Cooking and baking are no big deal for Connie McCormick of rural Colona. It’s just something she has done since she was a youngster, and it’s something she says she very much enjoys.

Cooking and baking are no big deal for Connie McCormick of rural Colona. It’s just something she has done since she was a youngster, and it’s something she says she very much enjoys.

“I love to cook and I always have,” she said. “I think you have to love it or you wouldn’t do it.”
Connie explains her grandmother was an excellent cook and growing up she had an aunt that was also a wonderful cook. Both women were big influences on Connie and she learned a lot from watching them.

Connie also credits her love of cooking from taking four years of home economics classes in high school along with being a 4-H member and participating in numerous cooking projects and demonstrations. “In fact, I still have a brownie recipe I used in 4-H all those years ago,” she laughs.

Connie loves to experiment with recipes and said she usually follows a recipe fairly closely the first time she makes it. “If I like it enough to make it a second time, I might tweak it a little and make it more of my own,” she said, adding she really likes everything about cooking — whether preparing complete meals or baking. “I really like to do it all.”

Connie is known for her homemade pies, especially her apple pie. “I’m really not crazy about pie myself,” she said. “I make them a lot, though, because everyone else seems to enjoy them. I enjoy making the pies, but they’re not my favorite thing to eat.”

Connie said when making a fruit pie, if she doesn’t have enough of a certain kind of fruit, she might add another kind to the filling. “I’ll add some extra blueberries with another berry in a pie filling,” she said.

If she had to choose a favorite pie or dessert, though, Connie said it would be a German chocolate pie. “That is my favorite pie,” she said. 

Connie makes her own homemade pastry crust for her pies, also a recipe that she has used for years.

Connie has been employed at the Geneseo Post Office for 25 years and often brings goodies to work to celebrate birthdays or special occasions.

Her family includes two daughters and a son-in-law, Eileen and Joseph of Moline, and Natalie of Champaign.

Connie gets most of her recipes from magazines, newspapers, friends and family. “I like to try new recipes and the three best magazines to get recipes from, as far as I’m concerned, are Bon Appetite, Better Homes and Gardens and Midwest Living,” she said, adding the recipes included in Bon Appetite are a little more elaborate.

Connie has learned over the years that if she doesn’t like the ingredients in a recipe, she probably won’t like the finished product. “So I always tell people to look over a recipe very closely before they make it for the first time and see if the ingredients are things they like,” she said.

If she had to choose her favorite meal, Connie said it might be roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, something she prepares the same way her grandmother always did. “I just put the roast in the oven and I really do it different every time, depending on what sounds good,” she said. “I sometimes put onions with it and beef broth, but I don’t really care for onions in my gravy, so I don’t always add them.”

She uses the broth from the roast to make the gravy and said, “You have to have mashed potatoes with that meal. Sometimes I will throw carrots in with the meat, sometimes I won’t. It just depends on what I feel like.”

One of her family’s favorite meals is turkey with all the trimmings. “I like that too because then there are lots of leftovers,” Connie said, adding lasagna is also a family favorite. “And I would usually serve the lasagna with a salad and garlic bread.”

Connie describes her cooking as “pretty old fashioned stuff. It’s the things people probably grew up on and don’t get much of anymore,” she said. “I like to make things like potato salad and chili, but I don’t have a recipe for them. I just toss together ingredients until it’s the way I want it. It’s what I’ve done for years.”

To make potato salad, Connie first cooks peeled and diced potato chunks. “I know some people cook the potatoes for potato salad in the jacket, but I don’t. I think one of the secrets to good potato salad is getting just the right amount of salt in it and if you’re using potatoes that are diced you have more control over the seasonings,” she said.

Then she adds chopped onion, finely minced, hard boiled eggs, diced sweet pickles, a little mustard and Miracle Whip, admitting she likes the flavor of the Miracle Whip dressing in potato salad.

“Then I just dump, that’s why I can’t give the recipe away — I really don’t have one and I can only guess on quantities. If I use more potatoes then I use more boiled eggs or if I think I have too many eggs for the potatoes I have, I’ll save some out and make maybe deviled eggs or tuna salad with them.”

