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Simplifying cooking

By Staff | Jun 28, 2012

DIANE VAVEK enjoys baking these chocolate chip cookies with her grandchildren.

ROCKWELL CITY – If it’s true that people only share their best recipes for church and community cookbooks, then Diane Vavak learned from some of the masters of country cooking in northwest Iowa.

“My Grandma Freda taught me how to cook from the 1964 Sac City Community Cookbook,” Vavak said, who graduated from Lytton High School in 1976. “It’s hard to beat reliable, fast, easy recipes like those.”

While Vavak enjoyed the simple, basic cooking she grew up with on the farm, she was also inspired by the extravagant Sunday dinners that her grandmother would prepare for the whole family.

Vavak’s interest in food with flair grew when she took cake decorating classes several years ago in Fort Dodge. Now she teaches her own cake decorating classes through her home-based business, which includes ceramics and crafts.

“I love shows like the ‘Ace of Cakes’ on the Food Network and am always on the lookout for new, creative recipes,” Vavak said, who accents her cake frostings with a number of flavorings, including coconut, pineapple and peppermint.

DIANE VAVAK, of Rockwell City, learned a great deal about cooking from her Grandma Freda, who favored reliable, fast, easy recipes like these flap jacks.

A woman of many talents, Vavak enjoys working with local 4-H club members, teaching beginning sewing lessons, volunteering at church, teaching piano lessons, spending time with her family and earning her pilot’s license.

She has also become known as the “dessert lady” who donates a dessert each week to members of a parenting group that meets in Rockwell City.

“I love cooking, baking with my grandchildren and sharing my talents with others.”

Flap jacks

(These tasty treats are bars, not pancakes, said Diane Vavak, who noted that this foolproof recipe has been handed down for four generations in her family, starting with her father’s mother, Freda, from Fort Dodge.)

1 cup liquid from cooked raisins (use approximately 12 ounces of raisins)

1 cup softened margarine

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 cups of flour

Frosting

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tablespoon of butter

Enough water to make the frosting drizzle

Put raisins in a sauce pan and cover the raisins with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about one minute, until the raisins are plumped up. Drain the raisins and reserve 1 cup of liquid. Combine margarine, brown sugar, eggs, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, raisins and flour.

Spread batter into a large cookie sheet with sides. Bake about 20 to 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center.

Spread thinly with powdered sugar frosting before the flap jacks are cold. Cut into squares and serve.

Loose meat sandwiches

(This recipe was always a hit at church bingo years ago, Vavak said, who adds that her kids and grandkids still love them.)

3 pounds hamburger or veal (browned and drained)

1 can French onion soup

1 cup oatmeal

Brown and drain the meat. Combine the meat with the French onion soup and oatmeal. Place the mixture in a crock pot and add a little water, as needed, to keep the ingredients from burning.

Keep on low heat. The longer the pot cooks, the more flavor infuses the mixture. Leftovers are great heated up in the microwave.

Mom’s fudge frosting

(This no-fail frosting is ideal for marble cake and is served at all of Vavak’s family gatherings. This also makes a great ganache for cupcakes, Vavak said, who dips her cupcakes in the warm frosting and sets them aside to cool.)

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup 2 percent milk (not skim milk)

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugar, milk, butter and cocoa together in saucepan.

Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Beat until the gloss starts to dull, and quickly spread frosting on cake.

If frosting cools in the pan and doesn’t dull, put on the stove and boil for another minute and repeat.

Orange salad

(Vavak said a friend gave her this recipe. Diabetics can use all sugar-free and light ingredients to cut down on the amount of sugar, she said.)

1 4-ounce package vanilla pudding

1 4-ounce package orange gelatin

2 cups water

1 can pineapple

1 can mandarin oranges

1 8-ounce tub whipped topping

Mix the vanilla pudding, orange gelatin and water. Bring to a boil. Add 1 small can drained pineapple and mandarin oranges. Fold in whipped topping.

Freezer corn

(This recipe has passed down the family for several generations. “It’s yummy,” Vavak said.

20 cups corn cut from the cob

1 pound of butter (don’t substitute margarine)

1 pint half and half

Combine all ingredients and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

Cool and put into pint-sized freezer bags.

Chocolate chip cookies

1 cup shortening

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar (packed)

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix shortening, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.

Mix the dry ingredients into the shortening mixture. Add chocolate chips and nuts, if desired.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned, but still soft. Cool on wire rack.

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