Joel Ellis Brown’s friends and family are always telling her that cooking should be her business. “I do some small catering jobs for people I know, and I make wedding cakes on occasion but I don’t want it to be my ‘job.’ It’s what I do to relax and I want it to stay that way. Catering is very stressful work. I prefer cooking for my husband or hosting dinner or cocktail parties for friends and family.”

Joel is a self-described jack of all trades. “I am self-employed and keep myself busy through the year as a landscape gardener/garden designer, watercolorist and seat weaver. I also design gift baskets for the Spirited Gourmet Cafe over the holidays.” Cooking, though, is her love and something she has been doing since she was young.

“When I was growing up, my mother always encouraged me to help her out in the kitchen,” Joel says. “She’s a great cook and she taught me all about baking cakes, cookies, breads and pies. No one makes better pie crust than my Mom and I. Later, she got me interested in Asian cooking, a particular favorite of mine.”

Family gatherings and parties are some of Joel’s most memorable cooking experiences.

“I designed my own wedding cake and hand made marzipan fruits to decorate it. When my mother turned 50, I threw her an English garden party and prepared a big buffet for ‘high tea.’ This July, I plan to make a fairy garden cake covered with marzipan fruits and vegetables for my niece’s 7th birthday party.”

Her ideas come from various magazines, cooking shows, traveling, friends and family. Joel’s advice for up-and-coming cooks: “Try whatever interests you. Don’t be afraid of having a recipe turn out badly. It happens to everybody. Sometimes it’s not your fault – it’s just a bad recipe! Just don’t try an elaborate new recipe if you’re cooking for a party or special occasion. When it’s important for the food to come out perfectly, stick to what you know.”

Joel grew up on Sunnyside Farm in Turner where her parents, Joel and Edith Ellis, her brother Jeremy and niece Daphne still live. She graduated from Leavitt Area High School in 1985. After receiving her B.A. from the University of Southern Maine in 1990, Joel decided to remain in Portland, where she lives with her husband, Jason, and their pug dog, Peaseblossom.

Napa cabbage and snow pea slaw

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons hot chili sauce (or more to taste)

4 to 6 cup thinly sliced napa (Chinese) cabbage (about one, whole small head)

½ cup snow peas, cut lengthwise into thin (1/8-inch) strips

½ cup fresh bean sprouts (optional)

½ cup julienned (1/8-inch matchsticks) peeled carrots

1 thinly sliced (1/8-inch) red bell pepper

4 thinly sliced green onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
To prepare dressing, combine first six ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk.

To prepare slaw, combine cabbage and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss well to coat. Chill for 30 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8
Grilled Asian short ribs
1 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

¼ cup sesame oil

2 to 3 tablespoons hot chili sauce

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

4 green onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

3 pounds boneless beef short ribs

1 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
Whisk together first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the short ribs and stir so that the meat is well coated with sauce. Set aside and let marinate for a couple of hours.

Heat the grill. When it’s hot, throw on the ribs, reserving marinade. Cook ribs until well seared, then flip them over and cook to desired doneness – about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Place ribs on a platter and loosely tent with foil.

Place reserved marinade in a saucepan. Add the 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch and mix well. Simmer until thickened. Serve ribs with the sauce. Serves 6 to 8
Lime mousse with raspberries
5 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter, melted and cooled

1 cup fresh lime juice

2 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon grated lime rind
Fresh raspberries

Beat eggs at medium speed of an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar, beating until thick and lemon colored. Slowly add melted butter in a thin stream, mixing well. Stir in lime juice.

Pour egg mixture into the top of a double boiler. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens. Pour mixture into a large bowl. Cover and chill at least 1 hour, stirring a couple of times.

Beat whipping cream at high speed of mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whipped cream and lime rind into chilled mixture. To serve, spoon mousse into individual dessert dishes. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Serves 10

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