Former ?Navy cook now mans the kitchen at Liberty Village

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Cory Hook is head cook at Liberty Village in Geneseo.

Cory Hook of Geneseo has been head cook at Liberty Village for four years and is very much enjoying his position there. “The residents are so great, and they come in all the time to visit. I’ve made some really good friends,” he said, adding he also is getting some good advice and cooking tips from some of the residents.

“The bottom of one of the first pies I made here was undercooked and one of the residents told me, when baking the pie, to start baking it on a high temperature, about 450 degrees, for about 10 minutes then turn the oven down to finish it off,” Cory said. “I’ve done it like that ever since and the pies have turned out perfect every time. They give me all kinds of hints like that.”

Cory loves everything about cooking — especially baking. “Baking is probably my favorite thing to do. And cookies are my favorite thing to bake,” he said, adding whenever he has any extra time he can probably be found in the kitchen baking up a batch of cookies, whether at work or at home.

“I never turn down the opportunity to bake some cookies,” he laughs. “I especially like to do oatmeal raisin cookies and they love them here. They’ll often come into the kitchen and ask for them.”

Cory grew up in Geneseo and has been cooking ever since he was young. “It is just something I have always enjoyed doing,” he said. “I used to come home from school and bake cookies.”

A self-taught cook, Cory learned a lot about “cooking for the masses” when he was a cook in the Navy, cooking for 10,000 troops at a time. “I guess cooking in the Navy was my first schooling ... kind of on-the-job training.” He was stationed in San Diego, Calif. and laughs that cooking for the 40 to 50 people at a meal at Liberty Village is simple compared to the way the Navy cooks.

Cory likes to start with a recipe and change or substitute a few of the ingredients for some of his favorites to make it his own. “That is easier to do when cooking rather than baking, but I like to add some extra spices or seasonings occasionally to make the dish a little different,” Cory said. “Baking is more precise and you really have to follow the recipe pretty closely.

One of the favorite meals at Liberty Village is homemade pizza. Cory found a recipe for a homemade pizza dough from Wolfgang Puck one time and says he has used that recipe ever since. “It is the best crust I’ve ever had. I use it all the time,” he said.

“Whether I’m making pizza here at Liberty Village or at home for friends and family, that is the recipe I use.” The difference, according to Cory, is the dough contains a little honey. “The honey acts as food for the yeast,” he said.

“Pizza at Liberty Village is always sausage and some of the residents will request onions and green pepper. That is a favorite, and they all like pizza.”

Pizza is a new food group for some of the residents, Cory said, explaining they didn’t grow up having pizza regularly. “But they love it.” Admitting he could probably purchase frozen pizza crust, Cory feels the homemade crust is so much better. “It’s worth the time. I’d just rather do it myself,” he said.

The daily menu for meals served at Liberty Village comes from the company’s corporate office, but Cory said brunch is served every Sunday and that meal is cook’s choice.

“We always have scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit including pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries, biscuits and gravy and homemade bread pudding with caramel sauce,” he said.

Like with many of his recipes, Cory likes to make substitutions?occasionally with the popular bread pudding. “The recipe calls for French bread, but sometimes I will use cinnamon rolls or raisin bread. That makes it a whole different dish and I think it tastes better,” he said, adding he sometimes adds a little chopped apple to the bread pudding for another tastes — and he always adds raisins.

Residents are encouraged to invite family members to their meals. “It is a very family-friendly atmosphere here,” he said.

Another popular menu item is a seafood salad Cory makes with imitation crab meat and fresh shrimp. “I make a mayonnaise-based dressing for the salad with mayonnaise, lemon pepper and a bit of Western dressing,” he said, noting olives, onions and Swiss cheese are added to the cold salad that is served with a croissant.

Presentation is important to Cory, but he says taste is the most important thing. “We serve buffet style here, and I want the buffet line to be very attractive,” he said. “The most important thing, though, is the taste. I want the food to look as good as it can, but the taste is what’s the most significant.”

When he’s in the kitchen Cory’s most important items are his Kitchen Aid stand mixer and a good knife. “You have to have a good knife to make it easier work, and a good knife will last forever,” he said.

While he enjoys cooking and working in the kitchen, Cory said he also likes to eat out every once in a while.

“Every summer I go to visit an aunt and uncle in New York and help them out a little,” he said.

“And they repay me by taking me out to dinner every evening. That is a lot of fun, and we’ve gone to some very nice restaurants.”

When he’s not cooking, Cory enjoys reading and finds listening to music very relaxing. He also watches a lot of Food Network television.

“I grew up watching Julia Child cook on television and now my favorite cooking shows are Emeril Lagasse, Alton Brown and Bobby Flay,” he said. “I love to watch Food Network. I watch it all the time and I get some good cooking ideas from some of those shows.”

If he is cooking for himself at home, Cory said he often has a simple cheeseburger.

