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Posted on Wed. Dec. 12, 2012 - 12:04 am EDT

Area mother makes family-friendly dishes

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I still want to learn…

A. To sew better. I can do basics but lack of time limits me.

I can’t wait to…

A. Meet my twin babies. That would be the most obvious one.

Fort Wayne — Melissa Haarer is the mother of two small girls, Keira, 5, and Katurah, 2. She and her husband Keith are expecting twins in April. In addition to being a stay-at-home mom, Haarer is a Pampered Chef consultant.

“Pampered Chef is my outlet. I’ve been doing Pampered Chef for three years so that allows me to be with other adults,” she says in a quiet tone.

Between baking and cooking, Haarer, 33, says she enjoys baking more.

“I would say baking is a hobby but cooking is essential,” she says.

When asked whether there was a particular cookbook she likes more than others, Haarer comes out of the kitchen with a copy of “Mennonite Country-Style Recipes.”

“I call it the ‘Esther Shank’ cookbook,” she says, referring to the cookbook’s author “My mother-in-law gave it to me.”

Keira comes out of the kitchen with a smaller cookbook in tow.

“My grandma Melody Moon gave me my own Pampered Chef cookbook,” she says, “We tried three recipes out of it.”

After flipping through the cookbook and showing the recipes she’s tried, Keira takes the cookbook back into the kitchen.

Haarer says she has limited her cookbook collection. She thinks she has between 25 and 30.

“I look at and Pinterest. You see these beautiful pictures, and I want to try it. On Pinterest I pin mostly recipes,” she says.

Later, Haarer was asked if she had a favorite cooking utensil. Before she’s allowed to answer, Keira runs back into the kitchen shouting, “I’ll get my cookbook and give you a choice. Don’t tell her, Mom!”

Opening up her little cookbook, Keira starts pointing to the various photos of kitchen gadgets for her mom to choose.

Picking out her favorites, Haarer says, “I really like my kitchen shearers and a good scraper – my Pampered Chef scraper.”

Q. What do you do to keep meals healthy?

A. They’re homemade. I replace white rice with brown rice. Every once in awhile, I’ll use condensed soup but for the most part I’m making my own thickener. I’m not afraid to use butter.

Q. What’s your go-to meal?

A. It’s hard for me to say. I try to plan ahead but oh, maybe breakfast for supper. You can do a lot of things.

Q. Who would you say is your cooking idol?

A. Baking – that’s from my mom’s mom (Verla Conrad of Sarasota, Fla.). I got my interest in cooking from my mom (Melody Moon) and grandmom. And I would include my mother-in-law, Doris Haarer of Allen County.

Q. What advice would you give beginner cooks?

A. I remember I learned by example but I don’t know if beginner cooks have any examples. Get basic recipes and have a relative or friend (cook). Watch them. Watch others cook. And then, use your kitchen timer. Even if you need a few more minutes, use the timer and keep things from burning.

Q. Using one word, how would you describe your cooking style?

A. How about family friendly? Homemade? Yeah.

Banana Bread

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Beat in mashed bananas. Mix together dry ingredients and add to banana mixture. Combine well. Stir in vanilla. Stir in nuts and/or chocolate chips. Divide batter among 3 to 4 greased mini loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees 30 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Makes 4 mini loaves.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1/2 cup onion, finely chopped

1 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed with garlic press

1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons oil

2 cups chicken broth

15 ounces canned puréed tomatoes

2 cups tomato juice or soup

3/4 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

Dash of cayenne pepper, if desired

1 to 2 (15-ounce) cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 to 3 cups of cooked chicken breasts, cut up or shredded

10 corn or flour tortillas cut in 1/4 -inch strips

Cook and stir onion, garlic and red bell pepper in oil, until tender. Add chicken broth, puréed tomatoes, tomato juice, basil, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper to vegetables. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Add black beans and cooked chicken breasts; heat thoroughly. Fry corn or flour tortillas in oil until golden brown. Serve soup with cheese, tortilla strips, sour cream and avocado. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Chicken Club Pizza

1 (15-inch) round or a 15 1/2 -inch-by-10-inch pizza dough, using a favorite recipe or store-bought


4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sour cream

1/8 cup mayonnaise

1/8 cup ranch dressing

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Combine all sauce ingredients until smooth.


8 or more ounces shredded Colby-jack cheese

2 cups cooked, diced chicken breasts

8 to 10 slices of bacon, cooked and broken in bite size pieces

1/2 cup Roma tomato, chopped

1 avocado, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out pizza dough on lightly oiled pan. If your crust is fairly thick, pre-bake for 7 minutes. Spread sauce evenly over crust. Top with cheese, chicken, bacon and tomato. Bake 14 minutes. Check the bottom of crust to see if it is browned enough for your liking. If desired, top cooked pizza with avocado. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Easiest way to cook bacon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay 10 to 12 slices of bacon on a stone bar pan. Bake in oven about 25 minutes or until desired crispness. Remove bacon with tongs onto paper towels to drain. No need to turn bacon over. Will not splatter as it does in a skillet on the stovetop. Makes 5 to 6 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648; or email

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