Penny Kaldec is planning an expensive meal for one lucky couple.
Following the couple's request, Penny will prepare a multitude of appetizers including homemade guacamole and chips served in a small martini glass, salmon crostini, stuffed mushrooms, and will end the meal with chocolate truffles.
For the past six years, Penny has donated a made-to-order meal as an auction item for Holy Ghost School in Wood Dale where she works as a preschool aide. Winning bidders over the years have spent hundreds of dollars to receive this home-cooked meal.
While Penny admits she was nervous that first year, she looks forward to planning a special spread for a party of 10.
"There is a ton of people who look at you and respect you as a teacher, and then you're serving them food," she said. "But it's really fun to be able to do that and get to know them as people versus just parents of kids at school. It's a nice experience."
This Wood Dale cook is more often used to preparing meals for a party of six including her husband, Ed, herself and their children, Brian, 28, Amanda, 26, Dan, 24, and Adam, 20.
When the kids were younger, the evening routine included dinner around the table. The kids and often their friends would look forward to shrimp toast, roast beef with mashed potatoes or Mongolian beef, fried rice and sushi. But her kids agree chicken cordon bleu and champagne risotto was a favorite meal.
"They tell me nobody makes risotto like you," she said. "I have Italian friends who ask me 'how do you make it so good?' I tell them, 'it's love.'"
While Penny says she is willing to try and make any dish at least once, there was one dish that did not turn out too well on her first try.
"I tried to make coq au vin. It was a really long recipe, but it came out purple," she said. "When we served it, I asked my husband to turn the lights down a little bit so (guests wouldn't) see that it's purple. I thought, who is going to eat purple chicken?"
At the suggestion of daughter Amanda, Penny developed a cookbook to store what her family calls "the keepers." "If it's good, it's in here," she says.
Now that her three oldest have moved out on their own, she often gets a call to share recipes from that folder.
"The year before my daughter got married, she would ask every week to make a new thing from my cookbook so she knew how to cook. Dan has taken to Monday nights as his new recipe night, so I send to him once a week a new recipe that he cooks for his other roommates," she said. "They will call me the next day and say they really liked it or say they didn't realize how much work that was.
"I tell him, Do you appreciate it more?" Penny adds.
No matter if she is cooking for family or a party of 10, Penny said she loves bringing smiles to the table.
"It lifts your heart to see everybody eat and enjoy it and know that any amount of work that went into it was well worth it because they are happy," she said. "My greatest pleasure in life is making people happy."
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