Guests with Dietary Restrictions? Don’t Fret!

As much as I love to write — and read my own writing — I haven’t been blogging. Why? Mainly because I’ve been keeping very busy lately and all the updates pile up in my head. Besides the Delivered Dish of the Week service, I’ve been catering and teaching cooking to small groups. A few of these intimate lessons are gift certificates I donated to favorite charity auctions, including that of Mixed Blood Theater and Feline Rescue. [See previous posts about lessons.]

Like October’s spate of catering [see 2 posts ago], this past week’s catering gigs ran the gamut in scope, from a small dinner to a 150-person buffet dinner at a charity event. Yep, the same week. The common thread of these two meals was using seasonal vegetables — cabbage/greens and root vegetables — and offering easy options for omnivores, vegans and gluten-free & dairy-free diners.

Designing and cooking such a meal is NOT HARD. It’s not even “outside the box”. The typical ‘meat & potato” meal, in fact, meets both gluten and dairy restrictions!

New red and purple potatoes!

Meat + potato + vegetable. None of these contain dairy or wheat gluten. Right? Some traditional side dishes do have cheese and/or wheat, so either pick ones that don’t, or just add a couple alternatives. For example, steamed green beans tossed with olive oil & lemon juice instead of baked in a creamy casserole. This happens to be much easier to cook, as well.

My menu for the small dinner for 10 started with appetizers of crackers & raw veg tray with hummus (has no dairy), cheese and shrimp cocktail. The main dishes were a lean pork pot roast flavored with red wine, thyme & sage, a lentil & carrot stew, sweet & sour sauteed brussel sprouts, tossed salad, brown rice and bread. The simple addition of a quick lentil stew to a “meat & potato” type of meal provided a vegetarian + no gluten + no dairy option as well as a great accompaniment to juicy pot roast. 90% of this meal is gluten- and dairy-free, and yet, it is both familiar and fairly easy to make.

And, it turned out that, unbeknownst to me or the host, one guest does not take cow’s milk and another eats gluten-free. So, you just never know!

For the large charity event, I knew there would be some guests with various dietary requirements. I chose a menu of lightened “soul food” dishes that are high in whole grains, beans & veg, and low in fat (no pork). Cholesterol-lowering AND inexpensive, yay!  The main hot dishes of paprika chicken, black-eyed pea stew, brown rice and braised collard greens were gluten- and dairy-free. We provided regular and gluten-free cornbread and crackers, and both chocolate cake and baked apples for dessert.The result was a hearty, not ‘heavy’, cold weather dinner that everybody, including vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and diabetic diners, enjoyed.

By ‘we” I mean me and a team of great volunteers who chopped, roasted, boiled & braised heaps of fresh vegetables from the farmers’ market. Slow food on that scale requires many hands, sharp knives and a lot of extra-large pots & pans. Volunteers require supervision and large amounts of chocolate toffee almonds and praise. I love you, volunteers!

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