Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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Confectionery Miracle worker

Today was a rather interesting day. I was called a “Miracle Worker”. I managed to have a favorite cookie for a little friend who asked for it out of the blue and just happened to have made them. I thought a miracle worker? Just for having the right cookie? If miracles were that easy it would be my full time job. So then I thought, “Why can’t they be?”. Now I’m no Saint Theresa nor would I ever claim to be. As a matter of fact, anyone that knows me would be laughing hysterically right now if they heard me say that. However, how many times have you been called an angel or a saint just for doing something thoughtful and meaning it? I think even a small box of homemade cookies could really make someone’s day. Including yours for making them. There’s something to be said about being the person that creates in the kitchen for everyone. It’s a wonderful feeling and when you have that wonderful feeling, that’s what goes into what you are making. That’s the love that I am talking about when I say what you put into food, they will receive. Maybe that’s YOUR little miracle.

My point is, sometimes it IS as simple as a cookie. Think about someone who could really use one right now. Not so much the actual cookie itself but the act of kindness that goes along with it. Remember I talked about balance the other day. The thoughtful act of making a small batch filled with simple ingredients and a little love will go a long way. You have the balance of the love, taste and presentation.

Shortbreads come to mind when I think simple. It’s got six ingredients and can be made into just about every conceivable shape you can think of. Linzors are my absolute favorite. A nice crisp cookie with a fresh raspberry jam (bonus if you made the jam!) and a little dust of powdered sugar. I also like to make these with a chocolate filling inside and a gentle drizzle over the top. Placed in a small box with some pretty paper and a decorative little bow, this is the kind of little miracle you can create for someone.

*Gluten free friends, you can make a version of these exact cookies by substituting gluten free all purpose flour and xanthan gum in your recipes. Shortbreads are a very easy cookies to convert. Even the Scottish bakers add a little white rice flour for texture.

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Food is a balance

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Food is a delicate balance sometime. Such is life.

My philosophy is what you put into food, people will receive. What that means is it’s a very careful balance of flavor, texture, esthetics and love. Although carefully put together, it does not have to be difficult. It’s quite the contrary.
Let me give you an example: One of the moments I most enjoy is when my daughter comes over for dinner. Even though I have fed this child (who is actually 25 but they’re always “your child”), I still carefully plan what I want to serve and how I’m going to prepare dinner. I know what she likes. Fortunately she has a very open palate so I can even create something outside the box. A typical meal starts with a trip to the farmers market (in the summer) to see what looks fresh and vibrant. There has to be color. Once I get that far, now I can start to develop the menu. Then I walk around the market and maybe see a nice goat cheese, organic eggs and fresh herbs. Now I’m thinking a fritatta or a simple omelet. I pick up a few of those beautiful tiny red potatoes for a side dish and hit up the local farmer for some fresh peaches for dessert and my menu is done.

From a nutritional stand point, I have the basic food groups and farm fresh to boot.Now I play a soft jazz and prepare dinner. Everything is carefully washed and gently chopped. The peaches are sliced and just barely sauteed in a little honey, cinnamon and a pinch of ginger. The kitchen smells great. The music sounds great and now with the aroma of a medley of vegetables and herbs, the conversation flows. There is love in the kitchen shared by a mother and daughter.
She sets the table and lights a candle. As we begin our meal, the conversation starts about how it was prepared and soon turns to a trip down memory lane about meals from the past. Ones that we prepared together or others when friends came over to share. There are a few about the disasters that happen from time to time (we’ve all had them. Even the James Beard chefs). Sometime those situations turn into new recipes.

The important thing is, it’s all about the love. The love that went into choosing the ingredients, to the preparation to the service. The love you receive when you taste the sweetness of the peaches. When you find the perfect balance, the rest of the meal will follow.

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A love affair with pie crust

With Fall on our heels, it’s time to find that pie crust recipe that year after year you said you were going to tackle. Then everytime you’re ready, the phone rings, the mailman’s at the door (do they still do that?), or the kids need help with their homework (you should still do that!). Any reason was a good reason not to attempt the obvious. This year is going to be different. You’re going to create a love affair with your pie crust. This year, I’m going to give you a pie crust that is so easy to make, everyone will want you to make the holiday pies. Then and only then, you will probably regret this post but it will soon pass and before you know it, you’re opening your own bakery. Okay, not so fast but always a possibility.

