Creative Cook Exceeds Expectations
Growing up in a frugal family, I was the oldest of five boys and learned early to pitch in on domestic chores. Mom—who worked outside the home—delegated tasks, and mine focused on cooking. She must have seen I had a keen interest in it.
I made sweet rolls because the bakery rolls were too expensive…homemade pizza when it was still new to American kitchens…and used leftovers creatively to keep our dad happy by not throwing anything away.
When a meal turned out well and the family's response was "Make it again, Mark," I was thrilled.
To this day, I love to cook and entertain for my family, friends and at my church. As minister of fellowship, I head up food preparation for gatherings that average 250 guests.
Be it a Friday night fish fry (a popular Wisconsin tradition), a wedding reception or banquet, I still like to make "five loaves of bread and two small fish" go as far as possible.
Special Occassion Menu
A menu of mine that's proven very popular for special occasions includes Cheddar Potato Soup, Stuffed Beef Tenderloin, Almond Wild Rice, Fruit Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette and Mocha Bundt Cake.
As a first course, Cheddar Potato Soup showcases excellent Wisconsin cheddar. The recipe evolved after I'd tasted a wonderful cheese soup at a restaurant. I left thinking I can make this! and have come very close to duplicating the flavor and consistency.
Rich and fairly thick, this soup is best made in a double boiler. If you don't have one, be very careful not to let the cheese stick to your kettle.
When entertaining friends or when my children visit, I usually make extra and give them soup to take home. Mike and Patti are both married now, and I have two adorable grandsons.
An elegant entree, Stuffed Beef Tenderloin also tastes great. Usually I marinate the meat overnight, stuff the roast the morning of the party and refrigerate until time to put it in the oven.
The savory stuffing blend is a "melting pot" of German and Italian tried-and-tested variations. Be sure to let the roast stand uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. This "resting period" seals in the juices and makes for a prettier presentation.
I've learned many cooking tips and tricks by working as a caterer over the years. In college, I started my own small catering business to pay my tuition. I kept it up for added income while my wife and I worked as teachers and raised our family.
Great texture and eye-appealing color make Almond Wild Rice perfect with the tenderloin. It, too, can be made ahead and I've found it doesn't get sticky. If you ever make a rice dish that does, sprinkle on a few drops of olive oil and stir it in to glaze the grains.
Any combination of seasonal fresh fruits is enhanced by Raspberry Vinaigrette. Time and again, people tell me how much they like its tangy flavor. The vinegar and lemon juice in the dressing also keeps fruit like bananas, apples or pears from turning brown.
Moist, rich-tasting Mocha Bundt Cake was first served to me by a Swedish cook who told me his grandmother "brought over" the recipe. It may be old, but it certainly is timeless.
All this cake needs is a dusting of confectioners' sugar. To dress it up, serve slices with whipped cream or ice cream topped with mocha sprinkles.
In addition to cooking, I'm an avid gardener and am known in my neighborhood as "The Mum Man." To help fund the kids' college educations years ago, I started raising a small-scale crop of hardy mums and never stopped. Last fall I grew 5,000 plants on my 3 acres.
I'm always on the go, and seldom a day goes by when I'm not planning a menu or cooking. There is still nothing more satisfying than hearing the comment, "Make it again, Mark!"
If you fix my favorite meal, I hope you'll hear that same kind of compliment from your family and friends.