Fort Wayne – David Wuellner of Fort Wayne learned early to cook a simple meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and, as he describes it, all the fixings.
After learning the basics, Wuellner, 58, later taught his first wife, Beth Wuellner, how to cook. She was a stay-at-home mother who enjoyed cooking and writing down the family’s favorite recipes. He still has a large covered basket containing notebooks filled with her handwritten recipes. The couple was married 28 years when she died suddenly 10 years ago.
Four years before Beth died, the couple had a kitchen built at their Minnesota home. The plan was for them to throw dinner parties so Wuellner decided he would take a cooking class.
Grabbing the basket, Wuellner pulls out a binder and says, I took this cooking class, Professional Approach to Basics.’ It was a participation class. It was five parts – fish, vegetables, soups and stocks, meats and The Meal.’ We made a complete meal.
Still talking, he gets up from his bar stool, goes over to the kitchen counter and picks up his favorite utensil. We learned to use the handiest thing ever created by God – the chef’s knife.
He says the best thing he did in regards to cooking was to take the basics class.
Cooking is more than just the ingredients. It’s timing, cooking and technique. I used to read a recipe and it’d say sauté. What the heck does that mean? Or to poach, he says. You (also) learn what order things go in. Carrots take longer than celery.
About nine years ago, Wuellner, a territory manager for Watchfire Signs, remarried. Soon after he and his wife Connie married, the two moved back to the Fort Wayne area. Between them they have five children and two grandchildren.
Asked if Connie took over cooking duties, Wuellner replies, I do all the cooking. Connie makes really good lasagna.
In addition to the numerous notebooks of recipes in the basket, Wuellner says he has between 200 to 300 cookbooks from his first wife’s collection. He and Connie have about a dozen which are displayed on top of a corner cabinet.
Those are the ones that get used a lot too, he says.
Wuellner has found that keeping his freezer organized is helpful in meal planning.
In my freezer, I have a shelf for fish and seafood, one (shelf) for pork, one for chicken and one for red meat. The stock goes into the refrigerator/freezer in the basement. Soups on another shelf. Makes it easier to shop. You know what you have. The basket in the freezer keeps pastas and breads. The door has carcasses of what I need to make stock – bird, beef and ham bones. When I make stock, it’s all there, he says.
Q. What do you do to keep meals healthy?
A. I try to use fresh ingredients. We try not to use boxed or frozen (unless it’s leftovers) and sugar. We don’t eat a lot of things made out of wheat. A low-carb, high-protein diet is also known as an anti-inflammatory diet. Natural animal fats are essential to your diet. It’s the processed food with all the sugar and manmade fats. Margarine is manmade.
Q. What’s your favorite vegetable?
A. Wow, I like so many of them – asparagus and Brussels sprouts and tomatoes. I love tomatoes.
Q. You said your chef’s knife was your favorite cooking utensil. Do you have another favorite?
A. My chef’s knife and my Showtime rotisserie. It’s a wonderful machine. My first one lived for 15 years and then it broke. Then Connie got me a replacement for Christmas this past year.
Q. What is something that people would not find in your refrigerator?
A. Red wine because you don’t refrigerate red wine.
Q. If you were stuck on an island, what’s one food you would have to have?
A. Eggs. Eggs or bacon. I can catch everything else – can’t catch eggs.
Minnesota Wild Rice
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Olive oil, as desired
1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
1 cup wild rice
6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Sauté celery, carrots, onion and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the chicken stock and wild rice; bring to a boil and cover. Simmer for 90 minutes. In the meantime, render the bacon and reserve. After the rice has boiled for 90 minutes, add the bacon, stir and continue to cook uncovered until the liquid evaporates. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, divided
16 ounces fried fish coating
4 to 6 catfish filets
Canola oil, as needed
1 tablespoon butter
12 to 18 large peeled fresh shrimp
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup dry Vermouth
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and fish fry coating; dredge the fish filets in mixture. Fry the filets in canola oil in a deep cast iron skillet or Dutch oven; oil should be 375 degrees. When golden brown, put in a 200-degree oven to keep warm. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and garlic and sauté until pink, around 4 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside to keep warm, reserving drippings in the pan.
Add Vermouth to the skillet and bring to a boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add whipping cream, half of the green onions, lemon juice, remaining cayenne pepper and salt. Cook for 15 minutes or until thick, stirring often. To serve, place catfish filets on a plate, drizzle with sauce, top with shrimp and sprinkle with remaining green onions. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts
1 bag fresh Brussels sprouts, found in a netted bag in the produce department
1 (10-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 chopped shallot
1 tablespoon bacon grease
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Remove the tough outer leaves and stems from the Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Sauté the sprouts and shallots in bacon grease at medium heat until sprouts become tender. Cut the tomatoes in half or thirds and add to the tender sprouts 5 minutes before serving. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 to 6 servings.