Today’s guest blogger is my friend, writing colleague and Courier-Times Chew This! columnist, Blaise Doubman of Kennard, Indiana. Blaise is a gifted baker, cook, blogger and recipe creator. He pops up in my book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, as the town baker and he created the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie recipe that you really need to try.
Blaise’s much-anticipated first cookbook, Blaise the Baker Dessert First, will be out within weeks and he’s taking pre-orders now. Grab a glass of iced tea and meet Blaise.
Q. Blaise, you were raised in the small town of Kennard into a fun-sounding family and you are blessed to still have two grandmothers around as close friends. What were your earliest influences in your love for cooking and baking?
A. Oh, you are right. I am blessed to still have both of my Grandmothers and I do not take a single minute for granted. They still teach me things that I am not sure how I would know otherwise. I was lucky to be born into a food loving family, which has really shaped my life.
My Grandma Barbra was the first person to show me where food comes from and how it is prepared. She would never credit herself as a teacher, but I would have to disagree. She is skillfully patient, kind and informative in the kitchen. Once Mom started noticing my adventures in the kitchen with my Grandma Barbra, she started having me help her. That progressed into having Grandpa Max and Grandma Deloris show me their tricks of the trade.
Looking back, I am so incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by adults who gladly welcome me into their kitchens and encourage me to help. And no matter what it was, nothing was too advanced, or too messy. Those lessons stuck with me because I am always one to encourage kids in the kitchen. Of course you must also teach them about safety, but those lessons also apply to their lives outside of the kitchen.
Q. Do you remember the first dish you made? Through the years, what have become your signature dishes?
A. Yes! I actually do remember the first dish I ever made! I think I have discussed this in one of my Chew This! columns. I can remember when I was a few months old. Sights, sounds, smells – all of the things that start to develop, I remembered developing right away. Strange, I know.
The first dish I made was with Grandma Barbra and it was for boxed brownies. I helped stir and scrape the pots as soon as she introduced me into the kitchen, but the first finished dish, instead of just participating in, was boxed brownies. I remember being utterly fascinated by how this brown powder, when mixed with water, oil, and egg could produce something so delicious! I actually remember burning the roof of my mouth too, because I could not wait to dig in. Something I am still doing to this day! It was my first experience of from start to finish, baking. And I loved it!
As far as my signature dish, I would have to say anything dessert. Whenever there is a get-together I am the person people think of when bringing something sweet. I am known though for lasagna, sour cream noodle bake and a few appetizers-- all of which are featured in my upcoming cookbook.
Q. You live a culinary lifestyle. You create recipes, prepare food, write a food column, food blogs, enjoy restaurants and cookbooks. What is your favorite aspect?
A. You know, until you asked this question I had not really thought about it. Me, living a culinary lifestyle is appropriate and to actually hear it makes me realize how extremely fortunate I am.
When I was 12, I knew I wanted to make food, create food, write about food, feed people and make people happy. Simple as that. And really, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just knew.
I love all aspects of my food journey. When I develop a recipe it is a feeling of accomplishment. When I write about it, it becomes a feeling of satisfaction. When I share it with people, feed people and see and hear how much they like it, it is a sense of overall happiness and enjoyment.
I’ve always loved to write and tell stories but when writing about food and knowing that I am sharing something with someone that I have created, it is a magical feeling.
And cookbooks! Can we talk about cookbooks? I have several thousand, so many that I refuse to count, but my love for them started with Grandma Barbra, no question! She does not have the collection I have, speaking in terms of value and mass amount, mostly because she said she refuses to find the area to store them, but she has more than your average person.
She bought me my first cookbook, Learn to Bake and You Will Love It, from a rummage sale. I still have it and I still use it. It is one of my treasured possessions. Sometimes, I look back at that cookbook and remember holding it in my little hands, marking recipes to try and just being amazed. I actually am the same way now, except my hands are bigger! My favorite aspect is sharing what I love with everyone who is interested. There is nothing quite like sharing your love with people who also share the same love and interest.
Q. How did you make the decision to publish your first cookbook now and is there a single favorite recipe? And, what kinds of recipes are inside – so much more than desserts, right?
A. Oh my, yes! A lot more than just desserts! My cookbook has a little bit of everything. From desserts, of course, to salad dressings, main dishes, breakfast foods, appetizers, brunch items, dips, soups, casseroles, pastries and so much more. There are popular recipes from my blog, Blaise the Baker, as well as popular recipes from my food column, Chew This!
There are 100 new recipes that I have never published anywhere before. I think that is what I am most excited about, releasing such a large amount of recipes that nobody has ever seen before. It is a thrilling experience for me!
Before the recipes start in my book there are several pages of commentary. I talk about what ingredients are best, how I tested the recipes, my thoughts on cooking utensils and bakeware, and tips on foolproof cooking and baking.
The cookbook is more than a cookbook. I like to think of it as a friendly companion that you will want to keep in your kitchen at all times. I wrote it for everyone. No matter if you are a novice in the kitchen, or a professional, I think everyone can learn something from my experiences that I write about and share.
I decided to go ahead and finalize my cookbook because I felt like it was the right time. There have been a lot of people on this journey with me and there have been a lot of people waiting and anticipating it being finished. It had come to a point where the recipes could not be improved upon anymore, the script had been proofread and I had a sense of being extremely happy with how everything had turned out. That is when I knew it was time.
