DeMay enjoys teaching her daughters how to cook

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Melanie DeMay of Hooppole takes a freshly baked batch of pecan pie mini muffins, a family favorite, out of the oven.

Like many busy working wives and mothers, Melanie DeMay of Hooppole occasionally has to make the time to get into the kitchen and cook, something she always enjoys doing.

“I love to cook — I always have,” she said, adding her mother, Pat Thompson of Hooppole, is a good cook. “And my grandmother, Odetta Thompson of Annawan, is phenomenal. My mother-in-law is also a great cook, so I really have wonderful cooks all around me. I know I can always go to them if I need some advice on cooking.”

“I always had a curiosity about cooking. I saw how nice it was at family occasions when my mom made special things,” she said. “They were always so good and so delicious. I knew it was something I wanted to be able to do also.”

Melanie and her husband, Damian, live in Hooppole with their daughters, Kayla, 10, and Riley, 5. The couple both teach in the Tampico School District. Melanie teaches sixth-grade social studies and seventh-grade language arts. She has been at Tampico for seven years and actually began by student teaching in the district.

“I love teaching, and I always thought I wanted to teach elementary grades, but when I student taught at Tampico I had the age I’m teaching now, and I really like that age group,” Melanie said.

“They are trying to decide what they want to do with their lives and who their friends are. I try to help them decide and make informed decisions.”

Besides cooking Melanie likes to collect recipes and admits to having an extensive collection of recipes and cookbooks adding she finds browsing through cookbooks very relaxing. “I can do it anytime — whether I’m watching television or being with the girls.”

Admitting she “probably” has way too many recipes, Melanie said she kept her recipes in recipe boxes until finding the perfect receptacle for holding her collection. “I got the perfect binder through a book sale at school. It has full sheets for writing recipes on and also has little folders where you can store other information,” she said. “It is a wonderful place to keep all my favorite recipes. I have copied them onto the pages and now I have all of them in one place. I don’t have to go through my cookbooks and try to figure out where a certain recipe came from and what

cookbook it is in. The binder is right at my fingertips.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for Melanie to choose a favorite cookbook from her collection. “My absolute favorite cookbook is St. Anthony’s ‘Recipes and Recollections’. My grandma gave me that cookbook one year as a birthday gift and I love it,” she said. “It’s the first place I go to when I’m looking for a certain recipe. Several recipes I’ve gotten from that cookbook are now my favorite recipes, and I’ve copied them into my binder so I don’t have to spend the time looking them up when I want to prepare them.”

Melanie likes to look through cookbooks and loves getting new ones. “I get recipes from magazines and newspapers and I like to try new recipes,” she said, adding she can usually tell by looking at a recipe if it will be something her family will like and if it’s something she would like to try.

“I’ve been to several Taste of Home cooking classes and I’ve enjoyed them,” she said. “I get that magazine and I like the wonderful pictures that accompany the recipes they feature in the magazine. I think if you like the look of a certain dish, you’re more likely to prepare it.”

When Melanie and her husband host birthday dinners for their daughters, she “breaks out” all her favorite recipes. “That’s a special time for us,” she said.

Usually for birthday parties, Melanie said, they do complete meals — maybe something like lasagna with garlic bread or breadsticks. “Then we do theme parties,” she said. “The girls usually decide what they want for their birthday dinners, and we go from there.”

Melanie remembers helping her mother in the kitchen of their farm home. “My sisters and I cooked for hired men or maybe just for our dad,” she said. “He always says he ate all our mistakes, but he always made us feel good about something we had made.”

Since she grew up on a farm, Melanie said they always had the best meat along with fresh vegetables and fruits. “We had our own meat that we had processed and it was a good quality meat,” she said.

She credits her daughters as not being picky eaters to the fact that they have always been exposed to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables — just like she was. “Kayla and Riley also really like to get in the kitchen and help me, just like I did when I was their age. There’s actually lots of things they can help with, and I think when they help get a meal ready they will eat much better,” Melanie said.

“I sometimes make little individual meat loafs and they like to help make their own meatloaf. They chop the onions with a chopper and they love to do that.”

Kayla even submitted a homemade pie at Hooppole’s pie contest and auction this summer. “She made a blueberry pie and it turned out great,” Melanie said.

Melanie has also often entered pies in local pie contests. “I think the last one I did was a blueberry/rhubarb pie,” she recalls. “I do like to make homemade pies.”

She makes her own homemade pie crusts and says she learned how to make the crust mostly by trial and error. “I guess I just had a desire to learn how to make a homemade pie so I kept at it until I found just the right recipe,” she said, adding she especially  likes to do apple, blueberry and a triple fruit pie made with raspberries, blueberries and rhubarb.

“I usually do fruit pies and I like to use fresh fruit rather than frozen when I can. The fresh seems to cook up so much better,” she said.

