Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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Seeing Christmas again

The previous several years I’ve owned my own business and also helped others. The holidays are a time for work. It’s the big season before the worst quarter in the food industry. So Christmas was always on the back burner.

I remember when my daughter was very little, I didn’t even realize I was down to one shopping day. It was Christmas Eve and I’m at Toys R Us doing my shopping. Now don’t think I didn’t care. Far from it. I was just working ridiculous hours. I ran through the store with my shopping cart and racing the clock wearing a chef coat. I couldn’t help but ask the clerk if I was the only one shopping like a mad woman. Luckily, she said I was one of many that day. I wondered if there was a club for working mothers like myself but then again, when would we have found the time.The good news is she got some really nice gifts that year. I always got her the most creative things. Fast forward 15 years and we are at the bakery working late on December 22nd. My daughter turned to me and said, Ma, we never got a tree this year”. I did a quick panic and then called a friend who was selling trees. He said there are three trees left and to help myself. It was raining and we drove down to his restaurant and saw three pathetic trees leaning against the building. Fighting back tears because I felt as though I failed another Christmas, she says the right thing, “Mom, we saved a tree. It’ll be beautiful”. When she was little, we would go to the tree place and find the most pathetic looking tree. It was small, bony and almost lifeless. I taught her that we can take this tree home and show it some love and it would be the most beautiful tree ever. Every year we did this. And now this particular year, she was teaching me. We brought the tree home and it was very beautiful. The staff at Mike’s got the biggest platter of homemade brownies as a thank you.

Now after being in food service for almost ever, the holidays become a source of work and quick naps. It was always a little tough to enjoy. So this year I decided no tree. It’s just another holiday and I have to work.

Then it happened. I walked past a patient’s room and saw a beautiful little tree all decorated. It was incredible. It made we walk into a small room and cry. I thought about how wrapped up in working all these years to actually stop and enjoy Christmas. I dreaded shopping and working every year. But this person wasn’t shopping or working. They were in a bed, in a room with their tree, just the two of them. I thought about it and decided this year I will buy a small tree, decorate it and listen to music. My daughter was happy to hear I bought the tree. She asked if I would wait and decorate it tomorrow with her. She wants to makes some appetizers, listen to music and tell stories. I’m thrilled. I was just going to sit and have a glass of wine and get through the holidays. This patient changed all of that for me. This person without being aware of it, made me think about what Christmas means to me. This person helped me to stop and smell the roses. Those roses. I’ve been missing that opportunity all along.

Tonight I walked through the store and decided that I wanted a Victorian tree. My home is Old English with beautiful art work both from well known artist and my favorite local artists. A Victorian tree was perfect. Tomorrow I’ll post some pictures of it when it’s done.

I was seeing Christmas again. For me, it’s not about the shopping or receiving gifts. It’s about love and peace. This year has brought me a great source of love, peace and happiness. That patient gave me the most perfect gift this year. He gave me the gift of Christmas and what it really means.

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When speechless is a good thing

The last couple of weeks I have been battling this annoying cough. The one you have to just wait out. So with some over the counter meds, hot green tea and gurgling here and there, I’m beginning to combat it. Then, two days ago, my voice vanished. I woke up and it was gone. Not sure where it went but it peaced out sometime during the night.

With every obstacle comes a lesson. I decided to limit my speech for the next few days. This ,my friends, is not an easy task for me. I’m Sicilian so when the mouth is moving so are the hands. When the mouth isn’t moving, the hands are lost. My body is confused. Then suddenly I realize something very important. I’m listening. I’ve stopped to listen. What a concept. Incredible things I’m hearing. It’s like stopping to smell the roses but better. It’s okay not to talk. It’s okay to hear how the other person views the world in whole sentences. When you can’t speak, you pay more attention after the initial shock wears off that’s it’s just not your turn.

For a while today we worked in silence. It wasn’t a bad thing at all. Silence was actually a pleasure. Until my co-worker decided to sing the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” completely off-key. My hands couldn’t take it. They had to say something. I put my hand straight up as if to say STOP. Please. The hands were content they had the opportunity to say something today.  We both laughed and realized silence can be fun.

