From the moment we tasted her Cranberry Canes in 1995, we were hooked on Darlene’s recipes. Although we’ve published fantastic dinner recipes, like her Inside-Out Stuffed Peppers, baking remains a passion for this Oregon native. She took the time to share some insight into her favorite hobby.
Taste of Home: Tell us how your love of home cooking got started.
Darlene Brenden: It was back when I was a toddler. I have a picture of me at only a couple of years old, standing on a chair washing dishes for my mom. Mom always baked something. I don’t recall a day where we did not have dessert. Once a week, she would come home from work and make the lightest yeast glazed doughnuts, and that would be dinner with bowls of bean and potato soup. I loved dipping the doughnut into the broth.
TOH: Do you have any particular sources of inspiration?
DB: Before the Internet came along, I would always check out oodles of cookbooks from the library. I would copy some of the recipes into a spiral notebook (I still have it, and just the other day looked through it). Occasionally I would purchase cookbooks, or get some as gifts—my family knows how much I love reading them. Even today, I can spend an afternoon sitting and just looking through stacks of cookbooks. I find it both inspiring and relaxing.
TOH: What’s your favorite cooking method?
DB: Definitely baking! It doesn’t matter if I am baking pie, cake, cookies, bread, etc. The aroma always fills the house with the most amazing homemade scent. You can’t get this out of a spray bottle! About 20 years ago, I worked at a small specialty bakery. My daughter would walk over from school and drive home with me. As soon as we would get into my car, she would say, “Mmm, you smell like chocolate cake.”
TOH: Do you have an indispensable kitchen gadget?
DB: It’s hard to choose just one. Since cookies are my favorite thing to bake, the first thought that came to my mind are my cookie scoops. People always tell me my cookies are all perfect in size and wonder how I get them so uniform. Simple…I use a cookie scoop. I also get so much use from my KitchenAid stand mixer. I can’t imagine a kitchen without one. It makes whipping up stiff batters and dough a breeze.
TOH: What is your favorite recipe to cook for your family?
DB: I come from a German family and was raised on homemade noodle dishes. My favorite recipe to cook for my family would be one of those recipes my family has handed down through the generations. We love a German noodle dish called “Schnitna Noodles with Raisin Sauce.” Sheets of homemade dough are rolled into large circles almost thin enough to see through. They are spread onto large clean dishtowels to dry slightly, then rolled up tightly and sliced ultra thin. The noodles are fried until crisp and golden brown, then served with a raisin sauce over the top. I remember as a child watching my grandma slice the rolled-up dough so quickly that her fingers were a blur, yet each slice so perfectly uniform in size. (Here’s how to make the noodles from scratch.)
TOH: What is your favorite recipe to cook for yourself?
DB: I am a soup lover. I swear I could eat a bowl of soup every day of the year, no matter what the season. To me it’s the ultimate comfort food. If my husband is gone for a few days, I will make a big pot of soup and have it for lunch and dinner every day until it’s gone. Add some fresh-baked bread to dunk into the broth, and I have the perfect meal for me. My favorite soup would be a thick cheesy Garden Vegetable Chowder. It’s so good, it was even published in Taste of Home in 1998!
TOH: Do you have any cooks or chefs who you admire and why?
DB: I absolutely love watching cooking and baking shows! I like learning techniques from them, but sometimes it’s nice to just watching someone else do the cooking. One of my favorite chefs to watch is Pati Jinich. She always makes me smile. I just love her passion and excitement for food; she makes cooking and baking seem so easy and carefree. That is how I feel when I’m baking. It is a hobby I truly love, never a chore. I could bake every day, but our waistlines might suffer for it.
TOH: If you were stuck on a desert island, what food would you want to have with you?
DB: It would definitely be the asparagus tortellini I had in Lucca, Italy, in 2011. Every time I think of a favorite meal, that dish comes to mind. I’d have to have buttery, flaky croissant to accompany it. Dessert would be something dark chocolate and decadent.
TOH: Who would you love to host at a dinner party?
DB: I would host a party for my parents. Many people might think of a celebrity, world leader, sports figure, etc., but I wouldn’t have anything in common with any of them. We’d have homemade pierogies and apple pie. My dad always said my pies were better than my mom’s, which was a huge compliment because I just loved her pies. I miss my parents very much—one last meal with them would be a true gift.