Valentine’s Day isn’t always about candy, roses and date nights with one’s sweetheart. Many times, love is centered on hearth, home and family. So this Valentine’s Day we thought we’d share some food love from lifelong Edina resident Sandra Wakefield who is a terrific example of a wife and mother who knows how to express love through good home cooking.
Wakefield is the youngest of five siblings and says her mother was a super cook. “She cooked everything,” Wakefield says of her mother who especially liked to bake and would always make lots of cookies.
“Dad was a teacher at Valley View and our house was the place where people would come. Mom was always entertaining. She always wore aprons. We all did,” Wakefield says of her and her sisters. She still has the tiny apron she wore as a little girl in her mother’s kitchen. Wakefield has found joy in carrying on her mother’s tradition. “I used to have a TV talk show on cable television. But I’d love to host my own cooking show,” she says with great enthusiasm.
Sandra’s husband Todd and their three children, ages 24, 20 and 19, consider themselves lucky to be so well fed. “Cooking is her passion,” Todd says. “We eat really well and then, she has me as an awesome pot scrubber since she’s not the neatest cook.” Sandra begs to differ on that last point but still benefits from her husband’s history on dish duty. “He’s gone a lot for work,” she says of her husband who is an airline pilot and also a firefighter for the city of Edina. “But when he’s here, he does the dishes.” Todd’s familiarity with the couple’s 25-year-old pots and pans they’d received as a wedding gift inspired him to research and purchase a whole new set for Sandra in the past year.
Along with her frequently used pots and pans, Sandra loves the noodle maker she picked up at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. “I make a lot of zucchini noodles,” she says. Noodles are a regular ingredient in Sandra’s home cooking. She and Todd once attended a cooking class at Whole Foods Market where she learned to make pad Thai, a dish made from stir-fried noodles, egg, other proteins like tofu, shrimp or chicken, tamarind, vegetables and crushed peanuts. Most pad Thai recipes allow home cooks to add their own signature flourish and regional variation. Pad Thai has become one of Sandra’s go-to menu items. She also makes a good orange chicken and says her kids often beg her to make it.
The seasonally cold temperatures mean Sandra also makes many pots of chili. “I like to cook with whatever is in the fridge or the pantry,” says Sandra who admits she doesn’t really need to cook from a recipe. “I open my spices and smell them and then determine what they’ll taste best with.”
A recent recipe innovation has been to combine ground beef, ground pork and bacon in her chili. And when she pondered the fact that her son doesn’t really like beans but the whole family enjoys thick chili, she put the beans in her Cuisinart and added them to the chili. “I’d never done that before and it worked out really well,” she says. In fact, the recipe went over so well that Sandra’s son asked her to cook a batch for 50 of his fraternity friends.
Cooking for large groups is nothing new to Sandra. She’s been catering meals for her kids’ hockey teams, friends’ weddings, graduation parties and funeral dinners for many years. She’s even been asked to cook for a family reunion. Her cooking is so renowned within her local circles of influence a friend recently told her she should share her cooking expertise more widely on social media. So Sandra launched an Instagram account called
@hungry.housewife. “I decided Hungry Housewife was a better title than ‘realtor who’d rather cook,’” she says about her day job as a local realtor. She admits to being new to social media and learning how to best showcase her food.
“I’ve always taken pictures but I’m not used to doing it on my phone,” she says. “But it’s fun. The goal is to keep cooking. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life and something I’m really passionate about.”
Food Notes: Zoodles
Use a spiralizer to make zoodles, strands of zucchini that are made into the shape of noodles. Considered a healthy pasta replacement, these are low in calories, low in carbs, gluten-free, easy to use in many recipes to replace regular noodles and quick to make. Some benefits of zoodles include being a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, potassium and antioxidants.
Do zoodles actually taste like wheat-based pasta? No, at least not on their own. Real pasta is made from flour, yeast, and salt and is actually quite bland. Zoodles do taste like zucchini but when you cook them with other things or serve them with sauce, then yes, they taste pretty much like wheat pasta.
If you blanch your zoodles or briefly stir-fry them, the texture will be similar to al dente pasta. Sauté them in a little olive oil, garlic and salt, or top with marinara or a beef sauce and the experience will be very “pasta”-like without any odd aftertaste. Look for a Paderno Spiralizer at Williams Sonoma. This handy kitchen tool transforms vegetables into thin “angel-hair” strands as well as spiral cuts, shoestrings and ribbon “noodles.”
Prefer to give zoodles a test run before you commit to purchasing another kitchen tool? Look for pre-packaged spirialzied veggie noodles in the produce section of most any Edina grocery store.
Photo by Rachel Nadeau
Sandra Shares a Recipe
If you’d like to try out some of Sandra’s tried and true recipes for your family this Valentine’s Day, we’ve asked her to share one of her favorites, like this Pad Thai recipe that uses zoodles!
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup soy or tamari sauce
- 2 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbsp. fish sauce
Whisk the first five ingredients together and set sauce aside.
- A package of medium-size dried rice noodles or a ¼ lb. of zoodles
Prepare rice noodles or zoodles according to package directions. Do not over cook, as noodles can get sticky. Zoodles add a bit of moisture to the pan and do not absorb the sauce mixture as much as the pasta. For homemade zoodles, I use 2 large zucchini. I seriously love the zoodles and cannot tell the difference between them and regular pasta!
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- ½ cup diced chicken (Sandra uses chicken thighs)
- ½ cup whole shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 red pepper julienned
- ½ cup scallions diced
- A handful of cilantro chopped
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- 1 tsp. chopped garlic
- 2 Tbsp. ground roasted peanuts
- 2 cups bean sprouts rinsed
- 3 eggs whisked
- ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp. toasted sesame seeds
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok until very hot. Add meat and sauté until cooked through. Remove meat from the pan and set aside.
Add red pepper and carrots to the wok and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add scallions, cilantro, peanuts and bean sprouts. Stir everything until heated through. Make space in the center of the pan, add eggs and scramble. Add red pepper flakes and sesame seeds. Stir cooked meat back into the pan. Add noodles/zoodles and prepared sauce mixture. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes and serve with garnish of scallions, carrots, sprouts, peanuts and a lime wedge.
Quotes from Sandra’s kids:
Favorite dish your mom makes?
“The best thing my mom makes is probably enchiladas.”
“Oh wow, there are too many to choose from. But if I were to pick one, I would have to say that the best thing my mom makes is her macaroni and cheese.”
“Everything my mom makes is the best. But, I would say that she is really creative with how she makes pasta. She always adds a new spice or some cooking thing I didn’t even know existed so that makes dinner really interesting.”
Fond family food memory?
(When Sandra’s kids were little, she would put onions or other veggies into a food processor before adding them to recipes.) “She thought she was being sneaky because when we would ask what the little red and green things were in our dinner, she would just say, ‘oh, it’s sugar.’ I guess you could say our mom is a genius because now all of us kids still eat mushrooms and onions and such.”
“When we had just moved into a new house and we had no table or chairs … my mom made chicken Alfredo. We all decided to eat dinner on the ground where the table was going to go.”
“The time when our whole family got involved with my mom’s cooking. Each kid was in charge of a different course. I was in charge of making the appetizer with my mom’s help, then my sister made the main course with her help, and my little brother made the most sugary dessert for us. Lastly, my dad was table set up and dishes guy.”