Home at the Range: Dishing it up with dads who’re comfortable in the kitchen

For this article, I was given the challenge of finding dads who cook. I knew plenty of dads who fired up the grill on the weekends or who made a mean stack of pancakes on a Saturday morning, but I needed “take-charge” dads who were responsible for the majority of the family’s meals, who did the shopping as well as the cooking and who had their own ideas and creations in the kitchen – all that and a willingness to share.

To my surprise, I found three right under my nose.

Winging it in the kitchen

Tammy Cole is a teacher at my daughter’s school. She knows all the parents by first name, and I knew she’d be a good resource in my search. “Hey, Tammy,” I asked, “know any dads who cook?”

“My husband does all the cooking,” she said. Tim Cole said he was 10 or 11 when he began to cook. He spent a lot of time with his grandmother, watching her prepare meals, and after awhile, she began to put him to work, teaching him all of the cooking basics. Nowadays, Tim and Tammy Cole have a full house of their own in St. Peters, with two boys aged 21 and 13 and a 17-year-old daughter. He cooks for everyone, and his sons clean up.

Every night Tim Cole, a manufacturer by day, provides a complete dinner comprised of meat, a vegetable and a salad – his guideline for creating balanced meals. Tammy Cole, who prefers not to eat meat, gets a special meal or substitutions when the rest of the family eats meat. “Last night I made her a plate with grapes, watermelon and a cheese sandwich,” Tim Cole said.

He has an old Betty Crocker cookbook but prefers to wing it in the kitchen, creating his own recipes for chili and Italian dishes. For nights when the family is busy, his hamburger casserole is a quick and easy fix. A family favorite is steak and baked potato night, and the boys particularly like their dad’s special hot wings.

Because Tim Cole does all the cooking, he shops for the family’s food, too. Favorite stops are Costco, where the bakery items and deals on large packages of meat can help stock the freezer and provide for a month’s worth of meals. For special cuts of meat, he recommended Valenti’s Meat Market and Bakery in St. Peters.

Fresh herbs in ‘Daddy Dressing’

Our second cooking dad is a cooking doctor.

Even while busy getting a new private optometry practice up and running in Swansea, Ill., Dr. Mike Murphy of Webster Groves has continued providing more than half of his family’s meals. Murphy and his wife, Dr. Megan Wren, generally split kitchen duties down the middle with one parent-and-child team to cook, the other to clean.

Murphy admitted he cooks “pretty darned well.” Dinners lately have included his family’s favorite meatloaf, chicken burritos, grilled tuna steaks with teriyaki glaze, broiled salmon, strawberry shrimp and mashed potato cakes. He also recently made grilled sirloin steak with fried rice, teriyaki-ginger zucchini and Vidalia onions, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms and cucumber-onion salad. One of his specialties is a green, mayonnaise-based salad dressing – which daughters Kelly, 11, and Casey, 13, have dubbed “Daddy Dressing” – with fresh herbs, many of which he grows in his backyard garden.

Murphy said his mother taught him a little bit of cooking, but he “learned more by playing with ingredients working at a Howard Johnson in high school.” Most of it, he said, was learned the same way he’s learned other things: by reading and experimenting. “Many creations turn out well, some are just OK and a few have been pretty bad. I can usually rescue anything that seems to be going bad before it gets there,” he said.

Turkey and all the trimmings

With four kids under the age of 10, Rob and Elizabeth Duff of Fenton are a busy couple. He works full time as a purchasing coordinator for Quest Diagnostics, and she is a stay-at-home mom who also works as a BeautiControl consultant. Duff’s love of cooking led him to take responsibility for about 70 percent of the family’s meals, helping to lift some of the household burden from his wife.

Like Tim Cole, Duff said his grandmother was responsible for introducing him to the kitchen and sharing her recipes with him as a kid, but he had another teacher as well: “When I was in about fourth grade, I discovered Julia Child’s cooking show. She was so great to watch. She had such flair and humor that right away, I was hooked.” He learned to make chicken and dumplings and round steak at an early age. Today, he enjoys preparing huge pots of chili, roasts and all kinds of meat.

“Our family’s favorite meal is a turkey dinner with several vegetables and all of the fixings. We’ll do that at Thanksgiving, of course, but [we] enjoy it so much I try to make it a few times a year,” he said. A few cookbooks line the kitchen shelves, including a Betty Crocker edition and “The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking,” but more often than not, Duff makes up recipes as he goes. “When it comes to pancakes, though, no matter how many hundreds of times I’ve made them, I still have to consult the recipe to make sure I get the measurements right.”