Jessica Lagasse Swanson Dishes on Being Deliciously Gluten Free

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Expert panels and culinary workshops will span three days at the upcoming Gluten-Free Living Conference, April 4-6 at the Doubletree by Hilton where the list of speakers includes Jessica Lagasse Swanson, daughter of famed chef Emeril Lagasse and the co-author of The Gluten Free Table and the upcoming book The Lagasse Girls’ Big Flavor, Bold Taste and No Gluten (due out Fall 2014).

Where to Find Gluten-Free Goodies in Orlando

After a 2001 gluten sensitivity diagnosis, Swanson dramatically altered the way she ate and cooked, an experience that spawned her cookbooks, which she co-authored with her sister Jillian , to document years of experimenting, learning, tweaking and adjusting her favorite recipes to be gluten-free. She’ll present a Gluten-Free Recipe Makeovers workshop with her sister on Saturday, April 5 but before she does, she answered a few of our burning questions and gave us one of her favorite GF recipes to share:

Edible Orlando: Why did you first become passionate about gluten-free cooking?
Jessica Lagasse Swanson: When I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity, the GF food offerings available in the market were pretty poor. But, I found myself missing and craving some old favorites. So, I started trying to come up with reasonably close substitutes on my own. As I worked with the ingredients more and more and really started developing some tasty GF recipes, I wanted to share them with other GFers who might be settling for the bland, oddly textured GF food that was out there. Thus, my sister and I decided to try to write a cookbook to share our insights and recipes with others.

EO: Why do you think people have the misconception that gluten-free equals flavor-free?
JS: Until recently, in my opinion, the GF options that were available in the retail market were limited. And those that were out there didn’t taste very good, they had an odd texture or they left a weird aftertaste. Don’t get me wrong, some were very close substitutes for gluteny food but most didn’t really have any flavor at all. I think that was the case for many years and those of us following a GF diet sort of resigned ourselves to that reality. Now, however, there are hundreds of GF options running the gamut from waffles to biscotti to stuffing cubes and most of them are really, really tasty. I think that the days of flavor-free have passed and we have lots of delicious GF products still to come.

EO: How do you dispel that myth?
JS: Well, honestly, that is something Jillian and I have worked hard to do—probably our biggest goal really. Although there are lots and lots of GF foods out there, they tend to just be components of meals or snacks (think pasta noodles or packaged cookies). In our cookbooks, we wanted to show the regular home cook that anyone can put together a great tasting, palate pleasing, complete GF meal. GF chicken pot pie can taste better than regular pot pie, GF oatmeal raisin cookies can be as flavorful and chewy as traditional ones. Having better tasting GF products to use in our dishes has certainly helped. But GF cooking from scratch can easily produce delicious, well-flavored options.

EO: What are some of the power grains you use instead of wheat and why are they great even for people without a gluten allergy/sensitivity?
JS: I really like quinoa and so do my kids (although I think technically quinoa is a vegetable, not a grain). I cook it with some olive oil, garlic and black pepper and my kids shovel it in alongside their baked chicken or fish. Flax is another super healthy and versatile grain you can use instead of wheat. We grind it up and sprinkle it on our ice cream. Amaranth is another one I have started using more and more. I’ve been experimenting with amaranth flour in a variety of savory roux-based recipes lately and I have had some good results. All of the options are great for GFers and non-GF adherents because they contain a variety of very healthy nutrients, fiber and/or protein.

PHOTO BY CHRIS GRANGERBaked Macaroni and Cheese
Excerpted from The Gluten Free Table by Jillian Lagasse and Jessie Lagasse Swanson

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons gluten free all purpose flour blend (we like Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix)
2 cups milk
2 ¼ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups gluten free macaroni, cooked al dente and drained

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour blend and cook, whisking constantly, for about 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. The mixture will thicken as it cooks, so be sure to keep stirring it.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 ½ cups of the cheese and the salt and pepper. Mix until the cheese is fully melted.
5. Stir the cooked macaroni into the cheese mixture.
6. Pour half of the resulting mixture into an 8×8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with half the remaining cheese. Pour in the rest of the macaroni mixture and finish with the remaining cheese.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top starts to brown.
8. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes and then serve.

Serves 6 to 8

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