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

PG tested

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

PG tested

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

PG tested

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). 

Some sparkling recipes for holiday drinks


Pomegranate Sparkler, left, and Tangerine, Campari and Soda/Gretchen McKay

New Year’s, the biggest party night of the year, is just a little over a week away, and hosts across the globe will be looking for that one special beverage to keep their guests smiling — and sipping — until the ball drops at midnight, if not well after.


Tradition holds there will be some sort of bubbly with which to ring in 2012. My vote goes to an extra-dry prosecco, a sparkling Italian white wine that has soared in popularity in recent years, and which I love served in a tall and narrow flute so the nose-tickling bubbles and aromas stay inside the glass.

Still, nothing sets the party scene like a pretty signature cocktail.

A drink doesn’t have to be fussy to impress your party guests, or made with exotic ingredients you’ll have a hard time finding (and probably won’t use again until your next party). It simply has to be fresh and delicious.

Then again, on this night in particular, when revelers are in an especially festive mood and any resolutions to lose weight or eat a better diet are still at least a day away from being tested, no one’s going to complain if the drink in his or her hand is a bit more “fun” than usual.

A spoonful of pomegranate arils, for example, will add crunch along with visual interest to a glass of sparkling wine, and a bartender never can go wrong by garnishing a drink with a long curlicue of citrus peel. Or a slice of fresh fruit, for that matter.

Another easy and inexpensive way to dress up a sweet cocktail (and when you’re the hostess, “easy” is important) is to rim the glass with a little fruit juice and then dip it into granulated sugar or crushed hard candy. Consider it the cocktail version of a sequined blouse or glittery party hat.

It’s New Year’s Eve, after all, when everything and anything is possible! Start your calorie-counting the next day.

Pomegranate Sparkler

PG tested

This bubbly pink cocktail is definitely worth the stained fingers a pomegranate always seems to entail. I substituted prosecco just because I love it, but any sparkling wine will do.

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) pomegranate liqueur, chilled
  • 4 cups (1 quart) California sparkling wine, chilled
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)
  • Chilled champagne flutes

To make each drink, pour 3 tablespoons (11/2 ounces) liqueur into a flute. Gently pour 1/2 cup (4 ounces) sparkling wine over the liqueur. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons pomegranate seeds and serve immediately.

Makes 8 drinks.

— “Great Gatherings: Star Chefs Entertain at Home” by The Macy’s Culinary Council (Book Kitchen, $29.95)

Limoncello Martini

Cafe Notte in Emsworth uses Danny DeVito’s limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur, in this sweet-sour holiday cocktail. For a more elegant presentation, take a chilled martini glass, run a lemon wedge around the rim, and then dip the glass into a plate of fine sugar.

  • Ice
  • 1 ounce limoncello
  • 1 ounce citrus vodka
  • Splash of simple syrup
  • Lemon twist for garnish >Fill cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add limoncello, vodka and simple syrup. Shake.Strain and pour the cocktail into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.Makes 1 drink.

    — David Mielnicki, Cafe Notte, Emsworth

    Kim’s Strawberry-BASIL Sparkler

    PG sampled

    My girlfriend Kim is always the life of the party, thanks to her awesome bartending skills (her family owns Alexander’s Italian Bistro in Bloomfield). This drink can be served straight up in a champagne glass, or over ice in a goblet. Make sure you tear the basil by hand because, says Kim, “Italians NEVER cut basil. It’s bad luck.”

    • 1 cup fresh strawberries or raspberries, finely chopped
    • 1 bunch fresh basil, ripped into little pieces
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 to 2 cups good vodka
    • Bottle of procescco (Italian sparkling wine)

    Mix berries, basil, sugar and vodka together in a container, and let it sit in fridge for a few hours or overnight to allow the sugar to dissolve.

    To serve, place a tablespoon of the berry mixture in bottom of glass. Top with prosecco and serve. Yum!

    Makes 6 to 8 drinks.

