NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 3, 2012

Inspired to become a foodie

Amid a move to a new state and a new career, Suzanne DeWitt finds comfort in the kitchen

By Katie Lovett
Features Editor

---- — As a young girl in New York, dinner time at Suzanne DeWitt’s house usually consisted of a dish akin to fish sticks, accompanied always by a vegetable that came in a can.

“My mom didn’t really cook,” DeWitt says with a smile.

Needless to say, she grew up with a limited view when it came to making meals. It stayed that way until 1993 when DeWitt started watching the new television station called Food Network while spending her days at home with her infant son.

“That really got me interested,” DeWitt says. “Until then, all I had was ‘The Frugal Gourmet’ or ‘Galloping Gourmet.’”

With endless shows devoted to cooking and food, all of which offered tips, recipes and demonstrations, DeWitt was inspired. Her love of cooking was born, and gone were the days of frozen or prepared meals that came in a box, bag, or can.

These days, you’ll likely find the 48-year-old Newburyport writer updating her “Cookbook Love” food blog, or tucked away in the galley kitchen of the second-floor apartment on Orange Street that she shares with her partner, Diane Hall. The pair moved to Newburyport a year and a half ago from Rochester, N.Y. DeWitt, who is divorced, has two children: Kiera Topping, 24, and Ian Topping, 19.

Cooking offers her a creative outlet, DeWitt says, as well as an avenue for relaxing and eliminating stress. Also, a freshly made meal brings pleasure to the person eating the dish by appealing to his or her senses, such as taste, smell, sight, and even touch, she adds.

“It’s rewarding,” she says.

While DeWitt enjoys reading recipes from her vast collection of cookbooks, she doesn’t like to follow them.

“I really like experimenting,” she says. “I look at what I have and I think, ‘how can I put it together.’ A lot of my concoctions come from what’s available.”

It’s a skill DeWitt, a former small business owner, finds especially useful each month when she volunteers as a cook for the community meals program at Saint Paul’s Church in Newburyport.

The dinner menu must be created using the ingredients supplied by the Greater Boston Food Bank — which can be a mishmash of flavors — without wasting any of the items, she says. About 50 people attend the dinner.

“It’s challenging; I find that really fun,” DeWitt says.

“It’s a gift she has,” Hall says.

Often, DeWitt will find an old familiar friend on the shelves: carrots or corn in a can. She’s turned those carrots into a souffle, and transformed the corn into a southern corn casserole.

“I like using whatever is seasonal,” she adds.

Still a fan of the Food Network, DeWitt continues to tune into her favorite shows. Watching the competition, “Chopped” each week where four professional chefs must transform a basket of ingredients into a delicious dish on a strict deadline, Hall would often joke how DeWitt should be a contestant. The challenge lies within the mystery ingredients, which typically aren’t prepared together.

So when “Chopped” recently announced that they will be hosting a special episode featuring amateur chefs, DeWitt decided to apply to be on it. As she waits to hear, DeWitt says she fantasizes about being on the show, the baskets she’ll get, and how she would practice for her time in the spotlight.

“There’s some things that would totally freak me out,” she says with a laugh.

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We’re looking to share the recipes and secrets of amateur cooks who have a knack in the kitchen and consistently amaze their family and friends with their culinary skills. If you know a great cook or are one yourself, e-mail klovett@newburyportnews.com.

A SAMPLING OF SUZANNE’S DISHES

Braised Cranberry-Dijon Pork Steaks

4 lean pork steaks

2 TBS vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

1 can whole berry cranberry sauce

3 TBS Dijon mustard (or more to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy, oven proof pan on medium high heat.

Brown pork on both sides. Remove to a plate. Deglaze the pan with the cranberry sauce, loosening with up to 1/2 cup of water if necessary. Stir in the mustard.

Check flavor and add more mustard if you like an additional bite.

Return the pork steaks to the pan and submerge them in the berry sauce.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Newburyport Cranberry Pie

This recipe was inspired by a Nantucket Cranberry Pie recipe Suzanne found in a Yankee magazine from the 1990s.

1 14 oz can Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce

1 stick of butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup fat free sour cream

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 large eggs

Grated zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dump cranberry sauce in bowl and stir to make a spreadable consistency. Spread cranberry sauce in the bottom of a pie pan sprayed with non stick spray.

Beat the eggs with the melted butter, sour cream, and the orange zest. Mix in the sugar, flour, and salt.

Pour this batter over the berries and spread it to the edges. Sprinkle sugar over the top of the batter, then sprinkle the nuts evenly over the batter.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Suzanne’s Cran-Raspberry Slaw

1 bag shredded purple cabbage (or shred 1/2 a small head)

1/2 bag dried cranberries

1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 bottle light raspberry vinaigrette (or less) Use enough to moisten well.

Mix all ingredients together and chill several hours before serving.

Zippy Cranberry Pretzel Dip

1 can whole berry cranberry sauce

1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

8 oz light cream cheese

Whole grain honey twist pretzels

Combine the cranberry sauce and cayenne, mix well. Place cream cheese on a serving dish, forming into an oval if desired.

Pour cranberry sauce over the cream cheese. Use pretzel sticks as dippers.

This is a great dip for Halloween. Form the cream cheese into the shape of a bone, place on a black serving dish, and call it “Bloody Bones Dip.”