Creative in the Kitchen: Acme cook loves experimenting, trying new ingredients | News

Mitchell R. Lajoie

ACME — Karly Wentzloff has been cooking dinner since she was a little girl.

The 36-year-old Acme real estate agent started out helping her mom in the kitchen.

“And as I got to be a teenager, my mom went back to school and became an accountant, so during tax season … I would cook dinner and on weekends my mom and I would try out new recipes,” she says.

In graduate school, Wentzloff worked at a small farm that grew greens in hoophouses and as a result, became involved in the Ann Arbor food scene. After that, she moved to Vermont and got a job at a locally owned health food store where she worked her way up to helping out with cooking classes and took her own skills up a notch.

“I was assisting in all of these classes and learned to make things like curry paste from scratch,” she says.

As a young wife, she threw herself into from-scratch cooking.

“I remember my husband would come home from work and he’d say, “What are you doing?’” she says. “And I’d say ‘sticky toffee pudding from scratch’ — you make a date cake from scratch and make homemade caramel toffee sauce. It’s way too much work and super rich.

“But my husband was in residency, and the other couple he was in residency with, they’d come over and we’d eat all this food and I’d get all these unique ingredients from the store I was working at.”

Now Wentzloff is a mom herself, and is sharing her love of cooking and eating well with her own two children, ages 5 and 3. She enjoys having them with her in the kitchen — they like to make cookies for their day care provider — and creating meals that they’re likely to want to eat.

Her cooking style today has been inspired in part because she’s a pescatarian (doesn’t eat meat, but does consume fish). She doesn’t have as much time to spend in the kitchen these days, though, so tries to be strategic about it by making enough on Sunday to last through the busy work week.

“It’s really hard to cook every night,” she says. “And I try to do a lot of stuff to get my kids to eat something other than macaroni and cheese and meatballs and chicken tenders.”

So around 3 p.m. on Sunday, she starts seeing what ingredients, seasonings and condiments she has on hand, often teaming up with her brother-in-law and his partner — also avid cooks. Because she loves going to the grocery store and scouting and purchasing new products, she typically has the makings to create an interesting new dish.

She’s also big on roasting vegetables.

“I get out the sheet pans and roast them all with different oils,” Wentzloff says. “I love the specialty salts or spice blends and stuff like that.”

Her go-to ingredients include Fustini’s oils and vinegars.

“I don’t know if I could live without the garlic oil and that 18-year balsamic,” she says.

She only uses fresh ground pepper.

“I like specialty salts, like Maldon flake salts, and there’s this salt I get at Burritt’s that has chipotle in it,” she say.

Beyond that, Wentzloff describes herself as a “cooking basics kind of girl.”

“You need a good chef’s knife, a good paring knife — your tools,” she says. “You have a good quality butter, salt, pepper. I think people oversalt and overseason and don’t brighten their flavors up.

“I also use a lot of lemon juice. I’ll roast, let’s say, some brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then squeeze some lemon juice over them and maybe some shaved Parmesan for a little pizzaz.”

Among her top recipes is a tofu pot pie and eggplant Parmesan. In the fall, she makes a vegetarian crockpot chili that also freezes well.

One of her children’s favorites are baked dumplings.

“This is like a cheater recipe, and it’s actually a Weight Watchers recipe, but I buy those premade wonton wrappers and the preshredded coleslaw mix,” Wentzloff explains. “I saute the coleslaw mix and make a filling.

“Then you stuff the wontons and make triangle dumplings. I spray them with a little olive oil and bake on a cookie sheet and serve them with usually rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown rice syrup and something a little spicy. My kids devour them.”

Wentzloff also likes to roast grape tomatoes with some oil, salt, pepper and garlic cloves at 400 for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

“You get these nice browned caramelized grape tomatoes,” she says, noting that she sometimes runs them through a food processor to turn them into a sauce. “And I’ll roast a spaghetti squash, put the tomatoes on and a little Parmesan on it — my veggie spaghetti.”

Every now and then, things don’t go as planned and for Wentzloff, that seems to happen most when broiling.

“I’m famous for sticking something under the broiler and promptly forgetting about it,” she says.

Her most recent broiler mishap was with a s’mores cake, which calls for putting marshmallows on the top at the end and lightly browning them in the broiler. In this case, the marshmallows caught on fire and set off all of the smoke alarms in her house.

“The kids were outside playing,” she says. “So I pulled the flaming cake out of the broiler, scraped (the burned top) off and put new marshmallows on and stuck it back under there. It was fine.”

But whether making flaming cake or meals for a week, Wentzloff finds cooking to be a source of relaxation and chance to experiment.

“I am not a crafter,” she says. “You will never find me knitting. Ever. It’s not in my genes.

“But I will cook — and to me, it’s just as creative.”

Tofu Pot Pie

1 ½ lb. tofu, cubed fairly small

½ C. whole wheat flour

2 T. nutritional yeast flakes

½ t. garlic powder

¼ C. oil

3 T. soy sauce

1 C. onions, chopped small

1 C. celery, chopped small

1 C. carrots, chopped small

1 C. peas

Combine flour, nutritional yeast and garlic powder in bag. Add cubed tofu and shake. Saute cubes in oil and 1 tablespoon soy sauce (when you add the soy sauce, it will splatter). There will be extra mixture in the bag, which you can add to the saute pan. Saute onions, celery and carrots. When softened, add tofu back in, along with peas, and add gravy (recipe follows). Mix to combine and put in 9-inch-by-13-inch greased baking pan. Top with coarse breadcrumbs or put in a prepared pie crust and bake at 400 for 30 minutes until golden brown.

Gravy for Tofu Pot Pie

1/3 C. nutritional yeast flakes

¼ C. flour

1/3 C. oil

1 ½ C. water

2-4 T. soy sauce

Toast yeast and flour until you can smell it. Add oil and stir for a few minutes. Add water and stir with whisk until it thickens. Stir in soy sauce to taste.

Eggplant Parmesan

2 large eggs lightly beaten

1 T. water

2 C. whole-wheat panko

¼ C. (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 1-pound eggplants, peeled and cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices

Cooking spray

Filling:

½ C. torn fresh basil

¼ C. (1 oz.) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

½ t. crushed red pepper

1 ½ t. minced garlic

1/4 t. salt

1 16-oz. container part-skim ricotta cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Remaining ingredients:

1 24-oz. jar premium pasta sauce

¼ t. salt

8 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella cheese

¾ C. (3 oz.) finely grated fontina cheese

Preheat oven to 375.

To make eggplant, combine 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon water in a shallow dish. Combine panko and ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano in a second shallow dish. Dip eggplant in egg mixture; dredge in panko mixture, pressing gently to adhere and shaking off excess. Place eggplant 1 inch apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until golden, turning once and rotating baking sheets after 15 minutes.

To make filling, combine basil and next six ingredients (through egg).

To assemble, spoon ½ cup pasta sauce in bottom of a 13-inch-by-9-inch glass baking dish coated with cooking spray. Layer half of eggplant slices over pasta sauce. Sprinkle eggplant with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Top with about ¾ cup pasta sauce; spread half of ricotta mixture over sauce and top with 1/3 of the mozzarella and ¼ cup fontina. Repeat layers once, ending with about 1 cup pasta sauce on top.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes. Remove foil; top with remaining third of mozzarella and ¼ cup fontina. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese melts.

— Cooking Light

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