Joanne Wilson makes Mexican Stuffed Peppers
Joanne Wilson was a foodie long before the term was coined, and her enthusiasm for all things edible hasn't wilted, even into her semiretirement.
Consider her culinary resume: For 10 years she has been a part-time "sensory panelist" tasting savory flavors for a major food company.
For several seasons after they retired, she and husband, Jim, were "secret customers" for a well-known Chicago restaurant chain, producing lengthy, detailed reports on their dining experiences.
At home in Schaumburg Joanne cooks most of their meals, choosing familiar dishes like stews and soups and taking them for a spin. She devotes hours to researching recipes from her collection of 200-plus cookbooks, as well as clippings from newspapers, magazines and other sources.
"I can sit in a chair and look through cookbooks for three hours," she says. "I might have three or four cookbooks open to the same dish," pulling the best ingredients from each to create a new version.
"Sometimes I try to make them healthier; I substitute olive oil for butter or eliminate the salt."
She organizes the loose recipes into files: simpler meals, recipes she plans to make that week and more complicated dishes she'll try if she has time.
Experimenting with new recipes is routine. Joanne might prepare 20 versions of a dish before she's happy with the results.
"Once I do get it right I write it down; I want to be able to do it again," she says.
To facilitate all that tinkering, Joanne maintains two pantries full of ingredients: "one regular, and one for backup. I'm never going to run out."
On the shelves: every kind of dried or canned bean and tomato products, vegetables, tuna, salmon and chicken and a variety of rices and pastas, to mention a few.
During the summer Joanne gathers fresh inspiration from her 300-square-foot vegetable garden where she grows bell peppers of all colors, a variety of tomatoes, zucchini, celery, beets and parsley.
She turns excess tomatoes into salsa, Bloody Mary mix and sauce for lasagna and spaghetti. She pickles and cans beets and bakes zucchini bread.
Like so many avid cooks, Joanne enjoys sharing the fruits of her labors. Entertaining has been a hobby for more than 40 years; guests come and go at least once a week feasting on the likes of Pork Chops Parmesan and Crockpot Italian Round Steak (available at dailyherald.com/food).
Creating an attractive tablescape is as important as serving a delicious meal.
"I always try to match what I'm having with the dishes."
Today's Mexican Stuffed Peppers look best on white dishes; crisp summer salads on clear or green glass plates.
"I must have 10 sets of dishes," she says.
Though her kitchen credentials are fairly well-rounded, Joanne still has aspirations.
"My goal is to do more baking," she says. "I'd really like to learn to make fruit tarts."
- Laura Bianchi