Bestselling Author Debbie Macomber Talks With Commitmentnow.com About Good Friends, Good Eating and Her Cedar Cove Cookbook--Plus She Shares The Recipe for Celebrations Coconut Layer Cake
Learn the role good food has played in the life of 'Cedar Cove' series author Debbie Macomber--and what Charlotte Jefferson Rhodes would make if you were coming to dinner!
Bestselling author Debbie Macomber discusses the favorite foods of Cedar Cove residents and the role food has played in her life.
Commitmentnow.com: How important is food to the residents of Cedar Cove?
Debbie Macomber: As with any family or community, celebrations are often centered on food. In my area (Port Orchard, Washington—aka Cedar Cove) we have the Manchester Salmon Bake, the Bremerton Blackberry Festival, Seattle’s Festa Italiana and so forth. So, naturally, food brings families and friends together in the Cedar Cove series.
As for me, I love preparing, serving—and eating!—meals, particularly on special occasions, although a great dinner can make any occasion special… My characters reflect my own love of good times and good meals, sharing and caring for one another.
Commitmentnow.com: Tell us about Charlotte Jefferson Rhodes, one of the most important characters in your series. What recipes are a key part of her life story?
Debbie: Charlotte is part of the generation that endured the Great Depression and perhaps this is why the first thing she does when someone needs help or comfort is cook for them. If there's sickness or death in a family, she reaches for her apron; it’s how she shows her love.
In collecting these recipes for her granddaughter, she's passing along more than her favorite dishes. She's handing down family traditions.
Charlotte derives pleasure from everything to do with food, and the recipes she’s selected for Justine’s cookbook are important to her, not only because of their taste but because of their associations with particular people, places and events. Collecting and exchanging recipes is itself something she enjoys.
The recipes she likes best are the Celebrations Coconut Layer Cake and Spaghetti with Fresh Clam Sauce.
Commitmentnow.com: What role did food have in your own life and childhood? What are some of your favorite foods that appear in the "Cedar Cove" series?
Debbie Macomber: My parents were both from large families, and many family gatherings were spent with aunts, uncles and cousins. I can remember my mother and aunts sitting around the table, exchanging recipes. Many of the dishes my mother made were influenced by her German/Russian background.
As for my favorite foods from the series, I’d have to say Teri Polgar's Macaroni and Cheese tops the list. It really is wonderful. Then there are the Best Blueberry Muffins Justine Gunderson serves in the Tea Room. And Peggy Beldon's Chicken Pot Pie. And… Well, you get the picture.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you share with us two of your favorite recipes from this book?
Debbie: Anytime Tomato and Fresh Basil Soup and Shrimp Enchilada Bake with Ricotta and Monterey Jack.
Commitmentnow.com: How does food tell the story of a person and their family? Can you tell us about how food tells the story of Charlotte's granddaughter Justine Gunderson?
Debbie: For many of us, food and recipes are part of our family heritage, passed down from one generation to the next. As I’ve mentioned, this is what Charlotte’s doing in sharing these recipes with her granddaughter.
My own grandmother wrote out family recipes for my mother when she left home for the first time in the early 1940s. Then, when I left home, my mother gave me her tin recipe box filled with recipes she’d accumulated as a young wife and mother.
Charlotte collected the recipes she shares with Justine from family and from her friends in Cedar Cove. So it’s fitting that Justine uses them in her Tea Room, where the people of this community often gather. She deeply appreciates what her grandmother has done in compiling these recipes and in adding her own comments—hints and tips that come from Charlotte’s years of experience in the kitchen. Her cookbook isn’t just a practical gift for her granddaughter but a way of remembering the family’s past.
Commitmentnow.com: If Charlotte was having company over for dinner, what might she cook from this cookbook?
Debbie: No doubt the first thing she’d do is bake the Coconut Cake, or perhaps the Coconut Cream Pie (also served at the Pancake Palace and favorite indulgence of her daughter, Olivia, and Olivia’s friend Grace). Then she’d probably fry a chicken to serve with a Baked Potato Casserole, plus Sautéed Green Beans and Almonds, along with Cheddar Biscuits. Hmm, I'm getting hungry just thinking about this. Is it dinnertime yet?
Commitmentnow.com: What is your favorite dessert from the dessert section in this book?
Debbie: The Chocolate Zucchini Cake is a family favorite. The recipe was originally passed to me by my mother-in-law, Marie Macomber.
Commitmentnow.com: What advice do you have for those who want to create great food memories for their family?
Debbie: You don't need to attend cooking school to be a great cook. Use simple, homemade foods you remember from your own childhood and avoid store- bought mixes. (Which is not to say you can’t take shortcuts on hectic evenings! Check out the Windy Weather Grilled Cheese Sandwiches for a quick, easy lunch or supper.)
Charlotte would also say that you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment or improvise; substitute where necessary (when certain ingredients aren’t available or you’re dealing with a food allergy or preference).
Presentation makes a difference, too—the table properly set, everything nicely arranged, maybe even flowers or a small centerpiece. Above all, though, a memorable meal is about food carefully chosen and lovingly prepared, eaten in the company of family and friends.
