Cook of the week: Retiree passes along sage advice

I like to call her the Professor.

She's 76-year-old Pat Julian, a mega-watt retiree brimming with culinary tips collected during decades of meal preparation, and she'd love to pass them on to the next generation.

“If I could ever teach a class, it would be for young cooks, to inspire them,” says the Arlington Heights resident.

So take notes, please. Chapter one from her personal book of tricks advises cooks to buy the best tools and ingredients they can afford.

“You don't need to buy tons of stuff, but get good quality, especially for something you'll use a lot. It helps make things easier” and you will cook more often.

The professor's home away from home is her nearby Williams-Sonoma store, where she stocks her two kitchens – one in the basement, one on the main level. Wisely, she takes classes there, earning a 10 percent discount on purchases, which she uses during sales. (Jot that down, students.)

Then she stocks up on top-quality All-Clad and Le Creuset cookware, knives by Wusthoff and J.A. Henckels and assorted other goodies, like the $300 Technivorm Moccamaster coffee maker that comes highly rated by Cook's Illustrated magazine.

“I wish everybody knew about it.”

But whatever you bring home, don't store it deep in your cabinets.

“Keep your things out,” says Pat, whose pans hang within easy grab. “People love to have a five-star-looking kitchen, but they can't cook because it's too hard to drag everything out.”

As for ingredients, she's even more finicky about quality.

Online she orders luxe Nielsen-Massey vanilla, top-notch King Arthur flour and a high-end flavoring called Fiori Di Sicilia, “similar to vanilla, with a floral taste; Italians put it in panettone.”

The professor also recommends testing the highly concentrated apple cider from the King Arthur site.

“Just drizzle a little on dumplings, turnovers, cakes and ice cream.”

If Pat could bottle and sell that enthusiasm for cooking, she'd be rich.

She not only bakes all her own bread (she grinds her own wheat — honestly!) in three bread makers, and then she gives extra loaves to neighbors and friends. Likewise, she prepares fruit jams to share with the neighbors, and after cooking several big meals a week for her and husband, John, again passes on the leftovers to what must be some really happy, well-fed neighbors.

Through a program at Orchard Evangelical Free Church, Arlington Heights, she helps feed the homeless, too.

A veteran entertainer at home, the professor would like to develop an entire series on how to shop estate sales for your table settings and home furnishings. You'll find high-end goods for a relative bargain. (I think that's going to be on the final.)

“From the time I got married I went to estate sales,” she says. “Virtually all my furniture is used,” as are most of her 10 sets of China.

As for hands-on cooking, her basic advice is to give it a K.I.S.S., as in, keep it short and simple, with recipes like meatloaf, roasted chicken with rosemary (from her own 4-foot tree,) and slow-cooked pork chops with turnips and greens.

“If you have good-quality meat, don't overdo the seasoning; it takes away from the flavor.”

Your homework, class, is to test Professor Pat's three recipes this week. Extra credit if you share with your neighbors, or the Daily Herald Food staff.

Fig Cake

Stuffed Veal Breast

Roast Beef Appetizer