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Cynthia Nims Talks Heritage Recipes, Food Trivia and Brown Butter Pound Cake
Monday, February 27, 2023


Joan Clark’s prized recipe is a fruit cake from a very old Norwegian recipe.

Joyce Patricelli’s bible is cookbook of family recipes one of her aunts put together. And Lois Adrian’s Norwegian family has a treasure trove of Norwegian recipes ranging from traditional lutefisk to more modern recipes that they break out every Christmas.

These women and 11 others came together recently to get ideas for preserving family recipes in ways that would make them even more meaningful in a workshop taught by Seattle cookbook author Cynthia Nims.

Nims was in town to teach a couple cooking classes for the Sun Valley Culinary Institute, and she took a Saturday morning to teach the recipe workshop at The Community Library.

Making a recipe more complete and filling in the gaps often leads not only to learning family recipes but learning family stories, Nims told the women.

If possible, cook alongside the person whose recipe it is, said Nims. That way you can collect stories and memories while seeing exactly how that person cooks.

When writing them down, tell a recipe’s story in the headnote, she said: “Sunday was always pot roast day at Grandma’s.” Or, “Tuesday was cleaning day so that was a day for leftovers.”

When rewriting recipes, fill gaps as necessary. Be as detailed as possible, suggested Karl Johann Uri, the director of the Sun Valley Culinary Institute. Many old family recipes give scant instructions, assuming people know how to make them. But that’s not the case, especially in today’s modern era, noted Uri,

“Home ec programs don’t exist anymore so when you write a recipe give as much direction as possible,”  he said.

It is not sacrilegious to update or modernize old family recipes, either. Uri noted that his family makes a traditional Norwegian dish for special occasions for which they used to grate dozens of potatoes.  They don’t grate anymore. Instead, they buy a couple bags of “Simply Potatoes shredded hashbrowns at the store that are already grated.


Quick! How many bubbles are in a bottle of champagne? What food did Julius Caesar introduce to Rome? How many miles does food in America travel from farm to table? What did chefs fear from COVID?

Cynthia Nims’ Gourmet Game Night cooking class at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute came with a dozen rounds of food trivia, with winners winning prizes like autographed copies of Nims’ new cookbook “Shellfish.”

The Institute’s Director Karl Johann Uri kept the trivia questions going, even as Nims showed a dozen-plus food enthusiasts how to create dishes like Herb Marinated Shrimp and Roasted Red Potatoes with Bacon-Chive Crème Fraiche for Super Bowl and other parties.

In case you were wondering, each standard-sized bottle of champagne contains 49 million bubbles. And there’s no such thing as too many bubbles—the more bubbles, the better the taste.

As for Caesar, no it wasn’t a Caesar salad—that was invented in Tijuana, Mexico in 1924. Julius Caesar fed his soldiers Julian stew—a dish made of spelt, ground meat, the root vegetable lovage, fennel, hard bread and a wine reduction.

The average distance food travels from farm to table is 1,500 miles. And chefs feared losing their sense of taste and smell from COVID.

Cynthia Nims’ Brown Butter Pound Cake with Caramel Dip seemed to get the most oohs and awws of the recipes she introduced at Gourmet Game Night. The brown butter adds a nutty flavor to the cake, which can be eaten as a finger food. Eye on Sun Valley is sharing the recipe with Nims’ permission:


1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1.5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted


1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

1.5 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and cut a strip of parchment to line the length of the pan with a couple inches excess at either end. Butter the paper, as well. (Paper is optional but might protect against sticking).

Melt ½ cup of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking for 5 to 6 minutes until the solids in the butter turn a medium brown and the butter smells nutty. The butter might sputter a bit as excess water evaporates. Different brands of butter may take longer to brown given different compositions. Set brown butter aside to cool.

Combine the remaining ½ cup of butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the cooled brown butter, vanilla and salt to the batter and blend at low speed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the flour in three batches, gently but thoroughly folding in each batch by hand before adding the next.

Spoon the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing the surface. Bake for about an hour until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool a few minutes in the pan, then turn the bread out onto a wire race and carefully turn it back upright to cool.

For the dip, put the sugar and water in a high-sided medium, heavy saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. Continue cooking without stirring for 8 to 12 minutes until the sugar turns a deep mahogany color; you may see a few tiny wisps of smoke rising from the surface. Take the pan from the heat and carefully pour about half of the cream into the pan; it will bubble up but subside after a few seconds. Add the rest of the cream and the vanilla and mix.

Slice the cake and dip into the sauce.

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