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Too Hot to Cook
June 22, 2005

As we head into full-blown summer, it may be too hot to cook, but that doesn’t keep me from thinking about it—and reading about it and talking about it.  A good cool place to read about cooking is our own Gilbert Gragg—Decatur County Library, and good people to talk to about cooking are Andy Porter and Susan Ralph.

Andy  smiles when he thinks about cooking, and he just about can’t remember when he was not only thinking about cooking but doing it as well. 

The Boy Scouts in Lufkin, Texas subsisted all week on the usual Scout fare of hot dogs, hamburgers and canned beans.  The last night of the campout was different.  They all turned to young Andy to produce the traditional pot roast.

            “You were already a good cook?” I asked.  Andy laughed.

              “I was the only one who had an iron pot.”

            Andy’s skills as a home chef grew along with the lad.  He remembers that as soon as he got back to Lufkin for a holiday from the University of Texas, the phone would ring.  The folks at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church would be after him to make his now-famous chicken spaghetti. (Andy was a Methodist.)   It was enough to feed a crowd, or to feed a small family several meals.  Andy still makes it.

East Texas” Chicken Spaghetti

1.  Simmer a 5 to 6 pound hen with water to cover until tender.  Save the broth.  Strip the meat from the bones and set aside.

2.  Sautè in one stick of butter:

1 medium onion, chopped

3 or 4 ribs of celery, chopped

1 jar mushrooms

1 green pepper, chopped

1 can water chestnuts, sliced

1 jar pimentos, chopped

1 can sliced ripe olives

3.   Cook one sixteen-ounce package spaghetti in the reserved broth.

4.  Mix the cooked spaghetti with the other ingredients and add:

            1 can cream of mushroom soup

            1 can cream of chicken soup

            1/2 soup can milk

5.  Pour in to two greased 9 x 13-inch pans or 3 8-inch square pans. (9-inch works too)

      Top with 8 ounces grated cheddar cheese before baking.

6.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

            Andy notes that this dish freezes well, but warns that the cheese shouldn’t be frozen.  Wait until the dish is thawed and ready to cook before adding it.

            Andy is a self-taught cook.  He mostly learned by trying things out and by reading cookbooks.  For the last several years, he has shared his enthusiasm for cookbooks with the Library.  This makes sense.  Andy is a long-time volunteer and former chairman of the library’s board.

            When the Porter family moved into smaller quarters some ten years ago, they donated a substantial part—over 100 volumes—of Andy’s cookbook collection to the library.  Since then Andy has worked with Public Service Librarian Susan Ralph to build the collection.  They’ve been wildly successful.  Together they have made it grow to over 700 volumes.

“Andy’s efforts have enriched our community and our collection,” Susan Whittle, Director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Library, told me.
            I dropped by to check it out.  There is truly something for everyone—and every cook.   Worried about your health?  Volumes on weight loss, cooking for diabetics, those with heart disease and cancer survivors.  Dreaming of far away places?  Books on the recipes of India, China, Italy—you name it.  Want to stay home? The popular Southern Living series as well as many books from local churches and organizations.

            What’s more, there are cooking videos.  I’m intrigued by “How to Cook a Duck,” and “Fixin’ Venison.”

            I asked Susan and Andy to pick a few favorites.  It was hard.  Susan leaned toward soup—Splendid Soup or Soup for Everyone because she remembers her grandmother’s fabulous soups. 

            Andy has many favorites. To learn the basics, he suggests CookWise which gives the “hows and whys of successful cooking,” plus more than 200 recipes

            Finally Andy pulled down Dessert University.  What a book.  A complete education in preparing desserts from simple poached apples (cook them in sugar syrup with lemons) to eleven different recipes for crêpes.

            Speaking of crêpes, Andy says he makes a mean crêpe Suzette himself.  But when it comes to desserts.  His favorite to make isn’t in any recipe book.  In fact, it is a secret—or has been until now.  Once again remembering his college days, Andy told me how a fraternity brother, a member of a prominent Texas restaurant family, shared the famous, but secret, formula for the restaurant chain’s signature pie.  Andy agreed to reveal the recipe, but not the restaurant chain.  (As a native Texas —I knew immediately!)

Millionaire Pie

2 baked and cooled 9-inch pie shells

1/4 pound butter, softened

1 large egg

1/4 tablespoon salt

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

            Cream together powdered sugar and butter.  Add egg, salt and vanilla.  Beat until fluffy.  Chill.  Set aside.

            Whip cream with a dash or two of sugar.  Fold in pineapple and nuts.

            Spoon powdered sugar and butter mixture into cooled pie shells.  Top with whipped cream mixture.

            Keep refrigerated, covered with foil or plastic wrap.

            Susan has a favorite dessert recipe as well.&nbs= p; She suggests that should you make it, you whip off a double batch and drop one by the library—just so Susan and the rest of the staff will be sure you got it right!

Susan’s Chocolate Mint Squares

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (16 oz.) can chocolate syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Combine flour and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with chocolate syrup, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into greased and floured 13” x 9” x 2” baking pan; bake at 350 degrees for 25-28 minutes. Cool completely. (Cake will shrink from sides of pan.)

Frosting

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 Tbsp. Crème de menthe

2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

Cream butter; gradually add sugar and crème de menthe, mixing well. Spread evenly over cake; chill about 1 hour.

Chocolate Glaze

1 (6 oz.) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips

¼ cup butter

Combine chocolate chips and butter in the top of a double boiler; bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to low; stir until chocolate melts. Spread over frosted cake; chill for at least 1 hour before cutting.

            If you agree it’s to hot too cook, or if you’re just hungry for something new, drop by the library and check out the cookbooks.


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