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Posted on Wed. Dec. 19, 2012 - 12:04 am EDT

Award-winning baker has fun in the kitchen

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I still want to learn Ö

A. To make a good pie crust.

I canít wait to Ö

A. Remodel my kitchen.

Fort Wayne — Cyndi Lesley of Leo-Cedarville has been a part of 4-H for as long as she can remember. During this summerís 4-H Fair, Lesley was named best of show winner in three categories: frosted or unfrosted cake with her Carrot Layer Cake; quick breads with her Cranberry Surprise Loaf; and candy with her Peanut Butter Caramel Chews.

ďI grew up in a 4-H family and Iíve been involved. Iíve been in it for years. Occasionally, Iíve skipped a year, but Iíve pretty much hit all of them,Ē says Lesley, 64.

Lesley, an emergency room nurse at Parkview Hospital Randallia, thinks she has more than 500 cookbooks.

ďI read cookbooks like people read novels. I like the old red Betty Crocker cookbook I grew up with, and I like the Land Oí Lakes cookbook. I flip through cookbooks, and if something catches my eye I buy it,Ē she says.

Lesley, who has three children and six grandchildren, confesses that she prefers baking over cooking.

ďI have to admit that my husband, Tom, does 80 percent of the cooking,Ē she says. ďIíve been baking more around the holidays. But I bake cookies for the grandkids.Ē

Q. What one word describes your cooking style?

A. I think free and easy. Because when I bake Iím in a good mood. Like this week, it was for Christmas. Or if itís for a birthday, youíre usually in a good mood.

Q. What would you say is your go-to meal?

A. A quick pasta. I sautť shrimp in a little bit of olive oil and add tomatoes and put it over pasta.

Q. What vegetable do you eat most often?

A. Probably tomatoes and green beans. I like my tomatoes raw and my green beans crunchy.

Q. If you were stuck on an island, whatís one food you would have to have?

A. Oh, it would have to be pork. Iím a rib fanatic. I bake my ribs. Iím not big on the smoke flavoring.

Q. Whoís your cooking idol?

A. Itíd have to be my sister Ruth. Iím the 10th of 12 children. The older ones took care of us. She did the cooking and she became a chef. She works for a restaurant in Casper, Wyo. Sheís self-taught. I can cook if I have a recipe, but sheís one that can look in a cupboard and make something out of nothing.

Q. Whatís your favorite cooking utensil?

A. I think my mini chopper. I use it to chop everything from nuts to vegetables to fruit.

Q. What advice would give to a beginner cook?

A. Just to have fun. Everybody had failures but sometimes the failures taste good.

Cranberry Surprise Loaf

2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 egg

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup apple juice

1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cranberries

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bottom only of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Beat cream cheese in small bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg; blend well. Set aside. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; mix well. Add apple juice, margarine and beaten egg, blend well. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Spoon half of batter into greased and floured pan. Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly over batter. Top with remaining batter. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes or until top springs back when touched lightly in center. Cool 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerator. Makes 1 loaf.

Carrot Layer Cake


1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup butter

1 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 1/4 cups canola oil

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

4 cups finely shredded carrots

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans


3/4 cup butter, softened

2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups confectionersí sugar

In a large heavy saucepan, combine sugar, flour and salt. Stir in cream; add butter. Cook and stir over medium heat until the butter is melted; bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Cool and set aside. In a large bowl, beat oil and sugar until well blended. Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in carrots, raisins and nuts. Pour cake batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. For frosting: In a small bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar until smooth. Spread filling between cake layers. Frost the sides and top of cake. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

Peanut Butter Caramel Chews

1 (14-ounce) package caramels, unwrapped

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup coarsely chopped peanuts

1/4 cup peanut butter

36 (5-inch square) pieces waxed paper or taffy wrapper

Line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, extending foil over edges; butter foil. Set aside. Combine caramels and butter in 4-quart saucepan; cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramels are melted and smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in all remaining ingredients; mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn mixture out onto cutting surface; cut into 36 squares. Roll each square into ball; wrap in paper, twisting waxed paper ends. Store in refrigerator in container with tight-fitting lid up to 2 weeks. Makes 36 candies.

Cookís Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cookís Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648; or email

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