There are so many different types of crust for various pies. This will be an all around easy to make blue ribbon winner. Actually, it has won awards. You can use this for quiche, fruit pies, cream pies, turnovers, tart shells, crostadas…The list goes on.

For those of you who are gluten free, the directions are exactly the same except you will substitute GF all-purpose flour for the traditional all-purpose plus add xanthan. I’ll include that in the recipe.

This basic but incredible recipe can be made by hand, in a Kitchen Aid with the pastry hook (looks like a “J”) attachment or in a Cuisinart style food processor.

Here’s the recipe that will make Four 10″ pie crusts.

Ingredients:
3 cups of all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
1 cup (2 sticks) Cabot unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup very cold water

*Gf readers: 3 cup GF all-purpose flour plus 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1. By hand:
Place the flour, salt and butter in a bowl. Using a fork or a pastry cutter, break the butter up until the mixture resembles cornmeal

Kitchen Aid:
Place the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix on low until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

Cuisinart:
Place all of the dry ingredients and the butter in the processor. Using the pulse button, press with quick pulses until the mixture resembles cornmeal. This is the quickest method.

2. Slowly add the water until almost all of the dry ingredients are absorbed. It should still look alittle dry because you will form the dough balls withy your hands. The warmth of your hands will bring the dough together. You want to be very gentle with pie dough because once the gluten forms (what gives the dough its stretch), it can become tough.

3. Divide the dough into 4 balls. Wrap in plastic and let set in the fridge for about an hour. You can even make these the day before. Just pull them a half an hour before you’re ready to roll it.

4, Place some flour on the counter (clean ofcourse). I only use about 3 tablespoons of flour at a time. Because you’re rolling the dough on flour, you’re adding more flour into your dough so don’t roll it into a handful of flour. Gentle. We need to be gentle. Gentle equals a light flaky crust.

5. Roll into a 10″ round for a 9″ pie pan. Lay the bottom crust down on a sprayed with non stick spray pie pan and prepare the top.

I always cook my fruit fillings the day before so they are cool and ready to fill. Never put a warm filling of any kind into a fresh rolled out crust. The advantages to making your filling ahead of time are well worth the effort. You know what the filling will taste like before you bake it so no surprises. The consistency is exactly what you want it to be so again, no surprises. All you have to do is brown the crust which takes about 40 minutes. You eliminate that horrible dome with the huge air pocket when you cut into an apple pie. By cooking your pie filling, that will never happen. That in itself is well worth it! Plus, and this is a big plus, any filling you have leftover makes incredible ice cream sundaes or a quick parfait with vanilla sponge cake (aka Genoise).

Crimping the edges is as individual as snowflakes. It’s whatever work for you.Be sure to fold the top crust under the bottom crust along the edges and then pinch them together. I brush my top crust with an eggwash (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon of water). Then I take extra dough strips and cut our really cute designs. Ever wonder what to do with all of those mini cookie cutters?? Place those little guys on your crusts. Cut a vent hole for the steam to escape. Very important those vent holes. If you forget, you get a blow hole out the side of your crust. Not attractive but can always be disguised with a scoop of ice cream when you serve.

This is actually a quick lesson. I’ll have more tips to follow. I think if you have gotten this far, you’re love affair has started and there’s no reason to turn back now. Follow through and enjoy the rewards.

Tomorrow, crimping tips and decorative top ideas. Plus, how to make rolled out dough ahead of time for a quick construction.

Remember, post pictures!! I’d love to see them. And most important, go ahead and volunteer to make the pies this year. It’s your best year yet!!


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Quiche makes an easy meal anytime.

Quiche is one of those menu items you generally see on a brunch menu. The truth is, it can make any meal anytime a quick and easy task. There are many ways you can approach this. You can make your shells up ahead of time and freeze them so they are ready when you are. You can make the entire quiche and freeze that so it’s completely ready when you are. Or you can just have someone else make it and lose out on the feeling of satisfaction when you serve it. The last one sounds a little harsh but I’m here to give you a boost into cooking for yourself. Let’s face it, you know you want to do it so I’m here to help.