The funny thing for me is when I’m in the kitchen, I generally have Jazz playing in the background. Other than that, I work in silence. I love to get into what I’m making. Creating dishes makes me happy. My hands are too busy to coordinate with the mouth. I love to cook. Some of my best work is done in silence. I used to work with a chef de cuisine. He permitted no talking in the kitchen. He was a master. You didn’t dare breathe. It was like watching a symphony of food being created in front of your very eyes. I loved to find any reason to walk through that kitchen just to see him work. With my hands in my pockets, I would make a brief stop and observe. I learned something everytime. His silent kitchen brought harmony throughout the night. It was incredible.

Wedding cakes are very similar for me. I have to be by myself and I permit no talking. It’s all about precision. Silence is the master. It puts me in a world of creativity. It all has to flow uninterrupted. From start to finish, it’s a private world of thoughts that are reserved solely for this cake. Silence is good. This was important lesson that I passed on to my culinary students.

The next time you have a cold, cough or you just can’t talk, it’s okay. Take some time to listen to what’s going on around you. Silence is a good thing. And if you’re anything like me, you might have to sit on your hands while someone is talking to you because without the mouth to execute a good sentence, your hands can really blow the message with the wrong gesture. Being Sicilian isn’t a bad thing but learning self-control with your hands is beneficial.

I’m thankful I had this opportunity to be quiet. Being speechless has been  a good thing today.


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Sometimes you just have to ask

“You can’t always get what you want. But you just might get what you need.” Rolling Stones

Never a more true phrase spoken. Thank you Mick Jaggar.

As I start my new journey, I think of what I want. I actually was able to imagine where I wanted to live and the type of place I was looking for. I just simply asked. The universe answers in mysterious ways. Within 48 hours, I found what I was looking for. I’m living by the water in a safe and happy place. That was pretty cool. So if it worked for my home, it must certainly be an effective way to achieve a good job. Not so easy. Or is it?

As I move along in my career, I decided that I wanted to step out of the kitchen and write about food. I didn’t want to write a typical cook book about making cookies and a weekend carrot cake. I want to write about food, the love of food. I want people to realize just how important it is in our everyday lives. There are people out there who are happy making a pork pie or Salisbury steak because they have to but then there are people who really love what they do. These people want you to receive the love they put into your food. Thought. Actual thought about what you might like and how to make it not only eye appealing, but taste amazing. A meal that you will be looking forward to having again before you even leave their house that night. That’s the type of food I want to write about.

I want to write about creating dishes for people who suffer from allergies. Teaching them how to think back to what they really miss and recreating that with them. It can be done. My ideas about how to approach teaching are very simple. Just find something you never thought you could have before and I’ll teach you not only how to have it again, but how to make it even better than before. The allergy scene is a growing one. I feel there a lot of options out there to try. My theory is: Why not make it yourself and put the love into it and share it. There so many options for so many allergies. I have a book that is ready to be published. It’s all types of cuisines adapted to the most common allergies. It’s an easy book that speaks to you as you read it. It’s like I’m standing right next to you in the kitchen. I want to travel and teach. I’m so close. I have a deal with the universe: You get me to this place and I won’t be a pain in your backside. I’d love to travel to different countries and learn their techniques. A lot of countries are gluten-free by default. It’s what they have available and how they use it. Maybe a show dedicated to people with allergies. That sounds more like my cup of green tea.

I know what I want and I think I know what I need. I may not get what I want but I know I will be provided with what I need. All I have to do is ask.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

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This is my favorite quote. It applies to so many things: food, art, people, situations, journeys and so on. I just finished putting this print up from the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine. It’s a beautiful picture painted by and signed by Dahlov Ipcar. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the museum. She is a beautiful person. She writes books about cats and paints pictures of animals. Apparently when I hung this painting up, my cat knew that. He walked over and took a quick look. Then he decided to see it in a different angle. Doesn’t matter what I thought. It was his moment and he was taking it all in. He, at that moment, was the beholder.

