Gluten Free Fresh Approach Cookbook Club- January

fresh approach

chocolate cake

Hello, fellow cookbook club members! The Wednesday and Thursday groups may be meeting on different days, but right here all of us can collaborate, comment, tweak and ask questions about the recipes made at our respective dinners.

Do you have a question for one of our speakers? Did you try a recipe you absolutely loved? Which dishes simply didn’t pass muster for your home table. Tell us in the comments below.

To get things started, here’s a recap of both sessions.


 Brenda Spencer

On Wednesday we heard nutritional consultant, Brenda Spencer speak about gluten free from a scientific and physiological perspective. She explained that gluten is more “problematic” today than it used to be. Because of genetic modifications, the protein structure of wheat and other grains has actually changed. Our bodies are less able to metabolize today’s wheat, barley and rye (which, by the way, is added to almost every processed food), resulting in:

  • Spikes in blood sugar
  • Damage to the gut lining, including increases in bad bacteria
  • Increase in brain problems, since these pathogens can cross the blood brain barrier

When buying gluten free, keep in mind that “most gluten free products are pure garbage,” so look for ingredients that you recognize as a “whole food” or whole grain. “Eat what we had before the Industrial Age!”

Check out Brenda’s website at

 Stephanie Allen

Stephanie is an advanced practice nurse in pediatrics, serving endocrinology patients at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. She says we’re all only as healthy as our “gut flora.” For instance, there is a high correlation between Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and the level of beneficial gut bacteria. She provided a hand-out which demonstrates the types of food to eat to improve our gut health. Stephanie wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, we routinely take tests to determine our level of intestinal flora and what we need to do to improve it.

She also gave us a tip from Consumer Reports regarding the increased levels of arsenic in rice, particularly southern rice. You can check out the article yourself here.

Recipes (All from The Lagasse Girls’ Big Flavor, Bold Taste–and No Gluten!: 100 Gluten-Free Recipes from EJ’s Fried Chicken to Momma’s Strawberry Shortcake by Jilly Lagasse and Jesse Lagasse Swanson)

In general:

  • This book was a fun, family-friendly cookbook which offers a variety of foods and just happens to be gluten free.
  • Many people thought the recipes needed more salt, so be sure to add it to taste.
  • The recipes may be a bit confusing at times, especially for a novice cook. For instance, one recipe listed clam juice as an ingredient, but it wasn’t clear how much or when to add it or the clams. If you have questions about how to prepare a recipe, please ask in the comments below.

Dishes Made in January With Comments from the Cooks

Here we go!


Maw-Maw’s Deviled Eggs, p. 29Edie says this recipe isn’t much different than her other deviled egg recipes, although she had to add more mayonnaise than the recipe called for to achieve the correct consistency. Buffy added pickle juice instead of pickles and used a piping bag for a beautiful presentation.


Easy Artichoke Dip, p. 31- Pat thought this was good! One issue, though. The recipe includes artichokes marinated in olive oil which is VERY difficult to find (They’re in safflower oil, etc., but NOT olive oil.) She opted to buy artichoke hearts in water and add olive oil, plus a little mayonnaise.

Warm Apple and Brie Tartlet, p. 65- Meredith cooked this “divine” recipe. It would be a hassle-free dish for a party. Make the pastry dough ahead and assemble and bake it at the last minute. Voila!

 Roasted Veggie Dip a la Baba Ghanoush, p. 36- Tom did double duty tonight and made two recipes, including this “very good” Baba Ghanoush which can be served warm or cold with gluten free crackers. His suggestion? Add a little extra lemon for a better taste.


Minestrone a la Venus de Milo, p. 118Kristin had a hard time finding gluten free orzo, so used quinoa shells (Ancient Harvest brand). After testing it a couple of times, she determined the correct cooking time for al dente shells was 9 minutes. The consistency was different than orzo and rice pasta would have disintegrated. “That’s the challenge” of substituting wheat in a gluten free minestrone, she says. But how cool is this? Kristin used Angus beef from her family’s ranch (draining the pan of excess fat and olive oil). Yes, we are in Texas!

New England Clam Chowder, p. 203- Brooke found the instructions for this recipe confusing, specifically how much clam juice to use and when. Her version ended up fine, although unlike the picture in the book, her soup had a brown-ish tint because of the bacon and caramelized leek. She also added diced potatoes early for thickening. Brooke, can you tell us what you did to adjust for the confusing instructions?


Poached Egg, Arugula and Bacon Salad, p. 142- Kathy made the recipe exactly as written, except she substituted boiled eggs for poached. It took close to an hour to finish and, doubled, made enough for 20 people. Maybe it’s intended as a main course? Sara, you also made this recipe. Do you have anything to add? Also, check out Kathy’s tip, via Cooks Illustrated, for making perfect bacon in the tips below.

arugula salad

Kale and Apple Salad, p. 140- Betty suggests finding a goat cheese which crumbles easily. The brand she used was too creamy, even after placing it in the freezer for a few minutes before assembly. Cumalee made the recipe as written, but passed the nuts around the table in case anyone had an allergy. Good idea!


Chicken and Dumplings, p. 217- Everybody loved this recipe! Jeanne, what did your family think?

