I'm often asked where I meet all the people I highlight in this column. I just shrug and laugh and say that the universe brings them to me — like my new friend Kay Gatton.

Coastal Point

This week's Marie's Kitchen features Kay Gatton, a new friend of Marie Cook. Here Gatton is in her kitchen, happy as a clam.

One morning while I was enjoying electric stimulation to my bicep tendon at Tidewater Physical Therapy (my home away from home), I heard Bob Cairo talking to Kay about her back problem and welcoming her home from Florida. He said, “I still remember that delicious Shrimp Scampi you made for me before you left for Florida.” My foodie ears perked up, and I said, “Uh, Bob, is this someone I should meet?”

He laughed and told Kay that I write this column. She got all excited, telling me how she loves the column and, on the spot, I asked if she'd agree to be highlighted. And here we are.

When Kay and I met for lunch, she entrusted me with her original group of yellowed, taped and food stained index-card recipes. I guarded them carefully, because I know how traumatic it would be to lose them.

Kay has been an artist for most of her life.

“I have been drawing for a long as I can remember,” she said. “Although I have no formal art education, I have taken a few classes. I paint with oils, watercolors, and also do pen-and-inks.”

Let me tell you, folks: Kay's walls are covered with so many beautiful paintings. Many she keeps, some she sells, and others she generously gives away. She has a pen-and-ink of a cat's face that is awesome. I went gaga over a lovely watercolor of beach dunes and two of the old concrete observation towers found along our Delaware shoreline. The towers were constructed during World War II to protect the state's coastal towns from German U-boat attacks.

Before I left, she insisted on giving that painting to me. I kept saying, “No,” because I have difficulty accepting such gifts, but she said she would be saddened if I did not accept it. That painting now hangs in my sunroom and lifts my spirits every single morning. So, here's a very public thank you to my delightful new friend for such a generous gift.

Kay was born in Baltimore and raised in Severn, Md., and has fond memories of her childhood.

“We lived near the Severn River,” she said, “and my sister and I used to swim there every chance we got, even though the water was ice cold! Our mother always packed us a picnic lunch, and that's where our father taught us how to swim.”

Because Kay's mother worked, cooking responsibilities fell to Kay at the age of 10.

“At first, I just peeled potatoes and prepared a salad,” she said, “but by the time I was 11 years old, I was cooking the entire dinner.”

I feel like Kay and I are new cooking soulmates. Her analogy about cooking and life was spot on. She said, “Cooking is like life — it changes every day. One day it's spicy, another day it's bland. We are the ones who determine the outcome. I might start out with one recipe in mind and change it in mid-cook, because I think, ‘Wow! That would taste better with a little of this or a little of that and a dash of this or that.'”

Kay likes to cook with seasonal offerings — summer fried squash cakes (grated squash, onions, flour, egg, baking powder); sautéed cabbage with onions salt and pepper; marinated porterhouse steak on the grill; quartered potatoes mixed with onion soup and oil, wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill; or in winter, German potato salad (bacon, onions, cubed potatoes, white vinegar, water and sugar). As you can see, Kay doesn't always measure, so I was glad she settled in to give me recipes with accurate measurements.

One of her signature dishes is Baked Chicken. She mixes rosemary, basil, garlic, and pepper with oil and, using a spoon, she inserts this mixture under the skin of the whole chicken and also on the outside. She places the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, peels potatoes and leaves them whole, placing them alongside and under the rack. She roasts the chicken in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the chicken.

Kay loves to try new recipes and is fussy about some of the brands that she uses, particularly Hellman's Mayonnaise and Orrington Farms Chicken and Beef Bases. “The bases flavor soups, gravies and many other dishes,” she said. If you can't find Orrington locally, Google is your go-to source.

Kay and Ed have been married for 36 years and, between them, they have two grown sons, one daughter, 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren! Ed is an avid fisherman and, in their younger years, Kay said they had so much fish that she kept having to invent ways to cook them all.

Her original recipe for Easy Cream Cheese Appetizers is a family favorite and disappears quickly. This is a great make-ahead appetizer, because the snacks must chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator. Kay refers to them as “tortilla rounds” and also serves them to her two card groups. They play Hand & Foot and Texas Hand & Foot (similar to, but more involved than canasta).

