Pastor Scott Barron makes Macaroni and Cheese
Scott Barron is pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church, has been married 29 years and has three grown children, but the 57-year-old clergyman has a confession to make: "I have kind of a crush on Giada."
That's Food Network's Giada De Laurentiis, comely host of "Everyday Italian," and most likely the object of thousands of unrequited crushes.
"My congregation loves to kid me about it," chuckles Father Scott, the primary cook at home for his wife, Mary, and kids, ages 17 to 24, and major contributor to church potlucks and events.
"I don't cook many of her dishes, but I watch," he said sheepishly.
The Arlington Heights resident calls himself an "everyday cook," but he loves to experiment with dishes from different cultures and challenges himself to prepare a meal with whatever he finds in the refrigerator or pantry.
"This is my one creative outlet," he said. "I like the idea of a whole lot of different ingredients coming together in one thing."
He explores ethnic markets, from Japanese and Mexican to Indian and Italian.
"I will browse grocery stores like other people browse clothing stores," he said.
Foodnetwork.com is bookmarked on his computer, but he refers to newspapers too and his collection of "big, general cookbooks," like "New York Times Cookbook" and "Gourmet Cookbook." They are all a springboard to something new.
When the family hired au pairs from abroad, Father Scott picked up some pointers about regional French cooking and, incidentally, how particular the French are about ingredients.
On a shopping trip with one au pair from Normandy, Father Scott suggested substituting a less expensive apple liquor for Calvados, her region's signature apple brandy. She politely said "non."
When Father Scott cooks for church functions, he takes advantage of the parish kitchen, a roomy work space with a restaurant-quality, eight-burner stove and double oven. He fired them up for the visit of an Episcopal bishop, a native of Panama, when he prepared a Columbian chicken stew, researched online and prepared with ingredients from a Latin market.
At home, he often wings it.
"Whenever I don't know what I'm making, I call it 'surprise,'" he said. Sometimes those turn out the best, like Mashed Potato Surprise, which started as a mistake.
"I put in too much milk and butter, so I started adding blue cheese and Swiss to thicken it, and baked it," he said.
His Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe evolved as his children grew.
"I got tired of making it the same way, so I started adding things and they liked it even more, so I added more," he said.
The latest evolution contains mushrooms, artichoke hearts, bacon and Worcestershire, topped with trendy panko crumbs.
For Chicken Casserole Mexican Style, Father Scott recommends basmati rice, which has larger grains that absorb more flavor from the spicy sauce. (Find the recipe at dailyherald.com/food.)
Ironically, though his family and parishioners are big fans of his cooking, Father Scott often enjoys the process more than the results.
"Honest to God," he said, "sometimes I prefer cooking to eating."