The beauty of art is everyone has their own vision of what it is and what it means. It doesn’t mean that one person is incorrect from another. It’s their interpretation. It’s an opinion. It’s not wrong…ever. Just like your idea of what you’re seeing is your vision. It’s never wrong. It’s what it is at the time you viewed whatever was in front of you.

Food is a lot like art. Actually, food is art. We all like different cuisines for different reasons. What we like is our opinion. A chef is an artist that uses his or her talents to create a dish that will instantly catch your eye whether it’s being set down on the table next to you or right in front of you. We eat with our eyes. But let’s take one step back. It starts long before you walk in the restaurant. Sometimes it starts with a recommendation from a friend or family member.The way it’s described (their opinion) will either turn you off or keep you listening. Most people describe the food, the atmosphere and just as important as the food, the service. So you decide to try this place based on their opinion. It’s always a good idea to look a recommendation up online. There are usually menus to look at and reviews to read. Hopefully the menu has pictures of the entrees and attractive descriptions. This is where is starts. So you get to the restaurant and the first thing you experience is the hostess. The meal actually begins here. If the service is very good, the meal will only be better. You get your menu and drink and the experience continues. You can’t help but look at what is placed on tables around you. If it smells great and looks just as good, you’re in for a treat. The person that recommended this place is a good friend. I’ll save the opposite reaction for a different blog. This one is about beauty.

From the time you order, to the time the order goes in, the chef is already at work. This is like painting 100 pictures in less than 2 hours. The chef has to combine terxtures and flavors that in thier opinion, will please your every sense. Once your dinner comes to your table, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder. Everyone is staring at your plate while you’re staring at theirs. It all looks good. Like a fine painting, you give the look of approval with a simple nod and a smile. Everyone has an opinion about their meals. It’s good. It’s not so good. It’s beautiful or what happened in there?? I’ll definitely be back or not so soon. It’s judge and jury when the plates hit the table. The canvas is quickly altered but the original painting is still in your mind every time you think of this place.

Based on that experience alone, your opinion about the entire experience will either guide the next person to or away from this restaurant. Much like art. If you go to the museum and really enjoy what you see, you’re more apt to recommend a particular place. It’s all in the presentation. It’s the same for music, movies, theater and even sporting events.

The beauty about this is that we all see things differently. If we respect the fact that each of our opinions are just that…ours, than we can share the beauty.

I have to admit, after my cat got up and went on to do his cat things, I went over to the print and layed on the floor and looked at it. I thought maybe I’d see something a little different. He might have been on to something. His angle gave me a different perspective. I didn’t quite get what he was looking at but who am I to judge. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


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The start of an amazing journey

I think I’m about to embark on a pretty interesting journey.

In the last few months, I have begun to clean up some pretty bad decision-making. One by one each debt has been getting paid. A lesson attached to each and every mistake. Trust was always a big thing for me. I grew up with a Sicilian dad and a hand shake, a good firm hand shake, was a good reason to trust someone and a deal. Well, enter the 2000’s. Those days were long over but I hadn’t caught up to that yet. So I made a business deal and chose a contractor for my house that I thought I knew and sealed them both with a hand shake. My first clue was at the closing for my business when the bank looked at the actual deal and asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. I had put my home up for collateral. My partner put up nothing. But I had a new home and about to embark on a new business. I could do this. When the bank asked me one last time, I should have gotten the clue. I didn’t. Long story short, I lost the business 5 years later and my home. So some would think this is horrible. I’ve lost it all. Or did I? Physically, yes.

These were very expensive lessons to learn from a monetary value. They hurt from a personal view. My heart and soul went into both the business and the house. It was everyday. The business was 24/7. Up early, run the bakery, drive deliveries to Massachusetts at night and start all over again at 4am. What was I thinking? I could do this. No actually, I couldn’t. It all spiraled out of control. I got really sick one summer. I had an xray and a spot was discovered on my lung. Within a week I was being biopsied for Hodgkin Lymphoma. What was going on?? It all happened so fast. I couldn’t breath. The coughing was obnoxious. The last thing I remember in the OR was being asked if I like to play golf. I was out in seconds. The sugeon came in and said the biopsy was fine and I was sent home to rest for a couple of days. Rest? Were they crazy? Not at all. My daughter made me stay home and rest for two days. It was then I realized, this isn’t going to work. It’s not worth it. I watched what I was putting my daughter through and it just wasn’t worth it. But then I thought once I felt better I can still make this work. All the while ignoring my gut feelings and all the messages around me. My daughter swears I got sick just so I could rest a couple of days.

