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Posted on Wed. Oct. 08, 2008 - 06:00 am EDT

Best course of meal? Planning

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Q. If you could have a meal with one person – past or present – who would it be?

A. “If I name one person, someone will ask, ‘Why wasn’t I named?’ I suppose a get-together with my siblings. The older we get, the more important it gets. One brother was killed in a car accident and another is remarried.”

Mary Alice Dick, who taught English while raising five children, says that organization is the key to getting anything done.

Looking over her 34 years of teaching, she says she remembers grading papers until midnight.

“I encouraged (students),” she says. “If a student wrote a lot, I took time to respond.”

That quality spilled over into Dick’s cooking.

“I like to have all my ingredients out in front of me – even measured,” says the Fort Wayne resident. “I’m painfully organized.”

This is evident when Dick, 82, gets two plastic containers from her kitchen cabinet. One has gelatin boxes stacked inside and the other is filled with pudding boxes, also neatly lined up.

“I watch for sales. I have to watch the expiration dates,” she says, looking in the containers.

Dick isn’t one to pass up a bargain.

“I saw (Kroger) had eggs on sale. I checked to see if I needed any,” she says. “I already had four dozen. I made potato salad, omelets and boiled eggs.”

Inside her well-arranged kitchen, Dick keeps her collection of more than 20 cookbooks within reach.

Asked which one is her favorite, she quickly rises from her chair. “I was hoping you’d ask me!”

She goes to the cabinet near the stove and reaches in for three cookbooks.

“ ‘The Little Red Box on the Kitchen Shelf’ is by Aileen Brand, my late mother. It was put together by my sister, Janet Steury of Noblesville. She used to live in Berne.”

Dick says she thinks the cookbook contains all of her mother’s recipes.

“The other cookbook is from our daughter, Cathy,” she continues. “ ‘Good Food Cookbook’ includes recipes from The Pie Safe in Zionsville.”

Inside the book’s cover, her daughter wrote, “To my mother, who taught me to cook … and to love, Cathy.”

Dick’s third favorite cookbook is “All About Candy Making” from Country Kitchen.

“Country Kitchens was started by Mildred Brand, my aunt,” she says.

Smiling, Dick lays a Taste of Home’s Light and Tasty magazine from October 2005 on the kitchen table. The magazine is opened to Page 53. There, in the upper lefthand corner, is a photo of Dick and her recipe, “Rich Pumpkin Custard.”

After learning she had high cholesterol, Dick came up with that recipe, which uses less fat and sugar, as she couldn’t bear to celebrate the holidays without pumpkin pie.

The recipe ran two years after she submitted it to the magazine.

As for cooking at home, Dick confesses that it has taken her years to learn to go from cooking for seven to just two – she and her husband, LaDean.. She’s found most recipes are for four to six people.

And not all recipes Dick tries are successful. When her siblings were over for a birthday party, Dick decided to make “Roast Prime of Beef.”

“I followed the recipe and put it in the oven. It came out black,” she says, shaking her head. “The family was very kind. We cut off the black part. This meal was for my sister-in-law that turned 75 and she’s a good cook.

“But,” she says, “I made apple crisp and that was wonderful. I bought the birthday cake.”

Sweet Potato Casserole

2 3/4 pounds yams or sweet potatoes

2 eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar, divided

1/2 cup melted butter, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup orange juice

3 pecan halves

10 miniature marshmallows, if desired

Peel, cook and mash yams or sweet potatoes. Beat in eggs, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, cinnamon and salt. Add orange juice and beat well until moist and fluffy. Pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Arrange pecan halves on top and sprinkle lightly with remaining brown sugar. Drizzle remaining melted butter over all. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. If desired, after casserole has been removed from oven, it may be decorated with miniature marshmallows and returned to oven just long enough for marshmallows to brown. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Tangy Carrot Casserole

1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally

1 medium onion, minced

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

2 cups milk

1/4 pound shredded cheddar cheese


1/4 cup bread crumbs (or 1 cup french fried onions)

1 teaspoon melted butter

Cook carrots in small amount of water until tender. Drain. Sauté onion in melted butter until glossy. Remove from heat. Stir in flour until blended. Add mustard, salt and pepper; then slowly add milk until smooth. Cook, stirring until sauce is smooth. In casserole dish, alternate layers of cooked carrots and cheddar cheese. Pour sauce over top.

To make topping: Combine bread crumbs with butter until crumbs form. Sprinkle over top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until crumbs are browned. Or, wait until casserole is bubbly. Then remove from oven and top with french fried onions. Return to oven for approximately 5 minutes or until browned. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Broccoli Chowder

6 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped broccoli

5 tiny fresh onions

1 (4-ounce) can mushroom pieces

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups light cream (half-and-half)

1 (12-ounce) can white corn

1 teaspoon green pepper flakes (or 1 tablespoon finely chopped pimento)

In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add broccoli, diced onion, including some of the green tops, and mushroom pieces, cut fine. Cook until broccoli is tender but not browned, about 20 minutes; stirring occasionally. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add chicken broth and cream. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Then add drained white corn and green pepper flakes. Heat through but do not boil. Makes 6 servings.

Corn Chowder

3 cups boiling water

2 cups diced potatoes

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 (14- or 15-ounce) can cream style corn

White sauce:

1/4 cup margarine

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

In a large pot, cook potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, salt, pepper and thyme in boiling water (about 20 minutes). Do not drain off liquid. Add cheese and cream-style corn to pot and stir well. Meanwhile, make white sauce by making a roux with margarine and flour in a small saucepan. Add all of the milk at once while stirring constantly. Cook until sauce thickens. Add white sauce to above mixture slowly while stirring. Simmer to heat through. Do not boil. Makes 8 servings.

Split Pea Soup

2 cups split peas

2 1/2 quarts water (10 cups)

2 onions, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

1/2 teaspoon dill

1/4 teaspoon dill seed

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

Wash peas and combine with water, onions, carrots, celery, parsley and dill. Cover. Boil and cook over low heat 2 1/2 hours. Add potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook 20 minutes. Stir in milk and butter. Bring to a boil and serve. Makes 10 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know 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 e-mail at

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