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Cook's Corner

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Diana Parker | The Journal Gazette
Tracie Smith treats her family to Sourdough Bread and Homemade Crockpot Apple Butter.

Computer helps plan meals, find new recipes

– Tracie Smith, 50, of Wells County has a collection of cookbooks but turns to the Internet when she’s looking for new recipes.

“Oh, my goodness. My daughter accuses me of collecting cookbooks but I don’t use them,” Smith says, referring to her daughter Lindsay.

“Anything I’m going to do new, Pinterest has made it so much easier. Instead of book marking a website, you ‘pin’ it. I click on Pinterest and type in ‘salad.’ They’ve done the work for me. Getting the ratings is great. If a recipe has 1,000 reviews and a five-star rating, I use that over the one that has a two-star rating.”

In addition to using Pinterest, the grandmother of three, admits she has her “tried and true” recipes.

“For my daughter’s wedding, I wrote out our family’s favorite recipes,” she says.

A former elementary school teacher, Smith is a stay-at-home mother and has spent the past 20 years home-schooling all the children. Besides their daughter, she and her husband Kevin have three sons, Derek, Justin and Taylor.

“My husband has his own business and I’m transitioning into helping more with that business. My homes-schooling days are winding down,” she says.

In her earlier days of cooking, Smith said she would do the once-a-month cooking and admits she still keeps taco meat and pulled pork in her freezer, along with a few casseroles, for quick meals.

About 15 years ago though, she began using a computer program to plan her menus in advance.

“I am not a last-minute meal planner. I used to have an Excel spreadsheet,” she says.

Taking a sheet out of a binder, Smith explains, “Let’s take week three of the month. Attached to the weekly menu is my grocery sheet. I changed them (recipes/menus) seasonally. Now, I’m reorganizing it all, so it’s downsized. What I found out is that when I’m not organized, we at out more. It’s a priority with my husband and me to have a meal at home together.”

Q. You’re involved with a monthly moms group. Can you explain what you do?

A. “Moms Only” – a night out without their children. It’s a “pat on the back.” Motherhood is a high calling and in this rat-race world, many have lost sight of that. We want our moms to feel special. It’s an evening of fun, food and fellowship. I love to make appetizers.

Q. What’s one thing people won’t find in your refrigerator?

A. Fat-free ranch dressing. It’s just not right. I’d rather eat lettuce plain. I use light sour cream, cream cheese and reduced fat soups, just not fat-free.

Q. What is your favorite food?

A. Those people that know me will say chocolate. I do love chocolate but I’m going to pick bread. I like my breads – every shape and form. I’m a carboholic.

Q. What one word would describe your cooking style?

A. My food reflects my personality like Rachael Ray. Perky. It’s presentation. I like things to look pretty and pleasing to the eye.

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough starter:

1 1/4 cups of sugar, divided

2 cups of warm water, divided

6 tablespoons instant potato flakes, divided

Mix 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup warm water and 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes together and place in a lightly sealed jar and sit on counter for 5 days. Do not seal the container tightly; needs to use the bacteria in the air to grow. After five days, it will be bubbly and have a fermented smell, similar to beer. At this point feed it again with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup warm water and 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes. Keep in refrigerator. When ready to make sourdough bread, set jar of starter out on the counter and bring to room temperature.

To make the bread:

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup oil

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup of the starter (stir starter first before measure)

6 cups of bread flour

Mix together sugar, oil, water, salt and starter. Add bread flour, mixing until incorporated. Knead this until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl and let rise all day or overnight, depending on when you make it. In the morning, punch the dough down, shape into bread. Place in two 8 1/2 -inch-by-5-inch loaf pans or six 3-inch-by-5-inch baking pans. Let this rise all day or overnight depending on when you make it. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tops start to brown. Makes 2 regular size loaves or 6 mini loaves.

Bread machine variation

Use original starter method. Then place in the bread machine in the following order:

1 1/4 cups starter

2 tablespoons oil

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 1/2 cups of bread flour

2 teaspoons yeast or 1 package of yeast

Follow bread machine direction for dough cycle. Take out and shape into bread loaves. Let rise until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until brown on top. Makes two regular size loaves or 6 mini loaves.

Note: Every time starter is used, feed it again with sugar, water and potato flakes. It will keep for years in the fridge.

Homemade Crockpot Apple Butter

16 cups of applesauce

1 cup apple cider vinegar

6 cups of sugar

8 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon clove

In a large crockpot (5 to 6 quarts), place all ingredients. Stir well to combine. Start on high until the sauce starts to bubble. Turn to low. Let this cook for about 24 hours. (Some crockpots may cook hotter, so when it is brown and thick it is done.) Prepare canning jars by washing them. Prepare canning lids by boiling for 5 minutes. While the sauce is hot, pour into prepared jars, top with hot lid and screw a band on them. Invert them onto a towel for 10 minutes. Turn them right side up and let them sit on counter to seal. They will seal as they cool. They can be kept in pantry. Refrigerate ones that don’t seal and after opening. Makes approximately 6 pint jars.

Grilled Smothered Chicken

6 chicken breasts

8 ounces bottled or homemade marinade

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, sliced and grilled

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced and grilled

1/2 pound bacon slices, cooked

6 slices of Colby, cheddar, Swiss or pepper jack cheese

Marinade chicken according to marinade directions. Meanwhile sauté onions and mushrooms in a little bit of olive oil until soft and onions are translucent. Grill chicken breast until juices run clear. Top with favorite toppings and place a slice of cheese on top. Turn off heat and close grill lid just long enough for cheese to melt. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Topping combinations Smith uses are grilled onion, mushrooms, peppers with cheddar or Swiss cheese; barbecue sauce, bacon slices with cheddar cheese; or Canadian bacon or thinly sliced ham with Swiss cheese

Twice Baked Potatoes

6 baking potatoes, scrubbed and pricked

4 ounces cream cheese

1 cup sour cream

1/2 stick butter or margarine

1 tablespoon fresh chives or 1 teaspoon dried chives

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Bake potatoes in microwave on high until soft when squeezed, approximately 15 minutes. Lay out and cool until they are easy to handle. Cut them in half and scoop out the potato pulp. Mix the potato with all the ingredients. Mix until large clumps are gone. Spoon back into the potato shells. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Potatoes freeze well before baking. To prepare frozen potatoes, allow to thaw and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

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