By Karin Glendenning
Community News Writer
“I cook by the seat of my pants,” laughed Mary Cooper. “I really don’t follow recipes exactly, and I never taste while I’m cooking.”
The preceding statements serve to define Mrs. Cooper’s attitude toward cooking. She is confident in the kitchen and, through years of experience, has become a natural at all things culinary.
Mrs. Cooper and her husband, Jack, have six grown children, five boys and one girl, and eight grandchildren. You might think that she had prepared enough food to last a lifetime during her brood’s childhood, but she said that she still cooks every day for herself and her husband.
The Coopers also entertain three or four nights a week. When they have company, she said she always serves a salad and hard rolls and often grills chicken and prepares steamed vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli.
One of her specialties is Shrimp Scampi. She cooks noodles, adding garlic to the water while the noodles are cooking. Then she tosses the drained noodles with sour cream and half and half and tops them with sauteed shrimp, for a quick and easy meal.
Mrs. Cooper was one of seven children and said she often cooked with her mother and grandmother. “My mother was a great cook. She was so meticulous about how her food looked and tasted,” she said.
Mrs. Cooper said she enjoys creating recipes, such as her pork chops which she breads and fries in lard. After draining the fat from the skillet, she returns the chops to it and tops them with fresh tomatoes, onions, pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Then she covers and bakes them for about an hour and serves them over rice.
The Coopers are retired and enjoy living on the lake in their contemporary home, which Mrs. Cooper designed. Their yard speaks to their talent for landscaping with several water features and banks covered with plants and flowers. Whimsical birdhouses line the drive and hang on the side of the garage.
The recipes that Mrs. Cooper shares with readers today are ones she said always earn her raves.
1 1-pound package Oreos
1 cup melted butter
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
16 ounces Cool Whip, divided
3 1/2 cups milk
1 large package chocolate instant pudding mix
Crush Oreos and pour melted butter over and mix. Press in bottom of 9- by 13-inch pan and chill. Mix cream cheese and 8 ounces Cool Whip and spread over crust. Mix 3 and 1/2 cups milk with pudding mix and spread over cream cheese mixture. Top with remaining Cool Whip. Refrigerate before serving.
16 to 18 cups corn, cut off the cob
1 pound butter
1 pint half and half
Put all ingredients in roaster. Bake, uncovered for 1 hour at 325, stirring at least three times during cooking. Serve or freeze for later use.
(Mrs. Cooper said she sometimes puts two asparagus spears in each roll-up.)
12 asparagus spears
4 large (14- by 18-inch) sheets phyllo dough, thawed
12 thin slices prosciutto
12 thin slices Cabot Tomato Basil cheddar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375. Have bowl of ice water on hand.
In pot of boiling, salted water, cook asparagus for 1 minute. Transfer to ice water with slotted spoon. Once cool, transfer to paper towels to drain; pat dry. Lay first phyllo sheet on cutting board. Brush entire surface with melted butter. Top with next phyllo sheet and brush with butter. Repeat with remaining two sheets. Cut into 12 smaller rectangles. Place one piece of prosciutto and cheddar on each rectangle. Place asparagus spears on top with tips extending beyond edges. Roll phyllo up around asparagus and brush with additional butter. Place rolls on baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.
Large mushrooms, at least 2-inches in diameter
1/2 small onion, chopped fine
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup finely chopped ham
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon basil or thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Set aside. Chop stems. Melt 3 tablespoons butter over moderate heat and saute onions and mushroom stems for about 2 minutes. Season with garlic, salt, pepper, basil or thyme and rosemary. Add spinach and mix well. Spoon into large bowl and add bread crumbs, ham and cheese and mix well. Butter a large, shallow baking dish. Fill mushroom caps with spinach mixture, heaping up in the center, and place in baking dish. Dot with remaining butter and garnish with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 10 to 15 minutes or until tops are brown.
BRAISED BEEF CUBES
1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds round steak, cut into cubes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup sliced onions
3 tablespoons Crisco
1 beef bouillon cube
1 cup hot water
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid. Melt Crisco in skillet and brown meat, garlic, onions and mushrooms. Dissolve bouillon cube in hot water. Add to meat mixture with mushroom liquid and remaining ingredients. Bake covered in 350 oven 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours. Thicken with cornstarch and water, if desired. Serve over hot buttered noodles.
MARINATED GARDEN TOMATOES
(Mrs. Cooper said these tomatoes are best if marinated overnight.)
6 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
Place tomatoes and onions in a shallow serving bowl. In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over tomatoes and onions. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
(Mrs. Cooper said she loves garlic and always adds it to this recipe.)
1/2 pound ground beef
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon pepper
1 small can sauerkraut
1 onion, minced
1/2 pound ground pork
5 tablespoons shortening
3 pounds cabbage
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup rice
Core cabbage and place in boiling water to cover. With fork in one hand and knife in other, cut off leaves as they wilt. Drain and trim the thick center vein of each leaf. Brown onion in shortening. Add meats, seasoning and rice. Mix well. Place a tablespoon or so of meat on each leaf. Roll up and tuck in ends. Place in a pot and cover two-thirds full with water. Arrange sauerkraut on top. Add tomato soup. Cover and cook slowly one and 1/2 hours or until rice is tender.
E-mail Karin Glendenning at email@example.com