Home cook turns misfortunes into positives

Jeffery Fersner, gravymaster, at Thanksgiving 2011.

Mary Ogden Fersner nominated her husband, Jeffery, for this week’s home cook profile. She said he took up cooking later in life after some serious health issues.

She wrote, “Now, I love to eat, but I’m not very adventurous when it comes to cooking. I’m mostly the dang-it’s-time-for-dinner-what-in-the-world-are-we-gonna-have? type. So I am eternally grateful he took over that chore.”

Furthermore, “He’s been an amazing inspiration for almost everyone he meets. ... We just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last month and I’m so proud of him and proud to be his wife.”

Remember, we’re always on the hunt for good home cooks and their “back stories.” If you would like to suggest a family member or friend to be profiled here, please email food@postandcourier.com with “Good Cook” as the subject line. Briefly describe the person’s talent and how you know him or her, and provide their phone number or email address so we can contact them.

Name: Jeffery Fersner

Age: 51

Residence: West Ashley

Occupation: Cost engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers

Family: Wife, Mary; and four dogs, B-Dub, Henry, Fudgy and Cocoa.

Q. Your wife says you didn’t do much cooking until after recovering from a kidney/pancreas transplant in 2004. So what made you decide to start?

A. Prior to my kidney/pancreas transplant, I did not have the time to do a lot of cooking. Between working full time and having dialysis three times a week for four hours a session, I was stretched pretty thin and constantly tired. In addition, the renal diet combined with the diabetic diet I was on was pretty restrictive.

After the transplant, I had extra time and felt a lot better. I had always helped my mom in the kitchen while growing up and decided to start helping my wife in the kitchen. Since that time, I have slowly taken more and more responsibility for cooking in our household.

Q. What were a few of the first dishes you attempted?

A. At first, I started with simple things such as spaghetti sauce with meat and stir-fried chicken and vegetables. Of course, I have always been in charge of the grill. That has evolved from just grilling steaks and chops into grilled vegetables, such as zucchini and corn, and even cedar plank salmon.

Q. What was your first big success and what was a memorable flop?

A. One of my best dishes that I came up with early in my cooking career is beef stroganoff over egg noodles. This is still one of my wife’s favorites. I hate to brag, but so far I have not had what I would consider a flop of a dish.

Q. How has your style evolved? What have become your specialties?

A. My style has expanded greatly since I first started cooking. I learned how to make a bechamel sauce as a base for many different kinds of sauces. This has added some style to many ordinary dishes. Also, I enjoy the challenge of more complicated dishes such as an asparagus and mushroom risotto recipe that I came up with. In addition, I bought a smoker several years back and have prepared several excellent smoked dishes, including a shrimp stuffed smoked pork tenderloin.

Finally, I started making cheesecakes about six years ago and have expanded my list of recipes to about 30 varieties, including my latest creation, a Key lime and coconut cheesecake. The combination of sweet and tart is excellent.

Q. What rewards have you found in cooking?

A. My career as an engineer does not allow for a great deal of creativity. My cooking allows me to be creative and actually relaxes me after a long day at the office.

In addition, friends will always invite you to parties if you will bring a dish.

Finally, as they say, the key to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. All women love a man who can cook. Let’s just say that after a great meal, romance is in the air.

Q. Earlier this year, you had to have your right leg amputated below the knee. What have been the biggest challenges in the kitchen as a result?

A. Immediately after having my leg amputated, just getting around the kitchen in a wheelchair was a big challenge. Also, the height of our counters was difficult while in a wheelchair.

However, about a month ago, I was fitted with a prosthetic leg. Learning to walk again has been a huge challenge, but I am getting more comfortable with it and now have very few difficulties. My kitchen activities are back to where they were prior to the surgery.

Q. Do you have a favorite cookbook and/or a celebrity chef who inspires you? In what way?

A. I have a whole bookcase of cookbooks that I refer to on occasion but not one favorite book. My wife and I watch shows on the Food Network, and I have always been inspired by Paula Dean’s story. From a down-and-out mom selling bag lunches on the street to a very rich celebrity chef whom everybody loves is a great story.

I don’t have the personality or desire to be a celebrity chef. I just enjoy cooking for my family and friends.

This is a recipe that I came up with for a party that we recently attended. Everyone there loved them.

Ingredients

3/4 pound chorizo sausage

2 cups shredded cheese, preferably Mexican blend

1/4 cup milk

1 egg

11/2 cups Bisquick

1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle seasoning

Paprika as needed

Directions

Mix together the chorizo, cheese, milk and egg in a large bowl. Add Bisquick and chipotle seasoning. Mix well. Pinch off bits of dough and shape into 1-inch balls. Place on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray, spacing about an inch apart and sprinkle lightly with paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until deep golden brown, turning the balls once at 8 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet and serve. These can be served with a creamy dip or a bowl of warm queso.