    — Kim Colaizzi Ifft, Ben Avon

    Winter Sangria

    Seeing not everyone imbibes, and ginger ale is oh-so-boring, you’ll probably need at least one tasty mocktail to ring in the New Year. This festive recipe showcases some favorite seasonal fruits kids love and as a plus, is packed with antioxidants. Consider it a preemptive strike on 2012.

    • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened black cherry juice
    • 1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate)
    • 1 navel orange, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
    • 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced into wedges
    • 1 1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
    • 3 cups seltzer, chilled
    • 1 cup ginger ale, chilled
    • Ice

    In a large pitcher, combine cherry juice, pomegranate seeds, orange, apple and maple syrup. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Stir in seltzer and ginger ale. Serve over ice.

    Makes 10 servings.

    — Parkhurst Dining Services

    Hot Spiced Cider

    PG tested

    This will help break the ice on a chilly New Year’s Day.

    • 1 half-gallon apple cider
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • 8 whole cloves
    • 2 whole star anise
    • 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    • 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
    • 2-to-3-inch piece orange or lemon peel, pith removed

    Pour apple cider into a medium pot. Heat to boiling then reduce to a very low simmer (no more than a lazy bubble or 2). While it comes to a boil, wrap seasonings in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine (this is optional but makes it easier to take them out). Place seasoning packet in apple cider. Mostly cover and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, or until apple cider has reached desired level of spice. Can serve hot or chilled. Add a shot of bourbon or rum to a 6-ounce pour of cider for a delicious seasonal cocktail.

    Makes about 10 6-ounce drinks.

    — China Millman

    Mulled White Wine

    This warming drink has all the flavor of the classic red version, but is lighter in body.

    • 1 orange
    • 5 whole cloves
    • 3 whole star anise pods
    • 1 piece (1-inch) peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
    • 1 cup water
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 bottle (750 mL) medium-bodied white wine, such as a Viognier or an oaked Chardonnay

    Peel orange in strips using a vegetable peeler, being careful not to remove any pitch. Push cloves into peel.

    Combine clove-studded peel, star anise, ginger, water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add wine. Let stand for 20 minutes to mull.

    Just before serving, gently reheat mulled wine over medium heat until just beginning to simmer. Serve warm.

    Serves 6.

    — Martha Stewart Living, Jan. 2012

    Tangerine, CAmpari and Soda

    PG tested

    With its colorful swirl of orange and red, the drink is as festive as it is fresh. Best of all, it can made quickly — no small thing for a busy host.  Some groceries carry fresh-squeezed tangerine juice, but it’s just as easy to make your own. Serve with a long curl of peel or a slice of tangerine on the rim of a highball glass.  These are pretty with or without the frosted glasses.

    • 14 tangerines
    • 1 quart soda water
    • 8 ounces Campari

    Juice 12 of the tangerines and chill the juice. Cut the remaining 2 tangerines into 1/8-inch slices. Fill 8 highball glasses with ice and place 2 tangerine slices in each glass and fill the glass to 2/3 full with soda water. Pour in Campari to fill the glass and float 1 or more tangerine slices on top.

    Serves 8.

    — “Mario Batali Holiday Food” (Clarkson Potter, 2000)

    Pineapple and Sweet White Vermouth (Acqua D’Ananas)

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    This vermouth-based cocktail is made with fresh pineapple. Best served in a frosted martini glass.

    • 1 whole pineapple (2 pounds) peeled, cored and cut into 2-inch chunks
    • 1 fifth sweet white vermouth (PLCB has Dolan Sweet Vermouth by special order), divided
    • 1 bunch tarragon leaves

    Chill martini glasses in the freezer until very cold. Place the pineapple in a blender with half of the vermouth. Blend until smooth and pour, over ice, into the martini glasses, garnish with sprigs of tarragon, top each glass with a splash of vermouth and serve.

    Serves 12.

    — “Mario Batali Holiday Food” (Clarkson Potter, 2000)