Food & Drink | August 2020

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Sweet Treats for Station 14

When Linda Deal Kruse cooks, she cooks a lot. As in, six chicken pot pies or dozens and dozens of cookies or a counter full of brownies. And most of what she makes, she gives away. She always has some soup in the freezer ready to be taken to someone who is “down and out,” she said. But many of the sweet creations from Linda’s kitchen go the firefighters at Waco Fire Station 14, on Speegleville Road.

“They’re just precious, these 6-foot-4 men,” she said of her firefighter friends. “The first thing I did for them was the flag pies, and they were astounded. I think I’m responsible for any obesity that has broken out there.”

And her offerings are greatly appreciated.

“Oh, my goodness,” said Lt. Steve Tull, a 26-year veteran of the Waco Fire Department who has been at Station 14 since it opened in 2006. “It’s just wonderful to get things from anyone in the public, but over and over from her, it shows how much she cares. She always brings on July 4 a blueberry-cherry pie [with a crust] shaped like an American flag. That’s always good. And the chocolate chip cookies that she brings, just everything is wonderful.”

Kruse usually documents her food drop-offs in photographs and posts those to her Facebook page.

“Every time she brings us treats, she insists on having her picture taken with the crew,” Tull said. “She has a progression of the years in photographs. We always enjoy having our pic made with her.”

Kruse often cruises Facebook and other sites for any “national” days, such as “National Chocolate Chip Day” and bakes around those dates. She also decorates her pie crusts with cutouts corresponding with holidays, like bunnies around Easter and hearts at
Valentine’s Day.

One of her most popular Valentine gifts to the firefighters was a decadent heart-shaped cheesecake. (The recipe calls for five packages of cream cheese.)

“One of them was so cute,” Kruse said. “He said, ‘I liked to make myself sick I kept going back [for more cheesecake].’”

Kruse’s love for creative cooking didn’t come until she was married and had children.

“My mother was a beautiful redhead who worked in Downtown Waco for many years,” Kruse said. “She was a legal secretary for state Sen. Kyle Vick, and I never saw her cook anything my whole life. Maybe on Sunday, she would open a can of soup for us or something like that. She was always gone working.”

A live-in housekeeper made basics such as meatloaf and chicken fried steak, but it was not until Kruse and her friend Joan Hearn — her husband, Billy Ray Hearn, was an executive at Word Records and helped start the careers of Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman and dozens of other Christian artists — started a catering business that she started doing “cute and fancy” food, such as tomatoes stuffed with chicken salad. Their catering company was known for its fancy box lunches, and they provided meals for companies such as American Amicable Life Insurance. It was a job that allowed Kruse to work during the day and be home by the time her children, Melody and Cal, got home from school.

Kruse’s other career was as one of the owners of Jim Deal Clothier, a family business that was located at 4306 Memorial Drive, near the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. It closed in 2012 after 43 years.

“I’m a people person,” she said. “We loved our customers. That’s one of the hardest things that people don’t realize. We dressed them and then we dressed their kids when they graduated from high school, and when they grew up, we dressed their kids. We grieved if they lost somebody.”

And it was after the store closed that she started cooking in earnest and “adopted my firemen,” she said.

“I like to cook for other people and give it away. I like the process and I like experimenting, but I don’t always particularly want to sit down and eat it,” she said.

Kruse shared several of her recipes, including the decadent cheesecake and some wonderful cinnamon sticks. While she usually just takes sweets to her firefighters, she sent along a recipe for a savory tortilla pie as well.

The Recipes

White Chocolate Cheesecake

For the crust:

  • 1 (11-ounce) box vanilla wafers
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 stick butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 5 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces white chocolate squares, melted and cooled slightly
  • Seedless strawberry jam, for serving; or cut-up fresh fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, apricots, plums or whatever is in season.

Heat oven to 350 F.

To make the crust, line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick
spray. Set aside.

Place the vanilla wafers in a food processor and pulse until completely ground. Leave processor running and add sugar and cinnamon. Add the melted butter to the mixture and blend, pulsing to jostle any unbroken cookies, until the mixture is smooth. Press onto the bottom and sides of the springform pan. Set aside.

Beat cream cheese at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. And add melted white chocolate, blending well. Spoon the cream cheese batter into the crust-filled pan.

Place the springform pan in the center of another larger pan. Add hot water to the larger pan to reach halfway up the sides of the springform. Carefully place in the oven and bake for about 55 minutes or until cheesecake is just barely set and very lightly browning. Leave the cake in the oven, turn off the heat and open the oven door slightly for a few minutes to eliminate any sudden changes in temperature, as sudden changes will result in cracks in the cake. After 10 minutes prop the door open a little wider. After 10 more minutes, remove the larger pan from the oven and set aside. When the water has completely cooled, remove the cake to a wire rack and cool completely. When cool, cover loosely with foil and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Decorate the top with squiggles of jam or fresh fruit.

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Cinnamon Sticks

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Heat oven to 325 F.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolk. Sift together the flour and cinnamon and add to the creamed mixture. Spread onto a baking sheet that has been very lightly sprayed with nonstick spray and press into place until firm and compact.

Smooth the unbeaten egg white over the dough and press the nuts into the dough. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden. Cut into 1- by 3-inch sticks.

Makes about 42 sticks.

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Salted Caramel Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 16 vanilla caramels, unwrapped
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon shortening or butter

Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, gently whip softened butter until creamy. Add vanilla and mix. Slowly add flour-sugar mixture and mix until blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on cookie sheets and press center with your thumb. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are very light brown. If cookie centers puff during baking, press in again. Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine caramels and whipping cream. Cook and stir over very low heat until caramels are melted and smooth. Spoon a scant teaspoon of caramel mixture into center of each cookie. Immediately sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

To make the chocolate drizzle, in a small saucepan, heat and stir chocolate and shortening or butter until chocolate is melted and smooth. Using a cake decorating bag, a plastic bag with a corner snipped, or a spoon, drizzle over the cookies.

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Tortilla Pie

  • 4 (10-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus more for pan)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground beef sirloin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (11-ounce) can Mexicorn
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups (packed) loose baby spinach, torn into pieces
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Picante sauce, optional
  • Guacamole, optional

Heat oven to 400 F.

Trim the tortillas to fit a 9-inch springform pan. (Use the bottom of the pan as a guide.)

Assemble pan with the bottom upside down, making it easier to remove pie after baking. Lightly spray bottom and sides of pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Raise heat to medium-high and add the beef and garlic. Cook, breaking up meat with a spoon until no longer pink, 4 to 6 minutes. Add Mexicorn, beans and spinach; stir until spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes.

Place 1 tortilla in the pan. Spreading evenly, top with 1 1/2 packed cups of the beef mixture, then 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat with two more layers. Top with last tortilla and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake until top is lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan; remove sides. Using two wide metal spatulas, lift pie from bottom of pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into wedges.

If desired, top with guacamole and/or picante sauce.

Makes about 6 servings.
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