Tag Archives: Rick Ellis

Dashing Through The Snow

It’s December 31st and I’m pretty sure I won’t be awake when 2017 rolls in.

Which is just fine.

Vintage noisemakers from Caldwell's Miscellaneous Fancy Goods

My strategy this holiday season had been to do as much ahead of time as I could manage, though this strategy backfired somewhat. I was trying to address the Christmas shopping preemptively – finding the perfect thing, then hiding it away. One of the problems with this strategy was that when I started pulling out my various stashes of goodies I found I’d gone rather overboard. I guess I should have kept a list. Plus there were a few things I just know I safely put away but have yet to be found. Apparently my efforts to be organized meant that I had turned into the human equivalent of a squirrel.

Then there were the cookies. It felt like I’d gotten a nice jump-start on making Christmas cookies and baked plenty to last through the holidays. The thing is when you bake lots, and lots, and lots of cookies the question you should be asking yourself is,

“Are there ever enough Christmas cookies?”

Because the answer is no. You may see box upon box of buttery, sugary holiday cheer and think there is a glut, but trust me there isn’t. Nineteen-year-olds, the friends you want to give “a little something” to, the cookie tithe you pay to your sister for borrowing her Kitchen Aide mixer yet another year, and to be perfectly honest your own sassy self – all those factors add up fast. The perceived hoards of cookies disappear quicker than you can say Jack Brownie.

So enough with doing things ahead of time! It’s New Year’s eve and I’m going to live in the moment (or at least try to). Which means I’ll only think about what can get done today. Snow shoveling, a quick trip to the post office and transfer station, then baking up Rick’s Turkey Meatloaf.

Turkey meatloaf dinner

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Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls

Sometimes you never know what will suit. You can make all the educated guesses you want, but people will surprise you with their likes and dislikes.

So it was interesting for me to note which foods went first at the church coffee hour Shawn and I hosted a few weeks ago. In the blink of an eye two dozen of Rick Ellis’s deviled eggs disappeared, which made me glad, since they had been the last thing I prepared the night before and I almost didn’t make them thinking I had plenty of food (which I did, but then you have the question when is enough enough?). Inspired by Julia Child, the hard-boiled eggs first have their yolks pressed through a chinoise sieve so that the yolks transform into yellow yolk clouds. Next some room-temperature butter blended into the yolk clouds (along with a spoonful of dijon, mayonnaise, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne) which combines to make these the most etherial deviled eggs that will ever pass your lips. Tired and cranky as I was the night before I was glad to have made the effort when I saw what a hit they were.Gluten Free Pumpkin Date Nut BallsThe next platter of food to vanish was Isabelle’s Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls. It almost doesn’t feel like a recipe to me since they don’t go in the oven or get cooked, but they were a smash hit and people were popping them into their mouths as if they were candy. Continue reading

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Lentils of Love

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I admit I was at a loss as to what I should get for my Dad. He’s an avid fisherman, but trying to buy someone a present connected to their passion, if it’s not one that you share, is one of the trickiest shopping trips you can embark on. My brother has gone on numerous fishing expeditions with him, and so has a better sense of which fly might tickle his fancy or what the latest fishing gear is that might not already be in his collection. I tried fly fishing a few times, but found I’m more of a cook than fisherwoman. Plus his preferred choice of catch and release fishing doesn’t bring home much salmon or trout.

Joe and Jay at Togaik Lake

While fishing is not where we connect, food is. I love to cook and my Dad and I both love to eat. His repertoire in the kitchen is primarily the grill, his infamous champagne punch, and willingness to help punch down the bread dough. Where he really excels is as a volunteer taste tester. I don’t think I’ve ever had him pass on taking a nibble or slurp or bite of something, “just to make sure it’s good”. Even when he’s not asked. Self sacrificing all the way.

Dad preparing to punch down dough

When I was going through my first vegetarian phase I made a dish called Funistrada. It sounded great in the cookbook – noodles with a cream sauce – but as this was the 70s and because vegetarian cuisine wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it’s become this recipe had a serious flaw. The cream sauce was made using all whole wheat flour and no herbs or seasonings, though it may have had some cheese. It was as if you made a vat of paper maché goop and layered it between seven layers of noodles. For some reason Dad hadn’t wandered into the kitchen as I was putting it all together so there was no taste testing that day. Which is too bad because Funistrada is disgusting.

