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updated: 4/30/2013 7:37 AM

Experienced cook pens book to help younger generations

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  • Video: Martha Klemenz makes muffins

  • Martha Klemenz of Elgin wrote a cookbook called They Think I Can Cook. It contains more than just recipes for novice chefs.

       Martha Klemenz of Elgin wrote a cookbook called They Think I Can Cook. It contains more than just recipes for novice chefs.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Martha Klemenz of Elgin with her muffins.

       Martha Klemenz of Elgin with her muffins.
    photos by John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
By Abby Scalf

Martha Klemenz recalls the fear many newly married women face, not knowing how to cook.

"I knew nothing about cooking, was faced with a husband who thought that I could cook and I struggled mightily to succeed in the kitchen with the help of mediocre and ineffective cookbooks," said Martha, who married John when she was 24.

Making plenty of mistakes through the years, the 74-year-old Elgin resident learned to make quick meals for her husband, John, and three children and to entertain friends with "acceptable results."

But then she noticed the pattern emerging in the younger generation.

"Young people did not know much about the kitchen except how to spell the word," she said. "They were intelligent people who knew the price of anything at a fast food place, but didn't know how to handle themselves in the kitchen and produce food safely."

To combat that, Martha decided to write, "They think I can cook. Help!" The "pre-cookbook for motivated but scared cooks-to-be" is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

"I put down what I learned; I learned everything the hard way," she said.

Her book outlines basics such as acquiring cookware, handling appliances safely and preventing the spread of germs. Whether she's writing about creating a romantic mood or cooking fish, Martha handles each topic with humor. After all, her first chapter is "you are smarter than a potato."

"I understood that whoever picked (the book) up may be as afraid as I was. I would appreciate the humor as I needed to learn an awful lot," she said.

Raising children and working full-time, she preferred meals that required little preparation and provided more nutrition than fast food. Those are the type of recipes, she said, she receives from friends and neighbors and shared in the book.

"I wanted recipes easy to make and worthwhile to make; (recipes) that would not get the kitchen upside down," she said.

Yet she couldn't help but include her favorite lasagna recipe that she admits is on the complicated side. Her version includes a variety of cheeses including Swiss cheese.

"It gives a different but wonderful flavor to the lasagna. I almost didn't want to share this recipe in the book ... it was too good not to share."

Among her favorite tools, Martha shares the praises of using the crockpot.

"I included a chapter on using the crockpot because I remember how wonderful it is to come home and have the house filled with great aromas and to dip into the crock pot and have a nutritious, low calorie meal with fresh vegetables."

Martha said a close friend shared a dessert called Cookies Galore, which is mixed in one bowl and can be customized with coconut, chocolate chips and nuts.

"It makes a tremendous amount of cookies than can be frozen successfully," she said.

She's still thrilled to prepare meals for her extended family but is challenged by cooking for a mix of vegetarians and omnivores. So she focuses on simple, healthy and exciting dishes that don't require too much time in the kitchen.

Noting the irony she adds, "It's a funny thing to say after writing a cookbook."

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

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