Moroccan Lamb Tagine, p. 244Brenda says the recipe didn’t call for salt, so she added it to taste. Also, beware that the ras al hanout mix may be spicy, so include it sparingly and to taste. Brenda used Jovial tomatoes in a glass jar and Eden brand chickpeas from Whole Foods for this recipe.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast, p. 244 – Ann found this recipe “easy” and cooking in the crockpot the “nicest thing ever.” She does think it’s a bit bland, though, and needs “something else.” Elaine says this is quite similar to her own pot roast recipe except for the gluten free substitute of cornstarch.

pot roast

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas, p. 235- Catherine adapted this recipe quite a bit. First, the instructions call for kidney beans in one place and peas in another, so Catherine used only beans. For the marinade, Catherine “basically put it all in Cuisinart”, but had lots left over. Next time she’d reserve more for serving and use less for the marinade. She also added salt.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spicy Mustard Sauce p 166- Although the recipe says to boil the sprouts first, Katie simply roasted them. She thought the “mustard sauce looks really good!”

Herbed Sugar Snap Peas, p. 168- Ann Stuart thought these were “so easy and fast.” She bought them “in a bag already prepared”, so maybe you don’t even need to trim them! She suggests adding more salt.


Warm Moroccan Spiced Quinoa Salad w/ Apricots, p. 137- Emily says this is one of those dishes you “could just throw ingredients in without following any directions” and it would be delicious. Also, this versatile quinoa dish could be served cold as a salad or warm as a vegetable.

quinoa salad

Truffle Parmesan Risotto, p. 193- Laurie thought this recipe was “great” and “easy.” She made a few adjustments, substituting heavy cream for half and half and adding a little extra butter. Because it wasn’t quite “truffly” enough, she added some truffle salt she’d gotten from France last summer.

Perfect Au Gratin Potatoes, p. 174- Ann Stuart suggests buying a mandolin to slice the potatoes. And don’t even bother with peeling them first! It “looks good and is easy.” Allison almost followed the recipe exactly. She thought it might not be spicy enough for her, so “couldn’t resist” putting in some creole spice seasoning. She also added more salt.

Meme’s Eggplant and Ricotta Lasagna, p. 221- Stephanie explained that in this recipe, “eggplant takes the place of noodles.” Normally she would have grilled the eggplant, but this version calls for draining them between paper towels. She thought the whole milk ricotta she used was “fabulous!”


Perfect Blueberry Muffins, p. 81- Jan put in extra blueberries and made mini-muffins from this recipe. The group liked the smaller muffins and the resulting ratio of fruit to bread.

Savory Cheddar Scones With Red Onion Marmalade p 62-Melanie thought this recipe was “dry, diet version of Red Lobster.” She would have added more pancetta, chives and butter. The marmalade? She thinks it would be good as an accompaniment for steak.


Warm Bread Pudding w/ Rum Sauce Drizzle, p 320- Sally suggests pulling apart the bread into small pieces instead of cutting it. Also, the rum sauce was “ver-ry rummy,” so don’t pour the whole amount on. In her oven, she thought the cooking time needed to be 10 minutes less.

Vanilla Poached Pears w/ Cardamon Goat Cheese Cream, p. 296 – Tom says you need to use a high quality, creamy goat cheese. He used a goat brie which “tastes great,” but the “consistency isn’t right.” He also warns that the syrup is very intense, so drizzle sparingly!

Scrumptious Lemon Poppyseed Cake, p. 91- Tracey always gives her clients almond poppy seed pound cake as a holiday gift, so was interested in making this recipe as comparison. What did those of you who tried both think?


Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake w/ Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, p. 292- Katherine couldn’t find the flour blend they recommended, so she used Bob’s. The cake “looks good…and the frosting is delicious!”


Ginny introduced us to Shacksbury CiderIt’s a gluten free beverage made from “lost apples,” i.e. American varieties which had been neglected and forgotten. In partnership with European orchards, Shacksbury is reintroducing hard cider crafted in the European tradition. The cider is made with bitter apples which give it a more nuanced flavor that popular American ciders lack.

Shacksbury cider

Handouts and Miscellaneous Tips

  • With a gluten free diet, the tendency is to substitute a gluten free alternative for gluten. We need to remember to substitute healthy choices!
  • Brenda reminds us that Eden brand canned goods, available at Whole Foods, contain no harmful BPA’s. Neither do Jovial brand tomatoes in glass jars.
  • Kathy shared this tip from Cooks Illustrated for perfectly tender and crispy bacon: (Hint: Cook it in water!)
  • Before boiling rice, rinse the rice for several minutes until it runs clear. This eliminates the surface starch which creates a sticky finished product. Note: You should not rinse rice used for risotto, since the recipe needs starch to achieve the correct consistency.
  • Brenda likes to use Arrow Mills sorghum flour in her gluten free dishes. Ginny likes the King Arthur Gluten Free mixes but prefers to blend her own flours.
  • Emily suggests buying small amounts of spices in the bulk section of  Central Market. They are a “great value” and, because you bag only what you need, lead to less waste.
  • See the following handouts: Consumer Reports talks about arsenic in rice and “Will a gluten free diet make you healthier?” Stephanie shared 2 handouts- an infographic on beneficial foods and The Truth About Gluten.

So, folks, please chime in, especially about the recipes you liked!




  1. What a great night of food and friends! My favorite dish was the Warm Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce! I have never been a fan of bread pudding until now… it was mouth watering. I also loved the Warm Brie and Apple Tartlets for an appetizer. The crust was both flaky and buttery! Yum! I look forward to the next evening.

  2. Ann, if it converted you to bread pudding, I need to try this! And it would be delicious on a rainy, cold day like today. Yum!


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