Karen Baker makes Mexican Stacks

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Cook of the Week Karen Baker of Palatine.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Mexican stacks from Cook of the Week Karen Baker of Palatine.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Karen Baker makes Mexican Stacks

Group gives game-night chow new meaning

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print story Published: 9/23/2009 12:01 AM

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The "bunco babes" call Karen Baker "Mother Bunco" for organizing this dice-rolling, appetizer-munching, cocktail-sipping group eight years ago.

"I gathered my closest friends from different circles of my life," says the Palatine woman who works in community outreach at Northwest Community Hospital. She tapped neighbors and friends from Bible study and PTA, all mothers looking for a standing date to socialize.

Starting with eight, the group expanded to 11 in case substitutes are needed, but everyone shows up whether they play or not, and lets the good times roll.

Karen initially imagined pretzels and other simple munchies as refreshments, but before long that notion evolved into a buffet of hot and cold appetizers, often served with a signature drink.

Each woman hosts the once-a-month game night, sitting out the action in the kitchen so she can keep the food coming. Typically the hostess provides six to eight appetizers. The group takes a break in December and goes out to eat with their husbands.

"It has become a tight, close-knit group sharing life's journey," says Karen.

Two years after she formed the group Karen collected members' favorite recipes and put together cookbooks in three-ring binders. She called it "Bunco Babes Cookbook" and put a picture of the group on the cover. After each bunco party Karen types and distributes new recipes to add to the books.

"Mother Bunco's" favorite recipes often involve "stack cooking," a technique of layering ingredients in a cylinder.

"Everyone is always awed, but my gosh, they are the easiest recipes and they make a pretty presentation," she says. You can buy a stacking cylinder with plunger for unmolding (just search for stack cooking on the Web) or use an empty can open at both ends.

Then try Karen's Mexican Stacks made with flavored rice, guacamole, black beans and other goodies.

Lari Barr of Palatine, one of the original eight "babes," loves cooking for "such an appreciative group; there's such a high level of oohing and aahing.

"It's such an eclectic group of people," says Lari. "It's only a little bit about the dice, a lot about the food and conversation." Her Spicy Corn Dip, available at dailyherald.com/food, is a bunco favorite, seasoned with pickled jalapenos and cumin.

Marie DeNicola-Wieser today gives us her her Beef and Avocado Salad, a layered dish marinated in Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

"We always try to have something new, every time," she says. "I'm always looking for recipes."

The women have become such close friends they started vacationing together and recently planned a trip to Cape Cod.

"We're all bringing our favorite recipes and will make big appetizer spreads, open some wine and go to the beach," says Karen.

They'll leave the dice at home.

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