I told everyone to dig in as I brought the salad and bread to the table and Dad happily dug in and kept eating. My brother, who has not always been known for his tender ministrations toward my feelings, took one bite of the stuff and spat it back out announcing loudly that it was so awful it might kill him. I was horrified, but after one spoonful I had to agree. It was inedible. My father looked relieved and wanted to know if this meant he didn’t need to finish it all. He had been ready to sit at our kitchen table and eat this nasty stuff because his daughter had made it. I don’t think I would have made the parental sacrifice myself if faced with a plate of Funistrada. So as an honest taste tester perhaps he’s not so good, but as a Dad he’s great, plus he let us order out for pizza that night.

For many years I baked Dad his presents. Cookies were easy to bake and mail, but when he was diagnosed with diabetes the gift of cookies didn’t seem like such a thoughtful present. He manages his illness really well, but it seems unfair to give someone gift they had to take a pill for. So I’ve made donations of honeybees and goats in his name, which is actually a great thing to do for someone who has enough stuff (and who shouldn’t be eating sugar). Then yesterday I was wishing I could just make him something yummy and healthy. I came up with Lentils of Love.

Lentils of Love salad

It’s a dish I made last weekend for Russell’s non-graduation celebration (yes, my youngest is skipping his senior year in high school and instead heading off to Simon’s Rock College this fall). It’s what a good vegetarian/vegan recipe should be. Flavorful, interesting, and edible. I’ve made it on and off for years after I was first introduced to le puy lentils. While some foodies will tell you must use the small green pulses grown in the volcanic soil around Auvergne, France I can tell you the world will not stop spinning because you use green lentils instead. I’m not saying le puys aren’t great, because they are, but rather that the secret to this recipe is a lentil that won’t fall apart and get mushy when you cook it.

The real trick, which Russell’s godfather Rick reminded me of, is to cut the vegetables into teeny, tiny squares, hardly bigger than the cooked lentils themselves. In the past I’d chopped my carrots, celery and onion into small cubes, which was just fine. However, when Rick minced those same three vegetables into a micro mirepoix instead of chopping them I found it elevated the dish to the next level.

Micro mirepoix vegetables

Now, as you will probably note this is not something I can send to my Dad in the mail, so the bonus of these Lentils of Love is that I’ll need to take a road trip to see him, and make them for him in person. Maybe he’ll join me in by cooking something on the grill.

Lentils of Love

1 1/4 cup Le Puy or green lentils

2 1/2 cups water

1 small bay leaf (or half of a large one)

1/2 teaspoon thyme

2 carrots, peeled and cut into micro squares (about a cup)

3 celery ribs, trimmed and cut into micro squares (about a cup)

1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into micro squares (about 3/4 cup)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

dash or two of cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Bring the lentils, bay leaf, thyme and water to a boil, then cover and cook until the lentils are they are soft, but not mushy about 35-43 minutes. There should be almost no liquid left, but keep an eye on things so you don’t simmer them dry. If there is any liquid left drain it then cool the lentils a bit.

While the lentils are cooking cut up your mirepoix. Place in a large bowl and add the slightly cooled lentils (you want them to be warm enough to suck up the oil and vinegar, but not so hot they cook the vegetables), olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. If you need a brighter note to this salad add a few dashes of cider vinegar.

You’ll want to retaste this when the lentils have cooled down to see if you need to tweak the oil/vinegar/salt/pepper ratios. I will often double or triple this recipe thinking there will be tons left over, but no mater how much I make it all seems to disappear in a day or two. Just letting you know.

You could also top this with some chopped walnuts or pecans. Or a crumble of cheese. There is a myriad of possibilities.

Here’s another variation on this recipe (so many tweaks are possible) from Heidi Swanson who tweaked one of Deborah Madison’s recipes.

Dad and me

 

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The Frugality of Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream

One of the biggest challenges I faced when switching from being a chef to food styling was the waste. Not the oh, this is moldy let’s throw it out waste, but this strawberry is too darn big or that bun has a little dimple on one side or the pith of this lemon is a quarter of an inch too thick or this slice of swiss cheese doesn’t have enough holes to read as swiss cheese. Some of these defects you can change or manipulate. Not enough holes in the swiss cheese? No problem, get out your trusty plain pastry tips and cut a few more holes. If the bun is dimpled on one side swivel it so the dimple is away from the camera’s lens. But a strawberry that is too shaped funny? There is not a lot you can do about it. You can’t send it to the gym or carve it into the right shape the art director wants. Instead you buy lots and lots and lots of strawberries. The rejects – those that are too big, too small, too light, or who might have a slight bruise – get used as stand-ins or nibbled on as we work with the perfect ones. If we have the time we’ll try to arrange for a food bank pick up at the end of the day, but it’s not always possible. A chef, on the other hand, buys what they need. They minimize waste. It does need to look good, but it also has to taste good, and food costs have to be kept in mind. As a chef I would use all of the strawberries below. As a food stylist I would reject all but the bottom one, and even that one is a bit iffy as a hero strawberry.

