By Katie Lovett
---- — For Meg Wiley, one of the secrets to a creating a successful, delicious meal is to just keep it local.
Wiley, 55, of Newburyport is a staunch believer that using fresh, high-quality ingredients greatly enhances a meal. The fact that she can can find that in her own community is a giant advantage. It’s also part of what first drew Wiley and her husband, Jim, to Newburyport from the South Shore in the first place.
When researching the perfect coastal town to purchase a home five years ago, the couple looked at a variety of factors, not the least of which was the number of restaurants and local food purveyors.
“One thing we researched was food,” Wiley said. “We love food, and that’s one of the things that’s great about Newburyport.”
Today, as Wiley prepares meals for herself and Jim, 55, or creates the perfect dinner menu for an evening with family and friends, she happily relies on meats, cheeses and other ingredients that she finds on the shelves in the markets and food shops right in her neighborhood.
She buys her meats at Tendercrop Farms just down the road from her High Street home and her bread at Annarosa’s Bakery in Salisbury. She shops at Grand Trunk Old World Market and Joppa Fine Foods in Newburyport, David’s Fish Market in Salisbury, and the new Newburyport Olive Oil Company located in Newburyport’s Tannery Marketplace.
The couple also has two large gardens in their backyard where they grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. “You can change a meal with fresh herbs,” Wiley said.
Wiley, who works at the health services agency Northeast HomeCare in Beverly, will prepare several meals on Sundays and freeze them to use during the work week. Her husband of 7 years readily lends a helping hand at the stove, causing Wiley to playfully dub him her “sous chef.”
Reflecting on how she first became interested in cooking, Wiley points to her Irish heritage. During her childhood, dinner often meant boiled meals and a heaping of potatoes, she explained with a slight chuckle. If she wanted to eat the foods she craved, she had to learn to cook them.
And she did, through “trial and error,” she added. At 15 years old, she cooked her first meal: homemade meatballs and sauce. The classic recipe remains in her eclectic collection to this day, although it has been tweaked over the years.
After all, tinkering with recipes is a favorite hobby for Wiley. Often, after returning home from dinner at a restaurant, she’ll get to work recreating the dish she ate. Waitstaff and cooks will share the ingredients used in her dinner, she said, while leaving it up to her to figure out the amount of each.
In the fall and winter, Wiley can be found cooking comfort foods. With a penchant for soups and stews, she loves to mix up her favorite recipes, such as by adding fresh flavors to her tomato soup.
“We love spicy foods,” she said.
For Wiley, who can quickly cook a complete Sunday dinner within a few hours of returning home from serving as a deacon at a morning service at Central Congregational Church, it all boils down to a simple passion.
“I just find cooking very easy,” she said. “I love it all; I love food.”
We’re looking to share the recipes and secrets of amateur cooks who have a knack in the kitchen and consistently amaze their family and friends with their culinary skills. If you know a great cook or are one yourself, email Katie Lovett at email@example.com.
Below are several of Meg’s favorite recipes:
Crostini with Burrata Cheese
START TO FINISH: 15 MIN.
Black olive tapenade
12 leaves fresh basil
1 clove garlic
Slice a baguette on the diagonal into 12 pieces.
Broil until slightly brown.
Rub with garlic. Spread 1 tsp black olive tapenade on each piece.
Top with a small wedge of Burrata cheese. Drizzle with high quality olive oil.
Chiffonade the basil by cutting into long, thin strips, and place on top of each piece of bread.
START TO FINISH: 30 MIN.
2 high quality chicken breasts
1/2 jar drained capers
1/5 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup white wine
2 tbls olive oil
2 tbls butter
1.5 tbls flour
Pound chicken breasts to 1/4 inch.
Mix butter and flour together to form paste.
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over med high to high heat. When oil is smoking, add chicken breasts and until lightly brown, turn over. Remove breasts to warm oven.
Add wine to deglaze pan. Add chicken broth and lemon juice and reduce.
Add flour/butter paste and whisk until incorporated. Place chicken back into pan and add capers.
START TO FINISH: 30 MIN.
2 tbls flour
4 tbls butter
2 cups whole milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
9 oz. fresh Fettuccine
Melt butter on medium high heat, making sure it does not burn. Add flour and whisk quickly, incorporating it. Boil for two minutes. Add milk slowly and stir until boils and thickens. Add cheese.
While making Alfredo sauce, boil 3 quarts water. When boiling add Fettuccine, cook until al dente, reserving 1 cup pasta liquid.
Drain pasta. Put back into pan with 1/2 cup pasta liquid. Add Alfredo sauce to your liking.
START TO FINISH: 1 HOUR (including marinating)
8 medium carrots
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup water
1 tbls butter
Salt and pepper
Cut carrots on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces and quarter each piece. Place in medium sauce pan with 1 cup of fresh orange juice and let sit for one hour.
Turn heat to high and add 1 cup water, cook until just tender.
Serve with 1 tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper.
Chocolate Balsamic Strawberries with Mascarpone and Whipped Cream
START TO FINISH: 30 MIN.
1 pint strawberries
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 small squares high quality dark chocolate
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 inch peel from fresh lemon
2 tbls Mascarpone
1 tbls vanilla
1 tbls sugar
Cut strawberries into quarters.
Put vinegar into small sauce pan. Add lemon peel and chocolate.
Bring to boil while whisking and reduce to half. Remove lemon peel and let sit until cool.
Add to strawberries and gently mix. Put whipping cream and Mascarpone into mixing bowl with vanilla and sugar. Whip on high until soft peaks form.
Place berries in martini glass and top with whipped cream mixture.