A lifetime of cooking: This Cook of the Month has mastered many dishes

ELON — When it comes to Rachel Wilkinson’s cooking, husband Bill says “I’ve got so many favorites, it’s hard to pick just one.”


But the Taco Pie that Rachel once made for the Nazarene Youth International, a youth ministry of the First Church of the Nazarene, is definitely at the top of the list.


The recipe, Rachel said, is 40 years old. When she was youth leader at the church in west Burlington, which is now Powerline Church of the Nazarene in Elon, she would make it often.


“The youth loved it and you can make it in small or large quantities and I still make it today,” she said. “It is a complete meal consisting of bread, meat and a salad.”


Rachel and Bill have a blended family of six children between them. Rachel joked that it was “ ‘The Brady Bunch,’ but our children never fought like those kids on the TV show.”


They’ve been married for 40 years now and have seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.


“When the kids were at home, I cooked every day,” Rachel said. “We raised a garden, too. My children never ate fast food or candy — if they wanted something sweet, well, I’d bake it for them.”


Rachel helps out with fish frys and cookouts at Powerline Church of the Nazarene as well as preparing food for the senior ministries at the church.


“I take them goodies,” she said with a smile.


Her German Chocolate Cake fetched $350 during a church auction, with the money going to a mission trip.


Rachel began cooking when she was 11 years old. Her mom worked outside the home and she was the oldest of the four girls.


There were eight children in the family.


“Dad taught me how to make biscuits,” Rachel said. “From there, I began to make simple meals.”


Back then, all of the children would help out at the farm and it was Rachel’s job to have meals on the table when her Dad and siblings came in from the fields.


“We farmed and raised and canned all of our food,” she said. “I can never remember going hungry.”


Rachel was born in Greensboro and the family moved from Liberty to Mebane to Burlington. She can remember churning butter, milking cows and cooking on the family’s wood stove.


“We didn’t have electricity and we would get water from a spring. We didn’t have indoor plumbing, either, that’s what the outhouse was for,” she said. “But we were happy. We didn’t have nothing, but we didn’t worry about nothing, either.”


When Bill met Rachel for the first time, he was 17 and she was 13. He said she not only could cook, but “she was the prettiest, too.”


“He used to drive the city market truck and he fell in love with my Mama’s banana cake,” she said with a smile.


“They amazed me,” Bill said. “Those kids would work as hard as any adults I’ve ever seen.”


Rachel’s sister-in-law, Colleen Payne of Mebane, nominated her for Cook of the Month by saying “she makes the best banana pudding and cakes and pies.”


Rachel said she loves to bake and try new recipes, some of which she gets from the Taste of Home magazine. She also prepares banana pudding, from her mother’s recipe, and at family gatherings, she makes one big enough for 20 people.


“She’s a good cook — an extra good cook,” Bill said with a big smile.




No-bake Strawberry Dessert


¾ angel food cake (cut into cubes)


2 packages sugar-free strawberry gelatin


2 cups boiling water


1 20-ounce package unsweetened whole strawberries, chopped (see cook’s note)


2 cups skim milk


2 packages (1-ounce each) sugar-free, instant vanilla pudding mix


16 ounces light whipped topping


Arrange cake cubes in a 13-by-9-inch dish or pan. In a pan, dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Stir in chopped berries. Pour over cake and press down. Refrigerate until set — about an hour. In a bowl, whisk milk and pudding mix until slightly thickened. Spoon over cake and spread whipped topping. One serving is 92 calories.


• Cook’s note: I use more than the 20-ounce package of strawberries.


Easy Microwave Potato Casserole


In a casserole dish, slice one layer of potatoes (dot with margarine and garlic salt and pepper or Mrs. Dash). Add a layer of sweet Vidalia onions (dot with margarine or Mrs. Dash). Make as many layers as wanted. Cover with plastic wrap and bake in microwave until done (about 10 to 12 minutes). Take out and layer with shredded Cheddar cheese and place in microwave until melted.


• Cook’s notes: I don’t measure on this one; use as many potatoes as will fit in whatever size casserole dish you have; same goes for the onions (use enough to make a layer and make as many layers as you want.)


German Chocolate Cake


1 package sweet German chocolate


1 teaspoon vanilla


1 cup margarine


4 egg yolks, beaten


2½ cups plain, sifted flour


4 egg whites, beaten


½ cup boiling water


Pinch of salt


2 cups sugar


1 cup buttermilk


1 teaspoon baking soda


Melt chocolate in boiling water and cool. Add vanilla and salt. After chocolate is melted, cream margarine and sugar. Add beaten egg yolks and ¾ cup buttermilk, alternating with flour. Dissolve soda in ¼ cup of the buttermilk. Add to mixture. Stir in chocolate. Fold in egg whites. Bake in four 9-inch pans at 350 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes.




