Cooking Allergen free Part II: Enjoying the Holidays!

Sloane Miller Health Guide
  • Allergy-Free Cookbook
    Our expert, Sloane Miller, continues her interview with Alice Sherwood, author of Allergy-Free Cookbook in this post sharing tips and recipes for the holidays. Click to read the first part of the interview here.



    Q: How do you suggest parents, families, and kids handle allergies over the holidays?


    The key to eating during holiday time is to call and discuss your host's menu plans well ahead of time. Your host may be amenable to making a few small changes such as keeping a problematic stuffing separate from an otherwise harmless roasted turkey. For severe allergies, you will need to discuss every ingredient in detail not to be caught by surprise. Be prepared to offer to bring an allergen-free dish or two.

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    Q: What suggestions do you have for hosting an allergic diner in your home?


    Don't be "separatist." Cook something everyone can eat rather than making a different dish for the allergic guest. That said, how much effort you make is up to you. It's important to find out exactly what are the problem substances and what reaction do they cause in the allergic person. There's huge difference between agreeing to cook for someone who might suffer a mild rash and cooking for a person who risks anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) if they ingest so much as a crumb of the offending food. I make a chestnut stuffing as even my nut-allergic son can tolerate chestnuts, but if I have a visitor who can't, then it is prune and apricot stuffing instead.


    Try this cornbread stuffing for a celiac or other gluten-free visitor

    Southern skillet cornbread

    Gluten and nut free

    Prep time: 5 minutes

    Cook time: 20-25 minutes

    Serves 6


    1 tbsp bacon fat or dripping

    Generous 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal (white cornmeal if preferred)

    2 tbsp superfine sugar

    1 tsp baking powder

    1 tsp baking soda

    1 tsp salt

    2 eggs, beaten

    2 1/4 cups buttermilk


    1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.

    2. Put the bacon fat in a large cast-iron skillet or a 9 inch baking pan and heat in the oven.

    3. Mix together the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

    4. Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk and add to the cornmeal mixture. Beat until smooth.

    5. Pour the batter into the hot bacon fat. Bake toward the top of the oven until the top is browned and the center springs back when gently pressed, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately cut into wedges.

    Courtesy of DK Publishing "Allergy-Free Cookbook"


    I find desserts are the trickiest. Guests should consider bringing their own. I have two chocolate cake recipes in the book (chocolate is that important).


    Here is one:

    Chocolate layer cake

    Dairy, egg and nut free

    Prep time: 25 minutes

    Cook time: 40 minutes

    Serves 10 - 12


    For the cake:

    3 cups all-purpose flour

    1 3/4 cups superfine sugar

    1 3/4 tsp baking soda

    1/2 cup nut-free unsweetened cocoa powder

    1/4 tsp salt

    2 cups unsweetened soy milk or water

    scant 1/2 cup corn or other nut-free oil, plus extra for the cake pans

  • 1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar

    1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


    For the buttercream frosting:

    3/4 cup dairy-free spread (or 1 cup butter or margarine if you don't need to avoid dairy)

    2 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar

    6 tbsp nut-free unsweetened cocoa powder

    2 tsp vanilla extract


    To decorate:

    About 1/3 cup (1 ½ oz.) extra chocolate, shaved with a potato peeler, or a selection of fresh berries, if preferred


    1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil and line the bases of two deep 8 inch, round cake pans with parchment paper.

    2. Sift together into a large bowl the flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the liquid ingredients: the oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until smooth.

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    3. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans, and use a palette knife or spatula to spread evenly. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and firm to the touch.

    4. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper and let cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally.

    5. Prepare buttercream frosting (see cookbook for chocolate ganache recipe). Put dairy-free spread in a bowl and sift over confectioners' sugar and cocoa. Add vanilla extract. Gradually work into the spread with a wooden spoon then beat well until smooth and fluffy. (If you don't need to avoid dairy, use butter or margarine instead. You may need to add 4 teaspoons of water to give the soft consistency needed for spreading.)

    6. Sandwich the cakes together using the half the frosting for the first three layers. Spread the remainder on the top and sides and rough up with a knife. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings or decorate with fresh berries.

    Courtesy of DK Publishing "Allergy-Free Cookbook"


    If a host has put herself out, allergic guests should thank profusely and gift extravagantly. It's the best way to encourage your host to host again!

    Q: What are your recommendations for families on a budget?


    Some recipes call for specialty ingredients, which can add to the family food budget but with a little planning, extra costs can be avoided.



    • Researching and comparing prices on the Internet before you buy.
    • Buy in bulk wherever possible. This works well for specialty flours, dairy-free products and so on. Find wholesalers via the Internet or ask your local health food store for help.
    • Buy fresh foods. They are cheaper, healthier and tastier than processed food overall. Near us there are greenmarkets that will sell bruised and slightly damaged produce for less. You save money even though you have to cut off the bad bits.


    Q: What's your overall message?


    Stay positive. Even in the darkest hours - and there will be some - there is a world of great food out there to discover. All the effort you make upfront will be repaid and you'll explore and discover new dishes and new cuisines that'll delight you for life.


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    As awareness of allergies and food intolerances increases, I've noticed a welcome shift in other peoples' attitudes and behavior. Dealing with problem foods is becoming a matter as simple as good manners and consideration. I think nobody said it better than Emily Post; "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use".


    Alice Sherwood and ArchieAlice Sherwood is a writer and multimedia producer whose son has serious nut and egg allergies. She lives in London and spends vacations on the family farm in Wales, where her cooking is inspired by the delicious local produce.

    Unhappy with the range of existing cookbooks for allergy sufferers, which mostly offered unappetizing concoctions, Alice decide to create her own. She is fascinated with the challenge of using different ingredients without compromising at all on taste. Her degree in chemistry is helping her find the best ways of compensating for the way gluten in flour, for example, gives bread its texture.

    This book is the result of her years of searching for and devising recipes that her whole family could enjoy and that would fit in with her busy lifestyle.


    All recipes appear courtesy of DK Publishing "Allergy-Free Cookbook"

Published On: November 16, 2007