Marie's Kitchen: Don Murray — King of the Crockpot


Don Murray and I met at World Gym. (Folks, don’t you think World Gym should give me a free membership for all the times I’ve mentioned them in this column?) I must be slipping, though, because it took me a long time to find out that Don was the chief cook in his household.

Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook: Don Murray shares his favorite crockpot recipes with Coastal Point readers this week.Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook: Don Murray shares his favorite crockpot recipes with Coastal Point readers this week.“In the early years of our marriage, Donna and I shared the cooking responsibility about 50/50,” he said. “I’m not sure when I assumed the majority role, but it’s because I enjoy cooking and Donna doesn’t. She’s an excellent cook but prefers baking, rather than fixing meals.”

Don was born in New York, but at the age of 10 his family moved to Hagerstown, Md., which he considers his home base. After high school and a four-year hitch in the U.S. Navy, he returned and enrolled in the University of Maryland, graduating in 1972.

He and Donna met in 1975.

“She was working on one side of a bar, and I was drinking on the other,” he said. “She worked at the Villa Rosa Dinner Theatre in Silver Spring, Md., which was adjacent to where I was working at that time. On our first date, I made a meal for us – a very basic steak, baked potato and salad. It was the beginning of 35-plus years together, so it must not have been too bad. We have shared that same meal many, many times since,” he added.

The Murrays now have two grown children who live in Virginia and a 2 1/2-year-old grandson, Colt Richard Tuhey. Don typed “OUR GRANDSON” in all caps, which we all know means that Colt is very special to them. (I’m also a grandmother, so I totally get that!)

I appreciate cooks like Don for putting their recipes on paper. But while Donna follows recipes exactly as they are printed, he still loves to experiment.

“I never met a recipe that I didn’t love to change,” he said jokingly. “Because of that, I probably never make the same thing the same way twice. Putting exact measurements on paper was very difficult for me.”

He added that Donna clips recipes from magazines, cookbooks and from my column (hooray!) and gives them to him to try.

“She once gave me a Valentine’s Day cake recipe from the Washington Post. I kid you not,” he said, “from start to finish it took me eight hours to make that cake. I made the cake again and she gave it to our friends. I told her to tell them to thank me twice – once for the first time I made it and once for the last.”

The recipe has disappeared. Perhaps it succumbed in a recipe-burning ceremony.

Don retired in 2006 as vice president and chief financial officer of Seaward International Inc. in Virginia and before that her was vice president and chief financial officer for Rubbermaid Commercial Products located in Winchester, Va.

Donna, formerly the supervisor of accounts at Winchester Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine, also in Winchester, Va., currently works part-time for Legum & Norman Property Management at Bayside at Bethany Lakes.

The Murrays, both avid golfers, live in Cripple Creek. Because of the hours they spend on the golf course, preparing a full-course meal when they get home is time-consuming.

“For that reason,” Don said, “I do an inordinate amount of meal preparation in slow-cookers which I can prepare in the morning and have ready in time for dinner. I have four slow-cookers, ranging in size from 3 to 7 quarts. I make huge quantities of soups and sauces, which I freeze in small portions or quart containers so they can be thawed quickly for a meal.

“Donna’s parents live in Silver Spring, Md., and are always appreciative of the variety of soups in their care package each time we visit,” Don added.

Don strives to cook healthy meals – lots of chicken and pan-seared fish accompanied with steamed vegetables. He also uses low-fat, fat-free and low-sodium ingredients.

“Through the years, beef has become less and less a part of our diet,” he said, “but we still do enjoy that original meal on occasion.”

Before I move into Don’s recipes, I’d like to express my gratitude to him and to all the other wonderful people before him who have shared their time and recipes for this column. In the five-plus years that I’ve been writing “Marie’s Kitchen,” I am always conscious of the fact that without you, “Marie’s Kitchen” would not see the light of day. Thank you all for your time and your generosity.

When Don plans to feed a crowd, he often increases the amounts of ingredients for his Fall-Off-the-Bones Chicken Wings and uses a larger slow-cooker. This recipe also works well for full-size chicken pieces.

Fall-Off-The-Bones
Chicken Wings

Ingredients:

? 3 to 4 pounds chicken wings and/or drumettes (about 10 wings to a pound)

? Montreal Chicken Seasoning (Don’s favorite go-to spice.)

? 1 jar of your favorite wing sauce

Method for Chicken Wings:

Place the wings/drumettes on a broiler pan lined with aluminum foil. Season well with chicken seasoning.

Preheat broiler to high. Broil chicken for 8 to 10 minutes per side, about 5 inches from the heat.

Pour the wing sauce into a medium-size bowl. Using tongs, dip each piece of chicken into the sauce and place the wings into a 4-quart slow-cooker; top wings with the remaining sauce. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 4-1/2 hours.