Finally the Winter of 2010, I decided it was enough. I closed the doors. The truth is, I felt great when I locked that door. I lost everything in it though. It was a tough one to walk away from but it’s then that I realized how important my life was and how materials really didn’t matter. It wasn’t a loss. I truly did the best I could. It was a wonderful place. People traveled all over to eat there. In the end, it was an increase in the lease that helped to seal the fate of the business. Not a total loss though. It was a gain of friendships, contacts (which would prove to be vital a few years later), knowledge, growth and most important, spiritual growth. Even though the debt was massive, I wasn’t going to let it get any worse. It took until this Fall but the business is all paid off. The house is about to come to an end as well. With a closing any day now, that too will be put behind me.

What was important was making the step to close the doors, both of them. Now materials really didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to determine my self-worth by what I owned. I’m a daughter,a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a co-worker and most important a mother. I feel I have been successful at all of these. Not because of what I own but because of the love I have for each and every one of them. Suddenly, my self-worth was becoming how I valued who I was. I was learning about Self.

Now the journey begins. I have a new place to live which I love. Through encouragement from my friends, I would imagine what I wanted for a house. It had to be safe, healthy, cute and by the water. I accomplished all of those. I absolutely love my home. Now my focus is on work, full-time work. I love what I do at Hospice. I was talking with a co-worker today and I told her that calling this a job just doesn’t seem right.It’s so much more than that. She said, “It’s not a job. It’s a calling.”. She’s right. It’s the most amazing place I have ever been. That’s part-time. So now I have to focus on the fulltime. It will to be something I love. It’s all about the journey.

I have been writing this blog as well as a few magazine articles. That’s the best side work I do. I love to write. I’m honored to be published in a few magazines already. It’s great work and you can share what you do with complete strangers. The important thing is you’re helping someone.

Now life is taking an interesting turn. My newest playtime hobby is painting. I decided to take a class and it was wonderful! I have been listening to more jazz and thankfully I have a friend that has similar tastes and he has been educating me on different types of music. I can’t get enough. All of this knowledge. Learning about things I love. Next on the list:Travel. I really want to travel. I want to learn about different cultures and recreate these dishes for people with food allergies. If I can do this, they too can experience other cultures without the fear of what they are eating. My goal is to someday have a show where I can recreate these dishes for everyone to enjoy regardless of your allergy. I have 6 cooking shows under mt beslt right now so I know that’s what I want to do. That day is coming very soon.

As a chef I often say sautéed onions, celery and carrots are the trinity of food. Travel, food and music are the trinity of life. My new journey is about making good decisions for myself. It’s about experiencing the trinity. It’s about learning, loving and experiencing all of the amazing things life has to offer.It’s about always trusting that firm hand shake but following up with a legal contract. It’s about listening to my gut always and having faith it’s all going to turn out exactly the way it’s supposed to.

This is the start of a fantastic journey.

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Nice to meet you Mother Nature

Yesterday’s storm was more than a typical New England storm. It was an opportunity for Mother Nature to introduce herself in a very dominant way.

One of the reasons I chose to move in town was because after living in the “boon docks” for 7 years, I realize I’m a city girl at heart. Not that the place I live is in the city nut as long as there’s a traffic light, police department and a post office, you’re in town. That means when the power goes out, it’s usually for a couple of hours not weeks. I learned quickly during those 7 years to operate a generator and drive on some of the worst snow-covered roads in Maine. Thanks for the experience but now I’m ready to be back in civilization. That’s not to say I’ll miss the fox pups at night and their little cries, the frogs in the Spring and the fire flies in July. The goof news is I know how to get there so I can always visit in the summer.

