Thomas Wolfe may have said you can't go home again, but Donna Abbott, our cook of the week from Hawthorn Woods, would beg to differ. Donna grew up in Lake Zurich, but married and moved away from home -- spending the last 17 years in Wisconsin. Last year, her husband retired, and the empty nesters decided to come back home.
Clearly, family and friends have always been important to Donna and being closer to her children (two of whom live in Chicago now,) mother, sister and nieces and nephews is priceless.
Donna and her sister learned to cook from their mother.
"My mom cooked very natural, healthy foods. She followed in the footsteps of her mother from Italy -- lots of spaghetti and meatballs. Grandma made lots of pasta and deep dish pizza. Even when she made something simple, it was always flavorful." Donna admits that when she was younger, she took her grandparents' cooking for granted.
"Now that I am older I really appreciate how good it was -- especially the gravy! We called it gravy, not sauce," she laughs. The family recipe for the gravy is not written down.
"I could drink the gravy, it is so good," laughs Donna "We always make it a day ahead -- it's better on the second day. Everyone makes their own adaptation, but it's cooked low and slow, and that takes the sharpness out of it."
Pasta is a big favorite for the holidays in the Abbott household.
"All my kids and the nieces and nephews love it -- linguine, ravioli and of course spaghetti and meatballs."
Still, as empty-nesters, usually, the Abbotts find themselves eating out more, or grilling simple fare like fish and chicken, or making one favorite dish, chicken and Italian sausage baked with olive oil, lemon and diced potatoes. Donna likes to use fresh, good-looking produce but doesn't always reach for organic.
"I buy what looks good. I once did a food co-op, where all the produce was delivered directly from the farm, but there were a lot of bugs and dirt. I had to rinse and rinse, and I thought, what, how is this the best choice?"
In the summer, Donna plans to grow her usual herb garden, and now that she is no longer in Wisconsin, where the deer always dined in her garden, she may plant tomatoes and zucchini.
Donna's real love, however, is for baking. Her paternal grandmother was German, and she baked cookies and made desserts. Her mother is also very creative when it comes to making desserts.
"My mom is good at experimenting with baking. She would bake in a coffee can, or make dessert in a skillet, or do something with apple slices. My dad would always take pictures of her desserts."
Donna and her husband do like to entertain, and she almost always makes a dessert.
"I think it's nice to bake something when you're entertaining. It's a nice little thing at the end, really fun and more relaxed. You can linger over this part of the evening and don't have to worry about anything because the meal is over."
Donna shares her favorite cake recipes with us today. Try her luscious chocolate cake made in a springform pan which is wonderful served with vanilla ice cream. Or her apple cake, beautifully topped with apple slices.
"We do a fair amount of entertaining and now that we are back home there are lots and lots of dinners with family and friends. Food brings everyone together," Donna says.
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