As Mary Corrigan, Terri Swenson and Jo Taylor gathered around Corrigan’s kitchen island last week, the conversation quickly turned to food and cooking.
The women asked each other, “What did you fix for Valentine’s Day?”
Corrigan prepared lamb osso bucco, a treat, as her everyday menu leans toward fresh vegetables served with small amounts of lean protein. It’s sparing on the rich sauces.
Taylor cooked lamb as well, using a recipe she’d been wanting to try. As they compared notes, they discovered both Corrigan’s slow-braised osso bucco and Taylor’s quicker recipe included garlic, flat-leaf parsley and other herbs.
Swenson loves to cook with garlic and herbs as well. In fact, she grows her own thyme and rosemary.
But she usually skips the store-bought meat in favor of fresh fish and venison supplied by her husband, an avid fisherman and hunter.
“Fish is so fast to cook,” she told her friends. That makes it a perfect ingredient for quick meals, she said.
And the variations are endless. She sometimes substitutes chopped nuts for cracker crumbs in one of her tried-and-true recipes, or finds some new combination of ingredients tucked away in one of her cookbooks.
Looking through cookbooks is a passion for Swenson, Taylor and Corrigan, all members of the McMinnville Soroptimist Club. Cooking and cookbooks are never far from their minds.
That’s especially true these days, as the club is planning to publish its own cookbook. Titled “Wine Country Cooking,” it will feature recipes from area restaurants, along with color photos and interesting tidbits from the area.
Corrigan said she can’t wait to tuck a copy of “Wine Country Cooking” in among her other cookbooks, which include Junior League collections from all over the country, along with tomes from favorite restaurants and chefs.
Many books are souvenirs from her adventures.
When she visits a new city, she looks for the local Junior League book, theorizing the orgaization’s members usually are avid cooks who share her love of entertaining guests. “The books make great reading material on the trip home, too,” she said.
Some of her favorite Junior League editions include “San Francisco a la Carte,” Portland’s “Raindrops to Roses,” “Palo Alto Private Collection” and “Colorado Cache.”
Her restaurant finds include those from Cafe Pasqual’s, the French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery, as well as Balthazar, a favorite stop in New York when she visits her daughter.
Cooking and entertaining, along with floral arranging, are hobbies of Corrigan’s. She has loved entertaining since she was a child growing up in a large Finnish family in Astoria.
Back then, gatherings always included traditional dishes, many of which she still prepares. Pannukakku, a large Finnish pancake that puffs in the oven, is a staple at the breakfast table when her children are visiting, for instance. She serves it with homemade chunky applesauce.
When she became an adult, one of the first books she used in her own home was Martha Stewart’s “Entertaining,” a 1983 publication that features a young, long-haired Martha on the cover. The book was one of the first to talk about the way food is presented as well as how it’s cooked.
Corrigan still refers to her well-worn copy of “Entertaining.”
The Martha Stewart book is a staple for Taylor, too, along with the cookbooks published annually by Food & Wine.
Taylor’s love of cooking extends not only to her cookbook collection but also to business. She operated the Wine Country Kitchen cookware shop on Third Street for four and a half years. She has been a partner in a cooking shop and school, Carl’s Cuisine, in downtown Salem for 32 years.
She started cooking for her family as a seventh-grader, after bluntly terming her mother’s cooking “uninspired.” The family had one cookbook, Betty Crocker — not unusual in those days, when cookbooks weren’t the hot sellers they are today.
As an adult, Taylor started seeking out and collecting cookbooks. Now she can’t enter a bookstore without gravitating toward the cookbook section.
Her cookbooks aren’t just for show, either. She consults them often, seeking out new recipes on a regular basis.
“I can usually tell by reading the recipe if it will work,” she said.
As an experienced cook, she feels free to break a die-hard rule about entertaining that says hostesses should prepare only tried-and-true dishes. Since she’s single, she said, she loves to invite people over when she makes a new dish. Why make it only for herself?
Swenson agreed about breaking that rule. “I’m inspired to invite guests when I want to try a recipe,” she said.
Since her wedding 20 years ago, Swenson said, she’s tried “just about every recipe I can find” for seafood. Among her go-tos is baked salmon topped with brie and crab.
She’s always looking for new ideas, she said. She often flips through her cookbooks and picks something for which she has the right ingredients on hand.
She always has a variety of fruits and vegetables, yogurt, sour cream or cream cheese, and other cheeses such as Swiss or pepper jack in her refrigerator.
Taylor keeps a supply of lettuce and other vegetables on hand, along with fruits, eggs, extra virgin olive oil and butter, both salted and unsalted for baking. And she has an abundance of herbs growing.
Corrigan grows a variety of lettuces year-round and always has nonfat plain Greek yogurt, fruits, filtered water and cheeses, including cheddar and some kind of soft cheese.
“I love living in Oregon, where we have such abundant produce. We can eat something fresh all year,” she said. That’s especially true in McMinnville, with its farmers markets, stores like Roth’s and Harvest Fresh, and producers such as Carlton Farms.