So back to yesterday. I had been watching the news and happy that I chose to move in town. I’m close enough to the emergency management buildings that how long can the power ever really go out? I have a friend who lives one street over and she said you’ll be so glad you’re here. I’ve never lost my power more than two hours. Sounds good. Until 5pm hits and I decide to leave work a little early to beat the worst. The wind had picked up as I drove from inland to the coast, that beautiful Maine coast. I finally got home and checked on the cats. they were fine. They were sitting in the window trying to catch the falling leaves. What a life.

Now this might be getting a little personal but it’s part of the story. I took a quick potty break. Suddenly I hear a loud crack. I look behind me and I see large tree falling. Now I don’t know about you but I shot off that potty so fast I think I did the long jump into the hallway. During my olympic jump, I heard a very loud crash. I checked the cats first because they were in the window. By then they were long gone under the bed. After washing my hands (because I know someone is wondering if I did…yes), I grabbed my phone and headed outside. My porch was gone. It looked like the kindle wood we used to scrap for camping. My new little porch. My future herb garden was reduced to camp wood. My neighbors came out with cameras. She was taking a picture of me taking a picture of the mess. Weird but a conversation piece non the less. A quick call to the landlord and back in the house I went.

Now the strength it took Mother nature to knock that tree down was incredible. I couldn’t help but say,”It’s nice to meet you Mother Nature”. As we speak the wind is picking up again. I have seen the devastation that other states endured. I wish them all peace and safety for their families. The one thing I have learned from this storm is that when the warnings are shared, respect them. Always be prepared is important. About a year ago I purchased a battery charger for my car. This particular charger has a USB connection to it as well as a 12 volt connection. This is perfect for my house in a situation like I had last night. One problem…I never charged it. Today I did and from now on I’ll be sure to do so.

Regardless of which region you live in, you have to deal with Mother Nature. Sometimes you know her, sometimes you don’t. In New England, she has begun to take on a different personality. We have dealt with everything lately from more tornadoes to hurricanes to earthquakes. The lesson is to have an emergency plan ready to go. Gas up the car. (Pre election gas prices make it easier). Package and label your meds. Don’t leave your pets behind. Make a suitcase with their food, water bottles and their meds if needed. This isn’t our first trip to the storm so to speak. I believe common sense prevails.

The good news is my landlord told me that I’ll be having a beautiful new porch in the Spring. That’s good news for the herbs and mini garden. After all, Spring is only 5 months away.

 

 

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Friendship and food

Tonight I met my new neighbors.

I was invited to a friend’s apartment to meet everyone. To my surprise there was a card on my door inviting me to a gathering. It turns out it’s a woman I used to work with. I was so happy to hear she lives in the same building. So I got home from work, did a quick laundry and headed over to her apartment.

Everyone was there. A few I recognized from seeing around the building. A few I had not met. It felt a little awkward at first but then my instincts kicked in. Say anything about food. So I did and the conversation took off like wildfire.  There was some really nice appetizers on the table so it wasn’t hard to talk about. Now my friend was very kind and let the other guests know about some of my past accomplishments. This too will open a quick door. I’ll share those in another blog.

The food looked wonderful. The wine was perfect and her apartment was just beautiful. I didn’t stay too long but long enough to feel comfortable with everyone I met. There’s a much older man who lives downstairs from me that apparently met my cats in the window. I’m glad to see even my boys are hospitable. Now give them a little food and you have a friend for life.

Food is a wonderful way to meet people. It’s the perfect conversation piece. Where I work, I can’t tell you how many conversations I have about food everyday. Every conversation is different for various reasons. I work with serious food people who love organic food and are self sustainable. I also talk with people who love to bake and tell you what and how they make it. And I work with a woman who has been an absolute God send. Each week a beautiful item from her garden. Today she gave me these beautiful black radishes (pictured here). Behind is a daikon radish as well. I have never seen a black radish. They are gorgous!!! I can’t wait to work with them. I was going to juice them but they’re too amazing for that. They need to be in a salad so they can showcase their incredible colors. Friends who share their home grown produce are good friends. They’re giving you something that they put time and care into. You will receive that from the food you make with it. Love in is love out.

