MONMOUTH – John McGill has a history of stepping in and whipping up a great meal, even on short notice. Whether as a boy helping his parents or later with a family of his own, McGill understands how home-cooked meals are an essential part of family life.

“My mother was a chef and my father was deceased, so as the oldest I had to learn how to cook,” explains McGill. “Mom worked the hours when she normally would have been preparing dinner, and her boss got tired of me calling and asking her how to make meals. So she started showing me different easy-to-make meals for my brothers and sister.”

Years later, McGill used his expertise in the kitchen to quickly rescue some graduation plans.

“My son and his girlfriend and another couple were planning to attend graduation when my son’s friend received a call that his date was ill with the flu and wouldn’t be able to go. They felt the evening was ruined, so they canceled their plans for dinner. My stepdaughter, Angie, heard about the problem and immediately volunteered to go as his date. They had already canceled plans for dinner, so I offered to cook dinner for them. We had a sunroom which my wife helped me empty and we set up a table and chairs and the good china, flowers and candles. And they had their own private dinner.”

For McGill, the best part of cooking is “watching my friends enjoy a meal I have prepared.” His friends encourage McGill’s love of cooking by passing along recipes. That’s in addition to the ones he finds through TV programs, cookbooks and the computer.

McGill said he especially appreciates a good set of knives. “Knives are my weakness, good-quality, high carbon steel.” He also enjoys cooking in the fall and winter because “there is something especially satisfying about being inside with a good meal while the cold wind blows.”

McGill and his wife, Barbara, live in North Monmouth. Together, they have five grown children. He works for the state as a supervisor of the DirigoChoice discount unit. He and Barbara belong to a Harley Owners Group and spend most summers on their bikes.

French onion soup
2 pounds of cooking onions

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons of flour

3 cans of beef stock

1 tablespoon white sugar
Grated cheese

Peel and thinly slice the onions. If they make you cry, that’s good; the soup will have good flavor.

Heat butter or margarine in stockpot or large saucepan, add the sliced onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until onions are wilted and translucent. This takes about 30 to 35 minutes.

Add the sugar and stir constantly for two to three minutes while the onions brown up. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour. Return to heat, add stock while stirring and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 to 30 minutes.

To serve: Fill an oven-safe bowl with soup. There are bowls made especially for French onion soup. Top with a thick slice of French bread and sprinkle with a favorite grated cheese. Place under the broiler in the oven until the cheese bubbles and just begins to brown. Use oven mitts to remove and serve piping hot.

This makes about 6 servings. Don’t worry about leftovers, it’s even better reheated.

John’s note:

Don’t use Vidalia onions or Texas sweets, just plain old yellow cooking onions.

Pot roast
4 to 5 pounds pot roast

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 envelope dry onion-soup mix

1/3 cup hot water

2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil

6 carrots, peeled

6 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
12-ounce package of fresh, whole mushrooms, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the cooking oil in a roast pan on the stove and brown the roast on all sides. Mix mushroom soup, onion soup and hot water together. When roast is browned, pour this mixture over the roast and cover.

Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes per pound. Add carrots, potatoes and mushrooms for last hour of cooking. This roast creates its own gravy.

To serve, remove the roast and let it stand for about 15 to 20 minutes. Just turn the oven off and leave the vegetables in the roast pan. Slice the roast and serve on a platter surrounded by carrots and potatoes, with gravy on the side.

John’s note

I prefer boneless chuck for this dish. This is probably the greatest fall meal of all time!

Meat pie
¾ pound ground beef

¾ pound ground pork

1 large onion, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

2 cups mashed potatoes

1 cup water
1 package pie crusts

Place beef, pork, spices, onion and water in large pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, at medium high heat until meat is all browned.

Add mashed potatoes and mix thoroughly. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Mixture should be nice and thick, so you may have to drain some grease or water from it.

While the mixture simmers, prepare pie crust per package instructions. Place one crust in 9-inch pie plate. Spoon meat and potato mixture into crust and then cover with the top crust. Pinch the edges of upper and lower crusts together and, using a sharp knife, cut several steam vents in top crust. Place in preheated 450-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

To serve, remove from oven and let stand on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and enjoy.

John’s note

Packaged pie crust is so much easier than making my own.

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