Marie's Kitchen: In the kitchen with the Legatskis

I met Mary and Richard Legatski at World Gym where they can be found five to six mornings a week. They live in a lovely home in Bay Forest, where we held our interview. The couple met while working in Washington, D.C., and this July will celebrate their 32nd wedding anniversary.

Richard and Mary Legatski in their home with chili and cornbread, both recipes they’ve shared in this weeks Marie’s Kitchen.: Special to the Coastal Point • Marie CookSpecial to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook
Richard and Mary Legatski in their home with chili and cornbread, both recipes they’ve shared in this weeks Marie’s Kitchen.
Richard moved to the D.C. area in 1975 and worked for the U.S. Coast Guard and then for the National Ocean Industries Association – a trade association representing the offshore oil and gas industry. He later moved to the U.S. Department of Commerce, working as a legislative representative in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Congressional Affairs. He retired from NOAA in 2002.

He currently serves as president of the West Rehoboth Community Land Trust, an organization committed to promoting affordable housing in the West Rehoboth community. He is also a founding member of the Diamond State Community Land Trust, a statewide organization with the same commitment on a statewide basis.

Mary worked as a government relations representative in D.C. for various Fortune 500 companies and national trade associations in the petro-chemical community before joining the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) as a government relations advocate and the director of its diversity and inclusiveness programs. She continues to write a weekly electronic newsletter for ASME on public policy issues of interest to the engineering and scientific community. She is an avid gardener and a member of the local garden club Gardeners by the Sea.

Both Richard and Mary are active members of the Shore Democrats and active in local and state Democratic politics. In the summertime, Mary enjoys her part-time job at Cattails gift shop in the Sea Colony shopping center.

The Legatskis are longtime regulars at yoga classes at the Bethany Beach Yoga Center on Central Avenue in Ocean View. Their instructor is a vegetarian, so when the Legatskis were planning a holiday luncheon for the yoga group, Richard came up with his recipe for Vegetarian Chili. “I just winged it,” he said with a laugh.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Richard can “wing” a recipe for me any time he wants. When I arrived for my interview, the aroma of his chili filled the air and my bowl was emptied in no time. I love all kinds of beans, but “pigeon peas” were new to me. Richard buys Goya brand canned green pigeon peas. Drag out your biggest pot, because Richard says this recipe makes about 15 pounds of chili. What a great party recipe; plus you can freeze the rest in large or small portions for additional parties or for those days when pulling a healthy dinner out of the freezer is the way to go. Four to five tablespoons chili powder and three tablespoons ground cumin sounds like a lot, but remember that when you freeze dishes, the spices are calmer after thawing.

Richard drains and rinses the canned beans, but that does not remove all the salt; and canned tomatoes usually have plenty of salt, too. He’s the first to tell you (and I’m the second) to use your own judgment before adding more salt or the large amounts of spices that suit his taste.

Richard’s Vegetarian Chili
4 pounds canned, whole, peeled tomatoes, crushed but not drained
2 pounds each rinsed and drained canned: kidney beans, great northern beans, black beans and green pigeon peas (Goya brand)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 large bell peppers, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
4 to 5 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Method for Richard’s Vegetarian Chili:
Combine all ingredients and slowly simmer for a minimum of 3 to 4 hours, stirring frequently. All seasoning quantities can be adjusted to taste; I prefer a fairly spicy result.

Richard e-mailed their recipes to me prior to our interview. When I saw Mary’s recipe for Cornbread, I was fascinated. I pondered: Did the top layer of butter, onions, sour cream and Cheddar cheese meld with the bottom cornbread layer? When she told me that they planned to have Richard’s chili and her cornbread for my interview, I knew I’d have my answer.

Folks, this cornbread is made with real butter and sour cream. Mary tried substituting lower-fat products without success, but it’s so delicious that it’s going into my book of favorites. Guess I’ll just have to pick up the pace on the treadmill or get my hula hoop going at a faster rate so that I can enjoy this cornbread often. By the way, the two layers are defined but with a nice blend where they meet in the middle. If it’s any consolation, you can use 2 percent milk instead of whole milk.

“I received this corn bread recipe from Charlene, a former friend and co-worker who was originally from Louisiana,” Mary said. “Charlene said that this was a very old family recipe. I even enjoy this corn bread for breakfast.”

