Someone’s in the Kitchen with Sarah: Leah Campion
Dessert is king in Leah Campion’s kitchen.
It’s been that way for as long as she can remember.
Growing up in Ohio, Campion’s father and grandfather looked forward to the sweet treat that followed dinner.
“Dessert was what was important,” she said. “It was like ‘Yeah, we enjoyed that meal, but where’s dessert?’ ”
That’s where Campion inherited her sweet tooth, which she’s passed along to her daughters Kerry, 11, and Abby, 8.
Campion doesn’t use any type of artificial sweeteners or butters in her dishes, she goes for full flavor.
“It’s not worth it if it doesn’t taste good,” she said.
She points out that it’s better to have a small piece of the real deal than a giant slice of a dessert packed with faux sugar.
I tend to agree with her. My motto is “everything in moderation.”
Campion showed me how to make lemon bars and strawberry pretzel salad during my visit to her Bank Street home.
“The lemon bars are something I’ve been eating ever since I was a kid,” she said. “They are sweet, they get the job done and they are not difficult.”
Campion said the recipe for the treat has been passed down quite a bit.
“If I remember correctly, she got the recipe from her really good friend from college’s mother,” she said. “These are a little bit different than some that I’ve had, the filling is not quite as stiff.”
In the past, I’ve had lemon bars that were too tart, but these were the perfect combination of sweet and sour.
Campion’s secret was using bottled lemon juice instead of squeezing fresh lemons, which can make the bars too bitter.
The strawberry pretzel salad was a more unique dessert.
Before meeting Campion, I had never even heard of it.
The dish’s crushed pretzel crust combined with Jell-O, whipped cream, cream cheese and sweet strawberries make it the perfect treat for a warm summer day.
“When I think of springtime and summer I think strawberries,” she said. “It’s something really easy to put together to take to a picnic or party.”
I have a huge sweet tooth, something I inherited from my father. Being in Campion’s kitchen satisfied it — at least for a couple of hours.
Following the recipe
I quickly learned that Campion’s trick to perfection is to simply following the recipe.
She doesn’t bother trying to commit each one to memory, instead she pulls out her trusty card and gets to work.
“I wasn’t always with (my mother) in the kitchen, but I knew my way around the recipes,” she said. “I knew that if I could follow the recipe, most of the time I’d end up with something that was edible.
“I like to be able to follow the recipe and know that I don’t have to throw my own stamp on it.”
Campion learned her way around the kitchen from her mother and grandmothers.
“They were good cooks and they baked a lot,” she said. “They always made homemade cookies, pies and cakes.”
Most of the time, Campion prefers baking to cooking.
“I think sometimes when you bake something you’re more likely to turn out with something that’s probably going to taste good,” she said. “I made something recently for my family and followed the recipe to the letter and it’s just not something that any of us preferred.
“Typically that doesn’t happen with cake or cookies.”
Campion is particularly well-known for her cookies.
A plaque on the wall reads “Campion’s Cookie Kitchen.”
Years ago, she started baking cookies for her father and father-in-law for Christmas. It was the gift that kept on giving because she would send a fresh batch to each of them every other month throughout the entire year.
The tradition continues, but she’s added more people to the list.
“At this point, they almost expect cookies,” she said.
Campion is quick to point out she’s “never been a gourmet cook.”
“I don’t like to make things that have 50 different ingredients and you have to use all of these fancy tools and things like that,” she said. “I grew up very much in a meat and potatoes kind of household.”
As she’s gotten older Campion has broken out of that mold to explore different kind of foods.
“I’ve become a little bit more adventurous, so I like to try new recipes,” she said.
Campion said she picks up most of her recipes from Southern Living magazine.
“I subscribe first for the recipes and then for the other stuff,” she said. “Most of the time, they’re really good and most of the time they’re not too crazy to make.
“They are relatively easy and you don’t have to be in the kitchen for two hours.”
Campion also clips recipes from newspaper and magazines and collects them from friends.
“It’s just wherever I find something that looks tasty,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.