The thing I do enjoy is there’s always something new to see and talk about when it comes to food. Food is the gateway to knowledge. If you’re open to it, you can learn everyday and never know it all. There are so many different cultures and regions. The produce alone grown in our country (non GMO) is impressive. Go to a farmers market some day and I guarantee you will find something you’ve never seen before. It gets me every time. And every time I see that, I have to buy it and try it. But not before a million questions to the grower. Well, maybe not a million but at least two. Farmers love to talk about their produce. It’s like their tender little offspring. They start with their seeds, nourture it and carefully harvest. Then it’s transported to the market, purchased by someone who cares and is sent to a good home. It’s always a good thing to get to know your farmers. They’re good people growing good things for all of us. Farmers are our friends.

I can’t emphasize enough how important food is in our society.  It’s more than just survival. Food is art.  Food creates friendships. Food is love.


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Hosting an appetizer social

Tonight I was giving some thought to hosting an appetizer social.

The beauty of making appetizers is they are generally pretty quick to put together. You can make one specific base and then add different ingredients. This will accomplish two things. One, you will be able to make a fair amount at one time and two, you’ll save yourself from spending your rent money for the month.

One appetizer I find very simple is crostinis. Crostinis start with a baguette cut into thin slices (on the diagonal). Then they are brushed with olive oil and either grilled lightly or toasted in the oven. There’s your base. And you can get at least four dozen pieces per baguette.These can be made a few days ahead of time.

The best part about crostinis is what you put on them. The sky is the limit. Depending on whether or not your social has a theme will dictate the toppings. Here are a few examples: Honey goat cheese with caramelized onions, Cranberry walnut goat cheese with roast chicken, sun-dried tomato and basil with fresh mozzarella, curried chicken salad, fresh salsa with Monterey jack cheese, roast duck with lingonberry cream cheese and brie. Here are 6 examples. That’s six completely different apps. Do you just happen to have some soft-boiled quail eggs from dinner?? You never know? Add that with a fresh dill aioli. Simple appetizers that look expensive. Crostinis are also good for dips like spinach and artichoke.

I like to make chicken tender bite size pieces. This is probably going to be the best recipe I ever share. I swear I get more letters from this recipe and I really don’t get it. I can make swans out of sugar and cream puffs like the French but a simple chicken tender is the best requested recipe. All you have to do (and gluten-free friends, no one will ever know you’re serving GF) is take two gallon zip lock bags. Well, that’s not all you have to do. In one bag add 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, ranch dressing or even caesar dressing. In the other bag add 2 cups of panko style breadcrumbs (yes, even Gf breadcrumbs like Panebelle work the best), 1/4 cup Asiago cheese, salt pepper and I like to add a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning but that’s optional. Cut your chicken into bite size pieces and add to the mayo zip lock. Seal and toss to coat. Then in small batches, add to the breadcrumb bag and toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 400° for about 10 to 15 minutes. That’s it!! Throw the bags away and easy cleanup too! I’m not Heloise but I will find a way to eliminate the dish step if I can. Remember the parchment blog?? Easy cleanup! Serve these with a ranch dressing, southwest style dipping sauce or even coat with a buffalo sauce. heck, do all three and combined with about appetizers, you have nine to choose from! And this party is just starting!

