Mo Rocca talks about not being a good cook. But Patricia Idley of Akron, Ohio, thinks he’s a pretty quick learner.
Rocca was in Akron to shoot an episode of his Cooking Channel series “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” where he picks up recipes, cooking lessons and great stories from grandparents around the country. He came to Akron earlier this month to cook with members of the LeBron James Grandmothers Fan Club, including Idley, Alder Chapman and Beverly Woolridge. The episode will run later this season, around the end of September or early October. The show airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
On Thursday, the first of two days of production, the menu included lemon meringue pie, taught by Idley, with a cornbread salad from Chapman in the afternoon plans. Friday’s schedule includes jambalaya and beer-batter chitlins.
Expecting just a little interview and some photographs, Idley was surprised by the elaborate production set up in her Akron home. Half a dozen people went about their tasks, and tall light stands filled two corners of the kitchen. A table was set up in the middle for the on-camera food preparation.
Detail work was needed, such as inking over parts of labels on some canned goods to obscure the brand names. The product’s maker might ask for compensation if the name was visible, Rocca says, or a competing company might be sponsoring that telecast.
Even as business was being done, there was playfulness. A Del Monte logo was obscured in such a way that only “Mo” could be seen. Rocca tried juggling the peppers set out for the cornbread salad.
Rocca also teased the women when he first met them, inquiring why James’ fan club would be in Akron “when he’s from Cleveland.”
A risky joke, to put it mildly. Asked later what she said in response, Idley firmly declared, “I told him LeBron is from Akron. Capital A-K-R-O-N. Ohio, OK? Make no mistakes about it. He’s from Akron.”
But that didn’t keep the pie from turning out well.
“Lemon meringue pie looks like it’s a lot of work,” Idley says. “It’s not. Three or four ingredients, and you have it made.” (Recipe below.)
Idley says of her five children — sons Marcus (himself an executive chef at Prime 93), Thomas, Shawn and Joseph and daughter Elaine France — all but Thomas can cook, and he is learning. That may explain why Rocca thinks she was a good teacher.
“A lot of the grandparents are not as quick to say, ‘I’m going to tell them what to do, and they can do all the work,’ which is what we want. She stepped into that role right away.
“She explained how crucial the crust was, and once we got past the crust, it was easy going. It’s easier than if the hard part comes last. I did think that there were a few little lumps of flour, so she went pretty easy on me. But they eventually dissolved. Maybe she knew that would happen.”
And more playing loomed. After cooking, bowling was on the agenda.
“You’d think we’d play basketball,” Rocca says, since this is a LeBron James fan club.
“Lord knows I would not be of any help if we did that. … They suggested bowling, and we kind of go with that. All this is on their turf, so I’m kind of having to keep up with them, not the other way around.”
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
1 baked pie crust
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest (grated rind)
2 teaspoons butter
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in saucepan. Stir in 1 1/2 cups warm water until smooth. Whisk egg yolks in a bowl until frothy. Slowly pour yolks into sugar mixture and heat, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in lemon juice, zest and butter. Stir constantly until mixture is brought to a boil, and thickens.
Cool and pour into baked pie shell. Prepare and top with meringue.
5 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
Beat egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at low speed until soft peaks begin to form. Increase speed to medium and add sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating just until stiff peaks form.
Spoon meringue over filling, mounding in center and spreading to outer edges. Bake pie at 400 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or peaks are lightly browned.
Source: Patricia Idley, The LeBron James Grandmothers Fan Club Cookbook.