Dessert made easy with 4 ingredients

Before even formulating and testing the recipes in her new cookbook "Desserts 4 Today" (The Taunton Press, $17.95), Abigail Johnson Dodge already was set on the title of the book. Early on in her research, Dodge uncovered a study that said the average number of items a person could remember in sequence was about four. Using this phenomenon as inspiration, Dodge decided to dedicate a whole cookbook to dessert recipes that included four ingredients, no more, no less.

Using corkboards, Dodge posted a number of textures, ingredients and flavors she wanted to incorporate and let her cooking creativity take over. One thing she was determined to do was make the recipes accessible to all ages and skills. "My goal was to have everybody, regardless of their skill level, end their day sweetly," Dodge said. "It's one of those evergreen books that you can use year-round."

Dodge's recipe for thumbprints is a simplistic approach to the classic recipe. The recipe also can be tweaked numerous ways by changing the cookie's filling.

Jammin' Sugar Cookie Thumbprints

1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar

4 Tbsp., unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup fruit preserves

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 1 large cookie sheet with a nonstick liner. Put the 3 tablespoons sugar in a small ramekin and set aside.

Put the butter and the remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until smooth and blended, about 1 minute. Add the flour. Beat on medium-low until just blended, about 1 minute.

Using your hands, press and roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the reserved sugar and arrange on the prepared cookie sheet about 11/2 inches apart. Using a finger, press down into the middle of each mound to make a well that's almost down to the bottom. (If the edges crack too much, reroll the dough and try again.)

Bake until the tops look dry, 12 to 14 minutes. Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Serve immediately or cover and store at room temperature for up to 2 days. Just before serving, use a small spoon to drop about 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves into the indentation.

Switch-Ins

In place of the fruit preserves, switch in one of the following after baking:

1/4 cup fruit curd

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup Nutella

1/4 cup dulce de leche

- From 'Desserts 4 Today' (by Abigail Johnson Dodge)

- Layne Lynch

Local Babies have more choices away from Jar

The Gerber baby has some new competition on its hands. Two more new local baby food companies, Local Baby and NuturMe, launched their lines of baby food over the summer. (They are in addition to organic baby food company Little Vittles, which also started up in Austin this year.)

Tabatha Stephens and Yasmine Anderson, owners of Local Baby, met while attending the Texas Culinary Academy in 2004, going on to collaborate on several small catering events during the years following. Discovering that Austin had a void in local, sustainable food for babies, the twosome decided to open a business. "Our whole goal is to produce locally sourced, sustainable food and use organic as much as we can," Stephens said. In addition, the two incorporated hints of spice into their baby food, such as chili powder and curry, attempting to broaden the baby's palate at an early age.

"If you start a baby early on spices, they won't be such picky eaters in their later years," Stephens said. Stephens will soon have a personal taste tester; she is adopting a baby girl from Baton Rouge, La., this November. Local Baby sells at the downtown farmers' market, 400 W. Guadalupe St., and Farm House Delivery, farmhousedelivery.com .

Disappointed with the environmental cost and nutritional value of most commercial baby food, Caroline Freedman, creator of NurturMe, came up with the idea of improving baby food when she became a mother two years ago. Over drinks at Polvo's, she made a decision to partner with friend Lauren McCullough and create NurturMe's 100 percent organic and gluten-free baby foods. Instead of jarring her product, Freedman decided to package her dried foods in recyclable cartons. The dried foods are then added to liquids such as breast milk, formula or water. "I wanted to create something more earth-friendly and nutritionally beneficial," Freedman said. "Baby food can be very impactful."

Believing in sticking with a small staple of flavors, Freedman warns against getting too experimental with a baby's menu choices. "I suggest starting with veggies and not fruits first, (but) babies will identify their own preferences." NurturMe is sold online at nurturme.com .

- L.L.

Cupcake love swirls into a delivery business

When Debra Waters was a child, she watched her mother merge variegated flavors and shades of cupcake mix. Now she is using her mother's trick and swirling her own creations into a cupcake delivery business, Heavenly Swirls Cupcakes (259-2856).

After taking care of her grandfather for 10 years, Waters was looking to get back into the career world. Struggling to find her place in the business world again, she accidentally found herself deemed a baker. Just three months ago, after dropping off cupcakes and business cards to friends in Cedar Park, Waters was being asked to deliver her baked goods to events and people's homes. Now she hopes to bring her cupcakes to bigger events and deliver them around Austin. "It was a complete accident," Waters said. "I always liked to bake, but I never thought of pursuing it."