Here’s one that takes a little longer but let’s class it up a bit. You’ll need small wooden planks or boards. Four ounce canning jars (see the picture) will be perfect for adding condiments. You’ll also need small butter knives and those annoying little lobster picks with the tiny fork on the end. I say annoying because when I do the dishes, I stick myself every time but on a display like this, it looks nice and functions well. Now the fun part:

First you pick a main ingredient. It can be duck sausage, thinly sliced roast turkey, smoked salmon, italian sausages or even vegetarian with roast vegetables…whatever you have or want to use. Then you pick a nice homemade cracker or flatbread cracker but choose a good one. No place for Ritz here. Now the canning jars. It should complement what you have for the main ingredient. So the smoked salmon could have capers in one, pickled red onion in another and maybe a nice herbed cream cheese with dill. The roast turkey could have a pesto mayonnaise, caramelized onions, chilled cranberry sauce, some chutney and maybe some of those caramelized onions. Do you see where I’m going with this?? It can be as easy or as intricate as you want. It’s elegant and it gives people choices. It’s a great way to please the guest because they get to choose what they want. It’s also a great conversation piece. Remember, people eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, the brain has already conversed with the belly and it’s going to taste great.

Sometime picking a theme can be fun. I had a friend who called me and asked me to match up some wonderful wines he purchased during a trip to Africa with the appetizers. I made a barbecued ostrich empanadas as one of the main appetizers. I have to tell you, it was the conversation piece of the party. No one had ever eaten ostrich and couldn’t believe it was even possible to get. Believe me, there are specialty shops where just about everything is possible. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and after many years, you learn the right people to contact even when it’s ostrich. By the way, empanadas are a cream cheese pastry dough similar to pie dough and all you do is roll the dough out and place your filling in the middle. Fold it over like a half-moon and seal. I’ll share with you the recipe for the dough a bit later. Send me a message asap if someone happens to ask you for ostrich empanadas this weekend. I hardly believe it’ll happen but I’m here for you if it does.

You can see that an appetizer social can be done quite simply. I call it a social because a party sounds like too much work. A social implies maybe some relaxing beverages and great conversation. A party is anxiety. It will show in your presentation. A social is relaxing. The host should never be too busy to be social. Preparation should be simple and easily executed.

If you have some appetizers you want to recommend, feel free to post them here with pictures! I’d love to see them and ofcourse share them with everyone.

For those interested, I’m available for socials. Feel free to contact me and I’ll take the stress away from you so you can relax and socialize.

 

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You need that cake when??

One of the most common lines I’ve had to say repeatedly on the phone. Usually at 3pm, when the kitchen is cleaned and I was getting ready for the next day. Or finally getting a chance to sit with a customer and have a nice cup of well deserved tea. The phone would ring and on the other end, a frantic caller with the request,”Can I pick up a birthday cake in about an hour?? I hope you have what I want because this person is specific about what they like.”. Nice cup of tea just became the 7pm iced tea. With a deep breath, my reply would be that I don’t have that actual cake (or maybe I did by a stroke of luck) but I’ll make something that will work. The answer was never “no” but options. Hey, when you wait until the last-minute, options are better than no.

Important questions are: What’s the occasion, favorite colors, and flavors and the most important question absolutely ever: Are there any allergies. Once you have this information you can start your game plan. This is equivalent to overtime at the Superbowl. You have to think fast, work quick and deliver on time.

Cupcakes are a great way to make something quick and come as close to the requested flavor as you can. They can look very festive, decorative, simple or elegant and in a flash. Generally they take 15 to 18 minutes. While they are in the oven, prepare the frosting, icing or ganache (ga-NASH). so it’s ready to go once the bailout cakes are cooled. Put them in the freezer for a quick chill.

I always have ganache on hand, everyday all day. It’s your kitchen duct tape. It will fix everything. Here’s a nice recipe I’ll share:

1 cup of 1/2 and 1/2 and 1 cup of chocolate chips (semi sweet). That’s it! Place the 1/2 and 1/2 in a 4 cup microwave safe bowl. heat until just before the boiling point. Remove and add the chips. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk together. When you first start to whisk, it looks like you’re getting no where but keep going. It’ll come together. This liquid gem is ready to use. Just dip the cupcakes in the ganache and let the excess drip off. Place on a plate and repeat until they’re all done. They will look decadent and shine. You will be the master chef of the day. Sometimes after they set, I’ll add a sugared violet or other flower. You can also frost the cupcake and then drizzle the ganache.