Unphotogenic Strawberries

 

As much as I am a food stylist with an eye for the most gorgeous, I am also a former chef who is frugal down to her bones. And the later is why I love to make Angel Food Cake because the former chef in me cannot throw away an egg white. If I make a batch of my Grammy Thompson’s Scandinavian Cookies or whip up my Mom’s hollandaise sauce to dip some steamed artichokes into I always slip the leftover egg whites into the freezer.  Yolks won’t freeze, but the whites freeze beautifully. Every time I open the freezer door I eyeball my stash of frozen whites, judging if I have enough to make an angel food cake. I’ve twiddled with Jasper White’s recipe over the years and have found that two cups is the right amount for this classic dessert.

 

Small Angel Food Cakes

I think this cake would be a wonderful cake to make for Mother’s Day. So if you don’t have a stash of frozen egg whites waiting for you then cook up a load of eggs benedict or something else that uses egg yolks and then get ready to whip up an angel food cake.

Egg Whites Soft Peak and Stiff Peak

 

Angel Food Cake before-after

Angel Food Cake

1  1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups egg whites, thawed to room temperature if they were frozen

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1  1/3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. You’ll need a 10″ tube pan with a removable bottom. Cut out a parchment paper liner for the bottom of the angel food cake pan since this cake will want to stick otherwise. I usually trace a circle around the insert, then fold the circle in quarters and snip the pointy end so it will look like a giant doughnut and shimmy down the center tube. Do not grease the pan.

Normally I am not too much of a stickler about sifting flour, but for this recipe it is imperative. You sift it before you measure it, then sift along with the salt two more times. You want light, fluffy, aerated flour so your angel food cake can almost take wing.

Then it’s time to beat the egg whites. My stand mixer is on the fritz so I did this with a sturdy hand-held mixer. It took almost 15 minutes so be prepared if hand-held is all you have. It should be slightly quicker if you do have a good stand mixer. I cannot begin to guess what whipping this by hand would take. Start by putting the egg whites,  cream of tartar, and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. I used my stand mixer bowl since I knew it could hold the volume. As the mixture starts to get foamy slowly dribble in the sugar a few Tablespoons at a time while you continue beating. Keep going until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Do not overbeat.

Sift half of the flour/salt over the egg whites and with a large spatula or your hand (remember to take off your watch first) fold it in. Lumpy is ok. Sift the remaining flour/salt mixture and loosely fold that in too. It is a delicate dance of incorporating the dry mixture into the wet while at the same time not loosing too much volume from all the whipping.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove and if your pan has “legs” (3 short prongs riveted onto the top edge) turn the cake upside down on these. If not slip it onto an empty glass bottle.

I have some small angel food cake pans which required me to find some tiny things for them to rest upside down on as you can see in the picture. Why does the cake need to cool upside down? I don’t know, but it does.

To remove it from the pan once it’s cool simply slide a very thin paring or butter knife around the outside edge of the pan, with the knife blade slightly angled toward the pan rather than cake. Do the same around the tube in the middle. With a little jiggling the cake should come out and you can peel off the parchment paper.

Accompaniments are endless. Macerated* fresh berries and a dab of whipped cream. If you’re making this recipe in late June enjoy a slice of cake served with the Holy Trinity of Fruit. My friend Rick Ellis adds a little powdered ginger to his angel food cake then serves it with peaches which have been tossed with sugar and a shot of bourbon. I personally love a ladle full of stewed rhubarb and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whatever you serve it with remember that angel food cake needs to be torn or pulled apart with two forks. If you’re very gentle you can saw slices with a bread knife. A regular knife will just squash it.

Angel Food Cakes cooling

*Macerating simply means adding sugar to let the juices come out. If you have strawberries rinse, slice, and toss with a few spoonfuls of sugar. With self-contained berries such as blueberries or raspberries you may need to smush a few in order for the juices to run.

Macerating Strawberries

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Gilding with Strawberries and Chocolate

16 candles

Somebody in our house turned sixteen this past week.

