Gretchen McKay

A gluten-free Thanksgiving

Gluten-free Cheesecake with Candied Cranberries/Gretchen McKay

Cooking for someone with a wheat allergy or sensitivity is never easy, but it’s particularly trying during the holidays. So much of what we love to serve at our Thanksgiving table is chock-full of gluten — from the buttery crust on the pumpkin pie, to the giblet gravy, to the fresh-from-the-oven bread and rolls that are essential for scooping bits and pieces off the plate.

And stuffing. Thanksgiving dinner for many of us just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving dinner without the glorious bread-and-herb mixture we stuff inside the turkey’s cavity to absorb those delicious juices the bird releases during cooking.

You can go the vegetarian route, of course, substituting a medley of salads and vegetables for the traditional sides. But somehow, filling up on green beans and sweet potatoes isn’t as satisfying. Daresay you might even feel cheated.

The good news is that with a little imagination and help from the many gluten-free products so readily available these days, even at small supermarkets, you don’t have to deny those with celiac disease or wheat sensitivities the centerpiece dishes they once loved.

For instance, instead of biscuits or moon-shaped crescent rolls, why not consider popovers made with gluten-free flour? They’re so easy to stir together when you use a blender, and they’re a lot less caloric than traditional breads — especially since you don’t have to slather on the butter. Plus, the fluffy puffs are sure to impress your guests.

It’s a similar story with stuffing. Swap the wheat-based bread cubes for ones made from gluten-free cornbread, and you won’t miss a beat. Gluten-free cornbread is surprisingly delicious, especially if you pair it with spicy chili peppers and another Thanksgiving favorite, corn.

Tired of green beans? Wild rice paired with chorizo, toasted walnuts and crunchy pomegranate seeds is not just extremely flavorful, but also a feast for the eyes.

But the best part of this gluten-free story is dessert. Who doesn’t love cheesecake? Crazy people, that’s who, or maybe just those with wheat sensitivities who don’t know you can make just as delicious a crust with gluten-free flour instead of the usual graham cracker crumbs. You just need a little xantham gum to bind it together.

A few words of caution if you’re cooking for someone’s who living a gluten-free lifestyle: Be sure to keep the kitchen counters, pans and utensils clean so you don’t cross contaminate dishes, and always label leftovers. After such a lovely celebration, it’d be a real bummer to give your guests a tummy ache.

— Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.      

Gluten-free Popovers

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The crown-topped popovers are crisp on the outside and the moist inside.

1 cup King gluten-free multipurpose flour

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

1¼ cups milk, slightly warm

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-cup popover pan or standard muffin pan.

In blender or large bowl, whisk together eggs, butter, and milk until the mixture is uniform. Whisk the flour or flour blend in a bowl with the xanthan gum and salt. Spoon or pour the dry ingredients into the blender/bowl, and whisk until you have a smooth batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, filling each cup about ⅔ full.

Bake for 25 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the popovers are deep brown.

Remove from the oven, prick the side of each popover with a sharp knife to let the steam out, and let popovers rest for 5 minutes to finish setting. Remove from the pan, and serve immediately. Or, to keep them crisp longer, allow them to sit in the turned-off oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 standard (muffin-sized) popovers.

— King Arthur Flour.

Jalapeno and Cherry Pepper Cornbread Stuffing

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This stuffing is spicy, so if you’re not a big fan of heat, you might want to cut back on the amount of chili peppers. Or not: my son, Jack, ate the entire casserole in less than 24 hours. 

1 (12-ounce) box gluten-free cornbread mix, baked according to package instructions

4 tablespoons butter

1 stalk celery, diced

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (4-ounce) can pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced

4 pickled cherry peppers, diced

1 tablespoon chopped sage

1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels

1½ cups chicken stock

2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut cooled cornbread into 1/2-inch cubes. Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Toast cornbread and transfer to greased casserole dish.

