Amy Larsen, today's home cook in the spotlight, was suggested by her friend, Valerie Sessions.
Says Valerie, "She is an amazing cook - always puts so much love into what she makes. They are normally recipes from her mother. It's a way of remembering her and sharing her with others."
Amy's coconut cake, Valeries adds, is "like a cloud of yummy." (Nice descriptor, Valerie)
So, without delay:
Name: Amy Brey Larsen
Residence: Downtown Charleston
Occupation: Paralegal at the Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman law firm
Family: Erik Larsen, husband
Q. We're told you're from Philadelphia. When and why did you come to Charleston?
A. Erik and I both grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We moved to Northern Virginia several years after our wedding. We spent almost 10 years there before moving to Charleston in 2002. We always wanted to live here and spent several years planning the move. We're delighted to live in such a vibrant community.
Q. Name and describe three Philly foods you really miss.
A. Handmade soft pretzels from the Devon Farmer's Market, Italian bread and rolls from the many small bakeries in that area, and thin crust "boardwalk"-style pizza.
Q. Who has been the most influential person in your life in regards to food and cooking, and in what way?
A. I am very fortunate to have two people who have taught me to not only cook, but to entertain and make friends and family feel welcome in our home. My late mother, Betty Brey, was an excellent baker and always had a knack for making everyone visiting our home feel welcome. My mother-in-law, June Larsen, is an accomplished cook and I admire how she creates delicious dinners with local, fresh, seasonal foods.
Q. How would you describe your style and tell us a couple of your "hit" dishes or desserts?
A. I enjoy cooking and baking with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. My favorite dishes and desserts are heirloom recipes given to me from my family and friends. When recipes are passed down through several generations, and everyone is still raving about them, I think you've found something special. Roasted pork loin, or whole beef tenderloin with oyster stuffing are a hit, along with my mother's brown sugar tarts and carrot cake.
Q. What's the secret behind that coconut cake?
A. I'm delighted that Valerie loves this cake. The best part is the homemade cream cheese icing. I add shredded coconut to the icing and sprinkle the finished cake with toasted coconut. It's the same icing recipe I use for carrot cake. It stays soft and isn't too sweet.
Q. What new food have you found in Charleston that you really like?
A. The incredible variety of food in Charleston is amazing. We love local shrimp and oysters, local produce and the treat of enjoying praline candies.
Q. The most ambitious thing I ever tried was ... and how did it come out?
A. I enjoy baking cookies and making confections for friends and family during the holidays. In the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, paper thin sugar cutout cookies are a prized holiday gift. Cookies this thin are a challenge to cut out and bake in only a few minutes. It's an all-day event and inviting a few friends to help is a great idea! A single batch makes dozens of cookies. I get a bit better at it each year, so I'll certainly keep trying.
Q. A cookbook I wouldn't want to do without and why?
A. The "Barefoot Contessa" series of cookbooks written by Ina Garten. The recipes feature the use of high quality ingredients and are delicious.
A favorite recipe:
Betty's Brown Sugar Tarts
For the crust:
2 cups flour
1/2 pound butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
For the syrup:
11/2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the crumbs:
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
11/2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray mini muffin pans lightly with cooking spray.
For the crust: Combine the flour, butter, and cream cheese. Mix well (use hands and knead like bread dough). Divide into 60 balls. Shape into tiny crusts using a mini muffin pan.
For the syrup: Mix eggs, brown sugar, milk and vanilla until well combined. Pour 3/4 tablespoon into each tart shell.
For the crumbs: Gently mix butter, sugar and flour by hand to make crumbs. Fill each tart shell to the top with crumbs.
Bake tarts for 15 -18 minutes. Tarts are finished when the edge of the tart crust and crumbs are light, pale brown. Additional time may be necessary. Remove mini muffin tins from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Remove tarts, cool completely, and store in a covered container.
Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Icing
For the cake:
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
11/2 cups oil
21/2 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two round cake tins.
Mix first seven ingredients. Add remaining ingredients; mix well. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until cakes are lightly browned.
Cream Cheese Icing
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Mix cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar in 1/4 cup increments until well incorporated. Allow carrot cakes to cool completely before icing.