Melanie does mostly two-crust fruit pies and she has found that dotting the filling with pats of butter before putting on the top crust really makes a big difference in the flavor of the pie and the way it bakes. “I read somewhere that dotting the filling with butter helps. I don’t know why, but it does make a difference.”

Family gatherings are fun, according to Melanie. “My sisters are both good cooks, so it’s fun when my mom, my sisters and I all get in the kitchen and start cooking,” she laughs. “Family and cooking are really about my only hobbies. I like to do things with my girls and they and my husband are what’s most important to me.”

A favorite thing for Melanie to do is bake cookies with her daughters. The most requested cookies at the DeMay household are chocolate chip cookies, made with mini chocolate chips (“They love those!”), and Krispie Cookies from a recipe in “Recipes and Recollections.” Both Kayla and Riley like to help their mother find favorite recipes.

“I like to try different desserts too,” Melanie said. “I do a lot of things like Frosted Pumpkin Bars or banana bread and my husband’s favorite dessert is peanut butter pie so I do that for him.”

Other requested dinner items that her family asks for often are cheesy potatoes, strawberry pretzel salad (which she usually takes to family dinners), and pecan pie mini muffins. “The mini muffins are so easy and quick to make,” Melanie said.

Grilling is something they like to do during the warm, summer months and Melanie said her husband usually mans the grill while she prepares side dishes to go along with the grilled items.

“Since we both teach, we really enjoy our summers off — it gives us a chance to  kind of catch up on things. During the school year we do a lot of easy meals, like skillet dinners, so in the summer we have a little more time to think about meals,” Melanie said. “Damian coaches football in the fall so we really don’t have a lot of free time during that busy season.”

Melanie likes to keep supplies on hand, especially since there is no grocery store in Hooppole. “When I go to make something, I want to make sure I have the ingredients I am going to need,” she said, noting she enjoys the planning part of menu preparation. “I like to plan menus ahead of time and I try to plan my menus a week at a time. Sometimes I don’t get that done, but it’s nice to be organized.”

For meals, Melanie tries to include a meat, vegetable and fruit. “I like to try and have a balanced diet for my family,” she said. “Whether I’m making a pan of lasagna or maybe a hot sandwich, I try to keep balance in the meal. I like to hit all the food groups.”

She also thinks about serving size so that she doesn’t have a lot of leftovers. “We do enjoy leftovers, though. Sometimes things like lasagna are almost better the next day,” she said.

At family dinners she is often asked to bring potato salad, something she likes to make. “My mom always made the best potato salad when we were growing up ,and I found just the right recipe by combining two separate recipes for the potato salad — one from Taste of Home and one from Better Homes and Gardens,” she said.

“I think what makes the potato salad special is I add a little dill pickle juice rather than vinegar to the dressing. And I  add a few dill pickles that I chop pretty small.”

Melanie also prefers using mayonnaise rather than Miracle Whip. “And I always put in twice as many hard boiled eggs as the recipe calls for,” she said. “Some recipes are easier to tweak than others.”

“I like the challenge of cooking. I like to figure out what to change if something doesn’t turn out the way I think it should,” she said, advising cooks to get in the kitchen and try new things. “I always think how hard is it to get a cookbook and follow a recipe.”

Melanie DeMay shares some of her favorite recipes.

Pecan pie mini muffins

Melanie DeMay

1 C. packed brown sugar

1/2 C. flour

1 C. chopped pecans

2/3 C. butter

2 eggs, beaten

In a bowl, combine brown sugar, flour and pecans and set aside.

Combine butter and eggs and mix well. Stir into flour mixture just until  moistened.

Fill each miniature muffin cup 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Makes 2-1/2 dozen.

Nana’s banana bread

Melanie DeMay

5 T. butter

1/2 C. granulated sugar

1/2 C. firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

2 egg whites

1 t. vanilla extract

1-1/2 C. mashed, very ripe bananas

1-3/4 C. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. baking powder

1/2 C. heavy cream

1/3 C. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottom only of 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Beat butter in large bowl with an electric mixer set at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat well.

Add egg, egg whites and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add mashed bananas and beat on high speed for 30 seconds.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder in medium bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with cream, ending with flour mixture. Add walnuts to batter and mix well.

Pour batter evenly into prepared loaf pan. Bake until browned and toothpick inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Cool bread in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Cheesy baked hash browns

Melanie DeMay

1 pkg. (32 oz.) frozen shredded hash browns, thawed

3 C. grated cheddar cheese

1 (10-3/4 oz.) can cheddar cheese soup

1 (8 oz.) container sour cream

3/4 C. chopped onion

1 C. crushed plain potato chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine hash browns, grated cheddar cheese, cheese soup, sour cream and onion in a large bowl.

Spread into a 9x13 inch baking pan. Sprinkle crushed potato chips on top (optional).

Bake 50 to 60 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling.

Serves 8 to 12.