Commitmentnow.com: If you had to write a story of yourself through food, what foods would be part of that story?
Debbie: I thought I’d answer this by recounting a typical day. I'd start with a fruit smoothie for breakfast, as I'm raring to go in the mornings and don't always want to take time to cook. And I’d rather not just grab something sweet--I don't need those empty calories first thing in the morning; I prefer to save them for later!
At lunch time, again I don't want to leave my computer for too long, so I generally have soup, especially the Broccoli and Cheese or the Homemade (with help) Chicken Noodle Soup. Both are filling and delicious. Mid-afternoon I'll have a snack, something to raise my energy level. The best cookies I've ever tasted are the Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies.
Then, for me, dinner is about relaxing. Needless to say, I love to cook, try new recipes and spend time in the kitchen. My husband will open a bottle of wine, making the process even more delightful, and I'll try just about anything that appeals to me. Fresh Herb Crab Cakes, Chicken Pot Pie, Southwestern Taco Salad, Broccoli Lasagna--I've tried and tasted them all and they’re all worth repeating.
For dessert, which I don't have every night, although I am tempted, I’d go with the Apple-Date Torte, the Russian Tea Cakes or the Apple Pie with Cinnamon Streusel Topping, just to name a few of my favorites.
You'll notice I had the longest answer to this question. Guess that says a lot about me and my relationship to food!
Celebrations Coconut Layer Cake
Every meal becomes a party when it ends with this beautiful
cake. There’s no need to worry about making the frosting look perfect since the entire cake is covered with a cloud of coconut ﬂakes.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Lightly butter and ﬂour pans.
2. For batter: In a large bowl with electric mixer on high speed,
beat butter and sugar until light and ﬂuffy. Add eggs, one at
a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and
3. In a medium bowl, combine ﬂour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Slowly add this mixture to butter mixture, alternating with the coconut milk. Mix only until blended. Stir in 1½ cups coconut ﬂakes. Pour into prepared pans.
4. Bake 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Run a knife around sides of pan, loosening cake from pan. Invert cakes onto wire racks to cool.
5. For frosting: In large bowl with electric mixer on high speed,
beat cream cheese, butter and a pinch of salt until combined. Beat in vanilla and coconut extracts. Reduce speed to low; slowly add confectioners’ sugar. Beat 5 minutes, until light and ﬂuffy.
6. Frost cake as desired. Cover entire cake with remaining coconut ﬂakes, pressing lightly into cake to make the coconut stick.
Makes 1 9" cake
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted
butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons coconut extract
3 cups all-purpose ﬂ our
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened
2½ cups sweetened
coconut ﬂakes, divided
8 ounces cream cheese, at
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted
butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
(about 1 pound)
Sweetened coconut ﬂ akes,
For easy blending, both the cream cheese and the butter should be at room temperature.
Anytime Tomato Soup with Fresh Basil and Swiss Cheese Pita Croutons
A homey from-the-pantry soup made from ingredients you
probably have on hand.
1. For croutons: Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice pitas in half
crosswise; separate to form 8 semicircles. Arrange on a baking
sheet and sprinkle the rough sides of the pita with the cheese;
season with salt. Bake 13 minutes, until golden and crispy.
Cut or break into 2-inch wedges.
2. For soup: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.
Add shallots; cook 5 minutes, until softened, stirring often.
Stir in garlic and bay leaf; cook 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes
and their juices and brown sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat;
simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing tomatoes against the side of the bowl. Remove bay leaf.
3. Transfer mixture to a blender. Purée until smooth. Return to
pot over medium heat. Stir in broth and warm through. Season
to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish servings with chopped
basil and pita croutons.
2 pita pockets
½ cup ﬁnely shredded
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 28-ounce cans whole
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup reduced-sodium
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped fresh basil, for
Want cream of tomato soup? Stir in 2 tablespoons heavy cream
in the last few minutes of warming the soup.
Teri’s Macaroni and Cheese
This rich, super-cheesy dish is a meal the whole family will love.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole pan or several small oven-safe baking cups.
2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
Sprinkle in ﬂ our; stir until absorbed, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in milk, stirring constantly, until incorporated. Reduce heat to low, add Velveeta chunks, stirring until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, sour cream, salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, cook macaroni according to package directions.
Drain; place in prepared pan. Fold in cheese sauce. Cover and
bake 25 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with shredded cheddar and
bake 10 minutes, until cheese melts.
Serves 6 to 8
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter,
plus extra for the pan
¹/3 cup all-purpose ﬂ our
2 cups whole milk
½ pound Velveeta cheese,
cut into chunks
½ cup cottage cheese
½ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound elbow macaroni
Shredded cheddar cheese,
For heartier appetites, stir in
some chopped ham or cooked
beef with taco seasonings
To purchase Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove Cookbook click here.
About the Author: Debbie Macomber is the #1 New York Times bestsellling author of the popular Cedar Cove series of novels, as well as many other books. She is not only a successful writer but an accomplished cook. Food, cooking and the serving of meals have been part of her life from an early age, and she based the character of Charlotte Rhodes on her mother and grandmother, who shared with her their recipes and their pleasure in cooking.