The often-requested chili Connie makes is made much the same way — with no recipe. And, according to her, it usually comes out different every time she makes it. “I start by browning hamburger. I know some people use sausage in their chili, but I use just hamburger,” she said. “Then I add a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of Brook’s hot chili beans.”

Connie said she has tried several different kinds of chili beans, but the secret to great chili,  according to her, is to use Brook’s chili beans.

“Then I add some onion, lots of chili powder, a little cayenne pepper (depending on who I’m making it for), and enough water to make it the consistency you want,” she said. “It really does come out different every time.”

Connie also likes to make homemade cinnamon rolls. She said her favorite recipe is a family recipe. ‘The rolls are made in the evening, then put in the refrigerator overnight and baked the next morning,” she said, adding if she does homemade bread she uses her bread machine. “It’s easy to dump the stuff into the bread machine and let it do the work for you.”

Connie said one of the older recipes she has is one she got from her grandmother for butterscotch dumplings. “As kids my siblings and I grew up on this. We didn’t think it was anything different than anyone else had. We would go to Grandma’s and she would always make them,” she said, adding the dumpling-type batter is dropped into a hot butter and carmelized sugar syrup. “I still make them occasionally. They are so good.”

Connie encourages cooks to try something new occasionally. “If it’s horrible — call for pizza,” she laughs.

Connie McCormick shares some of her favorite recipes.

Santa Fe skillet
Connie McCormick
16 oz. frozen hash browns,  thawed
1/2 lb. sausage, browned
2 C. (approximately) chili
4-6 eggs
2 C. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 C. chopped green onions
Brown hash browns in large oven-proof skillet.
Top with sausage. Add layer of chili. Make “wells” for eggs (if you desire a poached type of eggs) or top with scrambled eggs.
Cover with cheese and top with onions, if desired.
Heat in oven at 350 degrees until the eggs reach the desired doneness, or until skillet is heated through.

Fresh apple cake
Connie McCormick
1 C. sugar
2 C. fresh, finely-diced apples
1 egg
1 C. flour
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. baking soda
1/2 C. chopped pecans
Let sugar stand on apples until dissolved. Add egg and  beat. Add dry ingredients and nuts.
Bake in 8 inch square pan for 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
Top with sauce while cake is hot.
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. white sugar
1/2 C. water
1/4 C. flour
Cook above ingredients together until boiling. Remove from heat.
Add 1/2 t. vanilla, 1/2 C. butter and dash of salt. Stir until dissolved in hot sauce. Immediately pour over cake. Cool. Serve with Cool Whip or ice cream.

Lemon cake
Connie McCormick
1 pkg. lemon cake mix
1 small pkg. lemon Jello
3/4 C. canola oil
3/4 C. water
4 eggs
Mix all ingredients for five minutes. Bake at 350 degrees in greased 13x9 inch pan for 30 to 40 minutes. While hot, poke holes in top of cake with toothpick.
Combine 2 C. sifted powdered sugar and 1/2 C. lemon juice. Pour over cake, press into holes. Cool completely. Top with Cool Whip.

Butterscotch dumplings
Connie McCormick
1 C. sugar
2-1/2 C. boiling water
1/4 C. butter
1/8 t. salt
Carmelize sugar in heavy skillet (use skillet that can be used in oven). Melt slowly until golden brown and slightly lumpy.
Add water, then butter and salt. Simmer 10 minutes.
1/4 C. butter
1/2 C. sugar
1-1/2 C. flour
1/4 t. salt
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 C. milk
1/2 t. vanilla
Cream butter and sugar.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with mixture of milk and vanilla.
Drop batter into the butterscotch syrup.
Cover and bake 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.
Serves 8.
Best served warm and fresh.

Apple muffins
Connie McCormick
1 egg
1/2 C. milk
1/4 C. canola oil
1 C. chopped apples
1-1/2 C. flour
1/2 C. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
Beat egg slightly with fork. Stir in milk, oil and apples.
Sift together and add remaining ingredients. Stir until flour is moistened. Batter should be lumpy.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle with topping.
1/3 C. sugar
3 T. chopped pecans
1/2 t. cinnamon
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Makes one dozen muffins.