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In the winter, Kim Bingham loves to use squashes and greens, which she says are perfect for slow cooking. Here, she cuts butternut squash from Tendercrop Farm.

Kim Bingham likes her mornings best.

An executive producer for an evening news program, Bingham's day starts when most are wrapping up. Her work consumes her nights, but her early hours are all hers.

Most days, she can be found in her kitchen.

"I like to play around and experiment in the mornings. My job is demanding, and this is like my therapy. Cooking, coffee, some good music and the morning news and I'm all set," said Bingham, 32, of Newburyport.

Bingham's cuisine is inspired by her surroundings. She shops locally whenever she can, and tailors her dishes in accordance with what's fresh and in season. Her recipes range from savory to sweet, a perfect balance of healthy, energizing meals and sweets that are hard to resist.

In the winter, she loves squashes and greens — perfect for slow cooking. Her summer dishes are often finished with a burst of fresh citrus or herbs, fresh from her garden. In the fall, she loves to bake with pumpkin.

Bingham's dinners are stored in the fridge for both her and her husband, Dave, who is lucky enough to taste test her morning experiments.

"Dave likes my comfort food — shepherd's pie, penne a la vodka. And, anything with bacon in it isn't going anywhere," she said with a laugh.

"But my baking, I give away, usually to my co-workers," she added. "They all have their favorites."

Soon enough, Bingham found herself with a good-sized collection of recipes and a lot of friends and family who were eager to test some out themselves.

"This area is all about food. The North Shore has such a huge food blogger community, I started meeting more food people and getting more into it," Bingham said.

And with that, Lighter And Local, her own blog, was born in May of 2010.

The posts were few at first, but soon she was on a roll, even sharing her experience with a 28-day detoxifying cleanse that she did to boost her energy. Now she posts once or twice a week. Her writing is a mix of recipes and experience, making for a good read sprinkled with mouth-watering photos of her culinary creations.

"My friends and family were always asking about the cleanse, so I started updating them on the blog," she said. "That's what really made me focus on local products — not just for the good you can do by buying them, but also because they're fresher and tastier and can really make a dish."

Bingham frequents Tendercrop, Heron Pond and Fowle's Market, as well as participating in Community Supported Agriculture programs.

The cleanses leave her energized and refreshed, and are part of Bingham's overall approach to food: everything in moderation.

"I can give up the pasta and the wine and the caffeine for a while, but not forever. I just try to balance the comfort food and sweets with the more sensible ingredients," she said.

She falls back often on her soups, perfect to prepare on a lazy Sunday. Lately, when she wants to challenge herself, she tackles charcuterie — she's cured her own bacon and ground her own hot dogs.

Still, Bingham feels there are some things better left to the experts.

"I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my mom. I still prefer her roasts, her pork tenderloins and her lasagna. And Sunday gravy, that's still all her," she said.

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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, email Katie Lovett at klovett@newburyportnews.com.

Producing fresh flavor

Maple Bacon Cheddar Scones

Makes 12 scones

Scones:

2 cups all-purpose flour (9 ounces)

3 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg white

1/4 cup maple syrup

3 thick slices of maple bacon

1/2 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I use Cabot's Extra Sharp)

Glaze: (for a more savory scone, just skip the glaze)

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons milk

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

In a pan, fry bacon until crispy. Chop into small pieces and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to dry.

In a large bowl, combine flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk.

Transfer that mixture to a food processor (or keep it in the bowl if you're going to cut in the butter by hand with a pastry blender or two knives). Add chilled butter. Pulse several times until the butter is incorporated, making the mixture look like coarse cornmeal.

Transfer that mixture back to large bowl and add milk, vanilla, egg white and maple syrup into the mix. Stir until just moist. Add diced bacon and cheese and knead until both are fully incorporated.

If you have a scone pan, divide dough evenly into that. If not, pat dough into an 8-inch circle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut dough into 12 wedges, cutting into, but not through, dough.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Transfer to a wire baking rack to cool.

While scones are baking, prepare the glaze. Whisk together powdered sugar, milk and maple syrup until combined. Once scones have cooled slightly, brush the glaze over each to your heart's desire.

Base scone recipe from Cooking Light

Beer and Baked Potato Soup

Serves 8

2 lbs. baking potatoes

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups 1 percent milk (or whatever you have)

1 1/2 cups Cabot 50 percent Reduced Fat Cheddar

3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1/2 cup beer (I used Long Trail Ale. Omit or reduce this amount to taste as well)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup green onions, chopped (reserve a bit for garnish)

5 slices bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled

Extra shredded cheese and sour cream for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pierce each potato with a fork and bake for one hour.

While potatoes are baking, fry up bacon until crispy and set aside. Once potatoes are done, allow to cool until they can be handled and then peel. Roughly mash the potatoes in a bowl and set aside.

In a large dutch oven, measure out flour and then slowly whisk in milk until combined.

Now, heat the mixture on low to medium heat, making sure not to burn it. Once the mixture thickens, add in cheese and potatoes, stirring until melted. Then, add in the sour cream, beer, and salt and pepper, keeping the heat between low and medium. Cook until heated through, stirring often.

Finally, stir in your green onions.

Garnish with extra shredded cheese, sour cream, green onions and bacon. Serve.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes

MakeS 18 cupcakes

Sources: base cake recipe from David Lebovitz, frosting is Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting

Cupcakes:

9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup strong coffee (or water, but I recommend the coffee), cooled

1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk

Filling:

1 cup peanut butter, preferably creamy

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar

2 large chocolate covered pretzels, crushed, enough for a 1/2 cup of crushed pretzel

Frosting:

1/2 cup butter

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Garnish:

1 package of mini chocolate covered pretzels

2-4 large chocolate covered pretzels, crushed, to sprinkle over frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, set the rack to the center. I suggest cleaning as you go on this one, it makes a mess.

Butter the top of two muffin pans and fill with cupcake liners.

Sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar about a minute until it becomes smooth and creamy.

Add the eggs one at a time until fully mixed.

In a glass measuring cup or bowl, mix together the coffee and the milk. Stir half the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, add the coffee/milk mixture and then stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into the muffin pans, filling them about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 19-21 minutes, until a toothpick comes out of the center cleanly.

Allow the cupcakes to cool in their pan 5 minutes, and then let them cool completely on a wire baking rack.

To make the filling, melt peanut butter, unsalted butter and salt in a microwavable bowl, or a saucepan on the stove top until soft, stirring constantly. Take off the heat, and add confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract.

While the mixture is still warm, add crushed chocolate-covered pretzels. The chocolate will melt a bit into the mixture.

Using a sharp-edged spoon or melon baller, scoop out the center of each cupcake to make room for the filling. Set aside the little top you've cut out. Put a spoonful of filling into each cupcake, and put the top back on. It's OK it if leaks out a little.

For frosting, melt butter, and stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk. Beat with an electric mixer until you have spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla.

Frost each cupcake. Crush some chocolate covered pretzels and sprinkle them over the top. Add a mini-pretzel to top.

Source: Base cake recipe from David Lebovitz; Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting.