Jo’s Free-From Dinner Party #5

Jo Knowles HeadshotRecently diagnosed Coeliac and newbie blogger Jo Knowles is on a mission not to let her gluten and dairy-free diagnosis rule her eating habits. We’ve experienced the ups and the downs of her first Free From dinner parties with her. Here she shares her experience of hosting her fifth party, let’s see how it goes…

Round 5 – Free from… well, everything!

Now having Coeliac Disease, I am used to the continuous need to eliminate gluten from my diet. On further discovery it was evident that dairy was also causing me issues, so that disappeared as well. This limited diet has left me slightly bruised (and quite often hungry) but I was determined to see this disease as a challenge and an opportunity, rather than a burden or something that defines me. Food is a powerful tool. Not only does it fuel our bodies, but it feeds our social and emotional needs as well. Eating together has always been and will always be a great way of people coming together and sharing thoughts, views and laughter over a delicious meal (often washed down with lashings of alcohol as is the case in my house.) That’s why I began to host my dinner parties, post diagnosis. Friends were nervous to cook for me, eating out was extremely limited (I feel I could quote the Pizza Express menu off by heart by now) and takeaways were to be avoided as one would avoid the M25 on Christmas Eve. Hosting gave me back the power. The power to control what I ate and with that control, ensure that my guests were at ease and that I, as their host, could relax knowing that all the food was ‘safe’ for me.

And so it was to my next dinner party that I decided to up the ante and go vegetarian. I had already eliminated so much already, why not see if I could cater for those that chose not to eat meat? Easy, I thought. No problem, I thought. And then I sat there for what seemed like an eternity as visions of cabbage soup swirled around my head. This time around, the dinner was planned for a Friday night and so we decided to make it a low key, no napkin, non-fancy plate affair; with good wholesome food that focused more on second helpings than piddley posh portions.

Having been up to my allotment recently, a fellow allotment holder offered me some yellow beetroot as he had over produced. Not wanting to seem rude, I accepted it and brought it home, thinking that the chances of my family even tasting it were as likely as Kate Moss eating a Big Mac. However, I had a sudden inspiration and decided to turn them into crisps. Who doesn’t like crisps? I washed them, sliced them, slathered them in garlic infused olive oil (so easy to make and can last for months,) herbs and popped them in the oven. Whilst they baked, I quickly whipped up a lemon guacamole and popped them in a dish alongside some hummus, tomato dip and the crisps. Voila. A simple starter was ready.


Next was the main course and I decided on risotto. This is a dish that I love to do as it is filling and can be totally flavoured to suit. You can go creamy, salty, with meat, without and tonight I decided to splash out and bought some lovely fillets of salmon, to go alongside my creamy dish. As we all know, fish reserves are depleting fast, and so I like to buy fish from sustainable sources, and Waitrose here have only recently won an award for their efforts to sustain the fish levels.

Merit badge to them, and fat, juicy fillets for me. I doused mine in fresh lemon juice from two lemons, herbs and olive oil, wrapped them up so they steam cook and popped them in the oven.

Meanwhile, I started on the risotto. I like my risotto to be cooked in wine as well as stock, but here I give one word of warning. If dairy intolerant, please check the labels of your wine purchase if you choose white wine. I recently had an immediate reaction whilst out at a family gathering, and it was only my instincts that made me check the wine bottle and saw, with disbelief that it contained milk. Milk, in wine! Sigh. It’s not in every wine, but it is worth being wary as apparently it is used in its production. Back to the risotto and I continued with adding some more vegetables and the stock, little by little.

I find that risotto can be a bit stodgy and have the consistency of mushed up baby food, so I decided to jazz it up a bit and give it a bit of ‘crunch.’ Slicing up a red onion, I popped them into a pan filled with oil and allowed them to crisp up. Once crisp, I left them to drain on some kitchen paper. A quick flash-fry of some samphire as an extra side dish and main course was served.


As a sweet treat, I have been experimenting recently on my own recipes and here I will introduce my own Gooey chocolate banana loaf. This is gluten free, dairy free and also sugar free; a perfect ‘free from’ dessert to match my ‘free from’ dinner party. The recipe is available below on my wordpress site and is, in my humble opinion, really rather nice;

Gooey Chocolate Banana Loaf


One could snazz it up with a bit of pouring cream (dairy-free obviously) or even whip up a quick fruit sorbet and serve it straight from the oven.

Overall, I found the whole evening a relaxing affair and realised that providing everything is seasoned correctly and with enough flavours added; that my free from evening was less of a ‘what a shame it didn’t have’ but more of a ‘what a great idea not to add…..’ leaving me sure that following a free from diet can leave you both fulfilled but also healthier.

Looking for gluten-free recipes to host your own dinner party?

We’ve got plenty of gluten-free ideas to inspire you, and for even more, grab a copy of the magazine! If you’re new to a gluten-free diet and not sure where to start, you might find our beginner’s guide handy, with five top tips to going gluten-free.

What are your your tips for hosting free-from dinner parties, let us know in the comments below!