Cook of the Week: Trial and error led to a love of cooking
The way he sees it, Bill Sowers, our Cook of the Week from Mundelein, had to learn to cook.
"I had to pay rent, put gas in the car, and I was just too cheap to go out for food," Bill said.
Lured to Chicago by Baxter forty years ago, Bill left his hometown of Buffalo, New York, knowing the basics of cooking, but from there it was all trial and error.
"To my mother's credit, when I left home I could cook an egg, do the wash and sew on a button. She put us all into the world with some sustainable skills," he said with a laugh.
With a background in medical technology -- heavy on the chemistry -- Bill learned from cookbooks.
"I'm good at following directions," he admits, "but I wouldn't say I'm creative. I like a recipe."
Flash forward 40 years, and some of the cookbooks you will find on his shelves are well-loved and falling apart: America's Test Kitchen, Cook's Illustrated and Rose Levy Beranbaum.
"I read cookbooks like novels," Bill said. And this, oddly, is why it was difficult for him to choose which recipes to share.
"There are so many recipes to try -- so much to explore," he said "My mother's Betty Crocker was stuffed with recipes she wanted to try; I'm guilty of that."
Two recipes that Bill shares with us today are comfort food dishes: His goulash is a hearty mix of ground beef and vegetables, flavored with wine and paprika. His split-pea soup is perfect for warming up on a cold day.
The old stand-by-no-time-last-minute dishes for Bill are pasta with oil and garlic or omelets. Bill and his wife Mary love ethnic foods, including Indian, stir fry and maybe a Moroccan tangine. They are both weight conscious, however, and Bill does enjoy the recipes in the newer Weight Watchers cookbooks.
"We like to keep the calorie count down, and they go together pretty quickly," he said.
The truth, however, is that Bill's real love is baking.
"Baking is just chemistry that tastes good and you can eat," he says.
Unfortunately, since retirement, Bill's baking has taken a hit.
"I don't have an audience anymore," he said, meaning he can't share his baked goods at work so he and his wife aren't continually tempted. Fortunately, there are holidays when the daily discipline relaxes a bit and Bill takes orders from his family for what pie they'd like for Thanksgiving. Bill's recipe for pie dough has a secret ingredient -- vodka!
"It's the easiest dough, and the results are always outstanding," he said. "The back story is that the vodka burns off, but it helps to slow the development of gluten and makes the dough easier to work with." He shares this pie dough recipe with us today.
Like many bakers, one of Bill's favorite tools in the kitchen is his measuring scale, but he is also fond of his Danish whisk -- a tool that makes "short work of thick dough."
Baking bread, which he would love to do more often, carries the same burden as sweet treats in the house.
"I have a recipe for a no-knead bread that rises in the fridge and comes out of the oven soft inside and crusty on the outside," he said. "It's super-easy but if Mary and I eat that -- it's not a good thing!"