Schaumburg cook stretches dollars and dinners

  • Cook of the Week Kelly Popp of Schaumburg in her kitchen. She says she'd much rather eat at home than go out. "That way I know what is in the food," Popp says.

      Cook of the Week Kelly Popp of Schaumburg in her kitchen. She says she'd much rather eat at home than go out. "That way I know what is in the food," Popp says. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Cheesy garlic bread prepared by Cook of the Week Kelly Popp of Schaumburg.

      Cheesy garlic bread prepared by Cook of the Week Kelly Popp of Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Salad, cheesy garlic bread, and "Hamburger Stuff," prepared by Cook of the Week Kelly Popp of Schaumburg.

      Salad, cheesy garlic bread, and "Hamburger Stuff," prepared by Cook of the Week Kelly Popp of Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted7/14/2015 6:00 AM

When we caught up with Kelly Popp, our Cook of the Week from Schaumburg, she was on her 8-mile walk. She does this often to regulate stress and stay healthy. The other activity she does to relax is cook.

"Cooking has always brought me a sense of balance," Kelly says. "If something is going on in my life, I'll go into the kitchen. It's a form a meditation; the repetitious chopping is soothing. Cooking has brought me through a lot."

 

Kelly, a single mother with a teenage son, loves to cook and bake, but she is cost conscious when it comes to shopping for groceries.

"I don't always have to cook on a budget, but I'm pretty frugal by nature. I go to different grocery stores for different things and I buy meat that is on sale," she said. "Hamburger is always a frugal choice because it can feed a lot of people. Just add lots of vegetables and a box of corkscrew or elbow macaroni. Another of my favorites for hamburger is meatloaf."

Kelly frequently buys pork tenderloin. "It's an inexpensive meat and you can elevate it by a marinade or a rub. I like to add flavor to meats. I experiment using a sweet, a sour and an acid and come up with favorites."

Kelly's son loves what she does to a ham steak.

"I turn it into a Honey-Baked ham using brown sugar, some juice and Dijon mustard, and I put cayenne pepper in there, too," she says.

Another trick that Kelly uses to stretch her food dollar is to plan more than one meal for each item.

"I repurpose stuff. The first meal may be a marinated, grilled tenderloin and then the half that is left will be sandwiches. I will get 3 or 4 meals out of one thing," she said.

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Kelly's main inspiration is old cookbooks and the Food Network.

It was an old cookbook on grilling that tutored Kelly in mastering marinades and rubs. Kelly loves trolling garage sales for cookbooks. "I am a cookbook junkie. I love reading recipes," she says.

And even though baking usually doesn't lend itself to experimentation, Kelly can "ad-lib" cookies, cookie bars and even cheesecakes.

"I get a lot of ideas from Guy (Fieri) on 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives' and I like Bobby Flay." Kelly and her son like to watch "Chopped" together and discuss what they would do with the ingredients. It would seem that a person who walks 8 miles a few times a week may be concerned with serving healthy meals.

"I am. I try to have a well-balanced diet at the forefront," she says. "I much prefer to eat at home rather than going out; that way I know what is in the food."

As the main cook for her son and mother, Kelly confesses that they don't necessarily all eat the same thing.

"My son is very finicky. He's becoming more adventurous, but he's got a pretty boring palate. I like to try new things," she says. "I cook comfort food turned up a notch to make it seem like fine dining … a little more uptown."

To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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