Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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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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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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Bakers insurance that’s easy and affordable

Bakers have all types of tricks to our trade. You learn the basics from your mom, grandma (or pop) and just thoughtful people who like to teach. Some still use lard. Others use pure butter or a blend of some sort.These are used to coat the baking pan with a dusting of flour.  Everyone has their method.

Those of us in the food industry use a piece of kitchen equipment that is a multi tool: Parchment paper. Cue the music: “Alleluia”.

I love parchment paper. Now this might seem like a rather odd subject to post about but trust me, after you read it, you’ll understand why it’s the second most important tool in the kitchen besides your Kitchen Aid mixer. There are so many different ways to use it. The most common in the kitchen is with baking cakes and tea breads. It’s why I call it insurance. Your cakes will never have that annoying divot of missing cake on the bottom when you take it out of the pan. It will be neat, clean and ready to frost, virtually crumb free. Just place your pan on a piece of parchment paper and trace with a sharpie. Can’t find it? It’s in that junk drawer. Then cut just inside the circle. Spray your pan with non stick spray and place the circle on the bottom of the pan.Sometimes if I have enough paper, I’ll cut out a number of circles so they’re ready for the next cake. You can do the same for tea breads or any breads that would normally stick like cinnamon swirl or apple bread. Cut the rectangle circles out to fit the inside of the pan.

Another use is for making a paper cone so you can write on your cake or make drizzle marks on your cake or cupcakes. Just cut out a triangle and fold around to form a cone. I use a small piece of tape to secure it. I’ve been laughed at by fellow pastry chefs for using the tape but it was I who had the last laugh when they had a ganache blow out on the side. Ha!

A third and healthy use is with baking and steaming fish and vegetables. I love this method. Healthy, quick and very little if any cleanup. Cut out a circle about 12 inches. Fold the paper in half and then open it up and lay flat on a cookie sheet.Place your fish and vegetables in the center. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice and add a few herbs (dill is nice with fish). Fold the paper over to make a half-moon and then tuck the seams under to seal. Bake at 350°. Depending on your fish I would haddock is pretty quick so a 6oz piece about 20 minutes. Salmon maybe about 30 to 35. Be careful when you open the bag because there will be quite a bit of steam. You’re going to love this method!! Just another insurance that your fish won’t stick to the paper.

Remember when you were a kid and you made snowflakes with paper?? You folded a circle in half and then in half again and again til you were dizzy. Then you cut shapes and opened it up to make a pretty (or really ugly!) snowflake. That same method can be used to make a stencil for the top of a simple cake. Spray on side of the parchment with non stick spray and lay that side down on the cake. Then dust the top with powdered sugar or cocoa. Carefully lift the paper off and what a beautiful design!!

There are so many ideas. I could go on all night. You can even wrap cookie dough logs in parchment and freeze them. I roll pie dough on this paper, cookie dough, my stained glass cookies and gluten-free pizza doughs…so many things. They will not stick. During the rolling out process you still need to flour the paper but it seriously will not stick.

There are a couple of ways to get parchment. At the grocery store which is the most expensive in my opinion. When I had my bakery, I used to sell it by the sheet to customers. Just go into a local bakery and ask if they have any parchment paper they can sell you. I was more than happy to help my customers. It was a great way to rest assured they would return but most important, if I gave them the right help to make it themselves, that’s a win in my book. What I can teach you, you can pass on to someone else. If we all work together, we can make this a baking nation again. Now I just put the words insurance and nation in the same post. That’s pretty risky. But I guarantee THIS insurance will work for everyone and is very affordable.


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Fall in love with gluten free baking

Tonight is the night I am going to try to put a stop to the panic attacks gluten-free baking tends to bring on. I’m not handing out any meds here just straight sound advice.

When a person had been diagnosed with celiac disease, it feels as though your world of fine cuisine fades away with the evening sun. It’s over. You have to adjust to cardboard with powdered sugar for dessert. Cardboard with tomato sauce and some kind of cheese for pizza and you have to toast every tiny piece of bread you get your hands on. Well, those days are over.

The competition for gluten-free foods is at an all time high right now. There are amazing products popping out of kitchens made by families who decided they’ll make their own food. This is a good thing. Competition is a wonderful tool to motivate every producer, baker and chef to improve what’s being made every day. That means one thing. Better products every day. How would you feel if I said the best products will come out of your own kitchen? Perhaps I need the meds? Wrong answer. Read on.

What I want to share with you is a very easy secret that I want you to share with everyone you know. Every recipe for cakes, pies, cookies and whoopie pies (It’s a New England thing.) you have in your old recipe box is every recipe you’ll ever need to be the best at what you do. Why you ask?? Because these recipes are traditions in your family that you are going to be able to pass on to your children gluten-free or not. Those cookies you remember as a child with your mom or grand mother are the same ones you’ll enjoy every holiday. The trick? Just substitute a good All-purpose gluten-free flour cup for cup and a little xanthan gum for stability. That’s it! I converted every recipe I used in my traditional bakery to gluten-free successfully. Don’t be afraid. You can do this. It seems the panic attacks come from all of the weird ingredients and different flours. Don’t worry about that. Just get the flour and let the gluten-free gurus do all of the work figuring out what flour goes with what.

