Cooking and baking comes naturally, but she lets others enjoy her results

 
By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted7/4/2018 6:00 AM
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  • Mary Ellen Healey of Palatine with some of her specialties.

      Mary Ellen Healey of Palatine with some of her specialties. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Mary Ellen Healey, our Cook of the Week from Palatine, remembers the nuns scolding her when she was 15 years old. She had signed up for a cooking class at her parochial school, and the sisters were none too pleased that she already knew how to cook. Her grandmother and mother had taken care of that. She grew up cooking with them.

"I've always gotten a tremendous amount of pleasure from fixing food for people and watching them enjoy it," said Mary Ellen, who still loves to bake with her grandmother's cooking sheets and her rolling pin that is 100 plus years old.

"They are blackened and look awful, but when I use them it brings her back into the kitchen and keeps her a part of my life," explains Mary Ellen.

The only other cooking class Mary Ellen has taken, was a cake decorating class which was particularly useful when baking birthday cakes for her three children.

Mary Ellen Healey's raisin scones.
  Mary Ellen Healey's raisin scones. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Now Mary Ellen bakes for friends and family, a little 'side business' where her scones, aka fairy cakes, are a hot commodity, along with Irish soda bread, cakes and pies. Mary Ellen shares her scone recipe with us today. Mary Ellen also bakes a batch of cookies once a week, so her husband won't resort to eating store-bought cookies, but here's the odd thing, Mary Ellen doesn't eat her baked goods.

"I try not to eat what I bake. If I run a half marathon, I'll eat a cookie," she laughs. Seven years ago Mary Ellen lost 70 pounds, and through running and good eating with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, she has kept it off. Still, she loves to bake and offers us good advice.

"When baking, you cannot walk away from your oven. Do something else in the kitchen, but do not leave. Rotate everything halfway through the baking time. And, I keep a sink of soapy water ready when I'm baking. Sometimes I have to rewash tools to use again."

Mary Ellen Healey's specialties including blueberry pie, scones and garlic chicken. She shares some of her recipes here.
  Mary Ellen Healey's specialties including blueberry pie, scones and garlic chicken. She shares some of her recipes here. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Mary Ellen cooked for her family every night when their three kids were growing up. She remembers the busy time fondly.

"I used to be spontaneous with meals because I never had time! It was enough just to get food on the table. Now I can do more planning," she says.

One plan Mary Ellen loves is cooking a big meal on Sunday.

"I do a roast, a turkey or a ham so that I have leftovers to use all week." Mary Ellen has many favorite family recipes, but she also has two cookbooks she particularly loves. "Noteworthy: A Collection of Recipes from the Ravinia Festival -1986" is the first cookbook the women's board at Ravinia produced (there have been several since) and the "Silver Palate," a classic, best seller for years.

Mary Ellen Healey of Palatine with some of her specialties.
  Mary Ellen Healey of Palatine with some of her specialties. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

"I've made many of the recipes in those two books. They always turn out."

As for ethnic foods, Mary Ellen makes a lot of Italian, some Thai, some German and definitely Irish.

"I've got a Guinness stew that I've been making for years. On a family trip to Ireland, we toured the Guinness Brewery. My kids had the stew and said, 'Mom they make your stew!' I had to laugh, 'No, I make their stew!'"

Mary Ellen teaches kindergarten in a parochial school and loves that she can cook with her students.

"We roll out the dough for Dutch apple pies using my grandmother's 100-year-old rolling pin, and I talk about my grandmother. The kids get a big kick out of it," she said.

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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