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updated: 12/7/2016 7:13 AM

Cook of the Week: Theresa Salgado keeps a tight grip on food budget

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  • Theresa Salgado puts her own spin on the Polish food she grew up eating with her flavorful Stovetop Porky Kraut dinner.

      Theresa Salgado puts her own spin on the Polish food she grew up eating with her flavorful Stovetop Porky Kraut dinner.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Theresa Salgado's Stovetop Porky Kraut dinner.

      Theresa Salgado's Stovetop Porky Kraut dinner.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Theresa Salgado got the recipe for Aunt Svea's Pressed Oatmeal Cookies from a Swedish friend's great-aunt.

      Theresa Salgado got the recipe for Aunt Svea's Pressed Oatmeal Cookies from a Swedish friend's great-aunt.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Theresa Salgado and her Stovetop Porky Kraut dinner.

      Theresa Salgado and her Stovetop Porky Kraut dinner.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald correspondent

Oddly enough, one of the reasons our cook of the week, Theresa Salgado of Schaumburg, is such a good cook may be because she is so cheap.

"Basically, I'm cheap!" Theresa laughs.

Much of Theresa's creativity in the kitchen was motivated by the need to stay on her budget, but she also has a natural unwillingness to throw away good food. Plus, she hates paying a lot for a meal when she is perfectly capable of cooking it herself -- for much less money!

Even though Theresa's three boys have grown up and moved on, and the Salgados no longer need to scrimp and save, she still has her economical bent.

"It's a hard habit to break!"

Theresa learned to cook more or less as a necessity.

"My mom worked when I was a child and she would call me and instruct me to get dinner on the table. I'd peel the potatoes, or throw something in the oven."

Unfortunately, Theresa's mom wasn't the best cook.

"Polish food can be very bland and mom kept things simple," says Theresa. This may explain why now, a few decades later, Theresa loves to cook spicy, flavorful foods, like the robust pork stew she shares with us today. There was a time however, when her kids were young, that Theresa favored a whole food, healthy style of cooking.

"I was very involved with the La Leche League and wanted to move away from processed food." (Theresa was way ahead of the current trend!)

"The secret was trying to convince my husband -- not that he was anti-healthy -- he just wanted food to taste good!" One of her boys had severe allergies as well, so this also influenced her cooking.

"I had to spend 24 hours in the grocery store reading labels!" Theresa always tried to involve her boys in the cooking process.

"I have lots of pictures of messy kitchens!" she laughs. When the boys got older, Theresa went back to school to become a nurse. Once she started working on the maternity floor at Alexian Brothers, everyone had to pitch in to help -- the end result however, is that all her sons love to cook.

Now that she and her husband are empty nesters, they love going into the city to try new restaurants, and then she likes to come back home and try to re-create the dishes in her own kitchen.

"I always try to charm the waiter into getting the chef to tell me the recipe!" Theresa also likes to make her own rubs for meat marinades and her own spice packets for the smoothies she drinks before work.

"Why not? I have all the spices and otherwise they go bad so quickly!"

According to Theresa, at this time of year, soup is the thing.

"In the winter, I'm a big soup person. It's very economical and hearty -- you can do so much with soup."

For her soups, Theresa likes to use all the vegetables that she's thrown in the freezer instead of throwing away. The problem is she rarely uses a recipe for her soups, so when her husband says, "make that one again" she's in trouble!

Generally Theresa avoids baking as a rule -- to avoid eating baked goods! -- with the exception of her now famous oatmeal cookies. The recipe is actually from her Swedish girlfriend's great-aunt, but it turns out delicious every time and she's sharing the recipe with us today.

To further her cooking technique, Theresa loves to watch the food network. Her prized cooking tool is a very sharp knife, and she's only had to visit the emergency room once …

"I was trying to chop like they do on the food network …" she admits sheepishly.

Theresa doesn't limit her creative efforts to just food.

"We like our wine and cocktails." Theresa made several attempts to exactly duplicate a martini from a favorite restaurant.

"I experimented with different recipes and we tasted them all! I'm not paying $11 for a martini!"

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