By Darla Cabe
For Rural Life Today
Cooking can sometimes be tricky. Making food for one or two can often be a greater challenge than feeding the masses. Most recipes out there feed a four to six member family, so halving recipes is one solution. Making meals that you divide up, freeze and eat later is another idea and learning to cook much smaller amounts is another. Elaine Schweller –Snyder grew up in a small household. She lived as a single lady for a while and then when she married, the children she had were her many students. Read on to see how she cooks savory meals for small numbers.
Elaine Schweller-Snyder was born in Dayton. She is the only child of lifelong Daytonian parents and spent all her growing up years in Dayton. After graduating from the University of Dayton, she moved to Sidney and became the band director at Lehman Catholic High School and she has remained in Shelby County ever since. “I am still a huge UD basketball fan,” she says. “I love the city of Dayton and its history of inventions and inventors as well as its bustling art scene. However, Sidney is also ‘home’ because I have many, many friends here.” Her best friend remained in Dayton and that was her mom, who passed away a few years ago at the age of 91.
“She was my best friend and role model and she is the one who taught me to cook. I was a bit of a picky eater as a child, so she gave me a lot of the basics — a good baked potato was a favorite comfort food.” Perhaps because of the way she was taught, Elaine’s tastes still go to simpler fare; meat and potatoes and the like – foods that are not fancy, not too spicy or not highly seasoned. She has some favorite recipes from her mother and grandmother that she still makes and enjoys. “My grandmother made chili with mushrooms instead of beans, my mother made an English meat loaf that has white rice baked in with the meat and tomatoes and also an easy-to-make chicken and rice dish that she made whenever company came.”
In 1986 the Lehman music teacher married the music sales rep who called on her school and the single gal, began cooking for two. “Most of my life, cooking has been for one or two people, which is much different than cooking for a large family. Our work lives were so busy, we really didn’t cook a lot, but our favorite meal at home was probably spaghetti.” Elaine’s husband, Chip was usually the chef when they would spend as much time as possible at their favorite campground each summer. Like Elaine, Chip enjoyed food that was plain and ordinary.
“Chip liked to chop up potatoes and put it in foil with onions, salt, pepper and butter. He would put that on the grill and we would serve that for company along with a salad and steaks.” Unfortunately, Chip became ill and passed away last year and Elaine found herself cooking for one again. “Cooking for one, you can always make what you like, but when I get home and am hungry I don’t always want to take the time cooking requires. My mother had a single working friend who would make a roast chicken or casserole on the weekend and then freeze her meals for the entire week. Sounds like a practical system but it also would require a lot of discipline which is not something I have in relation to food. I get home from work, or wherever and I just want to EAT — slow cookers are nice if you can think ahead.”
Since retiring from directing the band and teaching journalism at Lehman, Elaine works part time for a non-profit agency doing marketing and development. She still teaches a bit at a small elementary school and does some freelance writing. “Just the other day, I made my simple chili. Brown the meat (I use a pound of ground round or sirloin so it is not as fatty), then add 2 small cans mushrooms with the juice, a can of tomato soup (I use Campbell’s Healthy Request) and salt and pepper. I do add a little sugar too, to cut the acidity of the tomato soup. I used to put in chopped onion too, but now I usually leave that out. Simmer in the crock pot on low all day and when you get home, it’s ready! Add more water if you want it more like soup or if thicker, you can eat it over rice or noodles. Add a salad and bread and it is comforting on these cold days!
Again, thinking of her example and role model, Elaine reminiscences about her mother. “Like me, my journalist mother would be busy writing and all of a sudden would get so hungry, she just had to eat. One time I caught her standing over the kitchen sink devouring a chicken drumstick. There was soapy water in the sink and she lost her grip on the chicken leg. It fell into the water. She hesitated, looked at me and said ‘Now you know if you weren’t standing there I would fish that out, rinse it off and eat the rest of it.’ I said ‘Yes, I know, so go ahead.’ And she did! Such is the power of food!”
English Meat Loaf
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 can stewed tomatoes, drained well in sieve
Salt and pepper
½ cup instant rice
Cook rice. Mix ground beef, onion, green pepper, and tomatoes.
Season with salt and pepper. Mix in cooked rice and turn into well-
greased 9×13 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or more.
Cut into squares and serve.
Halve the recipe when cooking for one and have 2-3 servings.
Grandmother’s Chili (very mild)
1 lb. ground beef
¾ chopped onion
1 can light red kidney beans OR 1 jar sliced mushrooms
1 can tomato soup
Brown beef. Add onion and salt and pepper to taste. Add can of mushrooms (or beans) with juice and soup. Mix in crock pot. Simmeron low all day, stirring occasionally. Use less juice and thicker leftover chili can be used over rice or noodles for another meal idea.
Chicken Breast Casserole
4 skinless chicken breasts
1-cup long converted rice (not instant)
1 package onion soup mix
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cans chicken broth or water
1 can mushrooms (optional)
In a greased 9×13 pan, spread 1 generous cup of rice. Top with onion soup mix.
Lay chicken breasts on top. Cover evenly with mushroom soup. Add mushrooms
if desired. Fill soup cans with water or chicken broth and pour over chicken. Do
not season. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour or more. If guests are late, you can
always add a little more water to keep things moist until serving. Recipe can easily
be halved. Use a 9×9 pan. Cut up chicken can be used instead of whole breasts.
Leftovers can easily be reheated for 2-3 meals.