I was happy with everything and I could not envision myself ever changing anything. I knew then that it was complete and that I was ready to let everybody in on it.
As far as favorite recipes, I admit that I do have a few. At the top of the list has to be my Famous Tea Room Chicken Salad (page 102). I have a special way of preparing the chicken for this recipe that produces the most delicious, moist, and tender chicken that you have ever had. Plus, it involves a very special ingredient that brings out the flavor of the chicken.
I had a recipe tester in Minnesota tell me that he and his testers found this the best chicken salad they had ever had and that it was even better than the town’s leading restaurant. I highly recommend people try that recipe first!
Another recipe that is pretty special to me would have to be my Family Salad Dressing (page 164). The recipe comes straight from Grandma Barbra and it is her secret dressing for everything! She uses it in her potato salad, pasta salad, chicken salad, coleslaw.
And it was not until I was in the process of writing this cookbook that I found out that her dressing was the basis of all of her salads and slaws! I thought that was pretty cool. I am really excited that she is having me share it with everyone.
I also love the Hummingbird Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting (page 10) because it reminds me of my childhood with Grandpa Max and Grandma Deloris. This remains a favorite of my Grandma Deloris still to this day! I loved baking it for her but never really appreciated the true tastes and textures until just a few years ago. It is by far the best Hummingbird Cake recipe that you will ever have! And the thick cream cheese frosting recipe that I have include to go with the cake is fabulous topped on cinnamon rolls!
Sarah's Pecan Rolls (page 88) is a recipe I had to include from our neighborhood friend Sarah Darling. She made them for her friends and family every year around Christmas time.
She passed away several years ago but we keep her memory alive by making these delicious rolls every holiday season!
Same goes for Carmen’s Fruit Cookies (page 54). They hold a special place in the heart of my family. Do not let the name fool you, either. These are delicious and packed with flavor! No typical fruit cake type cookie here.
There are so many recipes, all of which are tied in with such special memories for me. One recipe that would seem to be the easiest, but was actually one of the most challenging, is my recipe for Chocolate Puff Pastry Turnovers (page 93). Sometimes the simplest of tastes are the hardest to really get down pat.
I finally did manage to find the taste I was looking for with these and they are really a fun and memorable dessert!
And how can I leave out Darla’s Spanish Rice (page 120)? A recipe that I have grown up eating for years, with special thanks to Mom, and I am so thrilled she let me share the recipe with everyone! When you spend so long with all of these recipes it is hard to pick a favorite.
Q. You are a graduate of Indiana University East and entrepreneur in the culinary arts. If you could name your dream career from here on out, describe it.
A. Food writer. There is no question about it. I love writing about food. No matter if that means writing my food column, Chew This!, writing my latest cookbook review for my blog, writing out a recipe I have developed, writing an essay on a food-related topic or doing a business or restaurant review.
I am beyond thankful and grateful for the opportunities I have had that have lead me to do the work I have always dreamed about doing.
Some day, when I have the extra time, I would like to really learn more about the history of food. I would like to know more about why we eat what we do, how we do and prepared the way we do. I have a friend who is a food historian and I really admire that.
I have always found the background history of food to be just as interesting as developing a recipe or tasting a new taste combination. So I will say that as the career of my dreams: food writer, recipe developer, and food historian.
Q. When you aren’t working with recipes in some fashion, what are your other interests?
A. Reading and collecting cookbooks. I read and collect compulsively. I have always got my nose stuck in a cookbook. It could be a cookbook I am reviewing for my blog, a cookbook for a friend that wanted me to write a blurb or just a cookbook that holds my interest.
My collection runs deep, however I am the first to admit, that you will not find any low-fat, no-sugar, diet or fad -program diet books in my collection. I just find they are not any fun to look at!
Outside of food though I have varying interests. I love to listen to music. I love reading great books. I love taking the time to talk to my parents and grandparents about life and trying to gain perspective on how their lives were growing up. I love learning about photography and I love seeing the world through someone else's eyes.
Instagram is really good for this. There are some fabulous accounts from people all over the world. I love to sit and browse what their world looks like to them. I love to talk and I love to laugh with friends. I try and enjoy each day I have and remember that not everybody gets a chance to do so. I am a firm believer in finding and following your passions.
Q. If people should try only one recipe in your new book, what is it?
A. Oh, without a doubt, my Famous Tea Room Chicken Salad (page 102). I want people to really know and realize that I love to cook just as well as I love to bake. My main focus are desserts and everything sweet but I would like to think that not to far off of my main focus is my love for cooking.
Both are complete opposites, in baking everything is science and scientific driven, but both can be fun ways to express yourself.
Q. How can people subscribe to your blogs or contact you to pre-order your cookbook?
A. The easiest way to subscribe to my blog is to log on to http://blaisethebaker.com and find the link on the side of the page that reads subscribe. Click on that and enter your email address. You will get an email every time I make a new post. Please like my page on Facebook too. Visit http://facebook.com/blaisethebaker Anyone is also more than welcome to email questions or comments at email@example.com.
From Donna: Thank you, Blaise, for this visit with Home Row readers. I've sent in my pre-order and can't wait to get your cookbook late next month.