By Susie Bramhall
So imagine growing up with one of the top chefs in the country right under your own roof. You’re spoiled at every turn with gourmet dishes, delectable desserts, and a desire to learn the tricks of the trade in the kitchen. From a young child, cooking was just simply a part of your life and indulging in a variety of epicurean eats was a regular routine in your home.
That was the story for Jilly Lagasse and Jessie Lagasse Swanson, daughters to famed chef, Emeril Lagasse; however, many of their childhood recipes became off limits when both girls discovered they couldn’t eat gluten. In 2001 Jessie realized that she had a gluten intolerance, while Jilly found out she had Celiac Disease in 2003. So what’s a girl to do? For the Lagasse girls, it was an easy solution. Don’t sweat it and continue to savor all of those wonderful favorites…with just a little tweaking here and there to turn their favorite mainstay meals gluten-free friendly and fabulous!
The Lagasse girls then took to task the project of creating a gluten-free cookbook, so they could share the love of gluten-free cooking with others. The Gluten-Free Table offers more than one hundred delicious recipes that will add flavor and enjoyment to the menus of even the most demanding gluten-free eaters! Featuring family favorites, Southern classics, and ten original recipes from their father, this compendium has something for everyone, including appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, desserts, and more!
WheatWatcherOnline.com was so thrilled to have had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Jilly and Jessie to get their take on how easy it is to keep up with their gluten-free lifestyle, getting an inside look into the pages of The Gluten-Free Table…and the girls even shared with us their favorite dishes from their book! With their contagious warm personalities and genuine positive spirit, it’s easy to see how they put their entire heart and soul into every dish they create!
WheatWatchersOnline.com understands one of you has Celiac Disease, while the other has a gluten-intolerance. When did you both find out that you couldn’t continue to eat gluten?
Jilly: Hello my name is Jilly Lagasse and I am a Celiac! I wasn’t properly diagnosed until 2003 when I had moved abroad to London, England. I was registering with my new doctor there and he had asked if I had any ailments or things he should know about. After telling him the laundry list of things I was suffering from, he immediately said it sounded like I had Celiac Disease (or Coeliac as its spelt there). After a simple blood test and the confirmation a few days later, my whole life changed.
Jessie: In 2001, I was sick for months and no traditional MD could figure out what
the problem was. I finally went to a local New Orleans naturopath and she nailed it at my first appointment! I’m the one with the intolerance btw:)
Growing up with one of the most famous and top chefs in the world, I’m sure your love for cooking goes way back. What are some of your fondest memories growing up in the kitchen with your dad?
Jilly: Pretty much EVERY memory I have of growing up and my father involve being in the kitchen….or maybe a grocery store…ha ha! It was and is where we all congregate and end up anyways, so I never thought it was out of the ordinary to be in the kitchen, cooking, or surrounded by food all the time. It was normal to us. One of my fondest memories with Dad would be when I was about five or six, he taught me how to make these incredible butter cookies for Christmas. He let me help pour, mix, dump, open the oven door….it was wonderful and so were the cookies! I still try and bake them around the holidays.
Jessie: The first thing I ever learned to cook was scrambled eggs when I was five. He also used to do that ‘flip the food out of the frying pan’ trick and I never tired of it!
Tell me your favorite go-to gluten-free ingredient that is always in your pantry.
Jilly: This changes for me weekly! Lately my favorite go to is almond flour (almond meal). It’s fantastic and very healthy for baking and for some reason, I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently. I couldn’t make my carrot cake muffins without it.
Jessie: An all-purpose gluten-free flour blend—great for baked goods or for roux and very handy!
Do you prefer to bake or cook? What is your favorite dish?
Jilly: Again, this changes for me depending on the time of year, but one thing remains the same…I LOVE to cook and be in the kitchen. It’s peaceful to me, my place of Zen. I definitely have inherited the gene from Dad where we show our love through feeding people.
