Genius Cook

I may have some issues with modern technology, but I have to admit that it’s handy when cooking. Why? As with writing, sometimes the brain just goes numb and you can’t come up with a good topic. So if I look in the refrigerator and see two eggs, some stale bread, some rapidly ripening tomatoes and the end of a hunk of cheese, I know what to do.

I type in all those ingredients on the computer, starting with “what can I make with <the items I just described>?” Behold and lo, there are recipes using exactly what I’ve got.

While that’s handy, even the computer is no match for a quick brain. My mother was what I call a “genius cook.” Having lost her mother early in her teens, she learned quickly how to do just about anything, including cook. She used to say that she knew 100 ways to serve hamburger, and she was bold and inventive in her cooking.

Just a note here on cooks in general: I believe that you have to not only love food in order to prepare and serve good food; you also have to love the people you cook for. After her mother died, Mom moved in with her brother and took care of the house and the cooking. She also went to school at the same time. Her responsibilities must have made her seem older and more mature than her classmates, but she took it all in stride.

I was in my mid-twenties before I mastered the knack of putting a meal together so that everything was done at the same time. But Mom had this and so much else down to a science. I mentioned this to her years ago about how I admired her doing so much with so little.

The following Christmas she gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received; a *hand-written cookbook she put together called “Mama’s Best Recipes.” In it were simple and delicious recipes that I have now used for decades.

If you are lucky enough to have a genius cook in your family (and if you yourself are a genius cook, my hat is off to you), then you know how lucky you are. If not, here are a few of Mom’s tried and true recipes I’ll share with you. I hope that they become delicious standards for you as they have been for me and my family.

Sweet and Sour Brisket


beef brisket

2 cups sliced onions

3/4 cup ketchup

2 T. vinegar

2 T. Worcestershire sauce

4 T. soy sauce

1/3 cup sugar (or agave to taste)

3/4 cup water


Place the brisket in a large casserole dish and cover with onions. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the brisket and onions. Cover and bake for 3-4 hours in a 325 degree oven.

Note: Chuck roast can be used, but cook one hour less.

This dish is fabulous with mashed potatoes and a salad.

Cheese Custard (or Cheese Strata)


10 slices buttered (or not) bread, cut in large cubes

3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 t. salt

1 t. dry mustard

2 cups milk

4 eggs, well-beaten


Butter (or use cooking spray) a casserole dish and put a layer of cheese on the bottom. Add bread cubes, then repeat until the casserole is full; top layer is cheese. Mix the other ingredients together well and pour over the bread and cheese. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 8 hours).

Put the casserole into a pan of water and bake for one hour at 375 degrees.

This dish is great for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. You can also add to it shrimp, cubed ham, or crumbled bacon.

Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients/Directions for Chicken:

Shake into a paper bag:

Chicken legs, breasts, wings

3/4 cup flour

Salt and pepper

1 T. paprika

Place the chicken into a large baking pan.

Ingredients/Directions for Sweet Potatoes:

2-3 sweet potatoes (or as many as you like), peeled and cut into wedges

Sprinkle potatoes with rosemary and salt and pepper to cover, and place into the baking pan along with the chicken.

Melt one stick of butter and pour a third of it over the chicken and sweet potatoes.

Bake at 425 degrees for one hour. Baste the chicken and potatoes with butter two more times while baking.

This is one of those dishes you can enjoy as it is, or add a salad with it.

*I wish you could see this cookbook; it is liberally stained and smudged on nearly every page. Some of the pages are so worn you can practically see through them. Although I have copied all the recipes on line, I can’t bear to throw out this precious legacy from my mom.




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