My baking journey began with the carrot cake. I first made this scratch cake for my father’s birthday, a tradition every year. In my teens, I began helping my mother with the cooking and the baking. I was more intrigued with the baking and was in awe that with some simple ingredients and a little mixing, I could create a sweet treat everyone loved!
I became fascinated with making chocolates in my early 20’s and took a number of classes to delve into the chocolate world. One of my truly inspirational teachers was Elaine Gonzalez, who wrote Chocolate Artistry. I read her book from front to back and when she conducted a week-long class at Wilton, I was first in line! Ms. Gonzalez transformed how I worked with chocolate and steered me towards a path in life I never expected.
I enrolled in culinary school at age 29 and graduated as a Pastry Chef one year later. I was off and running! I began baking cakes, tarts, pies, breads, cookies and all things sweet at a variety of jobs. And when I wasn’t working, I was baking at home. I bought as many cookbooks as I could find. I found new baking techniques, new flavor combinations and recipes to bring to my work. I continued to make the famous Carrot Cake at just about every job I had. Everyone loved the cake and it was actually a very popular wedding cake flavor in the 1990’s.
As I became more experienced with baking, I found opportunities to share my love of baking through demonstrations and teaching. The public libraries in my area would hire chefs to conduct 1-hour food demonstrations to their patrons. I did my first demonstration with, of course, Chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I demonstrated Chocolate Truffles, Chocolate-dipped Pretzels and Strawberries. I had fun and the patrons loved it. This began over 25 years ago with the one program. In 2017, I conducted 45 programs at various libraries in one year! This was a full-fledged second job for me. When I released my Baking With Vegetables Cookbook, all my favorite libraries held book signings and demonstrations to support my book. I have since retired from conducting these library programs; it’s been a fun journey, but time to hang up my oven mitts.
I also began teaching culinary baking courses at local community colleges part-time. This was a completely different world than demonstrations! I had to teach students all about baking. Was I qualified? Could I teach baking to someone else? I had my doubts, but I worked hard at teaching. And believe me, just because you are an experienced chef, it does not automatically make you a good teacher. There is an art to teaching, especially a craft such as baking.
I am now an Assistant Professor and teach Baking & Pastry Arts to culinary students at Moraine Valley Community College full-time. And if this was not enough, I thought I would take a stab at writing a cookbook. Along my baking journey, I worked at Publications International, where I was an editor for those handy, small cookbooks you find at the grocery check-out. So, I had learned how to put together a set of recipes and was good at editing as well. I also worked at the test kitchen for a major cake decorating and bakeware company. During my time at this job, I developed recipes for a number of projects, including bakeware. By time I left the job, I had developed over 100 recipes. So, I felt confident that I could create my own cookbook.
I thought about my Carrot Cake recipe and reviewed all my recipes I have used over the years. I began to wonder, could I create a cookbook around vegetables in baked goods? I began my quest in November 2017 and when I finished in early 2018, I had over 50 recipes. And of those 50 recipes, I developed over 30 new recipes JUST for the cookbook. I had so much fun! I loved shopping for the vegetables at various stores. Which vegetables should I use? In what form; fresh, frozen, canned? It turned out that my timing for this cookbook was perfect! You can now find an assortment of vegetables in a variety of convenient ways! I have found hard winter squashes, peeled and cubed in microwaveable bags. You can find frozen, riced cauliflower and even mashed cauliflower. I found beets peeled, steamed and ready to eat in the produce department! I even found beautiful, 100% vegetables purees in the grocery store. In the baby food aisle! What a convenient way to incorporate a vegetable puree into a baked good!
Everyone asks me about the book; what is your favorite recipe? I always answer; they are all my favorite. I developed the recipes, tested them all, perfected the results and tasted all of the finished recipes. (No wonder I gained some weight!)
The book is meant for a baker to “sneak” vegetables into their baked goods. It’s a way for all of us to get more veggies into our diets. For me, I will always want a sweet treat and if I can add something healthier into it, I’m happy to do it.
Please enjoy the book and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about the recipes.