As a volunteer field editor for Taste of Home magazine, Michael Vyskocil belongs to an army of home cooks nationwide.
The Manheim Township resident relishes the opportunity to share meaningful recipes using easily accessible ingredients with other home cooks at any point along their culinary journey.
"It's designed to create this conversation about food," says Vyskocil, 31. "These are recipes that are designed with home cooks in mind."
Often times, he says, "the recipes that we've gotten have been passed down from people in the family, so there's this nice heritage associated with this act of preserving these recipes."
Learning: Vyskocil traces his own heritage in cooking and baking to early childhood, crediting PBS cooking shows and his parents with sparking his interest around age 4 or 5.
"My mom and my dad made a lot of meals at home," he says. "I learned a lot from them, just watching them and being in the kitchen."
As a teenager, he made the transition from proficiency with recipes to creativity.
"I thought it would be nice to develop some of my own and experiment," he says. "I would see a recipe somewhere and I would say, 'what about this can I make different, adapt it, revise it a bit?'"
Taking small steps can be the key to success, particularly when baking instead of cooking. The reasoning behind a recipe might seem invisible to a beginner, but some things just can't be messed with.
"Baking is definitely a science," Vyskocil says. "A cake has to have certain proportions of butter to sugar to flour that you have to follow."
The cookies: Flavor, he says, is where opportunity lies. It was playing with flavor that inspired his Giant Lemon Sugar Cookies recipe, which appears in the June/July issue of Taste of Home.
"Lemon bars are something I enjoy, so I was looking for a way to bring that lemon bar into a sugar cookie," he says. "The fresh lemon zest and lemon juice combination give it a nice lemony flavor without being overpowering."
He also considered the needs of busy home cooks who want a simple way to offer a special dessert.
"What makes the cookie special too is that it's a drop cookie," he says. "It's easy to prepare. There's no rolling involved; there's no cutting involved."
Coarse, or sanding, sugar adds sparkle to the tops for a fancy finish.
"These are a generous size cookie, good for the end of a dinner party with a scoop of ice cream," Vyskocil says. "This would definitely go well with a glass of lemonade if you're serving it in the summertime, but even in the winter, if you're looking for a lighter taste outside the holiday season, you could use it with warm beverages, like a cup of hot tea. It's a very adaptive, versatile cookie."
Giant Lemon Sugar Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 teaspoons coarse sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Beat in lemon peel and juice.
In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cream of tartar; gradually beat into creamed mixture.
Shape 1/4 cupfuls of dough into balls. Place 6 inches apart on greased baking sheets.
Flatten to 3/4-inch thickness with bottom of a measuring cup. Lightly brush tops with water; sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until light brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
Store in airtight containers. Yield: 14 cookies.
Nutritional facts: 1 cookie equals 340 calories, 14 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 65 mg cholesterol, 147 mg sodium, 51 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 4 g protein.
— Reach Mel Barber at email@example.com.