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Who inspired you to cook?

Saucy meat balls are a great Italian-themed comfort food.
Saucy meat balls are a great Italian-themed comfort food.

I was looking through my huge cookbook collection and found one that I designed and printed in 1993 (during my graphic design days) for our huge family reunion (my mother was the 13th of 13 kids).

My grandmother's name was Ella McElmeel and our first family reunion was a lot of years ago, held in her honor the year she passed. So, I titled the cookbook "Make a Meal with Mac." I was lucky enough to find my Aunt Bea's handwritten recipe for "Hand Soap without boiling." I scanned it as a stand-a-lone first page and from that point on, I knew it would be a special cookbook.

And aren't most family cookbooks special? Usually we only get to taste homemade cooking when there's a big family gathering. A family cookbook's special charm is that you find you've invited family memories into your kitchen. It feels like everyone's standing in the kitchen with you, making sure you don't add too much of anything.

That got me to wondering about cooking inspirations. Years ago television came alive with chefs like Julia Childs and Justin Wilson (a Cajun chef who talked that wonderful dialect while he cooked). We've come a long way with today's TV chefs like Guy Fieri, the Barefoot Contessa, Giada De Laurentiis, Gordon Ramsey, Ree Drummond and Alton Brown, just to name a few. My two inspirations were, in this order, my Grandma Mac and Justin Wilson. They both inspired me to cook outside the norm. Before Justin, I never heard of Cajun Egg Salad or Crabmeat Justine until I saw him on TV.

While I don't especially like seafood, I do love Wilson's recipes from “A Cajun Cookbook.” My grandmother inspired me to make comfort foods and enough of them to feed an army. And looking through "Make a Meal with Mac," I realize that she inspired a lot of her daughters and sons to learn her cooking styles; they in turn passed that love of cooking to everyone else in the McElmeel family.

Paging through my cookbook, I learned a long time ago that family recipes are a piece of my history. And when I cook one of my Aunt Helen's specialties, I honestly don't mind if my kitchen becomes crowded with memories of the past. I'm glad to pass on a few recipes my family loves.

I hope my story helps you remember the inspiration that made you become the cook you are today. Inspirations of any kind are what makes our own recipes something our younger generation may just want to pass on.

DEVIL'S DIP Jeri Delaney Jahries, daughter of Helen McElmeel Delaney

1 package frozen chopped broccoli, cooked and drained

1 medium onion, cooked in Oleo (margerine)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

2 tubes Kraft® garlic cheese

2 tablespoons Worchestershire

1/8 teaspoon (or less) Cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Heat on low. Serve in Fondue pot. Great with tortilla or corn chips.

SAUCY MEAT BALLS – Serves 6 to 8 people, Judy Delaney, wife of Jim Delaney, son of Helen McElmeel Delaney

3/4 pound ground beef

1/4 pound ground pork

1 egg

2 tablespoons grated onion

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon each, salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon Accent®

1/2 cup applesauce

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup ketchup

Mix beef, pork, bread crumbs, egg, onion, lemon juice and seasonings. Blend well; form into 1/2-inch thick balls. Brown in a little oil. Add applesauce, water and ketchup. Pour into greased baking dish. Bake 1/2 hour at 350 degrees. Place into chaffing dish to keep warm while serving.

MOM DELANEY'S DUMPLINGS Jeanie Delaney Kerr, daughter of Helen McElmeel Delaney

3 cups flour

4-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons Crisco® shortening

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

2 small eggs, beaten with enough milk to make 1-1/2 cups

Blend flour, salt, baking powder and shortening until crumbly. Add egg/milk mixture. Mix well. DON'T OVERMIX! Drop in boiling stew or gravy and bake at 450 degrees for at least 12 minutes or until lightly browned uncovered.

PUMPKIN DESSERT Liz Simon Conro, daughter of Beatrice McElmeel Simon

2 cups graham crackers, crumbled

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

1 pound marshmallows

1/3 cup milk

1 pound canned pumpkin

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each, ginger and salt

2 cups whipping cream, whipped

Combine crumbled crackers, sugar and butter. Press into bottom of 13-by-9-inch pan. Combine marshmallows and milk in a double boiler to melt. Combine pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Blend in melted marshmallows. Cool. Foll in whipped cream. Pour over crust. Chill until firm. “This is a wonderful, rich alternative to pumpkin pie!.”

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