You might think summer is the ideal time to have a birthday, but in many ways it’s not – at least not while you’re a kid or teenager. Summer birthdays can be a pain. The thermometer usually reads in the 90s which means icing and ice cream tend to melt. School’s out so many of your friends are away at camp. Even if your school is really thoughtful and tries to celebrate folks who have summer birthdays with a half birthday it doesn’t always work out. Not if your real birthday is after graduation and your half birthday is during Christmas vacation. So someone in our house hasn’t had a friend birthday party in a while, but he has always had a family birthday party.

the birthday hat

In our house the family birthday means four things. One is you get to choose the dinner menu. Two you must wear the hat. Three you will get a cake, and four we will sing you the song. The exception to these birthday rules is our dog Oliver. He gets a partially cooked hamburger instead of a cake and doesn’t have to wear the hat since his head is so small. Of course that means he has a Pavlovian reaction anytime we sing the song since he now associates it with hamburger. What can I say? He’s smart, but not smart enough to know that not every birthday is his birthday.

strawberry chocolate cake

So for Russell’s birthday this year I got up early to bake the world’s best chocolate cake. I just wasn’t sure how to decorate it and the birthday boy had given me free range in the icing department. Fortunately his godfather Rick Ellis called mid-morning to talk to the birthday boy. After wishing him a happy birthday he asked what kind of cake Russell was having. My son’s response was, “I don’t know. I think it’s something chocolate-you should talk to my Mom.” For those of you new to this blog I should mention Rick is an amazing food stylist, a fantabulous cook, and always has inspired recipe ideas.

chocolate cake chilling

Developing a recipe or food concept with Rick is like playing food ping-pong. We talked about what was in my fridge (strawberries, heavy cream, and a jar of raspberry jam) and cupboards (lots of chocolate, several different kinds of cocoa, and some honey), what Russell liked (pretty much anything), and then Rick pondered. For all of 30 seconds. Since strawberries tend to weep (let their juices out) when they have been cut Rick suggested a layer of raspberry jam on top of the bottom layer of cake with the cut strawberries nestled into the jam. Thus solving the weeping problem. If raspberries had been in season we could have used them, plus if I’d had an open jar of strawberry jam it would have worked too. Once the fruit component was in place Rick wanted me to add the second layer of cake and frost the entire outside with chocolate buttercream. To gild the proverbial lily, just before serving the cake I drizzled chocolate ganache over the the chilled cake. Brilliant, over the top summer birthday cake. Perfect for a sixteen-year-old.

Chocolate ganache frosting

Here’s what you’ll need to make an Over the Top Chocolate Cake.

  • 1 baked and cooled Chocolate Cake, click here for the recipe
  • 1 – 1  1/2 pints strawberries, tops removed and cut in half
  • raspberry jam
  • chocolate buttercream (I made mine from a half batch of this recipe substituting some Valrhona cocoa for part of the powdered sugar)
  • chocolate ganache

Place cake on a cake plate, spreading jam on top of first layer. Add strawberries (the amount will vary depending on if you make an 8″, 9″ or 10″ cake). Top with second layer and frost outside with chocolate buttercream. Refrigerate. Just before serving pour cooled chocolate ganache over the top, letting it run over the sides and puddle along the bottom. Add candles and sing the song.

Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 1/2 ounces heavy cream

2-3 heaping teaspoons honey

1 1/2 teaspoons butter

Bring the heavy cream to a boil and add the honey. Pour over chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and let cool till pourable being careful it’s not too hot that it melts the chocolate buttercream.

lighting the cake

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Comfort and Spice x 2

Spring is here. The calendar says so, the bees with their pollen baskets say so, the shorts my kids wear to school say so, however  for much of April I have been cold. Something all month has been telling me to stay inside, drink lots of tea, pull on a sweater, then cozy up in an armchair with a good book and some gingerbread. Not very springlike instincts. Today’s weather proves my instincts to have been spot on. I woke up this morning to snow Continue reading

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Rissoto

I know, I know, I’m only a month and a half into this blog and already I’m behind. It’s not that I didn’t have a recipe. Or photographs. It’s just that things came up, or rather things went down. As in R. crashed down the ski slopes at Berkshire East last week. Then he was taken down the hill in a sled with the ski patrol (love you guys–thanks for the rescue!!) And after that he went down the road on his back in an ambulance to Baystate Hospital, which technically isn’t down it’s  more east, but it sure as heck ain’t up. Then down on a table to have his leg x-rayed. Not fun as you can see. Continue reading

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