Home baker and cook embraces learning new things

Cathy Nutaitis with canine friends Lucy (next to her), Skylar (front left) and Gideon.

Our recommended home cook has a penchant for baking, and she also tells a tale of mischief that will resonant with those who also have a big-time sweet tooth.

Name: Cathy Nutaitis

Age: 56

Residence: Charleston

Occupation: Homemaker

Family: Husband Matt; sons Matt Jr. (Nell) and James (Elizabeth); daughter Katie; and granddaughters Cecily and Tess.

Q: We’re told that you love baking. What about baking do you especially enjoy?

A: I initially became interested in baking because of my insatiable sweet tooth. Sometimes the batter/dough tastes just as good as the finished product. But I think baking allows you to be creative. When the kids were younger, I would bake and decorate cookies and theme cakes for birthdays, team parties, etc.

Q: What are two things that you make that get the most compliments from family and friends?

A: Lately, I have been making a lot of bread. Both of my sons are wonderful cooks and bakers and they have been sharing their sourdough bread baking knowledge with me. The result is that my husband has been the beneficiary of lots of homemade bread while I try to perfect my techniques. I think my bread and desserts are probably what friends and family tend to like the most.

Q: What is one of your earliest food memories?

A: I remember one Sunday when I was about 5 years old, there was a bakery box with a chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen table. I managed to lift the lid and swipe off all of the icing without anyone noticing. It was the beginning of a lifelong habit! My mother and grandmother were not very pleased when they opened the box to serve dessert.

Q: You retired to Charleston after your husband’s career in the Navy. What (food dish or tradition) has struck you most about Lowcountry cuisine?

A: It is hard to name just one. All of the food here is amazing: grits, butter beans, pimento cheese, oysters. I could go on and on. One of my favorites, even though I don’t eat it very often, is pulled pork with the Carolina-style barbecue sauce.

Q: Your son is vegan. What have you learned, or learned to do differently as a result?

A: I think I have learned some valuable things. One is that you can eat very well without the inclusion of animal protein. We spent last Thanksgiving with our vegan kids and granddaughter and I can honestly say that I did not miss the turkey. Being an animal lover, I have tried going vegetarian, but it just didn’t last.

I don’t think veganism or vegetarianism needs to be an “all or nothing” situation, just whatever works for you. Most of the meals I cook during the week are vegetarian or include fish. I save pork or beef for occasions when I am entertaining, fixing a holiday meal or eating out. If cheese, bacon and butter were part of the vegan diet, you could sign me up right now. Until that time, I will probably keep things the way they are.

I have a couple of go-to meals that appeal to vegans and carnivores alike and I rely on them when cooking for the entire family. Black bean chili, pizza and pasta dishes are easy and everyone can add their own cheese or toppings. Thankfully, wine is always appropriate!

Q. Do you have a favorite food TV show or celebrity, and if so, why?

A: I like to watch the “Pioneer Woman” and Trisha Yearwood on the Food Network while I am exercising. Thinking about food takes my mind off of the task at hand and makes it bearable.

Nathalie Dupree is a favorite food celebrity. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to cook with her and learn some valuable tips. I can say with certainty that I will never again have lumps in my mashed potatoes! “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” is my go-to resource in the kitchen.

When we lived in Guam, I took cooking classes from a Vietnamese lady who taught on the naval base. This has been a favorite ever since and is easy to adapt to different dietary preferences. You can substitute shrimp or extra firm tofu for the chicken.

For the chicken or protein marinade:

1 pound boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into small pieces

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, brown sugar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

For the noodles/vegetables:

4 packages ramen noodles, chicken or oriental flavor

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small head of cabbage, thinly sliced

2 carrots, shredded

4 green onions, thinly sliced

Directions

Combine the marinade ingredients and marinate for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water for about 3-4 minutes but do not add the seasoning packets at this time. Drain the noodles and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan.

Add chicken mixture and saute until it is thoroughly cooked. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan. Add the vegetables to the hot pan and cook until the cabbage is wilted. Add the chicken, noodles and one or two of the reserved seasoning packets. Serve immediately.

This is my daughter’s favorite dessert at the holidays. Don’t skimp on the bourbon!

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup each brown and granulated sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup bourbon

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie shell (unbaked)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine butter and sugars. Add in the eggs and blend well, then add flour and mix until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients and pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake for 45 minutes. When tested with a knife, the center of the pie will still be a little wet, but should not be runny. After the pie has cooled, I like to keep it in the refrigerator. It tastes just like a candy bar when cold.