That cheeseburger takes on a gourmet kind of taste, though, when he adds sauteed portobello mushroom and either Swiss or sharp cheddar cheese to it. “I take the stem off the large portobello mushroom and just saute it in butter and olive oil for a little while,” he said. “That makes a very good cheeseburger.”

When cooking, Cory said his staples include salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. “I always have those items on hand and whether at home or at work it’s important for me to  keep the pantry well-stocked,” he said. “I want to have all the necessary ingredients at hand. I do all the ordering for the kitchen at Liberty Village, and I really like that part of the job.”

Cory feels that planning ahead is the key to keeping organized in the kitchen. “I like the challenge of what I do. Sometimes, it can be a little stressful, but all in all it’s a lot of fun,” he said, adding he cooks two meals a day at Liberty Village — lunch and dinner.

Cory bakes a lot of pies and says that is another thing he enjoys about cooking. “When I’m making pies at work, I usually use a pre-made pie crust, but at home I always make my own crust,” he said. “One of my favorite pies to make is a strawberry/rhubarb pie from a recipe I got from my mother, Patricia Springer.”

Cory noted he made eight Persian lime pies for a recent special dinner at Liberty Village.

Something he feels very strongly about is to always use real butter, whether cooking or baking. “I read somewhere one time that if you put a pound of butter and a pound of margarine out to melt, flies won’t touch the margarine,” he laughs. “I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes sense to me. Besides butter just tastes better.”

A favorite meal of Cory’s when he is cooking at home for family is leg of lamb. “I love lamb. That’s what I’m planning on preparing and serving for our Easter dinner,” he said. “I have the butcher debone it and then I marinate it in a mixture of rosemary, thyme, garlic and olive oil. I put it in a bag to marinate and then grill it 10 minutes on each side. It is so good.” Cory added his family will all bring side dishes for the meal.

For an American Cancer Society fund-raiser sponsored by Mel Foster and scheduled for  May 22, Cory will again be grilling the pork chops.

“Last year, I did 400 pork chops for the event,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and a very good cause. Everything is always there for me, and I just do the grilling.”

Cory has found that an excellent measuring tool when cooking is the palm of his hand. “You really can’t rely on that  when baking, but when cooking it’s easy to tell a teaspoon of seasoning in the palm of your hand,” he said. “And it’s very ‘handy.’”

His favorite part of cooking, according to Cory, is the appreciation he gets when he serves a meal. “Everyone here is so easy to work with and the residents are wonderful. They’ve become really good friends,” he said. “And they are great to tell me when they like something. I enjoy what I do and where I’m at. I am in the right spot right now.”

Cory Hook shares some of his favorite recipes.

Oatmeal cookies

Cory Hook

2 qts. wheat or all purpose flour

1 T. salt

3/8 t. baking soda

2-2/3 T. baking powder

1-1/2 C. eggs

1 C. honey

2 T. vanilla extract

1 qt. plus 1/2 C. shortening

3-1/2 C. white sugar

1 qt. plus 1/4 C. brown sugar, packed

3 qts. plus 3 C. rolled oatmeal

1 qt. plus 2 C. raisins

nonstick cooking spray

2 T. cinnamon

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, set aside.

Place eggs, water, vanilla, shortening and sugars in mixer bowl. Beat at low speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until well blended. Add dry ingredients, mix at low speed for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth.

Add rolled oats and raisins. Mix about 1 minute.

Lightly spray each pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Drop about one tablespoon of dough in rows of 5 by 7, on lightly sprayed pans.

Using a convection oven, bake at 325 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes or until  lightly browned.

Loosen cookies from pans while still warm.

Note: “This is a recipe from the Armed Forces.”

Rhubarb cake

Cory Hook

1/2 C. shortening

1-1/2 C. brown sugar

1 egg

2 C. flour

2 C. raw rhubarb

1 C. sour milk or buttermilk

1 t. baking soda

1 t. cinnamon

1/8 t. salt

1 t. vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg. Combine soda and sour milk; add alternately with milk and soda.

Mix dry ingredients into creamed mixture. Stir in rhubarb.

Mix topping:

1/2 C. brown sugar

1 t. cinnamon

1/2 C. nuts

Sprinkle over cake batter in 9x13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes.

Hershey’s ‘perfectly chocolate’ chocolate cake

Cory Hook

2 C. sugar

1-3/4 C. all-purpose flour

3/4 C. Hershey’s cocoa

1-1/2 t. baking powder

1-1/2 t. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 C. milk

1/2 C. vegetable oil

2 t. vanilla extract

1 C. boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.

Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of mixer for two minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).

Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire rack. Cool completely.

Cake may also be prepared in 9x13x2 inch baking pan or as cupcakes.

Frost with Perfectly chocolate chocolate frosting.

1/2 C. (1 stick) butter or margarine

2/3 C. Hershey’s cocoa

3 C. powdered sugar

1/3 C. milk

1 t. vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa.

Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.

Add small amount of additional milk if needed.

Stir in vanilla.

Makes about 2 C. frosting.

Note: “This is a cake I make often for residents at Liberty Village.”