PERU – Sharon Porter knows cheesecakes. In fact, when her daughter was married last summer, she made 250 mini cheesecakes, plus 250 manicotti, for the wedding reception. Key lime, milk chocolate, orange and plain cheesecakes – topped with raspberries. “The cheesecakes were all different flavors. I used everyone at work as my guinea pigs,” Porter said, referring to clients and co-workers at the All That Jazz salon in Rumford, which she owns with Julie Dison.
Cooking with her father, George Fowler, during her teenage years gave Porter a solid cooking foundation. “My mother would go play bingo, and we’d cook,” she said.
Even though Fowler is Irish, Italian cooking was his specialty. Father and daughter would make homemade ravioli and sauce together, and to this day, Italian is one of Porter’s favorite types of food.
Cooking is relaxing to Porter, who said it’s gratifying to see people enjoy something she has prepared. “I make it with love,” she said, citing the Bert and Ernie, Wonder Woman, Cookie Monster and other character cakes she baked for her children’s birthdays as examples.
One of Porter’s favorite kitchen appliances is her Kitchen Aid mixer. It makes kneading bread easy (see accompanying recipe) and is a great timesaver, she said, “and they never wear out.”
“When I first started working with Julie, she talked my husband (Randy) into buying one as a gift for me. He was so proud of himself,” Porter said.
Besides cooking and her work, Porter takes pleasure in camping, photography and spending time with her family.
2 bags baby spinach, cooked and drained
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1-pound package fresh carrots, cooked and grated
10-ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
10-ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups 1-percent milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 package lasagna noodles, cooked
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Fill a large pot about halfway with water and bring to a boil to cook spinach until wilted (about 1 minute). Drain spinach and put on paper towels to dry. Make sure you get all the water out of the spinach. When dry, put spinach in a bowl and add half of the ricotta cheese. Mix and set aside. Add peeled carrots to a pot of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain the carrots, grate and put into a separate bowl. When cool, add the remaining half of the ricotta cheese, mix and set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour and milk to make a sauce, stirring slowly on low until thickens. Add half of cheddar cheese and half of Monterey Jack cheese. Stir until melted. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Fill pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and noodles. Cook until tender, drain and rinse in cold water.
Spray a 9- by 13-inch pan with cooking spray and then layer in this order:
3 lasagna noodles
The remaining half of the cheddar cheese, then 3 more noodles
The carrot mixture, then 3 more noodles
The spinach mixture, then 3 more noodles
The remaining Monterey Jack cheese, then 3 more noodles.
Pour sauce mixture over top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes until center is hot. Remove cover and cook 5 minutes, until top is lightly brown.
Chicken Stuffed Shells
18 jumbo shells, cooked
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups cooked chicken (baked or leftover), diced
2 cups stuffing (Stovetop)
½ cup mayonnaise
1 4-ounce can peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
13 cup onions
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 10 ¾-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
23 cup chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and shells, cook until tender and drain. Return shells to the pasta pot and add 2 tablespoons butter. Toss until butter is melted and set aside.
In small frying pan, add olive oil and onions. Cook onions until tender. Then, add garlic and cook 1 minute. Set aside and cool.
In a large bowl, combine chicken, stuffing, onions and garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add mayonnaise and mix. Fold in peas.
Fill pasta shells with chicken stuffing and put filled shells in a greased 9- by 13-inch pan.
Combine soup and chicken broth in a bowl. Pour over stuffed shells. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until center is hot.
Mama P’s Italian Bread
3 cups warm water (110 degreesFahrenheit45 degrees Celsius)
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 package dry yeast
7 cups flour, divided
1 tablespoon salt
Add the sugar and yeast to the warm water and “let proof” to make sure that it is active. If the yeast is foamy and smells like bread, it is active. Stir in 4 cups of flour and beat with mixer until smooth. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Beat in salt with mixer and then remaining flour to make stiff dough. Knead (with a machine or by hand out of the bowl on countertop) until the mixture is soft and smooth. Turn into a greased bowl, cover and let double in size. Put in the oven with the light on – just the light, don’t set the oven to any particular temperature.
Once doubled, punch down and divide into three, round loaves. Place loaves back in bowl, grease top of dough with Crisco shortening, cover and let rise. Once doubled again, punch down each loaf (the three will come together but you should be able to see where to separate each one) and form into three fat balls. Grease cookie sheets and sprinkle with corn meal. Place the bread on cookie sheets, cover with towel, and let rise. Once risen, mist with water (with a spray bottle) and place in a preheated 450-degree oven. While they bake, mist loaves with water and turn the sheets around occasionally. Bread is done (about 25 minutes) when golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.