Cooking tips: Classic recipes made simple

When a project engineer sets out to write a cookbook, the result is not just another cookbook.

It’s a carefully crafted collection of more than 200 kitchen-tested recipes that include prep and cook times, clear and concise directions, practical tips and even culinary trivia.

I recently visited Colleen Brethen and her husband, Dave (an entrepreneur), in their Kettering home to try out recipes from Colleen’s book, “Not Just Another Cookbook: Classic Recipes, Simple Cooking” (204 pages, $22; Orange Frazer Press, 2014).

Wonderful aromas filled their bright and beautiful kitchen, and it was difficult to exercise restraint when I sampled some sumptuous yet oh-so-easy-to-make fare that would be perfect for the upcoming Super Bowl — Buffalo Wings, Blue Cheese Dip, Jalapeno Poppers and Guacamole. The recipes are featured in the book, which covers appetizers, cocktails, sauces, entrees, sides and desserts. A handy chapter in the back provides basic cooking and kitchen equipment tips.

After noshing on some deliriously delicious culinary creations, I was delighted to find out more about this intriguing local cook and author in the following interview:

Q: When did you first start cooking?

A: (Colleen Brethen) I was very small, probably 5 or 6 years old. I’d cook with my parents. Each had a recipe for marinara sauce, and I was sworn to secrecy not to tell about the other one’s recipe. That’s where I got my passion. They loved cooking so much. Mom was amazing. Dad made it into a science, and I cooked every chance I had with him because it was something we could do together.

Q: How did you come to write “Not Just Another Cookbook”?

A: I’m a retired project engineer. I needed something to do. My second love was always cooking.

Q: What is your goal with the book?

A: I want to do some good in the world. I want to reach people and make them happy. I want excited foodies to experience my book.

Q: Since you have a background in project engineering, what was interesting to you about taking on this book as a project?

A: In writing this book, I ran into so many people. My book excited people. It became an instructional book with tips and tricks. I put in history to make it interesting to talk about at the table. I got a lot of excitement from family and friends over this book.

Every single recipe I took on was a project. My goal was to get each recipe down to a paragraph. Time, money and quality. I wanted the whole book to be easy to read.

About 30 percent of the recipes started out as recipes from Dave’s family. We found a recipe box that belonged to Dave’s mother. Not all the family recipes included amounts for ingredients, and I started experimenting with the recipes to figure out the right amount.

Q: Then, I have a couple questions for Dave: What was it like to taste-test these old family recipes?

A: (Dave) In a way it was a little spooky. A trip down memory lane. Grandma’s French dressing — I hadn’t had it since I was 12 years old. Tasting it again brought back memories.

Q: Dave, it’s obvious that you played an important role during the making of this book. Can you describe what it was like being supportive of your wife’s cookbook project?

A: To put this book together, it had to become an obsession for Colleen. We decided we were going to make it a book to be proud of. We wanted it to be a first-class thing. It’s a labor of love. Four years of her life in this book. It’s not about the money. It’s about the experience.

Q: “A labor of love” — Colleen, to you, what exactly is cooking?

A: (Colleen) Cooking is therapy — prepping, chopping things up. I don’t find it a burden to prep. Even if I’m sitting there stirring, getting onions to soften, I’m spacing out and enjoying the process.

Q: What else do you like about cooking?

A: My favorite thing to do is to look in the fridge and create something, not going to the store.

Q: And about following a recipe, what is your favorite part?

A: My very favorite thing is to make sauces, and I get everything laid out. I get into the smell and get everything to balance. I add ingredients gradually. I enjoy the process of having everything to create that ultimate sauce.

Q: Ingredients are important — what about kitchen tools?

A: If you have the right tools, cooking is fun. You’re going to enjoy the process. Some of my favorites:

  • Chef’s knife
  • A pair of good kitchen shears
  • Compressed wood or bamboo cutting boards
  • Kitchen Aid mixer
  • Wooden spoons and spatula
  • Lemon press (I use it all the time)
  • Graters

Q: What have you done since the book came out?

A: I’ve donated 100 books to Daybreak (the emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youths). The staff teach life skills to the kids. They teach them how to cook. They get together once a week and make a meal, and each week they’re picking something new. The last chapter of my book explains how to set up a kitchen. Dorothy Lane Market donated bags, and Dave and I donated food for them to cook with.

Q: Where can people buy your book?

A: My website — — and Locally, you can also find it in dozens of places, including Dorothy Lane Market, Arrow Wine, the Miami Valley Hospital Gift Shop, Carillon Historical Park, Open Haus Gift Shop (Cross Pointe Shopping Center) and The Little Exchange (Oakwood).

Q: Final thoughts?

A: I think people can learn from this book and be entertained by it. It’s not just another cookbook — it is a good read.


2 pounds chicken wings (about 12 wings)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

4 tablespoons hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon paprika

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Cut off chicken wing tips, cut wings at the joint, wash and pat dry. Place chicken pieces in a plastic bag; set aside. Combine butter, hot pepper sauce, paprika, salt, cayenne and black pepper. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of marinade over the chicken pieces in the bag. Seal bag and marinate 30 minutes in refrigerator. Drain and discard marinade.

Place wing pieces on a broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat for about 10 minutes each side. Baste with remaining marinade before serving.


½ cup sour cream

½ cup blue cheese, crumbled

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or white vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine sour cream, blue cheese, mayonnaise, vinegar and garlic; mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend. Store dip in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

¼ cup green pepper, minced

1 pound bulk chorizo sausage

20 jalapeno peppers, seeded, cored

4 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated

Saute onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until onion is soft. Add sausage and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until cooked through, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon. Transfer meat to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the chorizo mixture and cheese. Stuff the center of each pepper with about 1 tablespoon of the mixture. Place in a pepper roaster or grill pan. Grill over indirect heat or bake on a baking sheet at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes.


1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

¼ cup red onion, minced

1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced

3 avocados, halved, pitted, peeled

2 tablespoons lime juice

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Mix cilantro, onion and jalapeno pepper in a non-reactive bowl. Roughly chop avocado flesh and spoon into onion mixture. Add lime juice and mash until smooth or to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper. Garnish with additional cilantro if desired. Chill for at least 30 minutes to all flavors to blend.


1 12-ounce can lime juice frozen concentrate

1 12-ounce can of beer, cold

1 12-ounce can lemon lime soda, cold

12 ounces Jose Cuervo gold tequila (for lighter drinks, reduce to 6 ounces)

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher. Stir and serve.

Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.