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Article posted: 1/29/2013 6:00 AM

Cook of the Week: Summer, fall harvest enjoyed year-round


Despite the fact that temperatures have plunged and the world is encased in ice, Rose Allen still enjoys the benefits of her summer garden.

On a cold winter's night she'll sit with a hot cup of mint tea brewed from a mixture of spearmint and peppermint leaves she picked from her garden for just this sort of pleasure. Or, she'll add a spicy pickle she canned, from a bountiful crop of cucumbers, to her lunch.

"It's a joy for me to grow my own veggies. You don't need a lot of space," the Hoffman Estates woman says. "This year I grew collard greens, kale, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers. When I grow them, I know what I'm getting. Of course I don't use pesticides.

"It's a good feeling when you can eat what you grow; there's nothing like picking your fresh vegetables off the vine and then cooking with them right away."

Rose also has an herb garden.

"They're perennials, so they are easy -- they come back every year!" At harvest time, Rose makes use of a three-season room and hangs her bundles of herbs to dry.

"Now I just go out there when I need them and pull them off," she laughs.

Rose, the middle child in a gaggle of seven, learned to cook from her mom and older sisters.

"My mom made all the bread we ate and she always had a garden," Rose says. "My sister taught me how to bake bread. And I would spend the summers with my grandmother. She was a good cook, too. I just learned over the years."

As you might suspect, Rose is a big believer in healthy eating.

"It's very important to me to eat healthy food; it's important for our bodies. I have some family members with health issues so I try to eat healthy to stay healthy."

Rose enjoys cooking soups or chili that she can make in large batches and then put into smaller containers to freeze or share with neighbors. She describes a recent experiment with collard greens.

"I tried to be creative. Instead of smoked sausage, I used smoked turkey and then I added nutmeg -- always use the real nutmeg -- it really enhanced all the flavors!"

Today she shares a recipe for a quinoa soup inspired by a delicious soup she enjoyed at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. "I had never had quinoa before. I decided to add beans so that together they make a full protein. It doesn't look gorgeous but it's wonderful."

We are also the lucky recipients of her cinnamon bread recipe and a penne salad recipe. Before she retired Rose worked at a local library in the teen department and planned activities for young people. She found ways to combine her love for books and cooking, like the time the library hosted a British tea, complete with scones and steeped tea. Often, she led "edible gift" workshops for the students, showing them how to make chocolate-covered pretzels and other food gifts that were then packaged in a cute way for the holidays.

"It wasn't just a career; I considered it my calling," she reminisces fondly.

These days you're likely to find Rose still cooking with children -- her grandchildren.

"I like to do fun things with my grandchildren when we're together."

For now, however, Rose drinks her tea and waits for the spring thaw. Lucky thing the seed catalogs are just starting to arrive in our mailboxes.

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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