By KAREN SCHWALLER
MILFORD – Deb Wittrock said recipes are good to follow, but there are times when she prefers to blaze her own trail in the kitchen.
“I like using recipes, but I don’t always follow them very well,” she said as she sat with a cup of coffee at her kitchen table. “I’ll go by the recipe the first time, but after that I like to add or subtract things, depending on how well I liked the recipe.”
Wittrock said she learned to cook by watching her mother, who grew up in Mississippi.
Wittrock was born near Chicago and had the privilege of a stay-at-home mother.
“I remember when I was first married (in 1969), and I wanted to make creamed peas,” she said. “I went to the grocery store and looked for them, and I couldn’t find them anywhere.
“Something told me not to ask the people in the store where they were, so I called my mother and asked her where she got her creamed peas.
“She just laughed and said I couldn’t buy them, that I had to make them.”
She remembered her first attempt at making gravy.
Wittrock said she was frustrated with making gravy that was either too thick or too runny.
She said he just threw her hands up and decided she wasn’t going to be a gravy maker. But something changed her mind.
“My grandmother came to me in a dream and showed me how to make gravy,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been making it just fine ever since.”
Wittrock said she used to have a hard time making pie crust, but sugar cookies were the most difficult kitchen effort for her.
“They were always so hard, you could hurt someone with them,” she said.
She said she enjoys baking, but doesn’t do a lot of it because she and her husband don’t need baked goods in their diets.
Once in awhile, though, she said she enjoys an old-fashioned baked apple, complete with brown sugar baked into the center.
Pointing to her microwave, which she said reduces time and effort, she asked, “Where was the microwave when my children were small and I was making baked apples for them?
“Sometimes my mother would make a baked apple for me. I loved it when she did that.”
Wittrock said her microwave is a primary kitchen tool for meals during fall harvest, when her husband gets home late at night looking for supper.
“It’s a godsend for the farm wife,” Wittrock said, “who deals with meals in the field, or for heating meals after the guys get done at night.”
Wittrock said she has become creative at using leftovers.
As the co-owner of a restaurant for two years, she said she learned to prepare leftovers creatively and deliciously, such as Tater Tot casserole soup and goulash soup.
These went over well with customers, Wittrock said.
Leftover baked potatoes go into cheesy potato soup, another customer favorite.
“When you run a restaurant,” Wittrock said, “and you have a family, you have to find creative ways to use up leftover food.”
Even leftover Tater Tot casserole soup or goulash soup went into a stock pot, with water and tomatoes and seasonings – to ramp up the taste – and allowed to simmer for another dish.
“When I was growing up,” Wittrock said, “and when my children were growing up, the best soup you could make was when you cleaned out the refrigerator.”
She said there are no refrigerator-leftover soups that tasted the same, with different leftovers for soup.
Wittrock said one of her favorite meals to cook is Thanksgiving dinner.
She prepares the meat, potatoes and stuffing, while other family members provide the rest. It’s not just the food she likes to cook, but the reason she’s cooking it.
“The meal doesn’t have to be hard and time-consuming,” wittrock said, “especially if you plan ahead.
“I like the smell of that meal and knowing it will gather the whole family together.”
One of Wittrock’s favorite desserts to make is a cherry berry crisp, she said, which can be a pie filling. She said she likes that versatility, depending on how many people will be eating it and the event at which she is serving it.
Wittrock said if there is one thing she has learned in the kitchen, it’s that one person’s preference in food may not be another’s.
“You can’t please everybody,” she said. “I look for recipes and do what works for me, and change them by adding things or taking things out.”
Cherry berry crisp
1 can each of cherry, blueberry and raspberry pie filling
Blend together and place into 9-by-13-inch cake pan.
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup margarine
Mix until crumbly and sprinkle over fruit mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until topping is lightly browned.
Serve with ice cream or whipped topping.
NOTE: This filling recipe can also be made into two double-crust pies.
Sour cream raisin pie
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups raisins
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 baked pie shell
Mix sugar, raisins, egg yolks, sour cream, cornstarch and vanilla.
Cook until thick, stirring constantly.
Pour into baked pie shell and cool for at least one hour in the refrigerator.
When cooled, top with whipped topping and decorate with a handful of raisins.
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