Jessie: I prefer cooking savory items. My favorite has to be the cornbread Andouille
What is your best tip for someone who just found out they are gluten-intolerant, have Celiac Disease, or simply wants to follow a gluten-free diet?
Jilly: The best tip I can recommend is to do your research and educate yourself using all the fantastic websites, etc. we now have available. There is a huge difference between eating gluten-free and adopting this new lifestyle for a medical reason and doing so by choice! If you have been diagnosed with Celiac, you HAVE to eat this way. It’s the only treatment that is possible as of now, so there is no “cheating” or just eating a small piece of bread here and there.
The other tip would be to just breathe and to look at this like a gift. Once you start eating gluten-free, your health will start to improve by leaps and bounds, you’ll start feeling better, and your body will start healing. A diagnosis is not a curse, but a gift. You are about to embark on a wonderful, new and delicious culinary journey so, breath and smile:)
Jessie: Don’t panic! It will be okay! Use the resources now available to educate yourself. It takes adjustment initially but with patience and a few good gluten-free recipes, you won’t miss the gluten at all!
When did you decide to write The Gluten-Free Table?
Jilly: Once I had been properly diagnosed, I started buying cookbooks and trying to eat the way I always had….well! Slowly, I became so disappointed and discouraged as to the selection of cookbooks available to me for this new Gluten Free lifestyle. Sure, they were tons of books on how to make breads and cakes that weighed as much as a brick and tasted like cardboard….but that is not how we grew up eating. My taste buds needed more…they deserved flavor and more than just a life of rice cakes. Jessie had the same experiences, so we thought, why not just write a real cookbook with all the delicious foods we grew up eating, we still craved, but we just de-gluten them. And so it began!
Jessie: The Gluten-Free Table was a natural result of our being diagnosed. In 2006, we really started sharing lots of recipes with each other and we finally realized we’d come up with some tasty gluten-free versions of our favorite meals. We thought we owed it to other GF’ers to share our bounty and compile the book.
I heard the The Gluten-Free Table is full of delicious Southern-inspired cooking! What other influences inspired the recipes in the book?
Jilly: This book has every flavor profile you could desire, from good ol’ Southern comfort foods, to fantastic appetizers for a dinner party, to healthy meals for two, ethnic foods, big and bold flavors, to the perfect after dinner sweet treats. It is a proper cookbook, from start to finish, we have something for everyone.
Jessie: There’s some New England in there, too! Jilly’s time in London really expanded her palate so she also included some great Indian and Thai recipes!
Do each have a favorite recipe from the book?
Jilly: Oh, this is so tough because I love them all! That’s why they are in there… ha ha! One of my favorites is our Great Gramma Cabral’s Banana Nut Bread. It’s one I’m so proud that we were finally able to crack and make it taste JUST like the one she used to bake us as children. Plus, it’s a pure food memory. Whenever we make it, the whole house smells like her house used to. You take a bite and you are instantly transported to being six years old, sitting around her kitchen table, and getting to eat a slice while it was still warm from her oven. Sheer bliss.
Jessie: Mine would have to be the cornbread Andouille dressing. In the book, it’s stuffed in a pork chop (yum!), but we make it as a stand-alone stuffing for all holidays and sometimes just because I’m craving it:)
What is your favorite holiday and your favorite dish to make?
Jilly: During Christmas, we would get up early and start the roux to make gumbo, so we wanted to recreate that. It’s such a love dish…it took so much time and is so comforting. So for us to be able to recreate it really well is such a huge accomplishment for us.
Jessie: Of course, Thanksgiving because of the cornbread dressing…I really make it every opportunity I get. Also, Christmas and my dad’s gumbo. It had a very distinct flavor. We worked on it and Jilly really tried to crack the gluten-free roux and did such a great job!
What are your dad’s thoughts about the fact that his daughters are now authors and publishers?
Jilly: He is so proud of us and is always supportive and helpful. He loves the book and he has me make quite a few of the deserts for everyone around the holidays.
