Fort Wayne – Gayle Cooper, 56, has been one of the senior buyers for the purchasing department for the city of Fort Wayne for almost 14 years. Throughout those years, her co-workers have looked forward to the many carry-ins Cooper has arranged for her department.
Every department knows Gayle, says her husband, Ken, 51.
When (former) Mayor (Graham) Richard had Gayle’s deviled eggs, he really liked (them), he adds.
One of my friends said, So the mayor blessed your deviled eggs,’ Cooper says.
As far as Cooper is concerned, cooking should be fun and versatile.
I want something completely different every night. I never plan what I’m really going to have until I go to the store. I (shop) every day. Kroger knows me very well, and Fresh Market, too, she says smiling.
Looking over a large serving dish of Cooper’s spaghetti and meatballs, Ken says, These meatballs are to die for. Oh, man. Friends tell me, Ken, you’re so lucky.’
Cooper likes to share her cooking creations with others, including her mother who lives nearby.
She likes to get her care packages’ when she goes out to get her paper, Cooper says.
When Cooper was asked what she does to keep meals healthy, Ken suddenly lets out a laugh and replies, Oh, nothing.
Countering his response, Cooper answers, Well, we don’t deep fry! We grill. We eat a lot of chicken and fish and we eat a lot of vegetables.
One thing Cooper and her husband don’t do is eat out a lot. She says they probably eat out about four to five times a year for their anniversary and birthdays. When she wants a quick meal, she whips up her spaghetti and meatballs or shrimp creole.
Shrimp creole is spicy and it’s something different. I like different things, she says.
Q. What’s your favorite cookbook?
Gayle. It’s my go-to, Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. A lot of recipes I get from online or just get cookbooks from the library. I make a copy and try (the recipes).
Ken: I’m her guinea pig.
Gayle: I make some changes to suit us. I go exactly according to the recipe and then change it.
Q. What’s one thing people would not find in your refrigerator?
Ken: Miracle Whip.
Gayle: I was going to say margarine but I saw last week’s (Cook’s Corner) and that’s what I thought. I do only use Hellmann’s.
Q. If you were stuck on an island, what’s one food you would have to have?
A. I was ready for this. It’d come down to lobster as long as there’s melted butter. I almost love crab cakes better. I’ve had them all over, but (Paula’s On Main) hands down has the best. I mean the first bite in my mouth and mmm.
Q. What advice do you have for beginner cooks?
Gayle: Don’t be intimidated. It’s a matter of opening the book and doing what it says. They need to have a passion for it. Michelle Jones, a co-worker, has said I inspire her. It’s all about fun. Ken cooks out on the grill. He does the meat and the prepping.
Ken: I think they call it the sous chef.
Meatballs and Sauce
1 pound ground beef or chuck
1/4 teaspoon garlic chips
1/4 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 pound Italian sausage (Cooper uses Johnsonville links)
Olive oil, as needed
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
2 (28-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (15-ounce) can Italian tomatoes, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
To make meatballs: Mix ground beef, garlic chips, parsley, egg, 1 tablespoon tomato sauce and bread crumbs. Shape into balls. Bake them in a 13-by-9-inch pan at 375 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes or until done, turning once. Drain grease off, set aside. Place Italian sausage links in pan, cover with water and bring to a boil and then turn on low and cover for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove sausage and cut each link into 4 pieces and brown in a small amount of olive oil and 1 garlic clove over medium-high heat, turning often. When done, remove from skillet and set aside.
To make sauce: In a large pot, combine the 2 large cans of tomato sauce, 2 cans of water (using 1 large empty can of tomato sauce), Italian tomatoes, onion, garlic, seasonings, meatballs and sausage. Bring to a low boil, between low and medium and cook about 3 to 4 hours until thick stirring often. Serve over your favorite pasta. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
3 ounces bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, finely shredded, divided
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely shredded
Dash of Mrs. Dash
8 large mushrooms, stems removed
Head oven to 350 degrees.
Mix bacon, bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons mozzarella, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and a dash of Mrs. Dash.
Stuff mushrooms and place on buttered cookie sheet. Top with mozzarella cheese until mushrooms are well covered. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Streusel-Topped Blueberry Muffins
6 tablespoons softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 cups blueberries
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Add the vanilla extract, baking powder and salt. Mix in half of the flour and the milk, alternately, mixing gently by hand. Then add the remaining flour and milk. Stir in blueberries. Fill greased muffin tins or foil baking cups. Make streusel topping.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Cut the butter into small pieces and mix with brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts. Sprinkle over the muffins. Bake for 25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.
Shrimp and Sausage Creole
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup chopped celery, including some of the leaves
1 large green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (16-ounce) can Italian tomatoes with liquid, chopped
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Dash Tabasco sauce
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 pounds Andouille sausage, cut in 1/2 -inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup fresh parsley
3 cups cooked rice
Make a roux with the oil and flour. Cook the oil and flour over a low heat in a heavy pan. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the flour begins to darken – first to a golden brown and then, if you are patient, the color will turn to a rich coffee-colored brown and can take up to 30 to 40 minutes. Add the onions, green onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook slowly until the vegetables are soft but not brown. Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, cayenne, Tabasco, bay leaves, Worcestershire, Andouille sausage and lemon juice. Simmer very slowly for 1 hour or more, covered. Add shrimp and cook just until done with lid off. Add parsley before serving. Serve over rice. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Gayle’s Potato Salad
10 to 12 (medium) Idaho potatoes (boiled with skin on and cooled)
10 hard-boiled eggs
3 dill pickles, chopped, with a little pickle juice
2 to 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard
3 stalks of celery cut into small pieces
1 to 2 cups Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoons black pepper
Lawry’s seasoning, to taste
Peel and cut potatoes and eggs and place in large bowl. Mix all remaining ingredients until nice and creamy. May need to add more mayonnaise. Sprinkle a little Lawry’s seasoning salt or paprika on top. Chill for six to 24 hours. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
4 medium onions, sliced
2 tablespoons bacon drippings (from about 6 strips of bacon you have crumbled and set aside)
2 pounds beef stew meat
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup beef broth
1 cup Burgundy wine (or other dry red wine)
1 pound fresh mushroom, sliced
3 carrots, sliced in pieces
Sauté onion in bacon drippings in large skillet until tender. Transfer onion into large Dutch oven, reserving drippings in skillet. Brown meat in drippings; drain well. Place meat in Dutch oven; sprinkle with crumbled bacon, flour, salt, marjoram, thyme and pepper. Add beef broth and wine; cover and bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Take out of oven and stir in mushrooms and carrots. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or overnight. Bake at 325 degrees, covered, for 1 hour or until heated thoroughly. Serve over noodles, rice or mashed potatoes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.