In same skillet, saute celery, onion and garlic until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add vegetables, peppers, sage and corn. In bowl, combine stock and eggs and pour over the cornbread mixture. Gently fold to combine. Cover, place in oven and bake for 35 minutes.

Uncover dish and broil for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.


Wild Rice with Chorizo, Walnuts and Pomegranate

Wild Rice Salad with Pomegranate/Gretchen McKay

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Be sure to soak the rice or it will take forever to cook on the stove. To remove the ruby-red pomegranate seeds, roll the fruit before cutting in half to loosen the seeds, then tap the halves with a wooden spoon over a bowl. 

I substituted pecans for the walnuts; toasted almonds would be delicious, too.  

2 cups wild rice

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 shallots, minced

5 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

3 cups water

1/2 cup walnuts

6 ounces chorizo

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Place rice in large bowl and cover with water. Let sit at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.

In large pot over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add shallots and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in molasses and tomato paste. Drain rice and add to pan along with thyme and bay leaf. Cook until rice smells toasty, about 2 minutes. Pour in 3 cups water and bring to boil. Season with more salt, lower heat and simmer, uncovered, until liquid is almost gone, about 40 minutes. (The grains will be splitting open and beginning to unfurl but not completely softened.) Remove from heat, cover and allow rice to steam for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Fluff rice with wooden spoon.

In small, dry frying pan over medium heat, toast walnuts until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool.

In large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot, but not smoking.  Add chorizo and cook, without stirring, until browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Use wooden spoon to break up the browned sausage into thumbnail-sized pieces. When sausage is almost cooked through but still pink, add to rice. Add stock. Return pot to stove and cook over high heat until stock has almost evaporated.

Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley, pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts.  Spike the dish with vinegar and serve warm.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side.

— “Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California” by Travis Lett (Chronicle, 2015, $35).

New York-Style Cheesecake

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This takes some time, but the results are fabulous — smoothy and creamy, with a crunchy crust. 

For crust

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

4 ounces (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) gluten-free multipurpose flour

2⅓ ounces (1/3 cup) sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum

For filling

2½ pounds cream cheese, softened

1½ cups sugar, divided

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 large eggs, plus 2 large yolks

Make crust: Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Brush bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with ½ tablespoon butter.

In large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, salt and xanthan gum until combined. Whisk in 5 tablespoons butter until fully incorporated and mixture resembles wet sand. Using your hands, press crumb mixture evenly into pan bottom. Using bottom of dry measuring cup, firmly pack crust into pan. Bake on lower rack until edges begin to darken and crust is firm on top, 22 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely. Reduce oven to 200 degrees.

Make filling: In stand mixer, beat cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar and salt at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well combined, about 1 minute. Add sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla and beat at low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add egg yolks and beat at medium-slow speed until thoroughly combined, about  1 minute. Scrape beater and bowl. Add whole eggs, 2 at a time, beating until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds after each addition.

Strain filling through fine-mesh strainer into bowl. Brush sides of springform pan with remaining ½ tablespoon melted butter. Pour filling into crust and set aside for 10 minutes to allow air bubbles to rise to top. Gently draw tines of fork across surface of cake to pop air bubbles that have risen to surface.

When oven registers 200 degrees, bake cheesecake on lower rack for 45 minutes. Remove cake form oven and use toothpick to pierce any bubbles that have risen to surface. Return to oven and continue to bake until center registers 165 degrees, 2¼ to 2¾ hours longer.

Remove cake from oven and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. When oven is hot, bake cheesecake on upper rack until top is evenly browned, 4 to 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then run thin knife between cheesecake and pan. Let cool until barely warm, 3 hours. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and firmly set, at least 6 hours.

To unmold, remove sides of pan. Slide thin metal spatula between crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cheesecake onto serving plate.

Serves 12 to 16.

— “The How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook Volume 2” by American’s Test Kitchen (October 2015, $26.95). 

