Cooking cozy comfort food for a crowd
Although Mary Reidy of Mount Prospect first learned to enjoy cooking with her mother, it wasn't until she got married that cooking became a necessary passion.
"My husband has the most voracious appetite in the world," she laughs. "He eats mammoth amounts of food and yet he isn't fat!"
Mary learned early on that she needed to make hearty meals, especially once their three kids came along. Now, despite the fact that the Reidys are nearly empty-nesters, Mary finds she is cooking for crowds more than ever.
"The boys come over with their girlfriends, my college daughter brings home friends -- we always have a houseful," says Mary, who likes to make such crowd-pleasing meals as Beef Bourguignon, a rich beef stew punctuated with cognac and wine that she's made for a crowd of 30.
"Everyone loves it. It's not a middle-of-the-week meal. During the holidays we sometimes rent a cabin halfway between relatives and I always like to bring a prepared meal because you don't always know what (kind of cooking arrangements) you're getting into."
Mary comes from a big family -- so much so she says they have had to pare down their Thanksgiving to "just" 20. Her husband is from Ireland, so visitors often arrive from all over the world.
"That's when it's a B-and-B around here -- I make a lot of big breakfasts!"
Perhaps it helps that Mary is a project manager by trade, so she doesn't see organizing a meal for 20 as a big deal. She makes two Thanksgiving turkeys -- one cooked inside and one outside in the turkey fryer.
"It's just for giggles -- it's just a thing my husband likes to do -- he'll stand out there with a beer." The real treat, according to Mary, is when the turkey comes out and the sweet potato fries go in.
"The peanut oil fries them up real quick -- they usually don't even make it to the table." The turkey fryer often gets hauled out in the summer when the Reidys use it to make a seafood boil.
Holiday or not, most days you are likely to find Mary out by the grill.
"I love, love, love to grill -- that's my happy place. I may be the only woman out there with grill envy," she laughs. "I grill everything. We make a lot of fish, but I will grill the entire dinner. I grill in stages; I put the vegetables in foil to roast first and then do the meat or fish last. I love to try new things."
During the week Mary enjoys the creative "Chopped"-style challenge of preparing a meal with whatever is in the pantry.
Mary has come up with many successful dishes. Does she write the recipes for her creations down?
"No, that's the problem! If I could remember how I made them it would be great!"
Mary has a number of Irish dishes she enjoys making.
"Irish cuisine isn't necessarily my favorite, but it is great for tweaking," she said. Every year the Reidys host a St. Patrick's Day party for friends and neighbors. They serve corned beef and cabbage, Guinness mustard and Irish coffee with such trimmings as caramel and salted pecans. Today she shares her rendition of Shepherd's Pie, an Irish classic meat pie made with ground lamb and topped with creamy mashed potatoes.
One thing Mary doesn't do is bake. "I assemble desserts. I might make a tiramisu, or a layered trifle. There's usually a wee bit of liquor. We don't eat a lot of dessert, because we usually have eaten too much! I've forgotten to serve dessert many times."