But even if it calls for something they don’t have, all three said they will go shopping for ingredients if they find an appealing recipe in a new cookbook or one that’s been in their collection awhile.
Swenson pointed out a recipe for hot crab dip that she had just noticed in her “Taku Glacier Lodge Cookbook,” a souvenir of a trip to Alaska.
“I’d like to try this!” she said. “What would I serve with it? I know, pita chips.”
It’s likely her friends will get to try that crab dip soon, perhaps at one of Corrigan’s parties.
She often invites guests to bring a favorite hors d’oeuvre when they come for dinner. That way, Corrigan said, everyone can try out new recipes and share in the tasting and compliments.
In addition to giving dinner parties, Corrigan has begun hosting “salon” gatherings. She invites several friends, asking each to bring someone new to the group.
She picks a subject or theme for the evening. Everyone gets together to eat, drink wine and share their thoughts in that realm.
For the theme, “A Favorite Place,” she asked each guest to bring an hors d’oeuvre that reminded them of a specific location. Some brought authentic recipes from particular cultures, others dishes made with an ingredient that could be found there.
Swenson, thinking of Eastern Oregon, brought her Cowboy Caviar, a dip made with black beans, corn, onions, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.
At another salon last fall, Corrigan lit her outdoor fire pit and invited 14 friends for a “Kumbaya Salon” evening.
A “s’mores-gasbord” allowed guests to come up with their own creative combinations. Instead of graham cracker, Hershey bar and toasted marshmallow, they could combine ginger cookies and strawberries with the marshmallow, for instance.
“We sang childhood campfire songs and Peter Paul and Mary folksongs along with “table topic” cards with fun questions,” she said. “It was magical! The stars were out in multitudes, and the fire’s glow cast a warm spell over everything!”
The women said they enjoy cooking and value the creation of delicious food that’s also healthful. By making it herself, Corrigan explained, she knows how much salt or fat it contains, for instance.
And they like their cooking to be both a focal point of social gatherings and an inspiration for great coversations.
So they’re always on the lookout for new recipes — from friends, from magazines, from TV shows such as “The Chew” and “Chopped,” and from their beloved cookbooks.
The women said they are often drawn to cookbooks by the photos, especially the full-color ones that show the results of recipes along with serving ideas. “Motivation,” Swenson said.
For Taylor, who often is inspired by the pictures in Food & Wine cookbooks, “Photos play a big part in the appeal. Once you’re hooked by a photo, you have to look through the rest of the cookbook.”
Corrigan said she searches for books with recipes for dishes she enjoys. She’s always looking for new ways to fix pork tenderloin, for instance, or new takes on salads.
One of her very favorites is probably the oldest in her collection — a battered copy of “Astoria’s Kitchen Secrets,” which belonged first to her grandmother, then her mother.
The recipes come from members of a church in her hometown of Astoria, which has a strongly Scandanavian heritage. Many of the recipes were submitted by Finnish women with whom she is either related or acquainted.
Cookbooks, and the recipes in them, are a great way to pass on family traditions, both Corrigan and Swenson agreed.
While cookbooks continue to enjoy popularity, Swenson is starting to wonder if younger people will take up the cause like they have.
“There are so many things available frozen now,” she said. “Will they just buy food already prepared?”
Taylor and Corrigan didn’t think so. Taylor noted many young people sign up for the cooking classes in her cookware shop. Corrigan said her children, who began taking cooking classes years ago, harbor a continuing appreciation for food and cooking today. She said her kids need to know how to cook if they want to inherit “Astoria’s Kitchen Secrets” someday.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.
SOME FAVORITE COOKBOOKS
Here are some of the favorite cookbooks mentioned by Mary Corrigan, Terri Swenson and Jo Taylor. Some are personal favorites; some are books they would suggest giving as wedding gifts or presenting to a young adult in her — or his — first home:
- “Joy of Cooking,” a great resource although it has few pictures, Taylor said.
- “Bride and Groom’s First Cookbook,” a recent publication Taylor called “just fabulous.” It presents an assortment of simple-to-make, just-a-cut-above-the-ordinary recipes for appetizers through desserts.
- “Southern Living Easy Weeknight Favorites,” one of Swenson’s favorites.
- “The Venison Cookbook,” another Swenson staple.
- “Weight Watchers” cookbooks, which have great recipes as well as a low-calorie emphasis, Swenson said.
- Sheila Lenkin’s “Around the World” cookbook. Tayor’s copy falls open to the recipe for “Herb Roasted Chicken the French Way.”
- “The Caprial Cookbook,” from the Portland chef and cooking teacher.
- “The Provencal Cookbook,” which Taylor picked up on a trip to France. Written by Patricia Wells, it’s in English.
- Jake’s Seafood cookbook. “Tough to beat,” Corrigan said.
- Martha Stewart Entertaining,” still valid and valuable after all these years, the women said.
- Both cookbooks and blogs by Dorrie Greenspan, Corrigan said.
- “The Sweet Life in Paris,” by David Lebovitz, a collection of anecdotes and recipes.
- “Barefoot Contessa Back To Basics,” a wonderful book that would be a great gift, Corrigan said.