Mary’s Cornbread
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 package (10 or 12 ounces) corn muffin mix
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk (2% is fine)
1 can (8-1/2 ounces) creamed corn
A few drops of Tabasco or similar hot sauce
Cooking spray – “We like the Giant brand spray,” said Richard. “It’s just as good as the higher-priced brands.”

Method for Mary’s Corn Bread:
In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt butter; add onions and sauté until tender (about 10 minutes). Cool slightly; then add sour cream, salt and Cheddar cheese and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix corn muffin mix, egg, milk, creamed corn and hot sauce. Spread this batter in an 8-inch square baking pan sprayed with cooking spray. Gently and evenly spread the onion mixture over the top of the corn bread mix and bake for 35 minutes at 425 degrees.

I know that wild-caught salmon is a very healthy choice, but the older I get (no wise cracks, please) the more eating salmon gives me indigestion. “I’m not a big salmon fan, either,” Mary said, “but I love Richard’s recipe.”

“I found this recipe on the Internet,” he said. “I just typed in ‘Baked Salmon recipes,’ and found this one from a bed-and-breakfast in Alaska. They said that you don’t have to limit yourself to salmon; halibut or other firm white fish work well, too.”

It just so happens that on the day of our interview, I had wild-caught cod thawing in my refrigerator, so I decided to give Richard’s recipe a try. My husband and I give this recipe two thumbs up! Richard says that you can prepare smaller filets in individual dishes, so that’s what I did with the cod, and it worked great. I held each filet in my left hand and “frosted” with the right. I baked them for 30 minutes and they were cooked perfectly. I’ve recently lost 15 pounds and would like to keep it off, so I may experiment with this recipe, omitting the high-fat mayonnaise and adding garlic and maybe some Worcestershire sauce to the mix; I’ll keep you posted.

Baked Salmon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
One 1-pound salmon filet*
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium tomato, sliced
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Dash of paprika or black pepper

Method for Baked Salmon:
Place the filet in an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with salt. Spread the filet with mayonnaise as if you were frosting a cake; sealing the fish to the bottom keeps it moist and enhances the flavor. Top with onion, tomato and cheese; then sprinkle with paprika or pepper. Bake covered (foil will do) for 45 minutes at 375 degrees, adding a small amount of water to the dish if needed to keep it moist. Yield: 4 servings.

*Smaller filets can be prepared in individual baking dishes using the same method and reducing baking time 10 to 15 minutes, depending on portion sizes.

The recipe for Riced Potatoes and Carrots was given to the Legatskis by their friend Tony Mazzaschi. “It’s a very attractive dish,” Mary said. “I like the texture, and the bits of carrot throughout give it a nice appearance. When we can find white sweet potatoes at summer vegetable stands and at the Bethany Beach Farmers Market, we prefer to use them.”

Riced Potatoes and Carrots
Potatoes and carrots (quantity determined by how many servings you want)
Milk and butter or margarine as needed
White pepper

Method for Riced Potatoes and Carrots:
Peel and pare potatoes and carrots in roughly equal quantities. Boil potatoes and carrots until cooked, but still somewhat firm. Drain potatoes and carrots and cool slightly. Run potatoes and carrots through the ricing attachment of a food processor, or use a potato masher to produce a mixture that is similar to mashed potatoes but with more texture. Stir in enough milk and butter to moisten the mixture well; season to taste with white pepper and nutmeg.

Richard always makes two to three quarts of dressing at a time for his Tomato-Mozzarella Salad and often adds one to two tablespoons additional chopped basil. Mary said that they do not limit the dressing just to this salad. “We serve it on other salads and use it as a marinade on chicken or steak or on anything that’s going on the grill. It has a nice tangy flavor and keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. In fact, we still have a quart in the refrigerator left over from this past summer.”

The Legatskis found this recipe back in the 1980s in the Washington Post when the paper used to print cartoon recipes. I remember those. Do you?

Tomato-Mozzarella Salad
Ingredients for Dressing:
2/3 cup light olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Red chili pepper to taste

Method for Dressing:
Mix all ingredients and serve at room temperature. Unused dressing keeps well in the refrigerator.

Over a bed of mixed greens, place thick slices of ripe tomato. Top each tomato slice with 1 to 2 fresh basil leaves. Top with generous slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. Drizzle salad dressing over the salad.

(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 e-mail at Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)