The best-sellers are mini-swirls, which come in flavors such as lemon berry and red velvet. Waters said her grandfather was fond of the banana bread swirls. For now, Waters is taking her business a day at a time, still settling into her new career. "I'm playing it by ear, for now," she said. "We'll see what happens."

- L.L.

Openings, closings and coming soon

• Open: The Noble Pig, a sandwich and breakfast shop from Austin chef John Bates - a veteran of Asti and Wink - and Brandon Martinez, whose background includes making sausage at Whole Foods Market and cooking high-end Italian food in San Francisco. The name suggests a swine-centric approach, but there's room for house-baked breads, smoked-duck pastrami, oyster po'boys and French press coffee from Casa Brasil. "We have a great affection for pork, but it's not the whole focus," Bates said. Pork shows up early and often, in a sandwich of house-made chorizo and peppers and a waffle sandwich with eggs and country sausage. Why the shift from high-end to more modest? "I've been cooking for 17 years, and my favorite food to eat in the world is a sandwich," Bates said. The Noble Pig is at 11815 RM 620 N., Suite 4. 382-6248. Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.

• Open: Maudie's Hill Country the sixth location of the local Tex-Mex chain, at 12506 Shops Parkway, Bee Cave. 263-1116, www.maudies.com . Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, until 10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. This one's designed by Austin restaurant designer Michael Hsu, with generous patio space on several levels.

• Open: Cazamance, a trailer serving African-influenced food at 90 Rainey St. 844-4414, www.facebook.com/Cazamance .

• Open: Buenos Aires Cafe at the Hill County Galleria, 13500 Galleria Circle, Suite U120, Bee Cave. 441-9000, www.buenosairescafe.com. This is the new home of chef-owner Reina Morris' first Buenos Aires Cafe, originally on South First Street. The second cafe remains open at 1201 E. Sixth St.

• Open: Pilot House Coffee, a local roaster selling coffee by free scooter delivery in 11 local ZIP codes and by mail for $4.95 elsewhere. With coffees from Guatemala, Kenya, Costa Rica and more, plus a Town Lake Blend. 777-1549, www.pilothousecoffee.com .

• Open: Ann Wolfe's Creole Blues, a homestyle Creole restaurant from boxing champion Ann Wolfe at the original Backyard site at 13101 Texas 71 W., Bee Cave. 263-4146. Open only on Fridays and Saturdays for now. Happy hour runs 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and food service begins at 6 p.m. with dishes such as crawfish étouffée and shrimp Creole.

• Closed: Backstage Steakhouse in Spicewood.

- Mike Sutter

Hop from trailer to trailer in one location

Two of Austin's favorite pastimes - outdoor festivals and food trailers - will unite at Auditorium Shores on Nov. 6 for the Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival. The plan is to bring dozens of Austin carts, trailers, vans and push-carts together in one spot for stroll-around tastings and, of course, live music. Organizers also are planning a cook-off to crown a fan favorite and other awards. Admission will be free, with food for purchase from each vendor. The event is being put together by the C3 team of Austin City Limits Festival fame and Tiffany Harelik of Trailer Food Diaries. Details at www.gypsypicnic.com .

- Mike Sutter

Food and wine briefs

• The Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up starts Monday and runs through Oct. 1. Hundreds of restaurants statewide will offer Texas-grown food and wine. The Driskill Grill, Southwest Bistro and both Roaring Fork locations are among the Austin restaurants participating. Restaurant list at www.gotexan.org/restaurantroundup .

• The first half of Austin Restaurant Week wraps up today , with more than 70 restaurants offering three-course dinners for $25-$35. Some also will offer lunches for $10-$15. The second half runs Sunday through Sept. 29. Restaurant list at www.restaurantweekaustin.com .

• Mizael Saucedo, the former chef for Sandra Bullock's Bess Bistro, has taken over as chef at Urban: An American Grill at the Westin hotel at the Domain, 11301 Domain Drive. 480-1511, www.urbanatthedomain.com .

• The Hill Country Wine & Food Festival on Tuesday announced that the 2011 festival will be held March 31-April 3, a few weeks earlier than this year's fest. Joining the festival will be a chef's council to bolster the event's food presence. Members include David Bull (the new Congress), Tyson Cole (Uchi), Todd Duplechan (Trio), Shawn Cirkiel (Parkside), Josh Watkins (the Carillon), Jonathan Gelman (Driskill Grill), Larry McGuire (Perla's) and Jason Dady of San Antonio. The festival's board of directors will be led by Austin writer and food public-relations professional Cathy Cochran-Lewis.

- M.S.