Chef Chat, Part 2: Randi Markowitz of Gluten Free Houston

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Today we continue our chat with Randi Markowitz of Gluten Free Houston.

EOW: What are the top three things to not do when cooking gluten-free?

Markowitz: The first thing is to not leave out ingredients that mimic what gluten does. That would be most of the gums, such as xantham and guar gums. They're all natural products. They sound like weird chemicals, but they're not. They're actually corn byproducts. So when I started, I thought I could didn't need them, but I was wrong. Second thing not to do is, don't attempt to make bread without the proper equipment. You need either a bread machine designed for gluten-free bread making or you need a mixer. Don't try to make it by hand; you will not succeed. The third thing of what not to do is to not let things go to waste. Because so much of gluten-free cooking is made without preservatives, don't let it sit out for days and days. Bake it fresh, have it nice and fresh for a couple of days and then put it in the freezer. Your freezer is one of your best friends with gluten-free cooking.

EOW: Why is gluten-free bread making by hand impossible?

Markowitz: It's impossible because you cannot by hand beat enough air into the batter. Gluten-free doughs are not like a dough that can be held, they're more like a batter. It has to have as much air incorporated into it as possible. Without a heavy-duty mixer or bread maker, there's no way a human can stir enough air into the dough. Without enough air, the yeasts won't activate, and it won't rise. Then you'll end up with a brick.

EOW: Are there any issues cooking with the gums that you mentioned?

Markowitz: The problem with the gums is that they're relatively extremely expensive. A pound of xantham gun is about $13, and the gums are sold in pound packages, so they bring your costs way up. Although you don't use a lot of it, if you're not really into baking, it's a big investment you're going to make in something you'll only use to make muffins or a loaf of bread every six months or cookies for the holidays.

EOW: What was it like being diagnosed with celiac disease so late in life, especially for someone so involved with food?

Markowitz: I had absolutely no idea that I had this and had had it all of my life. I had sicknesses from time to time that would come and go. From my early twenties when it started to become apparent, I've gone to many doctors. They've told me that I had everything under the sun except Celiac disease. It's a very hard-to-diagnose disease since it has a lot of weird symptoms that aren't common among a lot of people. So it took me getting really sick. I was in the hospital for a week. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me because I was down to 97 pounds at the time. So when the doctors came to me and said, "What you have is similar to a wheat allergy," I was ready to throw a party. I just couldn't believe it, because I thought there was something really bad in my stomach. So when they told me I couldn't eat wheat ever again, I was like, "uh...okay!" Within two days, before I was even out of the hospital, I was starting to feel better.

Tomorrow we'll finish our chat with Markowitz by discussing her transition from the home kitchen to the commercial one.

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