Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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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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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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With help from Grandma Cookie

Every morning I’m working at hospice, I ask Grandma Cookie to join me. My dad’s mom who arrived from Sicily and settled in the Bronx, gives me the strength from within to make cookies from her childhood. Every weekend I make a variety of biscotti. Biscotti means “twice baked”. Mine are known as a soft biscotti so that the patients can enjoy them. Traditionally they are quite hard so they can hold up to the dip in espresso.
This picture is a “brick” of orange chocolate chip with raisins. They are cut at a soft angle which gives biscotti it’s signature shape. The trick to keeping the shape is to freeze your rolled cookie dough for about 2 hours before you bake it.
Once baked, the cookies cool. The kitchen smells wonderful and a small gathering begins around the coffee.

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