For Michael Swart, the kitchen is his territory and his family knows it. “In my house, I’m the first one home, always enjoyed cooking, so that responsibility sort of migrated my way,” Michael says. “My wife is a good cook, but she will tell you that I don’t share the kitchen well. So she stays clear. It’s one of the few areas in my household where I can be boss, so I take advantage of it.”

Staking claim to the kitchen does come with some challenges. “My biggest challenge in the kitchen is trying to please such a wide variety of eating preferences and getting everyone to sit long enough to have a family meal,” says Michael.

He also said sometimes it isn’t easy keeping others out of the kitchen. “I find for big events like Thanksgiving it’s hard for women to believe a man wants to cook and doesn’t want any help.”

Michael learned some difficult lessons about cooking early on. “When I was 19, and just learning to cook, I shared a house with five other guys my age. When we made pasta, we cooked about 3 pounds per meal. I decided to make rice, didn’t read the directions all that close and proceeded to make a 3-pound box in a 2-quart pan. It was just like the cartoons. The rice came over the top, over the stove, across the floor and just about everywhere. From that point forward, I started to pay closer attention to my cooking.”

For newer cooks, Michael says, “Listen to the people who cook for you today and save those old recipes. Even if you don’t enjoy cooking, someday those people will be gone, and there’s nothing like having those old, handwritten cards around to bring back fond memories.” Michael knows. He has a book of family recipes that date back to his great-grandmother.

Although he follows a low-carb lifestyle, Michael stresses that moderation is key. “I try to cook healthy and keep on top of the latest trends, but I try not to go overboard on these things. I like having plenty of spices around as I’m always trying new things. A must for me is macadamia nuts, as it’s part of my wife’s favorite fish recipe.”

Michael, an IT manager for Fidelity Information Services, and his wife, Laurie, live in Lewiston. They have three children: Greg, age 19; Jaime, 12; and Amanda, 7. His hobbies include crossword puzzles, his vegetable garden and golf. Also a longtime basketball fan, Michael coaches for the Lewiston Recreational Program.

Mike’s braciole with tomato sauce
Braciole ingredients:
1½- to 2-pound flank steak

1 medium zucchini, shredded

4 medium carrots, shredded

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

Minced garlic

Salt and pepper

Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Method:
Pound out the steak with the flat end of a tenderizer so the meat is about the thickness of a thin pizza crust. You want it intact but you are going to roll it, so it shouldn’t be too thick. If you don’t own a meat tenderizer, a small piece of a 2-by-4 with plastic wrap over the end works just as well.

Rub the garlic into the meat; how much is up to your taste. Layer one side of the meat with half the mozzarella. Layer with the zucchini, carrot and then the eggs.

Add rest of mozzarella. Use all 16 ounces, since it helps keep the dish together. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan and with salt and pepper to taste

Roll the meat with the ingredients inside and tie both ends and the middle tightly with string.

On top of the stove, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Get the oil nice and hot but don’t let it start to smoke. Hot-sear the braciole in the Dutch oven. Keep turning until all sides are nice and brown. Add the sauce to the Dutch oven.

Cook on top of stove on low for at least two hours. You can’t overcook it, so the lowest heat and the longest time works the best.

To serve the meat, slice into medallions about 2 inches thick. Serve with a side of pasta and the sauce from the braciole. Of course, you need good Italian bread and a nice garden salad.
Michael’s notes:
This recipe makes enough for four adults. It calls for flank steak but you can use a less expensive cut, like top round, but allow for a longer simmer time to ensure tender meat.
Sauce ingredients:
1 large can of tomato sauce

1 large can of whole peeled tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon basil

3 tablespoons parsley

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Method:
To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients well in a saucepan and cook just long enough to blend the ingredients. The sauce will finish cooking with the braciole.
Michael’s note:
Or use your own favorite sauce.

Quick and tasty pork chops with scalloped potatoes
Ingredients:
4 to 6 medium to thick, center-cut pork chops

6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin

1 can cream of chicken soup

Milk
Salt and pepper
Method:
This recipe is for an 11- by 13-inch baking dish and easily feeds four adults.

In a frying pan, sauté the pork chops over medium to low heat. Don’t hot-sear them, as we don’t want to seal in the juices. Cook them while you prepare the other ingredients.

Slice your potatoes and onions as thin as you can. The thicker the potato, the longer the cooking time will be.

Layer the bottom of your dish with potatoes and then onions. Keep layering to use all of the ingredients but make sure your top layer is potato. Thin the soup with half a can of milk and pour over the potato and onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour the juices from the chops over the potatoes and onions, and place the pork chops on top.

Cook uncovered in a 325-degree oven for about 30 to 45 minutes. The cooking time varies, depending on the thickness of the potatoes and pork chops. The potatoes have the longest cooking time and are a good indication when the dish is ready.
Michael’s notes:
Pork chops with the bone left on work best for flavor. I use chicken soup, but celery or mushroom soup would work as well. I usually serve with peas on the side, and it’s one of those dishes that taste great the next day as a leftover. From start to table, it’s about one hour.
Quick and easy chocolate cake
Ingredients:
4 squares of unsweetened baker’s chocolate

2 cups brewed coffee

2 tablespoons Crisco

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Method:
Combine the chocolate, 1 cup coffee and the Crisco. If you prefer, you can use a double boiler to combine these ingredients or microwave on high for three minutes, stopping to stir every minute. Either way the end result should be about pudding thick.

With a wire whisk, stir together the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.

Dissolve baking soda in 1 cup of hot brewed coffee and add vanilla. Slowly add this to the flour mixture and mix well. Add eggs and continue to mix well. Add the chocolate mixture and stir. Don’t panic, the batter will be a lot thinner than you are used to. Pour into a greased and floured 9- by 13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes.
Michael’s notes:
I don’t like to bake and don’t have much time, so this recipes works great for me. You don’t need a mixer for this. Everything can be done in one bowl and mixed with a wooden spoon. Also, be sure to use brewed coffee, not instant.


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