This week’s guest cook wants readers to know about the following community event:
Raffle to benefit West Georgia Hospice
LaGrange Newcomers’ Club is selling raffle tickets to benefit West Georgia Hospice. Tickets are $5 to win one of three prizes: the grand prize, a 42-inch Vizio HD TV with Wi-Fi, valued at $600; second prize, a gardening gift basket; and third prize, a spa gift basket. For tickets, call Mary at 706-880-7087. The drawing will be Aug. 2.
Name: Linda A. Groarke
Background: I was born and grew up in Westchester County, just north of New York City, until I moved to New York City to work as a paramedic. While working as a paramedic, I also attended college and graduate school at Columbia University. I received a bachelor’s degree in history, a master of public health and a master’s in Urban Planning. I met my husband while working on the ambulance in New York. We moved to Georgia from the Bronx in 2001 and moved to LaGrange in 2011.
Family: My husband, Brendan, is a hospitalist at West Georgia Health. In other words, he is an internal medicine physician who takes care of patients when they are hospitalized. We have three wonderful children: Matthew, 17, a senior at LaGrange High School, Jackie, 15, a sophomore at LaGrange High School and Sean, 9, is a fourth grader at Hollis Hand Elementary School. All the kids are proficient in the kitchen. Even Sean can make pancakes from scratch. It is so nice to be able to call home and tell the kids to start dinner. Even better, have them prepare the entire meal!
Job: I am a former paramedic, health care administrator and college professor. Currently, I am a stay-at-home mother.
Hobbies, activities: I love to read and go on outings with the kids. We are always up for a new adventure. As a matter of fact, I researched, wrote and self-published a book on things to do with kids in southwest Georgia. I am also a den leader for Cub Scouts at Pack 21 at First United Methodist Church and an adult leader with the newly formed local Sea Scouts, Ship 378. The Sea Scouts is a coed program of Boy Scouts of America for youth ages 14 to 20 and focuses on the skills and knowledge needed for fun and safe recreational boating activities. In addition to boating and sailing skills, it also teaches leadership and other important skills like first aid, lifesaving and swimming. I am also involved with the LaGrange Newcomers Club. We always seem to meet over a meal and I have collected some really great recipes. I’ve also had a chance to learn about and eat at some of the great restaurants here in LaGrange with the new friends I’ve made with the group.
How did you learn to cook? By helping my mother in the kitchen. I started with boxed cake mixes and gradually worked my way up to making things from scratch. I am still learning. My niece, who attends the Culinary Institute of America in New Hyde Park, N.Y., shares many “tricks of the trade” and some pretty amazing recipes. The last time she visited, she made an incredible mushroom gravy for a pork roast that had us literally licking the pan. She also made Shamrock cookies with the kids to bring to school for St. Patrick’s Day, which is a major holiday in our house. I think cooking is one of those life skills that kids should have before they leave home. I’m happy to say that my kids are getting proficient in their culinary skills. Now, if I could just get them to clean up after cooking, I would be a happy woman.
Your favorite memory of cooking or being in the kitchen? Helping my mother make “Swedish Braid” for the holidays. I remember one year, there must have been something wrong with one of the ingredients and the bread came out of the oven and was as hard as rock. It looked pretty enough to be a picture in a cookbook, but it was inedible. We recall that disaster every Christmas.
What ingredient is always in your pantry or refrigerator? Buttermilk. I use it for pancakes, waffles, Irish soda bread and banana bread.
What is your favorite cooking tool? My CIA (Culinary Institute of America) 12-inch non-stick skillet with a handle. I use it probably three to four times a week because it is such a versatile pan and I do a lot of stove-top cooking for dinners. It also requires very little in the way of oil or butter, so cooking with it is definitely healthier. I got it as a Christmas gift from my parents last year.
Do you have a favorite cookbook? I like many of Pam Anderson’s recipes, but my “go-to” cookbook is “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman, a former food columnist for the New York Times. As a matter of fact, the kids just got my husband his newest cookbook, “The Basics,” for Father’s Day. I think they are trying to improve his culinary skills and expand the number of meals he can make. My niece also gave me a copy of her “bible,” “The Professional Chef” by the Culinary Institute of America which is massive. It is written for the professional chef and features instructional materials and recipes for more gourmet dishes.
What would people be surprised to find in your kitchen? Irish sausage in my freezer. Since we don’t have an Irish butcher shop in town, I order them online in bulk and store them in the freezer. The last time I ordered, I realized at the last minute that they would arrive after we left for vacation. Fortunately, we have great neighbors in LaGrange. They intercepted the UPS delivery and stored the sausages in their freezer until we returned.
When you go out to eat, what is your favorite thing to order? I love any type of Italian food. My favorite is veal cutlet Parmesan because my husband and kids do not like veal, so I do not prepare it at home.
What recipe is your comfort food that reminds you of home? Any type of pasta is basically my comfort food. Even though I am not Italian, I love Italian food and pasta. Growing up, we had spaghetti with meat sauce at least once a week. I like pasta with any type of sauce – Alfredo, a la vodka, marinara – as well as lasagna and baked ziti. I also serve pasta with meatballs or Italian sausage to add variety to our weekly pasta meal.
Do you have a favorite cost-saving cooking idea? Instead of going out for fast food, I try to have the staples on hand for a quick and easy meal – penne a la vodka, fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti with meat sauce or a “frozen dinner.” When I have the time, I’ll make double favorite recipes and freeze one for those nights when time is in short supply. It helps to avoid the high cost, both in terms of money and health, of fast food. I have a separate freezer, so I will also buy staples like chicken breasts when they are on sale.
