TUPELO • When Julia Child first came out with “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” – her signature cookbook – Sarah Gaede and a friend decided they were going to start trying recipes from it.

“I didn’t know I couldn’t make that stuff – croquenbouche, quiche, things like that,” said Gaede (pronounced gay-dee). “I’d always cooked. I took home ec in school from seventh through 12th grade, even though I was taking AP classes. Home ec was a way to rest my brain.”

Gaede, 68, was born in North Carolina and grew up in a Washington, D.C., suburb in Maryland, where her father was a research chemist for a naval laboratory. Today, she splits her time between Florence, Alabama, where she and her husband, Henry, have a home, and Tupelo, where she’s interim rector at All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

She learned a lot about French cooking while working for three years at Rich’s Cooking School in Atlanta under the direction of author, chef and cooking show host Nathalie Dupree.

“Nathalie was the queen,” Gaede said. “I was just an assistant. I spent a lot of time there writing recipes.”

Gaede moved to Savannah, Georgia, where she wrote two cookbooks – one for Pirates’ House restaurant and the other for Gottlieb’s Bakery – before turning to catering. And then one day in 1989, while walking around Forsyth Park, she prayed with all her heart: “God, I’m open to anything if I just don’t have to cook for the rest of my life.”

The answer she was looking for turned out to be seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

“I was 40 years old,” she said. “I went through the discernment process and it was clear enough to me that the priesthood was the path I needed to take.”

Gaede has been at All Saints’ since December.

“I love being the interim in Tupelo because I’m not in charge of their future,” she said. “I’m just like the fun babysitter.”

Despite her prayer to God all those years ago, Gaede still enjoys cooking.

“I cook at home in Florence, just not as much as I used to,” she said. “I’m getting ready to switch on the summer menu – Southern vegetables like peas and corn, beans and corn, pork chops on the grill, fish.”

The one thing Gaede will not eat in any way, shape, form or fashion is cilantro.

“I cannot stand it,” she said. “I’ve perfected my chopstick skills by picking cilantro out of Thai food. That’s one reason I love, love, love recipes from Ina Garten. She also hates cilantro.”

HELEN MCCULLY’S FRENCH CHOCOLATE TORTE

TORTE

4 ounces semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

1/4 cup fine, dry bread crumbs, plus more for pan

1 cup slivered almonds, finely ground

Finely grated rind of 1 large navel orange

GLAZE

4 ounces bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon honey or Lyle’s Golden Syrup

1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds (optional)

For the torte, adjust rack to center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment, cut to fit. Butter paper. Dust all over with bread crumbs.

Melt chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl. Cook 1 minute on high; stir and cook 20 to 30 seconds more. Let chocolate sit until melted. With an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat at moderately high speed for a few minutes, until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping bowl as necessary. Mixture will look curdled. Add chocolate, 1/4 cup bread crumbs and almonds to bowl; combine on lowest speed, beating only until smooth. Remove from mixer and stir in orange rind.

Turn batter into prepared pan and level top. Bake for 25 minutes. The center of the cake will be soft and moist. Remove from oven and cool in pan on a rack for about 30 minutes. Run a spatula or small knife around the edge of the cake. Place rack over cake and invert. The cake should come right out. Remove parchment if necessary and let stand until completely cool. Refrigerate before glazing. (Be careful moving cake; it is delicate until chilled.) Cake may be frozen, tightly wrapped, at this point. Thaw before glazing. Place cake on serving dish. Brush away any loose crumbs. Place four strips of wax paper under edges of cake to catch drips from glaze.

For the glaze, place chocolate, butter and honey in a glass or ceramic bowl over a pan of simmering water. Heat, whisking occasionally, until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Place glaze in refrigerator. Check and whisk every 10 minutes until it cools and begins to thicken very slightly.

Pour glaze over top of cake. With a metal spatula, spread over top, letting some run down the sides. Smooth the sides. Place cake back in refrigerator for exactly 5 minutes. Remove wax paper strips. Makes 8 generous servings.

Optional: Before the glaze hardens, decorate the edge of the cake with slivered almonds.

SQUASH SOUP

2 tablespoons butter

2 medium or 1 large onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

6 small yellow squash, washed and sliced

1 quart chicken stock or broth, homemade or store-bought

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup heavy cream

Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Heat butter in a heavy pot. Add onion and garlic; cook over low heat until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add squash and chicken stock and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer 15 minutes, or until squash is tender. Remove from heat, cool slightly and purée with an immersion blender or food processor; return mixture to pot. Add lemon juice, cream and seasonings. May be made a day ahead to this point. Reheat before serving. Garnish with parsley if desired. Serves 6.

RAW TOMATO SAUCE

FOR PASTA

4 large, ripe beefsteak or other home-grown tomatoes, cored

4 very large cloves of garlic, peeled

6 large basil leaves, slivered, plus more for garnish

6 grindings of black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2/3 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces bucatini or penne pasta

Chop tomatoes coarsely; place tomatoes and juices in a large bowl.

Smash the garlic with the side of a chef’s knife. Add all the whole garlic cloves, half the basil, the pepper, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir in oil. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 10 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt; remove whole garlic cloves.

Cook the pasta in salted water and drain. Return the drained pasta to the pot or to a heated pasta bowl and toss with sauce. Sprinkle with slivered basil and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Note: This is even more fabulous with a blob of burrata cheese on top.

OVEN-FRIED

CHICKEN THIGHS

1/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary

1/4 cup dry plain breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

4 (6-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, skinned

Combine buttermilk, mustard, honey, salt, pepper and rosemary in a small microwave-safe bowl. Spoon 3 tablespoons mustard mixture into a shallow bowl or pie plate; reserve remaining mixture. Combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a pie plate, or on a sheet of wax paper. Dip chicken in liquid; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Chill at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet (with sides) with cooking spray and place in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Place the chicken on the baking sheet and bake for 13 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake for 12 more minutes. Microwave reserved sauce mixture on high for 20 seconds or until warm. Drizzle over chicken. Serves 2.

TRIED AND TRUE POTS DE CREME AU CHOCOLAT

1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons strong coffee

1 tablespoon dark rum

1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier

3/4 cup half and half

Sweetened whipped cream (not Cool Whip)

Place chocolate chips, eggs, coffee, rum and orange liqueur in a blender and blend until chocolate is finely ground. Bring half and half to a full boil. Turn on blender and pour boiling milk into chocolate mixture, blending until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour into crème brulée cups or ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours. Served with sweetened whipped cream. Serves 4.

DO YOU KNOW A GOOD COOK? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can call Ginna at (662) 678-1581 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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