Food, Lifestyle

Cooking with the stars

You’ll enjoy making and serving these savory meat empanadas. The recipe below makes about eight of the tasty turnovers.


My mother-in-law enjoys art best when she’s painting with a friend, and so do I. Her art is with paint and canvas, mine is with pots and whisks.

I get it when she tells me how much she enjoys sharing the time at the easel with someone who understands what she’s up to and they can share ideas and opinions.  I have the same good feeling at the stove.  Over the years, I have enjoyed cooking with people, whether with my cooking classes, demonstrating a new gadget at Bloomingdales, or just one-on-one with a friend.

Cooking makes me happy.  

On Monday last week, I had surgery. I didn’t like that I was laid up, to recover, for a few days. I was deprived of my normal routine, which I love, starting with my first cup of coffee in the morning. What will I make today I contemplate as I sip?  My body needed rest, however, so I was temporarily robbed of the rituals of healthy life.  

I was feeling a little down despite the benefit of having my head into a good book, a memoir by Alec Guinness, “The Name Escapes Me,” that made me laugh the first time I read it 20 years ago. But now it was a little too close to home. “Is the piercing of an old man’s life worth the pains?” asks Elia of Alec? Certainly not, replied Guinness without hesitation. After my recovery week, I was inclined to agree.  

Sunday morning my energy returned. Inspired by an overpriced little bag of granola I’d seen in a favorite Cambridge bakery, Flour, I figured for the $10 they were charging I could make three pounds. That’s all I need for inspiration, so I couldn’t wait to get to work. Well, no, not work – to me it’s really play.  

Thirty minutes later, with the help of the Cuisinart, everything was done, including the baking. By the time my husband Todd was home from his workout at the Y, he was welcomed with a big, warm bowl of granola.

I also made made some empanadas, making a filling with a combo package of ground beef, veal and pork from Market Basket with olives. The pastry recipe was foolproof, so easy to roll out and the filling was so good I was tasting it for far too long.  I love cheating on our vegetarian diet, especially when Todd is out, since he takes it seriously.

I will serve empanadas with a grilled Caesar salad and a Greek Lemon and Rice Soup that I love to eat when I am supposedly eating light.

There have been many celebrities in my cooking life.  When I was a so-called “Celebrity Chef” for the retail company Homeplace, which didn’t survive, sadly, I cooked with some fun people. Homeplace was a warehouse concept owned by the Staples group that sold kitchen goods. During grand openings at new stores in the Northeast, I would do cooking demonstrations with a big name celebrity to draw in the crowds.

Regis Philbin was a huge star at the time and he drew a gigantic crowd. I met him at the back door in Connecticut and he greeted me warmly with “So you’re the famous chef from Boston?” The crowd loved him and he told me some cute stories about entertaining, with wife Joy doing the cooking. We gave away copies of their cookbook.

Country singer Naomi Judd was so beautiful I found it distracting. Her face was like a china doll and she was sweet and kind of scared. After a few minutes, though, she relaxed, and it was all good. There is something about the intimacy that cooking provides that makes people feel safe.  

I had the same observation about beauty when I cooked with Diane Sawyer when she appeared on the “Look” TV show I hosted on Channel 7. Sawyer was lovely to look at and she was confident and accommodated the conversation like the pro that she is.  

One of my favorite celebrities was Nat King Cole’s daughter, Natalie.  She was fun and charming and we were relaxed with one another. It was wonderful to hear her stories about growing up with her famous dad, whose music I loved. That small personal experience made it sad to hear of her death last year.

The Von Trapp family from “Sound of Music” fame cooked with me, the whole family as I recall, and they were wonderful.  You could tell that they were used to being in the spotlight. A beautiful, warm group.

Vincent Price, an old-time actor, was a true gentleman. He gave me an autographed copy of his book about cooking for the Hollywood crowd.

There is something special about just being together in the kitchen, no matter; it breaks down all barriers. When my friend MaryLou invited me to join her in bread-making one day last year, we were interrupted by the refrigerator repair guy. The scene quickly turned into a bit that “Saturday Night Live” could have used. His muscular body pushed out the fridge, and behind it he found an antique wooden spatula that ignited sparks in me. He had a gorgeous body, which we both noticed – especially his arms, which when flexed were a sight to behold and not lost on us – two old-with-aprons gals. Marylou gave me the wooden tool, similar to a pastry knife; it makes me smile whenever I see it in the kitchen.

Meat Empanadas    

These are savory turnovers that you’ll enjoy making and serving. This recipe will make eight or nine five-inch circles.

For the dough:

Place 2 cups of flour and ½ teaspoon salt in the food processor.  Pulse it a bit to combine. Add 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening; pulse to disperse.

In a bowl, beat 1 egg with 1/4 cup of cold water and slowly add it to the processor through the chute. The dough should form a ball; if it doesn’t, add a little more water until it does.  

Wrap dough with wax paper and refrigerate it while you make the filling.  

Hard-boil 2 eggs. You need only 1, but while you’re at it, make an extra.  

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saute pan and add 1 small red onion chopped; cook till soft.  

Add 1/2 pound of ground meat. (I love the combination of veal, pork and beef for meatballs and meatloaf.) Chop away at it with a wooden spoon to brown all over.

With a strainer, collect the fat. Add just the meat to a bowl with a sprinkle or two of cinnamon and nutmeg, salt and the egg ground up in the processor.  

Add 1/4 cup of pitted, chopped black olives and the cooked red onion.

Set aside and roll out the dough on a floured board into a large circle about 12 to 14 inches in diameter.  

Using a bowl or a glass about 5 inches round, cut out about 8 circles, gathering the leftover dough to make more.  

Place 1 heaping tablespoon of meat filling in the center of each circle. Wet with your finger the outer edge of the circle, fold the dough over and press it to seal the edges. Pierce with a fork to allow the heat to escape.  

Reform any leftover dough, brush each with olive oil and bake on a lightly-oiled cookie sheet in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Serve with chopped basil or cilantro and a bowl of sour cream or yogurt.  

Be healthy and happy.           

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