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Cook's Corner

  • Grandparents build business around pie
    Sue Couch, 68, and her husband, Roger, 73, opened Grandma Sue's Pies and More Inc. in 2010, in downtown Roanoke on North Main Street. The business offers frozen homemade pies that cooks can take home and bake themselves.
  • Grandparents build business around pie
    Sue Couch, 68, and her husband, Roger, 73, opened Grandma Sue’s Pies and More Inc. in 2010, in downtown Roanoke on North Main Street. The business offers frozen homemade pies that cooks can take home and bake themselves.
  • Competitor enjoys creating recipes
    Kent Castleman will make recipes from family cookbooks and those found online but what he and his wife really like to do is create new dishes.
I still want to learn …
A. How to be a classically trained chef.
I can’t wait to …
A. Perfect my cooking technique. I would improve my yeast bread technique. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done yeast breads. I get lazy and do all these quick breads.
Diana Parker | The Journal Gazette
Brian Blair bakes cakes, such as his Ricotta Cheese Coffee Cake, to sell at his church’s fall fundraiser.

For chemist, cooking an experiment

– Brian Blair of Fort Wayne has been cooking since he was 8 years old.

“As soon as I was old enough to see over the stove, I helped my grandmother (the late Grace Waddell) stir gravy,” Blair says. “I was tall as a kid. I’m 5-foot-11 right now, but I was at my full height at about 12.”

A chemist with Aqua Indiana, Blair, 56, does most of the cooking at home for himself and his wife, Mary Fern, who follows up with cleaning detail.

“I’m usually flying by the seat of my pants except for baking. You need to follow the recipe,” he says. “I’ve tried sugar-free cakes but I haven’t been successful. It’s the structure. I can substitute the sweetness, but without the sugar, the structure changes.”

As a member of Fort Wayne Baptist Church, Blair uses his skills when called upon to help.

“I really do enjoy the work I do at church. I’m the treasurer for Fort Wayne Baptist. I head up the men’s ministry, and anytime they need it, I’m the chief cook and bottle washer,” he explains.

Blair says the church has a craft auction once year, and he bakes Ricotta cheese coffee cakes and chocolate pound cakes to sell.

“I’ve got a reputation now,” he says, laughing. “I do quite well. Cakes like these go for $25 a piece.”

Q. What’s your favorite cookbook?

A. “The Joy of Cooking” because it has everything that I need. I use it as a reference book. I don’t have a favorite per se. I have maybe five cookbooks. I just wing it using the ingredients I have on hand making something tasty.

Q. Do you get recipes from different websites?

A. Occasionally. I was going to do waffles for our men’s breakfast and found a recipe. They were tasty. French toast recipe is from the magazine Cook’s Illustrated. It’s the only magazine I get.

Q. What’s one thing people won’t find in your refrigerator?

A. There’s some foods I really don’t care for I wouldn’t have in my refrigerator. Brussels sprouts. I’ve had every kind of vegetable and every kind of fruit. I just don’t care for Brussels sprouts.

Q. If you were stuck on a deserted island, what’s one food you would have to have?

A. Well, I would have to go with vegetable soup. That would sustain me for a very long time. I made a vegetable soup for our leaders’ planning retreat. It had about 15 different vegetables. I made nearly three gallons. We finished up what was left after Sunday’s services. Even the kids liked it.

Q. Who’s your cooking idol?

A. I really enjoy Alton Brown. He’s my favorite TV cook. Besides the fact that he takes a scientific look at food like me.

Q. What one word would describe your cooking style?

A. Imaginative.

Ricotta Cheese Coffee Cake

1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs with 1 extra egg yolk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup light brown sugar

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and yolk and beat well. Fold in Ricotta cheese. To sifter, add 1 cup flour, then salt and baking powder, then second cup of flour; sift dry ingredients twice.

Prepare a non-stick 10-inch tube pan with floured cooking spray. Mix topping ingredients. Mix sifted dry ingredients to wet ingredients and pour half of the batter into the pan, then add half of the topping. Add the remaining batter and top with the remaining topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, checking for doneness at the 50 minute mark. Cool for at least 1 hour before removal. Makes 20 servings.

Chocolate Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

5 ounces half-and-half

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons unsweetened chocolate, grated

Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, then sift again; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, shortening and sugar; add eggs and mix well.

Mix in 1/3 of flour mixture, then 1/2 of the half-and-half, then the second 1/3 of the flour mix, then the last 1/2 the half and half, and then the final 1/3 of the flour mix. Mix in the vanilla and grated chocolate.

Prepare a non-stick 10-inch tube pan with floured cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, checking for doneness after 45 minutes. Cool for at least 1 hour before removing from pan. Makes 16 servings.

French Toast

1 loaf Texas toast bread (12 slices)

1 dozen eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 cup half-and-half

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Unsalted butter for skillet, as needed

Maple syrup or whatever syrup you prefer, as desired

Heat oven to 300 degrees and very lightly toast the bread slices, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside. Beat the eggs and then whisk in the milk, half-and-half, brown sugar, cinnamon, melted butter, salt and vanilla. Pour mixture into a baking dish.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to skillet over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, the cooking is ready to begin. Add two to four slices, depending on the size of your skillet, of the toasted bread to the egg mixture and let soak for 20 seconds. Turn over and soak the other side after 20 seconds.

Bring the hot buttery skillet to the soaked toast and use a spatula to move the soaked slices to the skillet. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown, and flip them to cook the other side for 3 to 5 minutes.

When done, place on a baking sheet and store in a 200-degree oven until the batch is complete. Add about 1/2 teaspoon butter to the skillet for each subsequent set. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648; or email