By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
CAMP POINT, Ill. -- Bobbi Mock takes a literary approach in the kitchen.
"If I can follow a recipe, I can do it," said Mock, a reference librarian at the Quincy Public Library. "That's why books are my friend. If I can read it, I can do it."
It's a "recipe" for cooking a wide variety of dishes that pays off for Mock, her husband, Jerel, and their children, daughter Morgan, 4, and son Alex, 2.
"We eat a lot of different tastes. My husband likes curried foods. We like Chinese recipes, Mexican recipes, a little spice," Mock said. "It's led our children to be a little more adventuresome and try everything."
Cooking's a family activity with the Mocks sharing the duties and the kids getting involved.
"They're very into helping add things to the bowl and mixing," Mock said. "The challenge is to keep them away from the stovetop."
Spending time in the kitchen, and in the garden, also introduces Morgan and Alex to healthy eating habits.
"My husband's thing is to have a large garden," Mock said. "If we're going to grow it, we needed to do something with it. I did not want it to go to waste. I learned how to can it, freeze it, use it in meals."
An overabundance of zucchini and tomatoes last summer actually led to a new family favorite.
"We make a casserole that's sausage, zucchini, tomatoes and some cheese. It's absolutely wonderful," Mock said. "It's full of vegetables. The kids eat it. It's colorful, and it looks kind of nice on your plate."
Mock, who likes to bake, also found a way to turn zucchini into an unexpected dessert.
"I came across a Zucchini Cobbler recipe that fooled my husband into thinking I'd made apple cobbler," said Mock, who did little cooking while growing up in Geneseo and started "out of necessity" after moving away from home.
Homegrown produce, whether fresh from the garden or canned and frozen, helps make meal planning simple.
"It's also a tremendous cost-saver," Mock said. "A packet of seeds is nothing compared to buying frozen or canned vegetables every week."
The Mocks don't stop with just vegetables at their home between Camp Point and Golden.
"We raise poultry in the spring and summer months. We only raise maybe a dozen turkeys, just enough to share with the family, and about a half dozen geese," she said. "It's a holiday tradition to have cooked goose on Christmas. Finding someone who raises geese is almost impossible, so you do it yourself."
The family also has goats, used now for weed management, but hopes to butcher some in the future. "Goat meat is very low in cholesterol, very heart-healthy and cooks very easy," she said. "My husband grew up raising animals and butchering, and that's something we continued for our children. It's so much easier and ultimately safer, if you know where the animal came from, but that doesn't stop us from going to grocery store and buying meat."
A simple coating and sauce add plenty of flavor to Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken, while shredded chicken, Mock's favorite, or ground beef, her husband's preference, serve as a base for easy-to-fix Mexican Casserole.
"I can make it ahead of time, it's great as leftovers and it's covered in cheese so my children love it," she said. "My husband is very much a meat and potatoes man. He doesn't care what I do to the meat as long as there's meat and potatoes. I like to experiment with desserts and side dishes."
Mock first tried S'More Cookie Bars to take to a family Thanksgiving.
"It was very easy to layer the ingredients, and the kids helped," she said. "The pan was empty. They must have been good."
Easy Chocolate Fudge is another favorite treat, while Blonde Brownies and Lemon Squares are diabetic-friendly recipes. The brownies have one carb and one fat, while the squares have one carb and one-half fat, Mock said.
Trying new recipes is a key ingredient in cooking.
"You know you can try a recipe, and it may not turn out quite like you want which sometimes makes it even better," Mock said. "It's just a matter of being willing to try."
Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
3-4 boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Rinse chicken in water, and cut into cubes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dip chicken into cornstarch to coat, then dip into eggs.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet. Cook chicken until browned, but not cooked through. Place chicken in a greased 9x13-inch baking pan.
Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl; whisk together, then pour sauce evenly over chicken. Bake for one hour at 325 degrees, turning the chicken every 15 minutes.
Serve with rice and a steamed vegetable.
Cheesy Sausage Zucchini Casserole
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1 cup water
1 pound pork sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced tomato
4 cups cubed zucchini squash
2 (four-ounce) cans sliced mushrooms, drained
1 (eight-ounce) package processed cheese, cubed
1 pinch dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Combine rice and water in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, and set aside.
Cook sausage and onion in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until evenly browned; drain. Stir in zucchini and tomatoes; cook until tender. Stir in rice, mushrooms and cheese. Season with oregano, salt and pepper.
Spread in a 9x13-inch baking dish or a two-quart casserole dish.
Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until lightly browned and bubbly.
1 pound ground beef
1 bag shredded cheese
1 can refried beans
1 jar salsa
Brown hamburger; drain. Using a springform pan, place two flour tortillas on the bottom, then add layers of ground beef, tortilla, shredded cheese and salsa, tortilla, refried beans and tortilla. Repeat layers until you reach the top of the pan. Top with shredded cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until top tortilla becomes crispy.
Serve with salsa or sour cream on the side.
NOTE: Cooked, shredded chicken can be added with ground beef or used in place of ground beef.
1/3 cup stick margarine
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
In a medium saucepan, melt margarine. Add sugar, and stir until smooth and slightly cooked, about two minutes. Blend in the egg, Add the vanilla, baking powder and baking soda; stir just to remove the lumps. Stir in the flour until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips.
Spread batter in an 8x8-inch baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees until the top is slightly set and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Do not overbake.
Easy Chocolate Fudge
2 cups chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Line an 8x8-inch or larger pan with foil.
Combine chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a medium heavy-duty saucepan. Warm over lowest possible heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and add vanilla.
Spread evenly into pan. Refrigerate for two hours or until firm.
Note: Mock said 1/2 cup peanut butter can be heated with chips and sweetened condensed milk, or 1 cup chopped nuts can be stirred in along with vanilla.
1 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
In a small bowl, toss together cake flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and zest. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly. Gradually add the oil, stirring with a fork until well blended. Sprinkle with the buttermilk, and stir just until the dough begins to hold together.
Press dough into the bottom of an 8x8-inch baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees until light golden along the edges, about 13-15 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with 2/3 cup sugar and lemon juice until frothy. Add the reserved flour mixture, and beat until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour the mixture over the hot crust, and bake until the top is set, about 15 minutes.
Cool completely, and cut into squares.
S'More Cookie Bars
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (such as Hershey's)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture, and mix at low speed until combined.
Divide dough in half, and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of a greased eight-inch square baking pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. Two king-sized Hershey bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate, if necessary, to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (which is most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together).
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.
Makes 16 cookie bars.
5 cups zucchini, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups butter, chilled
Place zucchini and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Cook uncovered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or until tender. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer one minute longer, remove from heat and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir 1/2 cup crumb mixture into zucchini mixture. Press half of remaining crumb mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread zucchini mixture evenly over the crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture and 1 teaspoon cinnamon over zucchini.
Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until golden and bubbly.