Easy Cream Cheese Appetizers

Ingredients:

4 large (8-10 inch) flour or spinach tortillas

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

4 tablespoons zesty Italian dressing

4 ounces pepperoni

6 pitted green or black olives, sliced or chopped

2 tablespoons sliced jalapeño peppers, (seeded, unless you want more kick)

Method for Cream Cheese Appetizers:

In a blender or food processor container, blend the cream cheese, Italian dressing and pepperoni. When the mixture is well blended, add the olives and jalapeño pepper slices and pulse a couple of times until they are chopped, but not pureed.

Spread the mixture on tortillas and roll tightly. Make sure you spread the cheese mixture up to the edges of the tortillas so that the ends seal well. Then slice into 1/2-inch rolls and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Each tortilla makes about 12 slices. Yield: Will serve about 6 to 8 people as an appetizer.

When Kay makes her Taco Meat Loaf, she precooks peeled, halved potatoes until almost done. She then adds the potatoes to the meat loaf pan before pouring the tomato sauce/brown sugar mixture over the whole thing. This meat loaf also freezes well.

Taco Meat Loaf

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 2 pounds ground beef

? 1/2 cup salsa

? 1 package taco seasoning mix (mix in 1/2 at a time)

? 2 eggs

? 1/2 cup bread crumbs

? 2 teaspoons salt

? 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

? 1 can (8-10 ounces) tomato sauce mixed with 3 tablespoons brown sugar

? 1/2 cup ketchup plus 1/4 cup water

Method for Taco Meatloaf:

Mix ground beef, salsa, half of the taco seasoning mix, eggs, bread crumbs and salt and pepper. Put mixture onto a 10-by-15-inch baking pan and bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the top of the meat loaf with the rest of the taco seasoning. If adding potatoes, put them around the meat loaf. Mix tomato sauce, brown sugar, ketchup and water and pour over all. Bake another 30 minutes. Yield: 6 servings.

Kay's recipe for Carrot Soufflé was a gift from her friend, Pat Flanagan, who lives in Florida. At the top of Kay's recipe card she has written, “A+.” She said this soufflé is so delicious that it tastes like a sweet potato pie.

Carrot Soufflé

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 1-1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, diced, cooked and drained

? 3/4 cup butter or margarine

? 2 large eggs, slightly beaten

? 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

? 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

? 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar

? 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Method for Carrot Soufflé:

Cook carrots in boiling water until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Mix carrots and all other ingredients into a blender or food processor container and mix until smooth. Place mixture into an 8-inch casserole and bake at 350 degrees until set — about one hour. Yield: 4-6 servings.

Pat's Pecan Pie recipe originated with Kay's sister, Pat Cossey. When her sister gave her the recipe, Kay said she joked, “Write at the top of your recipe, ‘This is Pat Cossey's recipe and don't you forget it.'” Kay has had this recipe for years and still repeats that statement every time she makes this pie. “It always makes me laugh, remembering her joking about it.” She said that Pat puts everything into a blender and mixes it all at once.

I recently bought a bottle of Karo Dark Corn Syrup to make Pecan Pie Bars for my husband's birthday. I was surprised to read on the label that it now contains zero grams of high-fructose corn syrup; of course, it is corn syrup, but when you want pecan pie, you just can't beat Karo. When I was a kid, Karo Syrup was the only syrup in our house; we used it on waffles, pancakes and one of my favorite sandwiches — white toasted bread, butter, Karo Syrup and white American cheese. I'm getting hungry just remembering how the Karo oozed out and I'd lick it off the crust. Ahhhh, the good old bad days!

Pat's Pecan Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 3 eggs

? 1 teaspoon vanilla

? 2/3 cup granulated sugar

? Dash of salt

? 1 cup dark corn syrup

? 1/3 cup melted margarine

? 1 to 2 cups pecans (Pat grinds the pecans.)

