Food & Drink

Megan McKenna has her cake and eats it with new gluten-free cookbook.

Jenny Lee chats to television personality and singer-songwriter Megan McKenna about living with coeliac disease and her new cookbook which sets out to prove that that you can make anything gluten-free

Megan McKenna, Celebrity MasterChef finalist, singer-songwriter, coeliac and home cook, invites you into her gluten-free kitchen with her first cookbook
Megan McKenna, Celebrity MasterChef finalist, singer-songwriter, coeliac and home cook, invites you into her gluten-free kitchen with her first cookbook

GROWING up, Megan McKenna was constantly unwell and found herself eating her lunches alone in the stairwell at secondary school because she didn't want to stand out from the other kids.

"I was already having a hard time at school without being a 'gluten-free' freak too, so I kept myself to myself and quickly scoffed my food away from others," admits the Londoner, who rose to fame through reality television shows The Only Way is Essex, Ex on the Beach and Celebrity Big Brother.

Now, following her successful appearance on Celebrity MasterChef last year, Megan is further determined to show people that by swapping a few ingredients along the way can make tasty gluten-free food.

Her new cookbook, Can You Make That Gluten-Free?, features 80 dishes divided into tantalising chapters covering Naughty Nights, Posh Nosh and Heaven O'Clock.

"I'm tired of sitting in a restaurant being offered a salad or a fruit bowl. There's no need for people with allergies to feel left out on pancake day, spend another birthday without cake, or miss out on the food at parties and events," she says.

Megan reveals that she has suffered from coeliac disease since the age of 10. The chronic digestive and immune disorder is caused by the immune system attacking and damaging the gut when you eat food such as bread and cereals.

Symptoms can include diarrhoea, stomach aches and bloating, with Megan honestly admitting in her book that "the bathroom was my best friend when I was growing up".

In more recent years she has also been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder that affects the large intestine.

"Always carry Buscopan and Imodium. You never know when you might have an emergency," is one of Megan's tips for coping with the illness.

She also hits out at those who "skinny-shame" people like herself, as unintentional weight loss is often one of the symptoms of coeliac disease.

"I've had my fair share of trolling and been called skeletal and anorexic. People need to lay off the weight comments and give those of us who suffer silently with digestive issues a break," says Megan, who first shot to fame in 2009 when she appeared on Britain's Got Talent and reached the semi-finals as part of the music duo Harmony.

A year later she starred in TOWIE for the first time when she auditioned to be part of the girl group LOLA.

Her own reality series, There's Something About Megan, saw her travel to Nashville in 2017 and launch a music career, with her single High Heeled Shoes knocking Taylor Swift off the top of the iTunes chart.

The following year she wowed the critics to be crowned The X Factor: Celebrity winner. Far from the person known for her on-screen antics, including a tantrum in Celebrity Big Brother which led to her being temporarily removed from the house by security, Megan has emerged as a sophisticated and mature performer.

"I'm nearly 30, I had to grow up," laughs Megan who in the past year has been touring with some of the biggest names in music including Sir Tom Jones, Alfie Bowe, Michael Ball and Lionel Richie.

"Singing with Michael and Alfie onstage as part of their show took me to another level. They made me love performing even more," she explains.

Megan is currently working on a new project in LA and teases that "she will have some really exciting music news coming later this year".

And following her successful culinary exploits, which follows years of sharing her cooking videos on social media, she doesn't rule out doing a cooking TV show in the future.

"I'd love to; you never know what is round the corner," says Megan, who credits her grandfather's home-grown vegetables and her mother's home cooking for giving her a passion for cookery.

"After I was given the correct diagnosis my mum taught me how to cook everything from scratch, and that is why I'm so confident at cooking.

"I'm always told when I'm cooking for my friends and family that they can't tell the difference between gluten-free and normal food. I want to spread the message that you can cook recipes that not only agree with your gut, but taste unreal."

Can You Make That Gluten-Free? is bright and colourful and bursting with quirky pics of Megan sampling appetising food.

"The book is exactly how I wanted it to look - bold and poppy - with a picture for every recipe," enthuses Megan, whose favourite recipes are her pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, chilli con carne and beer-battered gherkins.

"I love pickles and when I go to a diner I always want to have something battered, which is usually impossible. So I thought why not recreate that at home and make it more interesting by making it beer-battered, because you can now get some great gluten-free beers."

Another intriguing recipe in her book is Fire Avocado with Tabasco sauce. I can't resist asking Megan if that recipe was the result of a drunken experiment.

"No," she giggles. "I got that inspiration at the airport with my manager on the way back from Miami. We were in the lounge and they were doing fresh guacamole with added chilli and I loved it.

"I love spicy food, so when I got home I thought I'd add a bit of Tabasco. It tasted so nice and made breakfast more interesting."

Her dinner party recipe to impress is Champagne chicken, which she serves with hot tomato spinach and potatoes on the side - and a glass of champagne, of course.

Can You Make That Gluten-Free? is published by Hamlyn and is out now.

Champagne chicken

(serves 2)

2 chicken legs, with skin

60g salted butter

Olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

150g button mushrooms, sliced

2tbsp brandy

225ml gluten-free chicken stock

150ml of champagne

Half tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2tsp of cornflour

165ml double cream

Salt and pepper


Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan, Gas Mark 4.

Season your chicken legs with salt and pepper.

Place half your butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. When the butter has melted, add chicken legs and sear them for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Transfer the chicken legs to a roasting tray and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked through.

Meanwhile, melt your remaining butter in the frying pan over medium heat.

Add your onion and mushrooms and cook until softened.

Pour in the brandy, chicken stock and champagne, then add the thyme and bay leaf.

Sprinkle the cornflour into the mixture, stir vigorously to combine, then leave to simmer for a few minutes.

Add your double cream, along with salt and pepper to taste, and leave to simmer until the chicken is ready.

Pour the sauce over the chicken to serve.

With her new cookbook Megan McKenna proves that anyone, regardless of dietary requirements, can eat delicious, mouthwatering meals
With her new cookbook Megan McKenna proves that anyone, regardless of dietary requirements, can eat delicious, mouthwatering meals