There have been rumors circulating that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and preparing meals. I would like to dispel those rumors once and for all.
The fact is, I spend very little time at the stove these days. That's not to say I haven't done my time as chief cook and bottle washer. There was a time when the kitchen was my sanctuary and no one else dared touch the stove. If you wanted to know where to find the spatula, the electric mixer or the big bowl we used when we made popcorn, I was the go-to person.
And then one day, I began to get suspicious that things were changing. The utensil drawer had not just been rearranged, it was moved to an entirely different cabinet. The mixer was on a shelf so high I couldn't reach it, and new pantry staples began appearing. Things I'd never used before were accumulating. Heavy whisks and immersion blenders hung on hooks in places that previously didn't even have hooks. A kitchen once organized to fit me started looking as though it would have been more comfortable for someone, let's say, who was left-handed.
Tribune Chronicle / Kathleen Evanoff
Jerry Evanoff chops vegetables for his signature hearty bean soup recipe. As a teenager, he worked as a meatcutter in a small grocery store and still maintains good knife skills whether he’s cutting a steak or a carrot.
At first I started noticing little things, but after a while, it became obvious my husband, Jerry, had gradually taken over the kitchen. Rather than fight this culinary coup, I embraced his new-found hobby. I even secretly conceded that after all these years, he probably was the better cook. After all, when I held the position, it was my job, but for him it was a place to escape the stress of a long workday. It was a place where he could lose himself in the science of food; a place for experiments with new recipes that more often than not, ended with some pretty tasty results.
I should have seen it coming. My husband's first foray into the kitchen was when he was barely 14 and worked part-time after school at a small mom and pop grocery store. He did most everything, stocking shelves, ringing up customers and bagging groceries, but his main job, which was also his favorite, was in the butcher shop. These were the days when beef and pork were delivered to stores practically straight from the slaughterhouse. Back then, customers could request their steaks, roasts and chops cut and wrapped exactly the way they wanted and Jerry's job was to fill their order right there, on the spot.
He worked at the store all through school. When we started dating he would try to impress me by bragging he could throw a whole chicken in the air and cut it into pieces before it hit the cutting board. After we were married, he chose which cuts of meat to buy on our grocery list, often telling me which part of the animal made up those steaks or roasts.
Hearty bean soup
3 to 4 strips bacon
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
2 cups ham, cubed
1 teaspoon dried, ground marjoram
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter (optional)
8-10 cups water
2 15.8-ounce cans great northern beans or equivalent dried beans, soaked overnight
3 large potatoes, cubed
1/2 large potato, grated, (optional) or 1/2 cup instant potato flakes (used as thickener)
Cook bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Remove bacon to drain. Discard bacon fat, retaining three tablespoons in the skillet.
Add onions to the retained bacon fat in the skillet and saute about five minutes. Add the celery and carrots and continue to saute until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the ham, herbs and spices, and continue cooking until everything is heated throughout and flavors are mingled.
Pour 8 to 10 quarts water into a large soup pot. Add the vegetables and ham. Crumble the bacon and add it as well. Add the beans to the soup and simmer on medium heat for about an hour.
About 30 minutes before serving, add the diced potatoes and cook just until soft.
If you like your soup thicker, you can add grated potato or instant potato flakes. The optional butter also helps thicken the broth and add flavor, but can be left out if desired.
Savory corn bread
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening
2 cups self rising corn meal mix
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 beaten egg
1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
1 14-ounce can whole kernel corn
2 teaspoons cumin
In a heavy, ovenproof skillet, heat the oil or shortening making sure to coat the entire bottom of the pan.
Combine the corn meal mix and sugar. Add the milk and egg, mixing until blended. Stir in the corn and red pepper.
Bake at 425 degrees 20 to 25 minutes until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
Let cool slightly and cut into wedges.
But still I did the majority of cooking in our house until one summer in the late 1980s he decided to try a recipe he'd seen on a PBS television cooking show. It wasn't long before he was trying a lot of recipes and what wasn't new were remakes of my old standards.
His hearty bean soup recipe is a remake. When I made the soup early in our marriage, it consisted mainly of dried, soaked beans boiled all day with a large hambone. Barely recognizable today due to the addition of vegetables and a few herbs, the recipe can be made quickly by using canned beans or it can be a longer affair if dried beans are your preference. Marjoram, he says, makes the difference and we always have a few plants in the garden every summer to use either fresh or to dry for winter.
The soup feels comforting on a cold winter night and is even better the next day reheated.
Bean soup, of course, wouldn't be complete without cornbread. While my husband isn't a fan, I grew up on my mother's recipe, which I adapted to make a little more Tex-Mex by adding whole kernel corn, roasted red peppers and cumin, to give it a smoky, Southwest flair.