3 egg yolks


4 teaspoons flour


1½ cups sugar


1 large can evaporated milk


1 stick margarine


1 cup chopped pecans


1 cup flaked coconut


1 teaspoon vanilla


¼ teaspoon salt


Beat egg yolks and mix flour, sugar and salt. Stir into milk. Add melted margarine and cook over low heat until thickened or it comes to a boil for 2 minutes. Then, add chopped pecans, flaked coconut and vanilla.


Mama’s Banana Pudding


2½ cups sugar


½ cup flour


Pinch of salt


2 cans (12 ounces each) evaporated milk


2 cups milk (1 percent or skim)


5 egg yolks, beaten


1½ teaspoons vanilla flavoring


8 bananas, sliced


1½ box vanilla wafers


5 egg whites


¼ cup sugar


Combine first six ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan and mix well. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla flavoring. Alternate layers of pudding, bananas and vanilla wafers in a 9-by-13-inch dish. Beat egg whites in bowl until soft peaks form. Add ¼ cup sugar, gradually until mixture becomes stiff. Spread meringue mixture on top and bake at 400 degrees F. until meringue is brown.


Stove Top Easy Cheesy Chicken Bake


1 6-ounce package Stove Top Stuffing Mix for chicken


1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces


1 14-ounce package frozen broccoli florets, thawed and drained


1 10¾-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup


½ cup milk


1½ cups Kraft shredded Cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare stuffing as directed on package. Combine chicken and broccoli in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Stir in soup, milk and cheese; top with stuffing. Bake for 30 minutes or until chicken is done and casserole is heated through. Makes 6 servings.


• Cook’s note: I boil the chicken and prepare it that way.


Taco Pie


1½ pounds lean ground beef


1 package taco seasoning mix


½ cup chunky salsa


2 cans small refrigerated biscuits or 1 large can of biscuits


1 package shredded Cheddar cheese (or another cheese, if you prefer)


Shredded lettuce, to taste


Diced peppers, to taste


Diced onions, to taste


Diced tomatoes, to taste


Ranch dressing or sour cream


Brown ground beef; drain grease. Add one package taco seasoning mix; mix well. Add ½ cup salsa and cook on low until done. In a 9-by-9-inch pan, spray with cooking spray. Mash biscuits with hand until they cover the bottom of the pan. Layer taco mixture over biscuits and cook in oven at 375 degrees F. until biscuits are done. Take out and sprinkle with shredded cheese and put back in oven until the cheese melts. Take out of the oven and layer with shredded lettuce, peppers, onions and tomatoes. Cut into squares and serve with ranch dressing or sour cream.


• Cook’s notes: This makes a beautiful and colorful meal. You can add other toppings such as jalapeno peppers, if you wish. If you want a larger one, double the recipe for a 9-by-13-inch pan.


Cranberry-Apple Sweet Potatoes


5 to 6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, or two 18-ounce cans sweet potatoes, drained and cut into bite-size pieces


1 21-ounce can apple pie filling


1 8-ounce can whole cranberry sauce


2 tablespoons apricot preserves


2 tablespoons orange marmalade


Cut fresh potatoes into bite-size pieces. In a large saucepan, cook potatoes, covered, in enough boiling salted water, about 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. Spread pie filling in an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish; arrange cooked fresh or canned sweet potatoes atop. In a small mixing bowl, stir together cranberry sauce, apricot preserves and orange marmalade; spoon over sweet potatoes. Bake, uncovered, in a 350-degree F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until heated through. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


• Nutritional information: 354 calories, 2 grams protein, 83 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol and 29 milligrams sodium.


Source: Emily Kay, Bellerose, N.Y.


Microwave Strawberry Jam


4½ cups crushed fresh strawberries (wash and stem before crushing)


1 box (1¾ ounces) powdered fruit pectin


7 cups sugar


Place berries and pectin in a 3-quart casserole; stir well. Cover and place in microwave oven and cook (high power) 8 to 10 minutes until mixture is at a full, rolling boil.


Add sugar to boiling mixture and stir well. Return uncovered to microwave oven and cook mixture 8 to 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes, until mixture reaches a full, rolling boil. Then, time for a minute of boiling. Remove from oven and skim off foam with metal spoon; stirring jam about 5 minutes before ladling into prepared glasses. Seal.