Straight from the Heart

J&W alum releases cookbook garnered from family, friends

Barrington’s Linda Lee, a baker and cookbook collector, always dreamed one day of writing one of her own.  “Poring over cookbooks to find a new, unusual recipe is an incredibly exhilarating experience for me,” she says,  “It’s like panning for gold – you never know what you’ll find.”

After years of prospecting for treasured recipes and testing them on family and friends, Lee’s dream has finally become a reality with the release of her first cookbook Food from the Heart (self-published, $12.00). 

Food from the Heart is an eclectic collection of 150 recipes from Lee’s family and friends.  In addition to the heirloom recipes handed down through four generations of Lee’s family, the book is sprinkled with ethnic dishes collected during her travels, such as the Italian “Chicken Under a Brick,” “Louisiana Pot Roast from Cajun country, and a version of the ever-popular Jamaican “Jerk Chicken.”

Each recipe is introduced with useful tidbits about the origin and/or uniqueness of the accompanying dish, a feature that many cooking enthusiasts find especially appealing.

Lee has been gathering many of the recipes in her book since she was a child.  The eldest of four children of Portuguese immigrants, she grew up in the 60’s in a working class neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Lee still remembers the wonderful aromas that wafted from the oven when she started cooking as a 13-year-old.  “I loved having the entire kitchen to myself.  Even today, I do my best cooking when I’m alone.  It’s almost like a meditation to me.”

Lee often prepared breakfast on weekends for her three younger siblings.  “Pancakes were the first thing I ever made,” she recalls.  “Once I mastered breakfast, I started learning how to make apple pies, cookies and cream puffs.  Having siblings who loved to eat meant none of my early creations, no matter how imperfect, went to waste.”

Lee, who currently lives with her husband, Darrell, a real estate developer, in Barrington, Rhode Island, believes that preparing meals together can strengthen the family bond.  A mother of two grown sons, Stello and Jason, she recalls spending Saturday afternoons baking cookies when they were little.  “I was a single parent in those days, juggling a full-time job and squeezing in classes at night when I could,” recalls Lee.  “And so baking cookies with my boys enabled us to spend quality time doing something we all enjoyed.”

In 2000, Lee fulfilled another lifelong dream when she relocated to Rhode Island to attend Johnson & Wales University, where she graduated with highest honors and a degree in Baking & Pastry Arts.  In 2003, she launched Kiss My Cookies in order to share her sweet creations with the public, and the website, www.kissmycookies.com in 2005.

When she’s not whipping up delectable treats for customers, Lee enjoys writing.  This fact is reflected in Food from the Heart, which features a collection of heartwarming anecdotes describing Lee’s favorite food memories.  “Besides sharing my all-time favorite recipes with the public, I wanted my first cookbook to serve as a loving tribute to family and friends, and to the important role that food plays in our lives, restoring the body, renewing the spirit, and bringing people together.”

Here are five sensational dessert recipes from Food from the Heart that Lee hopes you’ll share with your family and friends.

Kiwi Fruit Indonesia

This fruit salad is a delightful way to end a summertime meal.  Be sure to use coconut milk for the sauce and not coconut cream, which is presweetened.

2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
2 cups of any of the following fruits:
•  bananas, peeled and sliced
•  strawberries, sliced
•  melon, peeled and sliced

Coconut Sauce:

1 1/2 cups coconut milk, canned or frozen
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons rum or brandy (optional)

To make sauce, mix all sauce ingredients except rum or brandy on top of double boiler.  Cook over hot water until sauce thickens, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add rum or brandy.  Pour over fruit and mix very carefully to avoid breaking fruit.  Sauce may be made ahead and served over cold fruit.  (Yield:  6 servings)

Cake of the Island

For as long as I can remember, my mother, Madalena, baked this exotic cake for our family gatherings and other special occasions.  Although the origin of the recipe still remains a mystery, the cake, infused with honey, rum and cinnamon, is sure to become one of your favorites as well.

6 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter, melted
5-6 tablespoons honey
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 jigger rum
2 teaspoons lemon extract
Dash nutmeg
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  With an electric mixer, beat eggs well.   Add sugar to the eggs and continue beating well until mixture is light and fluffy.  Add butter, honey, milk, cinnamon, rum, lemon extract and nutmeg and stir to blend.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour and baking powder and add slowly to mixture; blend well.  Pour batter into a well-greased and floured Bundt pan.  Bake for about one hour or until a toothpick inserted into middle of cake comes out clean.  (Yield:  10-12 servings)

Cinnamon-Nut Crescents

I’ve been making these irresistable cookies since 1973, when an Italian lady shared the recipe with me.  I usually get a backache when I make them from all the dough rolling, but they’re worth it.

Dough:

1 pound butter, melted
1 pound sour cream
2 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the glaze)
5 cups all purpose flour

Filling:

2 cups sugar
2 cups crushed walnuts (or whichever type nut or combination of nuts you prefer)
6 teaspoons cinnamon

Glaze:

2 egg whites, beaten

Pour butter into a large mixing bowl.  Add sour cream, egg yolks and flour and mix well.  Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized portions and shape each into a flat disk.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  When dough is well chilled, remove plastic wrap and roll dough out on a lightly floured surface into a circle that measures about 10” in diameter.  Sprinkle the dough generously with the nut mixture, and then cut the circle into 8 wedges.  Starting with the outside edge of each wedge, roll up the dough, forming a crescent.  Arrange cookies on a greased sheet about 2 inches apart and brush with egg whites.  Bake in a preheated 400ºF oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  (Yield:  5 dozen cookies)

Portuguese Custard Tarts

These miniature custards taste divine and are a cinch to prepare.  Bake them in decorative foil baking cups and serve them on an attractive platter for a beautiful presentation.

2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  In a bowl, add sugar and eggs and beat well.  Stir in butter, beating well.  Blend in flour, and then add milk.  Mix well.  Insert foil baking cups into muffin pans.  Spray with cooking spray.  Fill cups 3/4 full.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour or until golden brown.  Let cool and refrigerate in a covered container.  (Yield: 1 1/2 dozen tarts)

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