Barbara Simeo makes cabbage rolls

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Barbara Simeo loves to bake and cook Eastern European recipes passed down from her mother. You can ser her recipe for Hungarian

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Barbara Simeo folds steamed cabbage leaves around a meaty filling.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Cabbage Rolls by Barbara Simeo of Palatine.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Cabbage Rolls, Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie and Hungarian Cookies from Barbara Simeo of Palatine.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Barbara Simeo makes cabbage rolls

This Palatine grandma hasn't retired from baking, cooking

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print story Published: 8/5/2009 12:00 AM

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From 30-minute meals to all-day cooking and baking marathons, weekly canning sessions during the growing season, gardening and foraging for berries, Barbara Simeo is the complete cook. Even in retirement - it's just her and husband Joe at home in Palatine these days - Barbara stocks enough food for an army, or so her family likes to joke.

But then again, there are friends and family to share with, bake sales at church and a life so busy there isn't always time to cook every day.

So Barbara packs her freezers nearly wall-to-wall with from-scratch goodies like meatballs, marinara sauce, cabbage rolls, waffles, cookie and pies.

"I have six pies in the freezer right now and it's just the beginning of the season," says Barbara, a retired operating room nurse.

In the pantry: such unusual home canned treats as sweet and sour beets, roasted pimentos, marinated peppers, pears with mint or cinnamon and strawberry rhubarb jam. The vegetables come from her garden, the fruit from the market. "I can something every week as it comes in season," she says. "I like to make things you don't get in the store."

Don't ask her where, but in late summer she picks wild elderberries for pies and jams. Call her part farmer, part home economist and occasional forager. "I love to do everything," says Barbara, mother of three and grandmother of 12.

One of seven children, growing up in Ohio, Barbara's mother cooked and baked huge quantities for her hungry brood, and at 92, still cooks for herself. The apple pie doesn't fall far from the tree! In this case; Barbara appears headed in the same direction.

It wasn't always easy. When she was first married she made spaghetti sauce with Campbell's tomato soup for her part-ltalian husband, Joe. "I had no cookbooks for years," she laughs. "My mom didn't use them. I'm just one who has learned through the years, trying many different methods and recipes."

Practice pays off. Recently, Barbara took first place for pie baking in a contest sponsored by the recently formed Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary at St. Theresa Church in Palatine. Her lattice-topped Rhubarb- Strawberry Pie, featured here today, bowled over the judges.

"I felt embarrassed," says Barbara, an active member of the parish and the auxiliary. "I thought so many other people made great pies, too."

But who could question the judgment of a panel of priests?

Her winning crust combines butter and butter-flavored shortening for a balance of flavor and flakiness. Check out her technique for rolling the pie dough between sheets of floured wax paper; you'll love how easily it works.

Don't wait until the holidays to try her yeast-based Hungarian Cookies, made with sour cream dough. She gives us two fillings, but just imagine the possibilities.

Delicate and not too sweet, these are good even at breakfast in place of boxed toaster pastries.

Cabbage Rolls filled with ground beef and rice "remind me of my roots, the home cooking my mom did all the time, and my grandmother," she says.

Not much seems to phase Barbara who's hosted as many as nine grandchildren in her home for sleepovers, serving them all their favorites. "We walk into church the next day and take up a whole pew."

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