Cooking Allergen free Part I: Introducing Alice Sherwood

Patient Expert

Alice Sherwood's cookbook coverThe recipes in Alice Sherwood's new Allergy-Free Cookbook focus on working around four main allergens: gluten (the protein in wheat, barley, rye), eggs and egg products, nuts (tree nuts and peanuts), and dairy (milk and all dairy products).

The book is an excellent primer for the beginning allergic family. She covers important topics like a solid definition of the difference between allergy and intolerance; how to stay positive in the face of allergies; allergy etiquette; eating out and special occasions with allergies; traveling; eating by cuisine type; how to shop for allergen-free foods; and how to create an allergy-free pantry at home. She lays out a big-four substitution grid that every allergic kitchen should have pasted on the fridge. The book is gorgeous and glossy with plenty of food pictures, making it suitable for your coffee table or kitchen table.

Recently, Alice and I had an opportunity to virtually chat about allergies, cooking and taking care of an allergic child.

Q: What was your first experience with food allergies?

I first became aware of food allergies about 10 years ago when relatives and friends started having children who had allergies or sensitivities. It really hit home eight years ago, when my eldest son, Archie, ate a dish containing eggs and promptly turned blue and stopped breathing. We got him to the hospital, where he was given a shot of adrenalin and recovered, but it was very frightening. Tests show that he's severely allergic to eggs and also to tree nuts and peanuts. This was the beginning of my search for recipes that people with food allergies can eat.

Q: How did the _Allergy Free Cookbookome about? It's the book that I couldn't find when I needed it. When my child was diagnosed with severe egg, peanut and tree nut allergies, the books available were grim with lots unappetizing-looking dishes. None of them seemed to celebrate food. Many of them also had created 'one size fits all' allergen-free concoctions, as if not being able to eat one or two things meant having no choice about the rest. There should be dishes, I felt, that people could eat together without even realizing they were dairy-free or gluten free or egg-free or nut-free.** Q: What have been your biggest challenges caring for a child with food allergies?** The biggest challenges were not how Archie, who has coped amazingly, dealt with it so much as other people's reactions. There's so much to explain to people to make sure that he can eat safely and not all of it is intuitive. The challenge is working out just how much I need to tell each person: what you need to tell your child's school or an airline will be different from what your parents or friends or dinner hosts need to know.Remember,** it's important to be clear about what you would need in each situation and to be realistic in your expectations.**** Q: What have been your biggest surprises in creating allergen-free foods?** My biggest surprise was the number of international cuisines that offer easy solutions for various allergies. Chinese and South East Asian are almost completely dairy-free. Mexican (Tex-Mex) is inspirational for celiacs, being rice and corn-based. Japanese food offers great scope for the 'Big Four' (gluten/dairy/egg/nuts) food allergy sufferers, though it's much less useful for fish or soy allergic people. Healthy Mediterranean grills, vegetables, antipasti and salads offer dishes for all. Even North African food became entirely doable once I realized that quinoa was a great gluten-free substitute for couscous.

Broadening food horizons is an excellent antidote to food allergies. The use of substitutes has actually been a revelation as I found that I often preferred the adaptation to the original. Deliciously crumbly, fruity millet flapjacks (gluten-free) are now my favorite. My children love rice and soymilk alternatives.

My most surprising discovery has been that potato flour is a fantastic substitute for eggs. I use it, mixed with water, to bind cakes, biscuits, pastry and even meatloaf.

I use it in this recipe for a fluffy, eggless quiche with egg-free pie shell:

Bacon & onion quiche

Nut and egg free

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves 6

1 quantity of nut- and egg-free Piecrust pastry (see below)

1 tbsp flavorless nut-free oil

2 onions, chopped

6 slices bacon, rind removed and diced

6 tbsp potato flour

1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1 scant cup water

1 1/3 cups light cream

1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard

1 cup grated hard cheese, e.g. cheddar

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh sage

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

2. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 10 inch flan dish. Place on a baking sheet. ***** the base the base with a fork and fill with crumpled foil or waxed paper and baking beans. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the foil or paper and beans and bake for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden and dried out. Remove from the oven. Reduce the temperatures to 375 F.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 2 minutes, stirring, until translucent. Add the bacon and continue to fry for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve.

4. Whisk potato flour, xanthan gum and water in a bowl with an electric beater utnil thick and white and the mixture stands in soft peaks. Whisk in the cream and the mustard. Beat together with half the cheese, the herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Transfer the bacon and onion mixture to the flan case and spread out. Spoon over the egg and cream mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until bubbling, set and turning pale golden. Serve warm or cold.

Courtesy of DK Publishing "Allergy-Free Cookbook"


Egg and nut free

Prep time: 10 minutes plus chilling time

Serves 6 - 8

Generous 2 cups all purpose flour plus extra for dusting

Pinch of salt

2/3 cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes

3 tbsp ice water or as needed

1. Sift the flour with the salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

2. Using a fork or knife, mix with enough cold water to form a soft, but not sticky, dough. Bring the pastry together completely with your hands.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until smooth and free from cracks. Wrap the pastry tightly in plastic wrap (to prevent the edges from drying out and cracking when the pastry is rolled out) and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. Use as required. It can be frozen.

Courtesy of DK Publishing "Allergy-Free Cookbook"

See Part II: Enjoying the holidays allergen-free

Alice Sherwood and her son Archie

Alice 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"