RUMFORD – Charlene Dickson says she starting cooking for just one reason, “I got married and had to feed a hungry husband!”

She learned to cook when she was living in California. “I had a lot of free time while I was at home. I bought some cookbooks and took it from there.” Some of the first dishes she prepared were easy ones. “I made spaghetti, Chinese pie and lots of sweets.”

Dickson continues to enjoy baking, although a go-round with a cake caused her a little trouble once. “I remember one time I was making a chocolate mayonnaise cake for my husband’s birthday. For some reason I put in way too much baking soda. When my husband had his first bite, he choked, gagged a little, and said, ‘Mmm, this is good,’ so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings. Needless to say, I didn’t try it.” All cooks have challenges, and while cake isn’t one of them for Dickson, she says she’s still working on mastering fudge and gravy. “I still seem to have a hard time with those.”

She cooks for her own family and friends, and for her church bingo group as well. “I like to see people enjoying what I’ve made.”

“If I had someone to clean up after me, I’d cook continuously,” she jokes. She also likes getting recipe ideas from her friends and on the Internet.

Her advice for any cook, no matter the skill level, is “make sure you have all of your ingredients before you start your recipe.” This is great advice, since many times, a person will get halfway through a recipe and realize he or she is out of one of the ingredients.

She is a housewife who lives in Rumford with her husband, Robert. Together, they have five children (Lynne, Denise, Christopher, Melanie and Craig) and seven grandchildren (Brianna, Nathan, Brittany, Courtney, Stephanie, Kendal and Taylor). Her other hobbies include knitting, crocheting, walking and camping at Moosehead Lake.

Beef barley soup
1 pound of hamburger

1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes

¼ cup ketchup

1½ quarts water

6 stalks sliced celery

3 chopped onions

½ cup barley

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 cubes of beef bouillon

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon basil

2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon paprika
Cook all ingredients together until the barley and celery are tender.
Chicken Parmesan
3 to 4 breasts boneless, skinless chicken

½ stick (4 tablespoons) margarine, melted

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup dry bread crumbs

salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon garlic salt, (or to taste)
Dip chicken in melted margarine, then roll chicken breasts in a mixture of the grated Parmesan, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and garlic salt. Bake in a 350-degree oven until chicken is cooked, approximately 45 minutes.
Strawberry pretzel salad
2 cups crushed pretzels

3 tablespoons sugar

¾ cup butter or margarine, melted

One 8-ounce block cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1 large container of Cool Whip

6 ounce package strawberry Jell-O

2 cups hot water

10 ounces frozen strawberries
1 can crushed pineapple, drained
Mix all crust ingredients together – the crushed pretzels, 3 tablespoons sugar and melted butter or margarine; press into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 7 minutes. Let cool.

Blend all filling ingredients – the cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and Cool Whip – and spread over cooled crust.

To prepare topping, dissolve Jell-O in boiling water, add frozen strawberries and drained pineapple, chill about 45 minutes, until mixture has thickened but not set. Pour over cream-cheese layer. Chill until set and ready to serve.

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