As a youngster, Lauren McDuffie was intrigued with the Food Network, cookbooks and cooking magazines.
"It was a big deal for me to cook dinner for the family when I was little. I loved doing that," she said.
At 26, she writes cookbooks, enters recipe contests — and still cooks for the family. Now, though, the recipes she cooks for her parents and brother are for testing and refining.
While her husband, Lucas, is interning and finishing medical school in two states, McDuffie is living with her parents, Linda and Steve Angelucci. She also is working in marketing at University of Kentucky HealthCare.
Living apart from her husband for a year is "not the best, but for us it works," McDuffie said. The couple will celebrate their third anniversary in July.
McDuffie spends most of her free time in the spacious, well-equipped kitchen at the Angelucci home. It was where she tested recipes for her cookbook, The 5 Ingredient Club.
"I wrote the book quickly. It only took a couple of weeks, but the testing of the recipes is what takes a while," McDuffie said.
Inspiration for the book came out of necessity. While in graduate school and living in Virginia, McDuffie decided to whittle down her favorite recipes to a few main ingredients. "We didn't have a ton of money to go out and buy ingredients," she said.
Always one to encourage her daughter, Linda Angelucci told her: "Come to Lexington and use my kitchen. I'll fund it, and we'll benefit from your cooking."
McDuffie said it was a win-win situation. She had already put a lot of miles on her car to test her recipes. "I did a lot of driving back and forth from Norfolk."
It took about a year to finish the cookbook, which is self-published and sold at Amazon.com for $14.99. She chose The 5 Ingredient Club as the title so she could write a series of cookbooks.
The requirement for five- ingredient success is that starter ingredients must always be stocked. The five are extra-virgin olive oil, large eggs, all-purpose flour, salt and pepper (considered one ingredient) and unsalted butter.
With those staples and five other ingredients, McDuffie created easy recipes including root-beer braised short ribs, pineapple upside-down French toast, smoked salmon blinis with capers and dill cream, and seared steaks with French onion gravy.
While testing recipes for her next cookbook, McDuffie is submitting recipes to cooking contests. Last fall, she won $100 and a box of cheese for a cheesecake recipe. She's working on a recipe for Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger contest. That has led her take on another skill — mastering the grill.
"I like using the grill for off-the-wall things. I like to grill desserts, pizza and salads. I love grilled fruit, and that might be why I grill so many desserts," she said. "I like doing things people don't have all the time."
McDuffie prefers contests that don't involve baking, although she entered the last Pillsbury Bake Off. "The prize is so big, I had to," she said. "I tend to stay away from contests that require people to vote. I like those that are judged."
Here is one of McDuffie's recipes from The 5 Ingredient Club. She also has posted recipes on her blog, www.fiveingredientclub.com.
Pineapple upside-down French toast
1¼ cups half-and-half, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 round loaf Hawaiian sweet bread, sliced
½ stick butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup brown sugar, plus a couple tablespoons for topping
1 can pineapple rings, drained with 2 tablespoons of liquid reserved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large, flat dish, beat eggs, 1 cup half-and-half, and vanilla. Lay bread slices in mixture and turn them occasionally, allowing them to soak up all the liquid. Place a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add butter and brown sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar has completely dissolved into butter, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in remaining ¼ cup half-and-half and reserved pineapple juice.
Press pineapple rings into pan, creating a flat surface. Lay soaked bread slices on top of pineapple slices, arranging so there are no gaps. Sprinkle brown sugar on top of bread and bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice into wedges and serve with hot syrup from bottom of pan spooned over top.