Virtually every week I have at least one query about special foods for those who suffer from food intolerances, or full blown allergies.

Some people are at their wits’ end trying to cook for a family member who has an acute allergy, or in some cases multi allergies.

There are many theories on why these conditions seem to be on the increase. Better diagnosis will also have increased the recorded numbers.  Some cases are unquestionably genetic, others regard allergies as a ‘disease of modern society’ and cite factors such as environmental chemicals and pollution.    Some scientists adhere to the theory that improvements in hygiene and medical science have contributed to weakening our immune systems.

We are eating a myriad of foreign foods with a whole new challenging set of bacteria, rather than local foods which our systems have become accustomed to over many generations. Others blame the fact that we no longer have access to unpasteurized milk.  A 2006 study by the University of London found that drinking just a couple of glasses of raw milk a week reduced the risk of allergy-related conditions such as excema and hay fever in children.

Alice Sherwood was thrown into the bewildering world of food allergies when her nine-year old son Archie was diagnosed with severe nut and egg allergies.

She became more and more frustrated with the unappetizing allergy-free recipes on offer, so she set about devising her own.   Alice, a doctor’s daughter loves food and cooking.  In her allergy-free cookbook she concentrated on the four major food allergies, wheat, dairy, nuts and eggs.   She explains the difference between food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances and auto-immune conditions like coeliac disease.   There’s advice on shopping and reading labels, eating out, surviving travelling, how to support an allergic child, staying positive, allergy etiquette and how to stock your store cupboard. 

Allergy-free cookbook – by Alice Sherwood published by Dorling Kindersley, in association with Allergy uk.      Four cookbooks in one – each recipe can be made without one or more of the ‘big four’ allergens – eggs, dairy, nuts and gluten.

The book’s foreword was written by Dr Adam Fox, the Consultant Paediatric Allergist, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London.   The book also has a resource list of Support Organisations and suppliers of specialist foods and ingredients for those with allergies.

 Hot Tips for 21st June
  

‘Head is a pub with rooms on the Cornish coast, worth knowing about.  The rooms are simple chic, the food delicious, Charles Inkin and his brother Edmund, who also own the renowned Felin Fach Griffin between Brecon and Hay-on-Wye in Wales, have won many plaudits for their stylish comfy inns with simple menus that reflect the seasonal produce of the local area. Terrific value for money.  Great walks along the coast.  Fly to Newquay (surfers paradise) and grab some lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall overlooking Watergate Bay,  (just five minutes from the airport), before driving south for about an hour.  Foxgloves, pink campion and marguerite are in full bloom at present along the roadside and there are many beautiful gardens open to the public also.   The Gurnard’s Head, Zennor, West Cornwall, Tel 0044 1736 796928  www.gurnardshead.co.uk enquiries@gurnardshead.co.uk     2008 Good Pub Guide, Best Cornish Dining Pub.

Green Saffron Darbar on the Lawn at Ballyvolane House, Castlelyons, Co Cork, on Thursday 26th June 7.30pm – 11.30pm
Cocktails on the lawn, cooking demonstration, meal of Green Saffron’s beautiful curries, rice and riata with accompanying wine and Indian beer, sumptuous surroundings and gorgeous marquee with hosts Justin and Jenny Green.   Price €70 per person, booking 025- 36349 – www.ballyvolanehouse.ie
Fat Bap
Is a new food concept thought out by Eliza Ward, Nenagh, Co Tipperary and Bernadette Reynolds, Cork, two Culinary Arts graduates in CIT.  Armed with a little white van and full farmers market kit, they will provide you with fascinating and interesting casual good value food – they will call to your home, party, sports club, offices, ‘apres match’ or post wedding celebrations with gourmet organic burgers and artisan sausages and set up their stall. They will cook in your garden or yard or pitch and can also provide salads, bread, local organic leaves, desserts, cheese and help with drinks etc. Contact Bernadette on 087-7704356 or Eliza on 087-6100182  email:thefatbap@hotmail.com