Generally I like to make a batch of shells up all at once. I use 6″ pans so I can make several varieties of quiche all at the same time. It’s a real time saver and if you already have them ready to go, make a pie too for dessert. Pie dough works the best and holds up very well in the freezer. If you’re hosting a brunch or just making it for your family, choices are good. I suggest making a simple cheese quiche. That’s a no fail pleaser. Other suggestions would be: Lorraine (bacon), smoked turkey and portobello, garden vegetable, caramelized onion and goat cheese, sun dried tomato and fresh basil and my family favorite: Italian with bits of salami, capicola, roasted peppers and provolone cheese. Your choices are as broad as your imagination. Feel free to share them on this blog.

Construction is very simple: Place the cheese on the bottom followed by the ingredients of your imagination and then the filling. Here is a simple basic quiche filling that will make 6 (6″) quiche:

12 large eggs
1 quart of half and half
salt and pepper to taste
dash of worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley

Whisk this all together and fill the quiche where it meets the bottom rim of your pie crust. I bake them at 350° for about 30 minutes, depending on your oven. When they have a slight giggle, they’re ready. Remember, they’ll cook a bit longer once they’re out of the oven. The beauty of quiche is it can be served warm or at room temperature.

This is a basic recipe so feel free to add herbs of your choice as well. See what’s in the fridge for leftovers from the night before. I bet that will make a pretty cool quiche unless ofcourse it’s spaghetti but hey, you never know. People are covering bacon with chocolate now a days and calling it good. Just don’t put that in your quiche.

Serving suggestions to go with your homemade (yes, you did it!) quiche are as simple as the dish itself. A few ideas could be fresh fruit, a garden salad, crispy roasted potatoes, crusty baguettes toasted and lightly buttered and maybe even just a small dish of cottage cheese flavored ofcourse with a few herbs.

If you are following a gluten free diet, use the basic recipe and gluten free pie shells. There’s no reason why you can’t join in on this fun too. I have made many Gf quiches and honestly, no one could ever tell the difference. Most of all of my recipes I can convert to gluten free very easily for you and i’m happy to do so.

This is quick and simple meal. Take the time to give it a try and remember to take pictures. I’d love to see them. Tomorrow we will conquer pie crust. It’s that time of year and with a few simple tricks, you’ll be known as the pie lady in no time!


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The power of food

The power of food is nothing short of amazing.

This morning did not start out as I had intended. I woke up early to get to the health store to have a fresh squeezed juice before a long day of meetings. I was so excited about this juice that I decided when I got there I would get two: one for breakfast and one for lunch. Thirty miles later, the store was closed. So I went to a second store I knew of and it was closed too. Now I had 10 minutes to get to my meeting. When I got there, just seeing a friend I knew upon arrival was enough for me to take a deep breath and know its going to get better. Not that big a deal. Then she hands me this beautiful loaf of homemade cinnamon bread. On it was my name and the person it was from. At that point, I knew the day just got better. The love that resonates from a baked good hand made and presented with a little note confirmed to me that food IS love.

I’m very thankful for this beautiful loaf of bread.

Remember the next time you make something for someone, you’re giving them more than just a homemade treat.

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Are these really gluten free?

Most certainly this tray of cookies is free of all gluten. Assorted biscotti and shortbread make a simple decorative tray. Starting with easy to make base recipes, you can create quite a selection. Shortbread cookie dough can be transformed into linzor cookies, dessert bars, holiday cookie shapes and even just a simple shortbread to serve with afternoon tea.

Biscotti is a wonderful cookie to serve with a nice cup of espresso. Popular flavors are lemon, almond, white chocolate cranberry and my favorite, chocolate chip raisin with a hint of orange zest. Spend an afternoon making biscotti dough and assorted flavors. Roll into logs and freeze until ready to bake. I make several kinds and by the holidays, I just reach in the freezer and bake an incredible assortment. Biscotti ships well so if you know someone who is gluten free, surprise them with a homemade gift of cookies. Grandma Cookie will be proud.

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