The sweet part about ganache is that’s the dipping stage when it’s first made. Let it sit at room temperature and it will solidify so you can use it as a frosting. Put it in the fridge and you can scoop it and make truffles. I’ve seen people dip bacon in it and sprinkle coarse salt on top. Keep it on hand and you’ll quickly realize why I call it sweet kitchen duct tape.

Gluten free friends, this applies to you too. Pipe some ganache in the middle and then put the top on and frost it. It’ll help make you a household name to gluten-free. Make sure the chocolate chips you are using are gluten-free of course.

So the next time you find out the night before that you’ve been nominated to make the main event for the next day’s festivities, try this option of making cupcakes.

School moms, make cupcakes and freeze them. Lots of them. Be ready. It’s going to happen. Frost them right from the freezer and by the next day they’re ready. Don’t panic. If you find out while you’re pouring that day’s orange juice you need a dozen asap, they’ll defrost by lunch time.

It’s a quick fix to a last-minute request. It works for any occasion too. You can do this and I’m here to help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them here. If you’re a cupcake officiando, post your work. I’d love to see it and so would everyone else. Bake on!

 

 

 

 

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Food is art.

I recently finished the move into my new home. If you have never moved before let me help you to visualize what it feels like. It’s what it feels like to stub your little toe on the leg of your bed. Then when you go to sit down to rub your toe, you hit your knee on the corner of the end table next to your bed. Something like that. That’s pretty close. With that said, the worst is over.

Now the best part begins. How to express yourself through your decor. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love to collect prints from various art museums. I have one in every room. Then I build everything else around that. It’s kind of like choosing the main dish and then building your salads, appetizers and sides around that. You want taste, color and the correct presentation. So when someone walks into your home, they look at your art and start to get a good idea of who you are and what you like.

Today I was thinking that my last home was far more modern than the one I’m in now. This home was built around the 1800’s and it’s charming to say the least. I love this place. My decor from the house just won’t fit right here. This is where being a pessimist pays off. I have some boxes I never unpacked from two moves ago. Yes, equivalent to stubbing your toe twice. When I opened these boxes, I found the most incredible pieces. I had completely forgotten about them. They were perfect!! As I kept digging I saw this poster cardboard container. I thought maybe it was something I bought for the bakery like a poster of biscotti or cannolis or something like that. I was wrong! It was a beautiful print from the New York Metropolitan Museum, one of my favorites. When I unraveled it, I was just amazed. I fell in love with it all over again. I also had the perfect frame sitting in the storeroom. I went out in a hurry and got the frame and in less than 5 minutes, it was framed and ready to hang. Not so fast. I really needed to sit and look at this for a moment. I’m sure my thoughts about it were different from when I first saw it.

As I looked at this picture I thought, did the artist think that someday a woman from Maine would be needing a painting like this to complete her decor? Doubt it. I’m sure he was having his usual artist day and just started to paint what he was feeling at that moment. He used what materials he had and his thoughts for the moment and created this beautiful picture. This is how I create recipes. Some days I see what I have for materials. Then I have a seat and think about what I’m feeling at that moment and I start to create. Once I’ve created a new recipe, I like to share it much like the prints I enjoy buying. However, with a recipe, you have to recreate what you’re reading. Through this process, you too become an artist because it’s your interpretation of the recipe that dictates how the end results will come out. With the artist, once finished, it becomes our interpretation of what we are looking at. This is why food is art.

An artist mixes and matches different colors and uses a brush or other tools to transfer that color onto the canvas or whatever surface they chose. A chef (kitchen artist) also mixes and matches different ingredients and then presents them when finished on a beautiful serving platter for everyone to enjoy. Like the picture, it needs to all come together. While decorating, I chose the print first and then the rest of the decor to work with it. In the kitchen, I chose a main course and salads, appetizers and dessert to go with it. Carefully balanced, your presentation is a work of art. People eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, it’s sure to taste good.

There are just so many correlations between the two. Make sure you really love the print first. If you bring home the one you’re really not crazy about and then match it with things you thought you might like but end up hating, it’s like stubbing your toe again. Bring home the right print and before you can have dinner on the table, your guests already know the meal and the company are going to be just as good.

Food is art.

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