When former Dayton Daily News and Journal Herald food editor and restaurant critic Ann Heller tested recipes for her long-running “It’s Simple” column, she applied the same exacting standards to her own cooking as she did to the Dayton area’s restaurant chefs.
“There were plenty of rejects,” Heller recalled in a recent interview at her home in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District. “I brought one dish that I was testing to a party, tasted it, and dumped it right down the drain.”
Heller retired in 2006 after 31 years as restaurant critic and 29 years as food editor, but her passion for cooking and dining has not ebbed. She shops for fresh ingredients daily, is on a first-name basis with some of the farmers who sell at local farmers’ markets and cultivates her own herbs for use in her dishes. The cookbooks on her kitchen counter are chock full of hand-written side advice and yellow stick-em notes of short-cuts and techniques that make each recipe her own.
Now, some of the most popular recipes developed by Ann Heller during her three-decade-run are coming back, this time to the newspaper’s subscription web site MyDaytonDailyNews.com. The new feature will allow the Internet to introduce some of this region’s most sought-after recipes to a whole new generation of home cooks and food enthusiasts.
The weekly feature will utilize recipes from Heller’s “The Best of It’s Simple: Easy Recipes for Today’s Lifestyles and Tastes” cookbook that was published in 1992 by the Dayton Daily News. Heller said she still gets plenty of feedback on that small, spiral-bound collection that the newspaper itself published. Local cooks still swear by recipes such as Crab Cakes (“That’s one recipe I don’t tinker with,” Heller says); Lemon Roast Chicken; Bourbon Pecans, which Heller still makes every year around the holidays; and Red Bell Pepper Saute, with its “secret ingredient” that cooks shouldn’t think of leaving out if they want the authentic version.
And we’ll likely dip a little farther into the archives and pull out a recipe or two from the 1980 cookbook that Heller also authored, and from the annual “Best Recipes of the Year” stories that were published in the Dayton Daily News and The Journal Herald.
Because a great recipe has no expiration date.
“The best part of writing about food has always been the people and their passions, from the sausage maker and the confectioner to the farmer, the chef and the dedicated cook. But the recipes were the exclamation points at the end of the story. They told the continuing story about the way America cooks.” Ann Heller, in her last recipe column for the Dayton Daily News prior to retiring from the newspaper on June 28, 2006.