Joanne Lebel loves using her talents in the kitchen so she can share food with others, including special treats she makes for dogs.

“I like making food as gifts for other people. Examples of food gifts I’ve made are: cranberry relish, pumpkin bread, lemon/blueberry bread, jams, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, fruit tart, scones, stollen, truffles, and dog bones for my canine friends.”

Lebel got her start in cooking when she was only 10 years old. “My parents both worked, so in the summer I occupied my time learning to cook. I would experiment with recipes. Believe it or not, some of my first recipes were cream puffs and biscuits that I made for my parents as a surprise for them when they came home from work. Those recipes came from the 1954 ‘Betty Crocker Good and Easy Cookbook’ that my mother passed on to me and that I still use every once in a while.”

There are two things in Lebel’s kitchen that she especially relies on. “My ‘must have’ for my kitchen is my electric frying pan that was given to me as a wedding present 33 years ago. It cooks evenly, is deep and wide, and the temperature can be easily controlled. My second ‘must have’ is my pressure cooker. It cooks quickly, and preserves flavors and nutrients very well. A beef stew made in a pressure cooker in the winter is a tasty tummy warmer.”

Lebel also enjoys using fresh ingredients when at all possible. “I enjoy using fresh produce from Farmer Whiting’s in Auburn in the summer and fall, and try to work my recipes around the available fresh produce.” She enjoys cooking because it’s “therapeutic and relaxing for me. I also get a sense of accomplishment from cooking … seeing something develop from beginning to end. I like the creative aspect of cooking as well.”

She says there are a few things that new cooks should keep in mind: “1. Don’t try a new recipe on company. 2. Plan your meals and needed ingredients once a week. Try to shop for groceries only once a week. The advantages of planning once a week, other than saving time, are that you tend to waste less food and plan better meals. 3. Think color and texture when planning a meal. For example, white potatoes, whitefish and say, cauliflower don’t look appetizing on the plate. 4. Don’t feel like you have to make a recipe in the same order as is written in the cookbook. Read through the recipe first and make your own decisions. 5. Save time by making twice the recipe, when practical, and either freeze some or have the same recipe (leftovers) twice a week.”

Lebel lives in Auburn with her husband, Ron, and their dog, Abby. A retired educational administrator, she has many interests, including gardening, researching family genealogy and serving as the team leader for the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society’s capital campaign, which is raising money for a new animal shelter in Lewiston.

Tail wagger’s biscuits (for your canine friends)
4½ cups whole-wheat flour

3 cups white flour

3 cups cornmeal

1½ cups dry oatmeal

2/3 cup nonfat dry milk

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons salt

3½ cups beef broth

1 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 large egg white
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Position oven racks for two cookie sheets. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix flours, cornmeal, oatmeal, dry milk, garlic powder and salt in a large bowl. Whisk beef broth, oil and two eggs in a medium-sized bowl. Stir broth mixture into flour mixture with a wooden spoon until blended and a soft dough forms.

On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out dough to a half-inch thickness or slightly more. Cut in dog-bone biscuit shapes or in any other shape, with floured cutter. Place half an inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Reroll and cut scraps to form more bones. With a toothpick, prick a line of dots down centers, if desired.

Make a glaze by beating the egg white with the Worcestershire sauce. Brush top and sides of biscuits with glaze.

Bake two cookie sheets at a time for two hours. Turn off oven and leave biscuits in for one to two hours to dry and harden. Store, covered, at room temperature up to three months.
Joanne’s notes:
I usually make these in two batches because there is so much batter. These make great gifts!
Salmon with mango salsa
½ fresh salmon fillet per person

Marinade (per pound of salmon):

2 tablespoons cooking sherry

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger root

½ teaspoon grated lime peel

2 tablespoons chopped scallions (white and green parts)

1½ teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon canola oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash the salmon and pat dry. Mix all the marinade ingredients and put the salmon in the marinade with skin side up in a baking pan. Cover the baking pan and marinate it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Bake uncovered in the marinade for 15 minutes or until salmon flakes easily. Serve with mango salsa, asparagus and jasmine rice.
Mango salsa
1½ cups of peeled, fresh and cut-up RIPE mango

1 tablespoon or more fresh minced cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon or more fresh, peeled and grated ginger root
Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate.
Cranberry relish
2½ cups sugar

1 seedless orange, cut into ¼ inch dice including peel

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

3 12-ounce bags of fresh cranberries, rinsed

½ cup water

1 lime cut into ¼ inch dice including peel

1 cup raisins
1 vanilla bean
Prepare all ingredients. Place sugar and water in a heavy saucepan. Dissolve over high heat and continue cooking until liquid is slightly caramelized. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 10 minutes or more until the cranberries begin to pop. Everything will be stuck together but don’t worry, it will eventually melt. Stir every once in a while. Cool. Remove vanilla bean. The relish will last for up to two weeks. Makes about 8 cups.
Joanne’s notes:
The orange and the lime need to be diced no bigger than ¼-inch pieces, or they will taste bitter. This relish makes a great gift. Decorate a jar with a cloth square on top with a bow or just a bow.

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