.

When you’re cooking something without meat, there’s no worry about sickening someone by cross-contamination. With gluten, particularly celiac disease, just the smallest trace can make someone sick, and for this reason we decided at the restaurant to keep most of our dishes gluten free, including dessert, to avoid any risk.

ALLERGY OR PREFERENCE?

So where does that leave everyone who’s trying to cook for the holidays when there’s someone gluten-free coming? The first thing is to find out if this is a preference or an actual allergy to gluten.

If it’s a preference, some of the dishes on the table can be gluten-free and others can have gluten. You don’t need to be concerned about serving utensils, sponges, baking trays, etc., the same way that you have to when you’re preparing a meal with a celiac diner coming. Once the level of caution needed on the part of the shopper/cook has been determined, how can you simplify the menu so that it’s going to be delicious for everyone and not require you to do a ton of extra work? We’d like to share some of our favorite ingredients and strategies to make great gluten-free holiday cooking fun and efficient ...

CREATIVE SIDE DISHES

Since so much of holiday cooking is actually gluten-free, roasted proteins (just don’t use Wondra or other wheat-based flours to thicken gravies or make crusts!), vegetable side dishes, we’re really just looking for creative side dishes and desserts to keep the meal safe for all. Our first discovery when we started focusing on gluten-free cooking and baking was that great things happen when you up your grain game.

Wheat is so omnipresent in our Western diet that it can look bleak when you imagine taking it out. When, in fact, there are so many fantastic grains to work with that provide new flavors and nutrition profiles for your cooking. For example, using quinoa and millet to make pilafs, salads or stuffings can really diversify your repertoire and make dishes that are a discovery for everyone.

Our favorite way to cook these grains is using our rice cooker (there’s nothing stopping you from using actual rice, by the way, for any gluten-free meal). The settings on the rice cooker make quinoa and millet perfectly, fluffy and satisfying. Sautéing onions or other veggies and adding them to the hot, cooked grains, using veggie or chicken stock in the rice cooker instead of water, you can make a great pilaf, warm or cold grain salad, or filling for a stuffed vegetable to be baked in the oven. For something more adventurous and advanced, chickpea flour is the base for some really fantastic side dishes from the South of France, the Socca, or chickpea-flour crepe, and the Panisse, a chickpea-flour fritter.

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GLUTEN-FREE DESSERTS

Now for the most challenging shift for the holiday cook: dessert!

Baking gluten-free desserts is so much easier and more satisfying now than it was even 10 years ago. There are many excellent products readily available which weren’t on the shelves back when we started experimenting. I usually use Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Blend for easy substitutions in tart doughs, basic cakes and cookies. It doesn’t work for 100 percent of my recipes, but for many, like my brownies, chocolate cake and tart dough, it is undetectable.

Even my profiteroles are virtually indistinguishable from their wheat-full counterparts. But, like with cooking, baking gluten-free gives you the chance to introduce a new level of flavor and nutrition to your desserts. The first time I ground up hazelnuts in the food processor (you can buy hazelnut flour these days), and used that in a brownie instead of wheat flour, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner? Just as excellent was when I used peanuts in place of the hazelnuts. Focusing on recipes that use cornmeal, almond flour, buckwheat flour or oat flour is so fun and such a welcome change from the monotony of wheat in everything.

Here are some tried-and-true recipes that you can test out on all of your guests this year, and keep everyone healthy and satisfied:

CHICKPEA PANISSE

INGREDIENTS

2 cups stock

1 1/4 cups chickpea flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, pepper

1/4 cup minced onion

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon oregano

DIRECTIONS

Sauté onion and spices in small sauté pan until tender, set aside.

Whisk together chickpea flour, stock and olive oil, cold, in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Start to heat up slowly while whisking. When mixture thickens like roux and pulls away from the pan, remove from heat.

Fold in onion mixture, taste for seasoning. Using a flat spatula or spreader, spread onto a 9-by-13-inch sheet pan, which has been covered with plastic wrap or foil to enable easy removal when the panisse is cold. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight before cutting into desired shapes and then pan- or deep-fry until crispy.

PROFITEROLES

INGREDIENTS

1 cup water

1 cup gluten-free flour blend, such as Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1

3 1/2 ounces butter

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil and add gluten free flour blend all at once. Mix over medium heat with a wooden spoon for 2 to3 minutes to cook out the raw smell of the flour, then transfer immediately to a stand mixer mixing bowl fitted with a flat beater. While beating hard, add eggs one at a time. After each addition, beat well, so mixture gets very silky. Use a piping bag to pipe golf ball-sized puffs. Bake until puffed and browned, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 F and leave in low oven until dry (Check in the middle. If the middle is still too wet the puffs will sink when they cool out of the oven).Leftover profiteroles freeze beautifully in a Ziploc bag for up to four weeks.

Split and serve with ice cream, pastry cream or whipped cream and a hot chocolate sauce.

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BROWN-BUTTER BROWNIES

INGREDIENTS

7 ounces roasted peanuts

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups sugar

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70 percent), chopped

6 large eggs

1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil, pressing it into the corners and leaving overhang on the two short sides. Place the nuts in a food processor. Add the cocoa, salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar and pulse until finely ground.

In a large saucepan, cook the butter over moderate heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until nutty-smelling and golden and the foam subsides, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate; let stand until melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk the butter and chocolate until smooth, scraping up any browned butter solids from the bottom of the pan. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the remaining 2 1/2 cups of sugar and the coffee until tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Beat in the chocolate-butter mixture. Add the cocoa-peanut mixture and beat to combine, scraping down the bowl. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until the top is glossy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the brownie cool completely on a rack, then refrigerate until chilled. Lift the brownie out of the pan and peel off the foil. Cut into 20 pieces and serve.

Rachel Portnoy is a pastry chef who, along with her husband Franck Tessier, owns Café Triskele, formerly Chez Nous, in Lee.