How to make food pantry fare delicious

Cookbook by Grafton woman aims to help Family Sharing clients to be creative cooking donated food items

Food shown by Family Sharing’s Kathy Steinmetz and Community Outreach Manager Julie Pahnke that are commonly found at the pantry inspired Connie Roller of Grafton to create a cookbook for the organization. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

The soft spot for four-legged creatures in Connie Roller’s heart eventually led her to help the two-legged kind as well.

Roller, of Grafton, used to work at a pet store in Mequon. Part of her job was to drop off animal food donations at Family Sharing.

She saw the stacks of items at Ozaukee County’s longest-standing food pantry at its Grafton location, which sparked another idea.

“I know there are a lot of recipients at Family Sharing that don’t cook, don’t know how or don’t have the time,” she said.

Roller decided to create a cookbook with simple recipes that can be made with items Family Sharing regularly stocks.

“I could do so much with this stuff,” she said. “There’s so much here to work with.”

Roller, who is raising funds to print the book, is no stranger to the kitchen or small-time publishing. As the youngest of 10 children, the Cedarburg native spent plenty of time watching large meals being made. She later picked up an interest in cooking.

“It’s easier than cleaning,” she said with a laugh.

The pleasure of making a meal peaks in the gratification of seeing people devour it.

“I like the satisfaction of making something that somebody likes,” Roller said. “There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Roller had already printed two family cookbooks with some of her extended family’s favorite recipes.

“Growing up in a large family, at family get-togethers everybody brings their favorite dish,” Roller said. “People really bond over food.”

As a result, the cookbooks have a list of tried-and-true dishes.

“Ninety-nine percent of the recipes are bulletproof,” Roller said. “People don’t submit recipes that don’t work. They submit their favorites.”

For the Family Sharing cookbook, titled “From Pantry to Table,” Roller drew upon her years of experience standing over the stove trying out different recipes and her track record of success.

At Thanksgiving, “My mom always gave me the turkey carcass because she knew it would come back as soup,” she said.

If she has a specialty, soup is it, Roller said. She recently made one for her and her husband that’s in the new cookbook.

“What’s in my fridge right now is Texas taco soup,” she said.

“It involves browning a pound of hamburger and opening cans.”

Other ingredients include pinto beans, corn, ranch-style beans, stewed tomatoes, chicken or beef broth, diced tomatoes with chiles, taco seasoning and a package of ranch dressing.

It’s exactly the kind of dish Family Sharing Executive Director Julie Hoover is looking for.

“She said there’s a demand for crockpot recipes,” Roller said.

One of the plans is for the cookbook to put together food items needed for some recipes and distribute them as a package.

Nobody, Hoover said, ever made a cookbook for Family Sharing before.

“We’re just touched that she’s doing this,” she said.

Hoover said she looks forward to serving the clientele with new and delicious recipes.

Experimenting is one element Roller enjoys about cooking. She has plenty of sources of inspiration — a cabinet full of church cookbooks — and works as a prep cook at Juice’s Ghost Town in Grafton.

But even when she starts out with a recipe, “I’m always improvising,” she said.

That’s one reason she likes cooking rather than baking.

“Cooking is so flexible,” she said. “Baking is an exact science. You have to follow the instructions.”

Creativity is so important that Roller addressed it in the her latest cookbook’s forward:

“You don’t have the frozen veggies the recipe calls for? Use canned.

“A bean is a bean. If the recipe calls for black beans, you can use almost any other bean like kidney beans or chickpeas.”

The book has 95 recipes covering appetizers through desserts and includes some fresh ingredients.

“Food pantries have come so far with fresh meats and produce,” Roller said.

“You can only do so much with boxes. I personally love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but you can’t eat it every day.”

While the book has a variety of dishes, the theme is consistent.

“The recipes are intentionally very simple and don’t have too many ingredients because that’s overwhelming to people,” Roller said.

The book has a few other special elements, including metric conversion charts, the volumes certain dishes and pans will hold and microwave cooking hints.

“There’s more to it than just a collection of recipes,” she said.

Roller is trying to raise $3,200 to print more than 400 copies of “From Pantry to Table” to cover all of Family Sharing’s families and to keep copies in the store with proceeds going to print more books down the line.

Regardless of economic status, Roller said, “Everyone deserves to have an interesting meal they enjoy.”

To donate, visit gofund.me/b6072e61 or contact Family Sharing at 377-0634.

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