Three ways to refuel after a marathon

Gluten-free Banana-Nutella Muffins/Gretchen McKay


So you’re among the thousands of Runners of Steel who participated in the Pittsburgh (or another city’s) Marathon. Or maybe you’re one of the many spectators who got up at the crack of dawn to cheer the record-breaking number of entrants on. Bet you’re hungry.

The average runner burns about 100 calories per mile, which when you’re talking an endurance event like a full marathon amounts to an entire day’s worth of calories over just a few hours. No one’s going to blame you, then, if the bagel and banana provided at the finish don’t suffice. Racing works up an appetite. You need a real food, and plenty of it.

Here, we offer a few athlete-tested recipes, including one that’s gluten-free, from this year’s field of world-class elites. All are easy to make, with delicious results.


Gluten-Free Banana Nutella Muffins

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Nutella and bananas. Need we say more?

This recipe comes from ultrarunner Devon Crosby-Helms, who came in 37th in the women’s marathon in the 2012 Olympic Trials. A personal chef who earned a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh, the San Francisco resident is gluten-intolerant, so she devised the muffins using gluten-free flour mix.

If you’ve never enjoyed a bakery product made without “regular” flour, you may be in for a pleasant surprise — samples brought into the newsroom disappeared from the food table in about 30 seconds.

I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, available at Giant Eagle Market District stores. If you like your muffins on the sweet side, use the ripest bananas you can find, as the only sugar in this recipe comes from the Nutella.

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, plus banana slices for topping
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Nutella


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place paper liners in 12 muffin tins.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl or stand mixer. In food processor, combine ripe bananas with butter, egg, almond milk and vanilla and process into a smooth paste. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add chocolate-hazelnut spread and stir until incorporated.

Pour batter evenly into muffin cups and top with banana slices. Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and store in a plastic container. Enjoy with more Nutella.

Makes 12 muffins.

— Devon Crosby-Helms



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This crunchy granola is a favorite with marathoner/personal chef Devon Crosby-Helm’s clients. “They call it ‘crack,’ ” she says, because it’s so addictive. Spoon it on top of yogurt or ice cream for a nice post-race treat, or do as I did and simply eat it by the handful.

I substituted almonds for the walnuts and honey for the agave nectar, and also threw in some chopped dried pineapple; next time, I might add a handful of chocolate chips after the mixture has cooled. “Good for you” never tasted so, well, good for you.

  • 4 cups old-fashioned oats or gluten-free oats (to make the recipe gluten free)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup peanut or neutral oil
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup diced dried apricots
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted cashews
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried berries
  • 1 cup dried cherries


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss oats, shredded coconut and walnuts together in a large bowl. Mix oil and agave together and stir into oat mixture. Spread out evenly on a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. (My granola mix got crispy in about 30 minutes.)

Remove mixture from oven and mix in remaining ingredients and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 24 servings.

— Devon Crosby-Helms



Chili is always a good way to refuel after a long race, says Jeffrey Eggleston, who won the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon and is in town this weekend to defend his title. This vegetarian version, made with three different kinds of beans, is one of his favorite recipes. He says the addition of dark beer (he likes home-brewed dunkelweisen) is essential, as it’s a good source of B vitamins.

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 zucchini squash, chopped
  • 2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers
  • 2 jalapenos, chopped
  • 1 to 2 Hatch chile peppers, seeded and diced, if you can find them
  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 12-ounce bottle of your favorite dark beer
  • 15-ounce can kidney beans
  • 15-ounce can black beans
  • 15-ounce can pinto beans
  • Sea salt and crushed black pepper, to taste


Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion until they become translucent. Season with bay leaves and spices; stir for about 1 minute, until spices become fragrant. Add zucchini and peppers (plus any other vegetables you wish).

Once vegetables are cooked through, add the diced tomatoes, beer and stir in the cans of beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer (covered) for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve chili in bowls with cornbread and a cold brew.

Serves 6 to 8, depending on appetite.

— Jeffrey Eggleston