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posted: 7/23/2013 6:00 AM

Cook of the Week: Wheaton mom finds balance on the plate, in life

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  • Karen Felker says her small-town roots have helped her find balance when it comes to her love of dessert.

       Karen Felker says her small-town roots have helped her find balance when it comes to her love of dessert.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Karen Felker made her Angel Lemon Custard on a national TV talk show where it won a healthier dessert contest.

       Karen Felker made her Angel Lemon Custard on a national TV talk show where it won a healthier dessert contest.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
By Sally Eyre

Karen Felker of Wheaton believes in saying yes to dessert. It was this philosophy and her recipe for Angel Lemon Custard, a delicious confection that miraculously manages to stay under 200 calories a serving, that helped her win a low-calorie dessert challenge on the Steve Harvey show last May.

When Karen heard about the contest, she decided to send in her recipe on a whim. Within three minutes of her submission, the producers at " Steve Harvey" called her.

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"It was a fabulous experience! They did my hair and makeup -- they really can make you look good!," Karen says. "Steve Harvey is just what you see (on TV). He's positive, full of energy and loves people."

The featured guest for the show was Lisa Lillian, aka Hungry Girl from the Food Network, promoting her new cookbook with low-calorie desserts. Karen and another contestant made their desserts with Steve and Lisa sitting at the judges table.

"They decided they liked both recipes so well that we both won!" The prize was a $1,200 gift package from Sur La Table.

"This was all to promote a healthy lifestyle. You can say yes to dessert when you add it to a balanced lifestyle. I'm trying to teach this to my 10-year-old twins."

Karen, an identical twin herself, grew up in a small town in Minnesota and believes those roots help her find that balance. She and her sister were encouraged to experiment in the kitchen by their mother.

"We could do what we wanted as long as we cleaned up the mess and shared whatever we made -- and that's what food is all about!"

We should mention that Karen and her sister are no strangers to food competitions. They used to compete with their gingerbread architecture creations. Karen's edible "Charlotte's Web farm" won at a contest promoting literacy. And her sister currently holds the title of "Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Baker" of Maple Plains, Minn.

Happily, Karen shares a few lower-cal and a few not so low-cal dessert recipes with us today, including the awarding winning custard and her sister's chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Her love of baking gingerbread hasn't paled -- this past Christmas she gave her faculty friends (Karen teaches at Wheaton College) gingerbread ornaments.

"I like baking cookies, and I love to decorate anything." In fact, much of Karen's Sur la Table prize money has gone to decorating equipment.

"What I really like is making something that is multi-stepped. I call it science in the kitchen," she laughs. Karen's recipe for caramel brownies is one example. You begin with the bottom crust and then layer and bake as you go.

"People are so busy -- they just don't bake anymore. There's nothing like a homemade recipe. I encourage moms and dads to bake with their kids, or just to do something in the kitchen as a family. One thing that my husband and I strive for is sitting down and eating together. It's the only time we all get to talk!"

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