Elaine Lawrence says that one of the best things about cooking is “sharing what I make and watching others enjoying it.” Cooking is not just about being generous, though. There is a personal benefit also. “Cooking is how I relax daily and an opportunity to use my creative side.”

As Lawrence grew up, cooking was something she was expected to do. “I started cooking at an early age, maybe around 10. With a mother that worked full time, we were expected to help get things started before my mother arrived home from work. Cooking for me at that time was merely a function of being part of a family.”

This sense of responsibility, which was passed down from her family’s Canadian heritage, is something Lawrence holds onto even today. “Feeding their families good, hardy food was essential to carry them through all their physical labor. It was also a way of taking care of the family. This was all done without all the prepared foods we have today. I continue that tradition today, most of what I use to cook with is fresh, unprocessed food; but I try to remain conscious of low-fat foods that do not sacrifice flavor. I use a lot of fresh herbs and spices that my mother did not use.”

But following family recipes isn’t always easy. “My biggest challenge over the years has been duplicating some of my mother’s recipes. She almost never used a cookbook or wrote recipes down, so it’s been through memory and experimenting that I have come up with them as I remember them.”

Lawrence says fresh ingredients, a very good set of knives, good cookware and a wooden cutting board are must-haves for her kitchen. Also important is “using the right tool for the job at hand. My recommendation for newer cooks is to have a basic ‘how-to’ cookbook. Once you have the basics, the rest is easy. Don’t be afraid, if dishes do not turn out very good at first, it’s part of the learning process and crucial to future successes.”

A case in point is an experience from Lawrence’s childhood. “When I was 11, a friend, Tina, and I decided to make cookies. The recipe called for rolling the dough so we did – into small, golf-ball shaped cookies. Needless to say that once baked, they could have been used as golf balls. My family has never let me forget it.”

Lawrence lives in Lewiston with her husband, Kent. They have two grown sons, Brian and Jeff. They also have three grandchildren: Patricia, Jacob and Brady. Lawrence is a program manager/L.P.N. at Tri-County Mental Health Services’ Social Learning Center. Besides cooking, Lawrence also enjoys reading and traveling.

Crab-stuffed mushrooms
Ingredients:
1 container of fresh crabmeat (or 2 cans of crabmeat)

½ to 1 cup Ritz crackers, crushed

Juice from half a fresh lemon

1 teaspoon Old Bay Spice

½ teaspoon garlic salt

2 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 package large mushrooms for stuffing

½ cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

¼ cup melted butter or margarine

1 dash of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika
Method:
Brush a 7- by 10-inch baking dish with melted butter. Pull stems from mushrooms and brush insides of mushroom caps with melted butter. Place crabmeat in a bowl (remove any cartilage). Squeeze lemon juice over crabmeat. Add Old Bay Spice, salt and pepper, garlic salt, red pepper mayonnaise and cracker crumbs. Mix until combined. Stuff mushrooms until rounded. Place in pan, top with cheese and sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cook at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Elaine’s note:
This is better with fresh crabmeat.
Meat Pie
Ingredients:
1 recipe pie crust for a 9-inch pie, top and bottom (or store bought)

2 pounds good ground pork

1 large onion, chopped

2 to 3 large potatoes

1 tablespoon allspice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Method:
The secret is to cook the pork and onion slowly in a heavy duty saucepan. Cook over low heat for about an hour. Add allspice about halfway into cooking. While that is cooking, boil potatoes until fork tender. Once meat is done, add the potatoes, salt and pepper, and mash well. Pour into prepared pie shell, cover with top crust and make vent holes. Bake at 400 degrees until crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Elaine’s note:
Christmas for my family, then and now, would not be right if we don’t have meat pie. Tradition at our house is to have it Christmas morning.
Pea Soup
Ingredients:
1 meaty ham bone, cooked, from previous meal

2 cups diced ham

2 pounds whole green or yellow dried peas (or both)

1 large onion, chopped

2 to 3 carrots, diced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped flat-leafed parsley

2 to 3 medium potatoes, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 quarts homemade or store-bought chicken stock.
Salt and pepper to taste
Method:
Rinse peas and pick over, if necessary. Add to a large stockpot and add enough water just to cover peas. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute, turn off heat, cover and let stand for one hour. Return to medium heat, add ham bone, onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and chicken stock. Cook on low to medium heat for about two hours – you want it to simmer. After two hours, remove ham bone, and add potatoes, carrots, ham and parsley. Cook another hour or so, adjust seasoning if needed and serve.
Elaine’s note:
Although my mother was a very good cook, this is something where she would supply all the ingredients and take it to my grandmother, who would make it. Since I never saw her make it, it has taken me years to duplicate it. The garlic is something I have added.


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