Don’s versatile Creamy Mushroom-Chive Sauce can be used as a stand-alone sauce for chicken, beef, pasta, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, etc. It can also be poured over boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a slow-cooker (cook on low setting for 4 to 5 hours).

Creamy Mushroom-Chive Sauce

Ingredients:

? 1/4 cup butter

? 1 package Italian Salad Dressing Mix (.7 ounces)

? 2 cans (10-3/4 ounces) condensed mushroom soup

? 1/2 cup dry white wine

? 1 tub (8 ounces) cream cheese with chives and onions

? 1 package (16 ounces) sliced, fresh mushrooms (optional)

Method for Creamy Mushroom-Chive Sauce:

In a medium-size sauce pan or skillet, combine all ingredients. Heat and stir until creamy.

I love chocolate and pecans, so I’m adding Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars to my bucket list.

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cookie base ingredients:

? 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

? 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

? 2 cups all-purpose flour

? 1/8 teaspoon salt

? 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut up

Pecan pie filling ingredients:

? 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

? 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cut up

? 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

? 3/4 cup dark corn syrup

? 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

? 1 tablespoon dark rum

? 1 cup each coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts and cashews (3 cups total; you can mix and/or match)

Method for Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars:

Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan.

Cookie bars: Process the pecans, confectioners’ sugar, flour and salt in a food processor or blender until well blended. Add the 1 cup butter and process until dough begins to form. Firmly press the mixture into the prepared pan to form a smooth layer. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven.

Pecan pie filling: Melt the chocolate morsels and 1/2 cup butter in a double boiler or very carefully in a microwave oven. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and rum until well-blended. Stir in the nuts and spread the filling over the baked cookie base. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees or until the filling is bubbling. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Yield: about 36 to 45 bars.

Don is Irish and Donna is Italian. He created his Baked Ziti recipe for her. Velveeta cheese is an interesting and unusual ingredient in a Baked Ziti recipe. Don cooks his homemade sauce in a large slow-cooker so there’s plenty on hand in the freezer. A general rule for cooking in slow-cookers is to fill the cooker at least two-thirds full and no more than three-fourths full.

Baked Ziti, Rotini or Shells

Ingredients for sauce:

I make the sauce the day before making this dish, or I thaw a couple quarts from previous frozen batches. I make my sauce in a slow-cooker (5- to 7-quart) and use:

? 1-1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef, cooked and drained

? 1 large onion, chopped

? 1 green pepper, chopped

? 1 can (10 ounces) tomato paste

? 1 can (29 ounces) tomato puree

? 2 cans (28 ounces each) diced tomatoes

? 1 can (29 ounces) tomato sauce

? 1 can mushroom stems and pieces (optional)

? 1 to 2 tablespoons oregano

? 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar to reduce acidity

? Other condiments of your choice to taste such as garlic, salt, pepper

Method for Don’s sauce:

Place all ingredients into a 5- to 7-quart slow-cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Note: I add additional diced or stewed tomatoes to fill the slow-cooker; any excess can be frozen and is just as good when thawed.

Baked Ziti

Ingredients:

? Pasta of choice, cooked per directions on box; quantity depends on the number of servings required

? Homemade sauce per Don’s recipe

? 2 to 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

? 1 small block of Velveeta cheese, cubed

Method for Baked Ziti:

Cover bottom of casserole dish with about 1/2-inch of sauce. Add 1/2 of the precooked pasta. Add 1/2 of the cubed Velveeta. Add 1/2 of the mozzarella. Add a generous layer of sauce. Repeat the process of pasta, Velveeta, mozzarella and sauce.

If you sprinkle a small amount of mozzarella on top, it makes a nice presentation. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 to 40 minutes. The pasta will swell up during baking, so leave about 1/2-inch headroom to allow for swelling.

With my allergy to chicken, I’m going to try making Don’s Chicken-Olive-Artichoke Bake with shredded turkey.

Chicken-Olive-Artichoke Bake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 1-1/2 cups uncooked rotini pasta

? 1 tablespoon olive oil

? 1 medium-large onion, chopped

? 1 bell pepper (green, red, or yellow), chopped

? 2 to 2-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken

? 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained

? 1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

? 1 can (6 ounces) sliced black olives, drained

? 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

? 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mozzarella cheese

Method for Chicken-Olive-Artichoke Bake:

Spray a 2-to-3-quart casserole with cooking spray. Cook the pasta according to package instructions; set aside. Heat olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and bell peppers; cook and stir about 2 minutes. Add the chicken, undrained tomatoes, cooked pasta, artichokes, olives and Italian seasoning; mix until combined.

Place half of this mixture into the prepared dish; sprinkle with half of the cheese; repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350 degrees about 35 to 40 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Yield: About 8 servings.

(Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)