Fish Pie – from Allergy –Free Cookbook by Alice SherwoodA winning combination of firm white fish and prawns in a creamy, parsley-flecked béchamel sauce under a mound of crispy-topped mashed potato, makes this a fabulous lunch or supper dish.   You can vary the fish according to taste or season.   Serve with buttered samphire, mixed peppery leaves, or a tomato salad to add contrasting flavour and colour.Serves 4-6
  Egg and nut free
 750g (1lb 10oz) cod, halibut, or other white fish, filleted
250g (8½ oz) smoked haddock or other smoked fish
500ml (16fl oz) milk

1 small onion, roughly chopped

Bay leaf (optional)

100g (3½ oz) butter

30g (1oz) plain flour

1.5kg (3lb3oz) potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 tbsp single milk or cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

225g (8oz) cooked peeled prawns

1 tbsp capers in brine, drained, rinsed, and chopped (optional)

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves

15g (½oz) Parmesan, grated (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F, gas 5)Put the fish in a large saucepan, add the milk and poach the fish gently for 5 minutes, it should be slightly undercooked at this stage.Transfer the fish to a plate with a draining spoon.  When cool, remove the skin, cut the fish into large chunks and place in a 1.5 litre (2¾ pint) ovenproof dish.

Add the chopped onion and bay leaf (if using) to the fish milk.  Bring to the boil.   Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes.  Strain.

Make a white sauce by melting 45g (1½ oz) of the butter in a saucepan and stirring in the flour.  Cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Whisk in the infused milk a little at a time, ensuring there are no lumps.  When all the milk is incorporated, bring to the boil and cook for 2 minutes, whisking all the time.   Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Mash with the remaining butter and the cream or milk and season with salt and pepper.

Add the prawns, capers, and the parsley to the fish, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the white sauce.   Top with the mashed potatoes and use a fork to rough up the surface to make it crispy when cooked.   Dust with Parmesan cheese, if liked.

Bake for 45 minutes until the top is crispy and golden.

Dairy free – also egg and nut free
Follow the recipe above – but use dairy-free spread instead of butter; soya, rice or oat milk instead of cow’s milk; and soya cream alternative for single cream.  Use dairy-free Parmesan.

Watch out for fish and crustaceans.   If allergic to crustaceans, but not white fish, omit the prawns and increase the fish to a total of 1.25kg (2¾lb)

If you follow a gluten-free diet, make sure you buy capers in brine rather than malt vinegar.       

Chicken Drumsticks
 
Serves 4
 
A really useful recipe, popular with all ages, these chicken drumsticks can feed a crowd and you’ll have none of the “Big Four” allergens to worry about.  They are great for lunch or dinner and ideal for barbecues, especially if serving with grilled corn.  Add a baked potato for a filling and nutritious meal.  The easy-to-make barbecue sauce scores over shop-bought versions as it contains neither wheat nor dairy.Dairy, egg, gluten and nut free
 3 tbsp. corn or other flavourless nut-free oil2 tbsp molasses
4 tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp mustard powder

2 tbsp wine vinegar

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

¼ tsp smoked paprika (pimentón)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 chicken drumsticks

Mix all the ingredients, apart from the drumsticks, in a shallow sealable container, seasoning well with salt and pepper.Make several slashes in the flesh on each chicken leg before adding them to the marinade – this lets the flavour in and also helps them to cook more evenly.  Turn the chicken drumsticks to coat them thoroughly.

Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off the excess.

Cook under a preheated grill or on the barbecue for 7-8 minutes on each side or until richly browned and the juices run clear when a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

Watch out for mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika – check that they are gluten free, if need be.

Serving suggestion – These are delicious served with grilled corn on the cob.  Roll the cobs in a mixture of salt, pepper, and chillies, with lime squeezed over, and cook under a grill or barbecue.  Note that some people are sensitive to chillies, so omit if in any doubt.

