Spreadsheets meet family recipes

Cook of the Week

  • Deborah Peters assembles lasagna the day before she cooks it.

      Deborah Peters assembles lasagna the day before she cooks it. Photos by Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Deborah Peters tracks her meal plans on spreadsheets so her family doesn't grow tired of certain recipes. Her hearty lasagna is a family favorite.

      Deborah Peters tracks her meal plans on spreadsheets so her family doesn't grow tired of certain recipes. Her hearty lasagna is a family favorite. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 12/7/2010 11:03 AM

When you get creative as a financial accountant, indictments and a nice, cozy jail cell may result.

So Deborah Peters plays it straight at work and cooks the books at home, so to speak.

 

"I'm too soft for prison; I'm not going," she jokes. "Cooking is my creative outlet. Some people view it as a chore; it makes me happy."

Still, her talent for being a self-styled, control- and organization-freak transfers well to the job of providing a hot meal each night for husband, Blair, and their daughters, Hannah, 11, and Kaitlyn, 6.

Those are traits she certainly needs. Aside from working full time and taking care of her family, she takes piano lessons, sings in a church choir and feeds anyone or anything that moves. That includes her co-workers, the neighbors, her extended family and, yes, the piano teacher.

"I make dinner for her every Tuesday; she's joined the family," says Deb. "I send her home with leftovers; sometimes I make a double batch of something and freeze some for her."

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So what's her secret?

"I'm an accountant, I put everything on Excel," she says. "I know, this is crazy."

Deb has one spread sheet for the coming week's menu, another for the week's grocery list, organized by the floor plan of the supermarket, of course.

"I can zip right through my grocery shopping," she says.

On a third spread sheet she maintains and updates a complete menu of her family's favorite dishes.

"When I can't think of any ideas, the list jars my memory," she says. "I try not to repeat any dish in a month."

To facilitate that, she saves each week's menu for about a month so she can reference them while meal planning.

Aside from organizational tricks, Deb has some culinary magic up her sleeve, too. Among her working-mom strategies are assembling a dish the night before and pairing fresh ingredients with prepared products.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Those two tricks come together in her super-cheesy lasagna with sausage and ground beef, assembled ahead of time with precooked noodles and prepared spaghetti sauce.

The crockpot is another way to pull dinner, like chili, pulled pork or vegetable beef soup, out of the hat.

"I'm making beef burgundy right now," she says while chatting on her lunch hour at the office. "I'll go home, make noodles and salad and we'll have dinner."

Her tiramisu, featured online at dailyherald.com/food, calls for store-bought ladyfingers, but she always whisks together salad dressings from scratch, including the quick vinaigrette for her Caesar salad, another easy recipe to try this week.

Influenced by her working mom and her Southern grandmother, Deb says she grew up believing that the way to show love is to feed people.

"I love to feed people. I took that idea and made it work for me."

Laura Bianchi