? 1 (9-inch) pastry shell

Method for Pat's Pecan Pie:

Thoroughly beat the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt. Add corn syrup and melted margarine and beat well. Add the pecans and mix well. Pour mixture into a 9-inch pastry shell and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Kay's recipe for Nutty Chocolate Pie has been in her collection since 1985. Taped to an index card is the original recipe with a photo of Karo Syrup and Nestle's Toll House Semi-Sweet Morsels, which says, “1983 —The Nestlé Co. Inc.” The pie is similar to Pat's (above), but it's made with walnuts and chocolate chips.

Nutty Chocolate Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 3 eggs

? 1 cup Karo Light or Dark Corn Syrup

? 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

? 6 ounces (1 cup) Nestlé Toll House Semi-Sweet Morsels

? 1/2 cup granulated sugar

? 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

? 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

? 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

? Sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Method for Nutty Chocolate Pie:

In a large bowl, beat eggs until well combined. Add Karo, walnuts, chocolate morsels, sugar, butter or margarine and vanilla; mix until well blended. Pour evenly into pie shell.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Cool. Serve warm or cold with sweetened whipped cream, if desired; or wrap well and freeze for later use. Yield: One 9-inch pie.

Note: Filling should be slightly less set in center than around edges.

When Kay makes her recipe for One-Dish Chicken and Stuffing Bake — a Campbell's Soup recipe — she often adds a layer of broccoli or peas underneath the chicken and stuffing mixture to make it a complete meal in one dish. She also said that you can use cream of celery soup instead of cream of mushroom.

One-Dish Chicken

and Stuffing Bake

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 4 cups Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned Cubed Stuffing

? 1/2 cup boiling water

? 1 tablespoon margarine

? 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

? Paprika

? 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup

? 1/3 cup milk

? 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Method for One-Dish

Chicken and Stuffing Bake:

Mix stuffing, 1/2 cup boiling water and 1 tablespoon margarine. Spoon stuffing across center of a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Place chicken breasts around the sides of the stuffing. Sprinkle chicken with paprika. Mix soup, milk and parsley; pour over chicken. Bake, covered, at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 15 more minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink. Yield: 6 servings.

Back in 1985, when Kay originated this recipe for Crab or Fish Imperial, she and her husband were catching a lot of fish. “I used many different kinds of fish,” she said, “including flounder, weakfish, small blues (with dark meat discarded) and tautog.”

Kay's Crab or Fish Imperial

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 1 pound crab meat or fish

? 4 tablespoons margarine

? 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

? 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

? 1 cup milk

? 1 teaspoon salt

? 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

? 1 teaspoon dry mustard

? 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce

? Buttered, crushed crackers for topping (optional)

Method for Crab or Fish Imperial:

If using fish, poach the fish about six minutes until the fish flakes; let cool. If using crab meat, no advance preparation is needed, except making sure that all cartilage is removed.

Sauté the green pepper in margarine until soft; stir in flour until mixture is smooth. Add milk and stir over low heat until smooth. Add the salt, pepper, dry mustard and Worcestershire Sauce; stir until mixture thickens. Let sauce cool; then add fish or crab meat. Put the mixture into a 9-by-13-by-2-inch casserole and bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. You can also add buttered crushed crackers to the top of the casserole during the last 20 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

Everyone needs a go-to Hamburger Casserole. Some nights, nothing else will do! Here is Kay's version.

Hamburger Casserole

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients:

? 1-1/2 pounds ground beef

? 1 tablespoon margarine

? 1 cup chopped onion

? 1 cup chopped celery

? 1-1/2 cups water

? 1 can cream of chicken soup

? 1 can cream of mushroom soup

? 1/4 cup soy sauce

? 3/4 cup uncooked minute rice

? 1 large can (5 ounces) Chinese crispy noodles (also called chow mein noodles)

Method for Hamburger Casserole:

In a large skillet, melt margarine and sauté ground beef, onion and celery until meat is cooked; drain. In a large bowl, mix the ground beef mixture with water, both soups, soy sauce and minute rice. Put the mixture into a greased 2-quart casserole and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove lid, top with one large can Chinese crispy noodles, and continue baking, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes. Yield: 6 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.)