By Maureen Callahan, Contributor

Since I love cooking at the holidays, I field a lot of questions from family and friends about recipes, including this increasingly more common query: how do I make the holiday meal gluten-free? To tell you the truth, it’s a lot easier than most people think to pull off a traditional-style celebration without gluten. Forget expensive gluten-free packaged foods (many of which taste terrible, not to mention all those chemical additives.) Focus instead on fresh, seasonal foods--vegetables, nuts, fruits, healthy fats, and meats--that are just naturally gluten-free. So the main course, the turkey, the beef tenderloin, the duck--whatever you choose--is automatically no problem. For the gravy, cornstarch can stand in for flour to thicken the family gravy recipe and it’s easy to find gluten-free canned chicken stock to enhance the drippings. For the sweet potato casserole, I like to nix my grandmother’s streusel topping (it has wheat flour) and use toasted pecans or marshmallows (or both) on top. For the stuffing, I buy a gluten-free bread and proceed as usual. But I’ve also made killer stuffings using wild rice or brown rice and all the familiar stuffing seasonings and ingredients. In other words, cooked rice stands in for the bread.

At parties, I ply guests with plenty of snacks and appetizer options that are naturally gluten-free: roasted salted nuts, homemade hummus with vegetables, or our family tradition: prosciutto wrapped around thin slices of melon and brie cheese. In fact, the only tricky culinary finagling necessary at the holidays is with the desserts, many of which call for gluten-rich flours or grains (wheat, rye, barley) on the ingredient list. Yet, even here, there are some simple but effective strategies that can deliver favorite comfort treats without too much effort. For the family favorite--pumpkin pie--I follow our tried and true filling recipe to the letter and then put everything in individual ramekins sans crust. To make it a little more special, I like to spike sweetened whipped cream with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and dollop it on top. I also look for dessert and sweet treat recipes, like the four below, that require no special ingredients. And more importantly, never had gluten, and never will.