What was your biggest disaster in the kitchen? I’ve had a few disasters in the kitchen. Aside from the time we all got food poisoning from using contaminated chicken, the biggest one was my husband’s fault! I made a fresh apple cake to bring to a family get-together. My husband took the cake from the oven and immediately turned it out onto a plate where it promptly crumbled. Fortunately, my parents are in the party rental business, so I went and got a dozen water goblets, made some whipped cream and created apple cake parfaits. They were actually a big hit! When life hands you lemons …
What is your “old faithful” recipe that you rely on time after time? It would be a toss up between pasta with meat sauce or chicken picatta. Both are recipes that the family enjoys and they are easy to make.
What is the weirdest thing you ever ate or cooked? Living and working in New York City, I got to sample a lot of unique ethnic dishes. Nothing really stands out as being particularly weird.
Final note: I used to feel like I was “cheating” if I did not make my meals from scratch. Now, I use whatever means at my disposal to make meals quick, easy and healthy. I am not afraid to use bagged salad or canned cream of mushroom soup for a crock pot meal. Even though it is probably sacrilege here in the South, I’ve been known to put a bottle of barbecue sauce over a pork loin in the crock pot for a quick and easy dinner. My other family favorite is pot roast with cream of mushroom soup, onion soup mix and chuck roast cooked in the crock pot and served with egg noodles.
Irish Soda Bread
This is my mother-in-law’s recipe. My in-laws are from Ireland, so this is the real deal.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a food processor, combine the following and process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter or margarine
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Remove from food processor to a large bowl.
Whisk together the following:
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Add 16 ounces (2 cups) raisins to the buttermilk/egg mixture. Combine the wet and dry mixtures with a fork until the flour is just moistened. Spread into two loaf pans lined with greased wax paper. Optional: brush with a beaten egg for a shiny appearance. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour on the middle rack. Cool on a wire rack.
This is one of our standbys, even my husband can make it.
1 to 1 1/2 pounds thin-sliced chicken cutlets
1 cup plain bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup flour
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
Juice of 2 lemons
Lemons for garnish
Dry white wine (same amount as lemon juice)
Combine the bread crumbs, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Dredge chicken breasts in flour and then dip in the egg/water mixture. Dip cutlets in bread crumb mixture. Heat the butter and oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken breasts and saute each side about 4-5 minutes. Juice two lemons. Add an equal amount of dry white wine and add to skillet. Cook 1-2 minutes until the juice thickens and the alcohol burns off. Serve with slices of lemons for garnish.
The cardamon gives this bread its unique flavor and is available in the spice section of the grocers. My mother always made this around the holidays. I adapted it to use the bread machine.
Put in bread machine in the following order:
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cardamon
2 teaspoons yeast
Set to dough setting. When complete, remove from bread machine, punch down and let rise a second time, approximately 45 minutes. Divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into three equal pieces and roll out. Braid these three pieces and place on buttered cookie sheet. Let rise for 15 minutes. Brush tops with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Penne a la Vodka
This is a really quick and easy dish and great for “meatless Mondays.” You can easily substitute half-and-half for the cream if you wish to cut down on the fat and calories.
2 tablespoons live oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
28 ounces diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup vodka
Salt (to taste)
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound pasta (penne or other small shaped pasta)
Heat oil and saute onion over low heat, stirring until tender and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute or so. Add the tomatoes, vodka and cayenne pepper. Simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickened, about 15-30 minutes. Stir in the cream, stirring until the sauce is thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Cook the pasta until al dente, following the package instructions. Toss pasta with the sauce and parsley.
Simple Curried Chicken
This is another one of my mother-in-law’s recipes that my husband says was a weekly meal growing up. It is so simple, I am almost embarrassed to have it printed in the newspaper. I think it is just as tasty as other much more involved curried chicken recipes. We usually serve it with rice to go with the wonderful sauce. If you are short on time, simply saute the chicken with the apples and onions and make the sauce in the pan.
3-4 boneless chicken breasts
1 apple, chopped fine
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon curry
1 teaspoon butter
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup half-and-half
Saute apple, onion and curry powder in butter. In a shallow baking or casserole dish, arrange chicken and sprinkle with raisins if using. Stir apple/onion mixture into soup and half-and-half. Pour over chicken. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
Sweet and Spicy Pecans
When we first moved to Georgia, we had 2 acres with about 15 pecan trees. The first year, I picked about 200 pounds of pecans and used them for Christmas gifts for our family and friends up North. While everyone appreciated the gift of genuine Georgia pecans, they also wanted the following recipe.
2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed dry red pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Toss pecans in butter. Combine sugar and spices, sprinkle over pecans, tossing to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet with a lip. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool. Store at room temperature in an airtight container. Note: cover the baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier clean-up.
Fresh Apple Cake
It seems everyone just loves this moist, delicious cake that is so easy to make. This is a favorite family recipe that we got from a friend’s mother when I was a child.
1 1/4 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups chopped (or shredded) apples (approximately 3-4 apples)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup nuts (optional)
Beat oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add apples and vanilla. Add salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Fold in flour, mix until just moistened. Bake in a greased/floured tube/bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, 10 minutes. Note: instead of dusting the pan with flour, I use granulated sugar. It adds a nice little crunch for the crust.