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posted: 2/14/2012 6:00 AM

Planning a key ingredient for cook

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  • John Wisely takes on most of the weeknight cooking for his family of four and has recently dabbled in cake baking.

      John Wisely takes on most of the weeknight cooking for his family of four and has recently dabbled in cake baking.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Cook of the week: John Wisely

By Sally Eyre

John Wisely was in the mood for an egg, so he pulled out a step-stool, climbed up and fried one. It was the first thing he ever cooked, and he was just 3. Now this father of two, including a 3-year-old of his own, does the majority of the family cooking.

John's cooking education began with his stay-at-home mother who encouraged him to experiment in her kitchen. In high school he started cooking more often and by the time he was in college he was quite adept at managing meals on his own.

Once married, he and his wife established the rule that the first person home did the cooking. As a printer, his hours usually have him home sooner than his athletic trainer wife, so the cooking falls to him and he doesn't mind.

The Wiselys, who live in Hoffman Estates, like to begin their week with a plan.

"We usually write up a menu every week, shop for it and then cook the meals through the week," said John. Smart planning has them reusing and recycling the ingredients for their meals.

"I just made meatball appetizers for a party and there were a lot of leftovers. We made meatball sandwiches the next night."

John loves to cook ethnic foods: Mexican, Asian and though he uses a recipe as a starting point, he isn't opposed to veering off the recipe by omitting what he doesn't like and adding more of what he does like.

"As you cook and taste, you do some things differently." What he does is obviously successful.

"My kids are good about eating what I make. When I was young, I didn't eat half the stuff they eat. I cook a lot of stir fries and soups that are chock full of vegetables. They usually eat it all! It's rare that they don't eat what we serve. We just started them off that way." John shows us how to make a family favorite soup online.

John's foray into baking began with requests from his kids for birthday cakes. Shows like "Cupcake Wars" and "Cake Boss" have helped John figure things out.

"The kids tell me what kind of cake they want and I try to make it." It doesn't hurt that John's college background was in art and design. One memorable cake was a giant Ding Dong complete with the same cream filling found in a real Hostess treat.

"It had a boatload of butter and shortening, but tasted amazing," he laughs.

The Wiselys enjoy cooking for family and friends. John is the chimichanga maker for his company's annual chimi party. He also occasionally likes the challenge of serving a seven-course meal.

"The first time I tried it I just wanted to see if I could do it -- plan the meal, cook it, and plate it. I've done it twice now. First, we decide on a theme. My wife gets Food and Wine Magazine, we'll go through that, or even the Herald, and decide what recipes would work, what I want to try." The next step is timing the recipes and finding out what can be done ahead of time. A buddy is in charge of pairing the wines to go with the meal.

"So much of it is the planning," John says. "If you choose your recipes carefully and cook some things ahead of time, it works."

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