Foolproof food
Smoothies

Each smoothie serves 1-2
One of the most popular new breakfast foods, a good smoothie needs a balance of fruit, creaminess and sweetness.  As more people are enjoying dairy-free milks for taste and health reasons, even if they can eat dairy, this recipe uses soya and oat milks as well as cow’s milk and yogurt.   You can create other combinations with whatever ingredients you have to hand.

Egg free Banana oatie


1 large banana, chopped

240ml (8fl oz) oat milk

240ml (8fl oz) orange juice

55g (2oz) ground almonds

1 tbsp clear honey

Ground cinnamon to dust

Apricot and mango
170g (6oz) canned apricot halves, chopped

4 tbsp syrup from canned apricots

½ mango, chopped

240ml (8 fl.oz) orange juice

240ml (8 fl.oz) soya yogurt

½ tsp vanilla extract

Squeeze of lime juice

Handful of ice cubes

Melon, grape and pear
170g (6oz) Galia melon (or other melon), chopped

2 pears, peeled and chopped

240ml (8fl.oz) grape juice

2 ice cubes

Mint sprig to garnish

Mixed berry
170g (6oz) mixed red soft fruit

240ml (8fl.oz) Greek yogurt

120ml (4fl.oz) milk

2 ice cubes

3 tbsp clear honey

Raspberry coulis (optional)
55g (2oz) raspberries

2 tbsp icing sugar

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  For a thick shake, add ice cubes before blending.Pour into glasses and garnish.  Serve as soon as possible.

For the raspberry coulis, mix the raspberries with the icing sugar, and press through a sieve.  Swirl the coulis on top of each glass just before serving.

Dairy free – also egg free
The smoothies are dairy free except for the mixed berry.  Prepare as for the recipe above, but replace the yogurt and milk with soya or other dairy-free alternatives.
Gluten free – also egg free
The smoothies are gluten free except for the banana oatie.   Prepare as for the recipe on the left, but replace the oat milk with any gluten-free milk.

Nut free – also egg free
The smoothies are also nut free except for the banana oatie.  Prepare as above but replace the almonds with 60ml (2fl.oz) of coconut milk and reduce the oat milk to 120ml (4fl.oz)

Vanilla Fairy Cakes
 Makes 12

Vanilla fairy cakes are a childhood staple and a centrepiece at children’s parties.  They also figure in many children’s first experiences of cooking at home or at school, which makes it a shame for those who can’t join in because of food hypersensitivities.  Here are versions – made easy for little hands – that make it possible for everyone to take part.

Dairy, egg and nut free
 
170g (6oz) plain flour 1 tbsp baking powderPinch of salt

140g (5oz) soft light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp corn or other flavourless nut-free vegetable oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

240ml (8fl.oz) water

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/gas4).  Line 12 sections of a tartlet tin or small muffin pan with paper fairy cake cases.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.  Stir in the sugar.Add the remaining ingredients and beat until you have a smooth, liquid batter.

Pour or ladle the batter into the cake cases, filling to just below the top of the case.  Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until risen and firm to touch.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Tip
If you are making these with children, place the batter in a jug or easier pouring into the paper cases.

Gluten free – also nut free
3 eggs
140g (5oz) soft, light brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

85g (3oz) butter or margarine, melted

85g (3oz) potato flour

85g (3oz) soya flour

2½ tsp gluten-free baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C (350f/gas4)    Line 12 sections of a tartlet tin or small muffin pan with fairy cake cases.Break the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar.   Whisk with an electric or balloon whisk until thick and pale and the mixture leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted out of the batter.

Whisking all the time, add the melted butter or margarine in a thin trickle.

Sift the flours and baking powder over the surface.  Fold in with a metal spoon, using a figure of eight motion.

Spoon into the cake cases.   Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until risen and the centres spring back when lightly pressed.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.