Mel Froney makes smoked pork butt with saffron gravy and dumplings
Mel Froney likes his food slow-cooked and his retirement fast-paced.
He and his wife, Kathryn, both former teachers, buzz around between church and the library, movies and daytrips with the local senior center, and they keep fit with long, daily walks.
Given some advance work by Mel, when supper time rolls around they can sit down to a hot, hearty meal that needs only a salad to round it out.
"It's nice to come in the house to something that smells good," says Mel, of Elk Grove Village, who relies heavily on a slow cooker or stovetop simmering.
Since his retirement 21 years ago Mel has been pretty much the top chef at home; before that he shared the cooking with his wife.
The two discovered the joys of slow cookery roughly four decades ago when Mel was teaching high school chemistry in Township High School District 214 and Kathryn elementary English, literature and writing.
"We had two children and we always wanted them to have a good meal," says Mel.
As the first to cross the retirement finish line, Mel gravitated to the kitchen where his science career meshes nicely with his culinary avocation, and finds visual expression in a set of spice containers that look like a rack of test tubes.
From-scratch soups, like clam chowder, split pea, Italian wedding, chicken noodle, are one of his strengths. Today he gives us Lentil Soup with Smoked Turkey Leg, served with a surprise: a whole hot dot in each bowl.
That's a trick he picked up years ago from a now-closed German restaurant in Schaumburg where they served weiner-topped split pea soup.
Mel's version is the result of some fast thinking at the market one day when he couldn't find the usual smoked ham hocks for his soup. He spotted some smoked turkey legs instead and fired the pigs for good.
"I like the smoked turkey flavor better," he says, and they are meatier.
From-scratch stocks are standard for Mel, and a step beyond what most home cooks attempt. But he knows what tastes better.
"The canned ones advertise no fat, but that means no flavor to me," he says.
Low-and-slow-cooked meats are another strong suit. Today Mel gives us two: Italian Beef with Peppers, finished in the slow cooker, and his German grandfather's recipe for Smoked Butt and Saffron Gravy with Dumplings, which he demos starting today at the Daily Herald website.
Ironically, the Froneys converted their dining room into a library some years ago, giving their china and crystal to their daughter when she got married.
"It's floor-to-ceiling bookcases now," says Mel. "We still do informal entertaining with very close friends who understand."
Good food and conversation provide the best chemistry.