Jessie: He’s been supportive.
Where is the book available? Are you doing any book signings or appearances?
Jilly and Jessie: Books are available at all traditional book retailers and also at Amazon.com. We are planning to attend a few additional gluten-free expos before year’s end and we’ll be signing books at those. Stay tuned to our social media scene to find out details as we get them and look for our second book in 2014!
Time to get in the kitchen and start cooking Lagasse style! Enjoy two favorite recipes of the Lagasse girls from their cookbook, The Gluten-Free Table!
Plain Jane Crab Cakes
We love how crab cakes mix the feel of upscale seafood with the full-bodied pleasure of down-home comfort food. It’s no wonder they’re among the first go every time we throw a party! You can make the patties well in advance and fry them up ten to fifteen minutes before everyone arrives. Some people like to complement the taste of crab cakes with a sauce or dip, but we think that serving them plain really brings out the taste of the crabmeat. Feel free to dress them up, though, if you prefer. The formula below makes crab cakes that hit the sweet spot in terms of consistency: moist but crumbly, not too wet and not too dry.
Makes 8 cakes
4 slices gluten-free bread
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 2 to 4 tablespoons oil for frying
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
3 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 large egg
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked through for shells
Tapioca flour, for dusting
1. Using a food processor, grind the bread pieces into fine crumbs. You should have approximately 2 cups of bread crumbs for this recipe. Set aside.
2. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Add the chives, celery, onion, red bell pepper, and parsley and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes.
3. In a medium-size bowl, toss the bread crumbs with the sautéed vegetables, the cayenne, salt, and mustard until evenly incorporated. Set aside.
4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with a wire whisk. Next, whisk in the mayonnaise and lemon juice.
5. Gently fold the mayonnaise mixture into the bread crumb mixture. Add the crabmeat and mix gently, making sure the crab is evenly distributed throughout.
6. Divide the mixture into 8 portions and shape each portion into a patty. Lightly coat each patty with the tapioca flour. This will help bind the patties for frying. Place the patties on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
7. In a large skillet and using as much or as little oil as necessary, fry the crab cakes over medium heat for 2 to 4 minutes on each side. The outside of the cakes should brown and become crispy. Serve alone or with your choice of sauce.
Grilled Halloumi and Watermelon Salad
This dish was created in homage to Jilly’s best friend in London, Ashley, who describes herself as a halloumi-aholic. She adores this dish so much that Jilly had to promise she would dedicate the recipe to her. So, here you go, my love! Halloumi is a delicious Cypriot cheese usually made from goat or sheep’s milk. Also known as the squeaky cheese, halloumi is quite salty in flavor and has a very high melting point, making it perfect for barbecuing, grilling or frying. Because of this unique quality, there isn’t really a substitute for halloumi, although you could use feta cheese, ungrilled, for another take. It will still make for a great salad, though perhaps not as standout as the original. If you can, try this summertime treat at your next barbecue and discover the deliciousness of halloumi for yourself. Ashley claims a summer barbecue just isn’t the same without it.
Serves 2 to 4
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime
4 cups arugula, or rocket, salad leaves (about 2 1/2 ounces)
8 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 cups seedless watermelon, cut into bite-size chunks
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1. In a small bowl, combine the red onion and lime juice and let stand for 15 minutes. This lets the acid in the citrus juice sweeten the onion naturally.
2. On a large plate or serving platter, arrange the arugula leaves evenly to create a base for the dish.
3. Heat either a griddle or a sauté pan over medium heat. Once the griddle or pan is hot, grill or fry the cheese until golden in color, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Turn off the heat and set aside.
4. Drain any liquid from the red onions.
5. Arrange the watermelon, red onions, and grilled halloumi on top of the greens.
6. Sprinkle the salad with the mint. Drizzle the olive oil over all to finish. Serve immediately.
Separate bullet: For more Lagasse family recipes, check out Emeril’s I Can’t Believe It’s Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies featured in our Just for Kids section!