CAMP POINT, Ill. — Making his mom's Chop Suey recipe always reminds Sherman Meyer of a key ingredient in cooking.
Patience for preparation.
"You've got to get everything ready," the Camp Point man said. "I try to get everything set up in the order you need to cook."
Careful prep work, whether cubing beef and pork for the chop suey to whatever a recipe calls for, is just as important as understanding timing in the kitchen.
"Timing is probably one of the more important things — when you start something as compared to when something else is cooking so it's all done at the same time," Meyer said. "The other thing would be using fresh, or the right, ingredients."
When making his homemade Pizza, for example, Meyer shreds the mozzarella cheese by hand because it melts better than packaged shredded cheese on top of his Basic Pizza Sauce and toppings like his favorite pepperoni or his wife's country, not Italian, sausage and ham.
Basil, parsley and chives growing just outside the kitchen in the summer months add more fresh flavor to dishes.
"I'm a pretty firm believer in doing stuff homemade. I don't do a lot of package stuff unless for convenience," he said.
The Quincy native learned to cook by paying attention to his mom and grandma in the kitchen and honed his skills preparing meals for himself while his mom worked as a nurse. Meyer followed her into nursing, working at both Blessing Hospital and St. Mary Hospital, before spending more than two decades as an Illinois state trooper.
All the while, he continued to cook for his wife Terry and their two sons, usually focusing on main dishes. "We'd have a vote at the end of a meal sometimes on something new. Do we do this again, or let's scrap this recipe," Meyer said.
The five grandkids inspired even more cooking from their favorite "brown soup," officially a modified version of Hot and Sour Soup, to decorated themed birthday cakes and what the family has come to call Shrimp Soup. "It's almost like a bisque, but there's no broth in it only clam juice," Meyer said.
"It's all kinds of stuff thrown together, then you taste it to see what does it need," he said. "I don't readily know the quantities I'm using except by taste. I have a recipe to go off of and get some ideas."
Garlic-Lemon Chicken makes a tasty main dish, and Italian Roasted Potatoes are a favorite side dish for many meals.
"Cut up potatoes, boil them so they get done, but not mushy, and toss in Italian dressing," he said. "Put them in the oven to get crisp, or you can put them in foil and throw them on the grill."
To add to the fun of a barbecue, Meyer might bring Homemade Marshmallows for toasting.
"They're good," Terry Meyer said.
"They are tedious and sticky, but they're fun," Meyer said.
Having fun is key to Meyer's cooking — and to his other interests of photography and music.
"I've played in bands for 50 some years. The best one was when my youngest son and I had a band," said Meyer, a drummer, who now is learning to play guitar. "I have fun doing it. I don't play guitar because I'm good. I play guitar because i like it. As soon as I learn a song all the way through, I'll be happy."
Hot and Sour Soup
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1 package firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound lean pork
4 to 5 medium shrimp, cut into small pieces
2 to 3 dried cloud ear mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes (save 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid)
1 quart beef stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch blended with 3 tablespoons cold stock and 3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Shred the pork into matchsticks. Cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Lightly beat the egg.
For hot and sour mixture, blend soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch mixture and white pepper until smooth.
Simmer pork, shrimp, mushrooms and bamboo shoots for 30 minutes. Add tofu and mushroom water. Add hot and sour mixture, stirring constantly. Pour in beaten egg while stirring.
1 cup frozen corn
3 cups diced potatoes
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
2 jars clam juice
2 tablespoons minced onions
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
2-3 drops liquid smoke
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound medium peeled and deveined shrimp, cut in half
Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer 30 minutes. Add a small amount of cornstarch slurry, if desired, to make the soup glossy but not thick.
2 pounds pork
1 pound beef
2 cans whole button mushrooms
1 can bamboo shoots
3 large cans bean sprouts
1 large can Chinese vegetables
1/2 bottle bead molasses
1 large bunch celery, cut into one-inch pieces
1 large onion, cut into one-inch pieces
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 bottle soy sauce
Cut the meat into one-inch cubes. In a large pot, brown the meat, then add all the ingredients except the bean sprouts. Simmer for about one hour until the meat is very tender. Add the bean sprouts. Thicken with cornstarch and soy sauce.
Serve over rice or Chinese crispy noodles.
4 to 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
4 tablespoons lemon juice (approximately 2 large lemons)
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 teaspoons dried oregano
Place chicken in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish.
Combine lemon juice, honey, olive oil, garlic and oregano in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Pour over chicken.
Bake uncovered at 375 degrees, basting occasionally with pan juices, for 45 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 180 degrees.
1 package dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water (105 degrees)
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Stir yeast and sugar into the water; let sit for about five minutes.
Add flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add yeast mixture, and start on low speed. When dough is starting to come together, add the olive oil. Increase speed to medium, and knead about 10 minutes. Roll out and top as desired.
Basic Pizza Sauce
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice
1 small white or sweet onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of salt
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
pinch of sugar, optional
2 tablespoons olive oil to saute
Empty tomatoes into a mixing bowl, and coarsely crush with a fork or your hands, leaving them just a little chunky. In a heavy-bottomed two-quart saucepan, add the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, and saute until slightly translucent. Add garlic, and saute about a minute until golden. Quickly add the crushed tomatoes. Stir well, and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the basil and oregano. Add a touch of sugar, if desired, or if tomatoes are tart. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, for at least 15 minutes.
Italian Roasted Potatoes
1 stalk celery, cut thinly
1 carrot, shredded
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup Italian dressing
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 pound russet potatoes
Peel potatoes, and cut into 1-inch cubes; rinse. Boil potatoes until tender but firm. Cool potatoes, and place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, and mix well. Add olive oil if mixture seems dry.
Spread on a sheet pan, and bake at 375 degrees until browned, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. Immediately remove from the heat.
Whisk gelatin mixture on low speed, and with mixer running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. After adding all the syrup, increase speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm. Add vanilla during the last minute of whipping.
While mixture is whipping, prepare the pan. Combine powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add sugar mixture, and completely coat bottom and sides of pan. Return remaining sugar mixture to bowl for later use.
Pour marshmallows into prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula to spread evenly in pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Allow sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board; cut into 1-inch squares. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture.
Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.