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Adventurous cook

By Staff | Apr 24, 2009

Mary Meyer puts the finishing touches on her angel/coconut torte. The dessert was rating by the Des Moines Register's top 100 things to eat before you die

APLINGTON – From experimenting with her own small piece of bread dough as a child, to making French toast every Sunday for her family as she grew up, Mary Meyer has evolved from being that kid in the kitchen to owning her own tea room.

Meyer moved to Aplington with her family as a young child and has lived in the area since. She married her high school sweetheart, Russ Meyer, and together they had three children.

Mary Meyer’s first step on her road to becoming a food vendor came during a rehearsal dinner, when she peeked her head into the kitchen. Because she was asked to help prepare food, everything changed from there.

She said she enjoyed making a variety of different kinds of foods, which she had never experienced, including making her first pie crust.

Meyer said growing up with a large family they would prepare meals with ingredients typically used to stretch the meat in order to feed a large group, for instance porcupine meatballs and meatloaf. So cooking for a tea room meant a whole different way of food preparation.

Mary Meyer opened up the Peppercorn Pantry in Aplington just little over two years ago and offers a tearoom, catering, private party room and a gift shop.

“It was fun making different things, something new and we would experiment to see what we could come up with,” said Meyer. One of those tests was spinach pie, she said, and “it’s been popular ever since.”

After leaving the tea room, she worked for the local school district and eventually started her own greenhouse. The opportunity arose for Meyer to purchase her current business and for a little over two years now, Meyer has been the owner of the Peppercorn Pantry.

One of the first things she did as new owner was to make the business a little more “gender friendly.” She changed the atmosphere and offering more “manly” meals and larger servings in order to entice men to enjoy a good meal as well as the women.

The restaurant is open from Tuesday through Saturday offering brunch starting at 9 a.m.

The gift shop offers purses, jewelry, coffee, tea, plaques and the plants from Meyer’s greenhouse in mid-May.

Black Russian bundt cake is just one of the many desserts Mary Meyer offers at the Peppercorn Pantry in Aplington.

“It’s just a neat simple gift shop,” she said.

Meyer said she is open for supper by reservations for 15 or more only and is also open to hosting private parties such as rehearsal dinners, showers, and class reunions and operates a catering business, as well.

Because it is a tea room, Meyer said they offer tea room-type food, as well as home cooked meals and desserts.

Pies are her favorite desserts to make and when it comes to cooking for her own family Meyer said she is “notorious for cleaning out the refrigerator at home and always throwing things together.”

Meyer also supplies food items to the nearby restaurant “Barn Happy,” which is owned by Tim and Kris Boettger.

Mary Meyer, owner of Peppercorn Pantry in Aplington, enjoys cooking for her patrons and her family. Her kitchen experience dates back to when she was a young child experimenting with small pieces of bread dough.

Through a collaborative effort, Kris Boettger and Meyer have made available “Iowa Happy Cookbook – Whippin’ Up Smiles in the Kitchen” which features a lot of Boettger’s and Meyer’s favorite recipes.

The cookbook is full of good, old, Iowa-type foods and features real nice and simple recipes to follow with easy-to-find and common ingredients.

Meyer says having the right appliances makes cooking a lot more enjoyable and urges other cooks not to be afraid to try new things.

“Got to have the right equipment and invest in it,” said Meyer. “You don’t have to have a huge kitchen just make it efficient.”

She also urges other cooks to not be afraid to cook from scratch because it’s actually not as hard as it seems.

Chicken tortilla soup

1 pound boneless chicken

5 cups milk, divided

1 2.64-gram package of country gravy mix

1 small onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 tablespoon of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon of oil

3 cups chicken broth

32 ounces shredded hash browns

1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed

1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with chilies or 1 jar of salsa

1 cup or more cream

Cook and shred chicken. Set aside. Mix 2 cups of milk and the country gravy mix together and set that aside. In large pan, saute onion, celery and garlic in one tablespoon of oil. Add chicken, broth and hash browns, heating through until hash browns are no longer frozen.

Add the set-aside gravy and continue to heat through. Add salsa and Ro-Tel tomatoes and chilies, Velveeta cheese and three cups of milk. Continue to heat and blend until cheese is melted and soup is heated completely. Serve with tortilla chips.

Southwestern chicken salad

5 cups chicken, cooked

2 cups cheese, shredded, divided

1 can red beans, drained

1 large red pepper, chopped

3/4 cup onion finely chopped

1/2 cup olives

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon cumin or Southwestern seasoning

Green chilies

6 flour tortillas

Mix chicken and one cup cheese with next seven ingredients; set aside. Heat 1/4 cup oil in pan and fry tortillas until crispy; drain on paper towels.

On cookie sheet, lay out tortillas and spread chicken mixture on top, then top with remaining cup of cheese. Broil for 30 seconds.

Top with lettuce, tomato and guacamole.

Note: Add one cup Mexican corn for dip.

Broccoli and ham quiche

1 10-inch unbaked pie crust

8 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup Half and Half

Dash of nutmeg

Layer in pie crust as follows:

4 cups broccoli, chopped fine

1 cup ham, chopped

1 cup cheddar cheese

6 strips of bacon, chopped

1 cup Swiss cheese

Broccoli and red peppers for garnish

Beat eggs; add seasonings and Half and Half; mix well. Layer ingredients in order given in unbaked pie shell. Pour egg mixture over top.

Arrange small broccoli florets and red peppers on top of mixture. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until firm in middle.

For breakfast quiche: Double filling and use hash browns (just enough to cover bottom of greased 9-by-13-inch pan) instead of crust. Bake the same or until firm and set.

Black Russian bundt cake

1 yellow cake mix (without pudding)

1/2 cup of sugar

1 6-ounce package instant chocolate pudding

1 cup oil

4 eggs

1/4 cup vodka

1/4 cup Kahlua

3/4 cup water


2 cups powdered sugar

Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. In large bowl, combine cake mix, sugar, pudding, oil, eggs, vodka, Kahlua and water. Mix at a low speed for one minute. Beat at medium speed for four minutes. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until cake tests done.

Cool cake 10-minutes in pan. Invert to wire rack on plate. Poke holes in cake and pour glaze over top. Serve with whipping cream and drizzle caramel and chocolate over top.

Contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net

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