The best recipe to try this method with is brownies. They are pretty fool-proof and most brownie recipes have very little flour. Just try it. Every weekend I make pumpkin donuts and apple donuts by using my recipe for pumpkin bread and apple bread. I simply substitute Gf flour and add some xanthan and before you know it, you have everyone’s attention with the Fall aroma. No one will ever know they are gluten-free.

There are some other tricks I’ll share with you as I go. The real kicker here is you don’t have to invest in a ton of cookbooks that you don’t need. It’s all right there at your fingertips. All I ask is that you take a deep breath and focus on the fun behind the food you will create. When you realize how easy this can actually be, you’ll enjoy cooking and baking again. You’ll find your creative side and fall in love with it all over again.

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How it all started…In my sand box

As I started to think about what to write tonight, I had this thought about how it all might have started. I’m going to give you a quick trip back to the 70’s. Don’t worry. There won’t be any funky music or bad perms. This is just a fun look back at how I started at what would eventually become my life long career in the food service industry as a chef.

When I was quite small sometime back in the 70’s, my dad built my 2 brothers and two sisters as well as myself a sand box. It was a good-sized sand box so that at least three of us could play in it at the same time. I have to admit, when there were three of us at the same time, it never ended well. Most of the time I would wait them all out and have the box to myself. One day I decided to mix some sand with water and “bake” them in the sun on the ledge of the box. I got them to the point where I could flip them over like a pancake. This was pretty cool. I started to experiment with different textures to see which types of sand (which was all gluten free by the way) would work best. This really happened. At my young age, I suddenly had created my own “job” everyday and my lab was my sandbox. Lucky for me we didn’t have cats so “sand castles” were not a problem until later when our neighbor started harboring cats. Then and only then their cats became a work hazard. Anyway, Everyday I knew if the sun was shining, the office was open. On rainy days, I would sit in my room and sob. I just wanted to go outside and play.

Little by little, utensils would be missing from the kitchen, the spatulas, the strainers and eventually a cookie sheet. Finally my dad took a walk outside and would retrieve his kitchen tools (which were really mine by then because possession is nine-tenths of the law). Not in dad’s court.

He decided one day to get me an Easy Bake Oven. It might have been Christmas time. The first time I think I went through all of the mixes in about one hour. I was a master. I already learned about textures in my own sand lab. Now I had to learn to read directions and follow them. To this day if I had the internet back then, I would have sent them an e-mail to tell them they needed to adjust the textures. I would go outside and pick fresh native blueberries and put them in everything. I have to say “Bless my father”. He was a real sport. Dad worked two jobs and every time he would come home and try to take a quick nap, I was knocking on his door to give him another treat. He ate every one of them. I was on to something.

One day I ran out of mixes and went through the cabinets to look for anything I could bake. Ah, a box of jello? Certainly I could make this work. I mixed the jello and put it in the little two-inch pan and gently slid it into the oven. It took about 1 minute and suddenly it sort of exploded and covered the light bulb. What a let down. First I thought I failed and would never be able to bake again. Then I had a young person’s panic attack and thought it was back to the sand box. Lightbulbs! In the hall closet! I was back in business.

When I was out of mixes, I would try pancake mix. At this point, I was more interested in the science about what I was making than the actual recipe. That would all fall into place when the time was right. It wasn’t all about the taste but the textures.

Fast forward some 30 or so years, this is how I bake today. I taught college level culinary arts for about 8 years. I couldn’t take them all outside to play in a sand box to play with different sands so I created different types of flour to see how well they could come up with the right combination of flour and water. Just as I had done in my sand lab. I teach people that recognizing what the batter looks like is as important as how it will taste. If the texture isn’t right, the outcome won’t be either. Just ask the jello.

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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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New England is home

The Atlantic Ocean alongside the Maine boarder is breathtaking tonight. The beautiful pink sky and rocky coast are the perfect setting to sit and ponder about my next post. This is New England. This is home, for now anyway.
It’s moments like these I reflect and I’m thankful I have the gift of creating different foods and types of cuisine for everyone. If you thought you could never have it again, I’ll find a way. I come to this spot and just imagine the what and how. Food is for everyone. It should look great and taste even better. Food is healing. Food is love. This is why I come to this view.

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Good morning autumn apples!

Waking up to a crisp fresh apple leads a girl to wonder “What am I going to do with you?”.
Little apple, you just grew up and became a donut. Today’s surprise was apple donuts with a warm maple cinnamon glaze. Open your senses to one of these little beauties and you will wonder how did gluten free become this good. If you’re not gluten free, use traditional flour and wonder how did life become so better.
With the help of a donut pan, these gems are baked, not fried. See ?..,Still getting better. They take about 10 minutes from mixing bowl to that sweet autumn glaze.
The next time you’re apple picking or at the farmers market, pick up a bag and create some new traditions.

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