Cookbooks reveal soul of a cook

Cook of the Week

  • Paulette Keegan collects community cookbooks; she says she enjoys the family-friendly, tried-and-true recipes they hold.

      Paulette Keegan collects community cookbooks; she says she enjoys the family-friendly, tried-and-true recipes they hold. CHRISTOPHER HANKINS | Staff Photographer

  • Frosted brownies by Cook of the week Paulette Keegan of Carpentersville.

      Frosted brownies by Cook of the week Paulette Keegan of Carpentersville. CHRISTOPHER HANKINS | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 10/26/2010 3:37 PM

If you want to get to the heart and soul of a cook, just browse through her cookbooks.

In Paulette Keegan's case, you'll find hearth-and-home collections of recipes, "tried and true," as she says. One of her favorite books is from Conant High School in Hoffman Estates where she worked as secretary for eight years.

 

Another is from Lamb's Farm, a Lake County facility serving those with developmental disabilities. There's one from Alexian Brothers Medical Center, the Chicago Bulls and numerous volumes from churches and PTAs.

These are the best, she says, because "someone like you is making their family favorites."

To be honest, Paulette didn't love to cook when she was younger. Both parents worked, so the chore of starting dinner fell to her, and sometimes her sister.

Not until she married, Vic, 46 years ago did she develop a deep love for the process of nourishing her family.

"It became a source of pride and comfort," says Paulette, of Carpentersville. "Seeing everybody eating something they like."

Homemade and from-scratch was a natural. "I didn't know anything else," the 63-year-old says, adding that prepared foods weren't common when she was first married.

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A working mother of four who logged 22 years with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, (including 14 at the administration offices,) Paulette relied on such simple, sustaining meals as tacos and enchiladas, chop suey, chili and fried pork tenderloin patties that would go down without complaint.

Now a grandmother of six, ages 8 to 16, Paulette steers the same course, dishing out fried chicken and rice pilaf.

That's the kind of cooking "everybody seems to like," she says. "I've never been a real wild cook. I wouldn't ever try anything if I don't have the ingredients in the house."

She once spent $4 for a bottle of some ingredient nobody liked, but never again, not with a stable full of so many reliable favorites, like today's Round Steak with Brown Gravy. From a handful of ingredients comes a slow-simmered, cold-weather meal to serve over mashed potatoes or noodles. Double or triple this recipe for a crowd.

Equally consoling is her Beef Barley Vegetable Soup. Paulette simmers it in a huge soup pot she's had since she got married.

"The barley gives it a nice thickness; but it's always a little thinner the first day," she says.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To end on a sweet note, Paulette's chocolate brownies are a winner; they're thin, chewy, fudgy and frosted.

All three recipes work when Paulette entertains all 17 in the family.

"It doesn't phase me, I have to admit," she says. "My family means more to me than anything."

Laura Bianchi