Although she has been in the U.S. for more than 30 years, Sheila Stevenson still retains her delightful British accent. Her career as a home economist for the dairy industry of England and Wales indirectly was responsible for bringing her across the ocean to make her home here.
“My job was in nutrition education and advertising,” she explains. “I did cooking shows for Good Housekeeping in London and went on tours.”
One of the shows she worked on was called “The Upstairs and the Downstairs of a Dinner Party.”
“We first demonstrated a fabulous dinner menu and then used the leftovers in creative ways to feed the staff. It was during the time when the show ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ was so very popular,” she says.
Sheila also was asked to write a children’s recipe book. Her lighthearted collection of simple recipes for children, titled “Whisk It, Beat It, Cook It, Eat It,” was published and well-received in London.
As part of her work with the dairy industry, Sheila came to Chicago to be part of the “Fancy Food Show.” Her future husband, Bob Stevenson, was also at that show. But that’s not when the two met.
Sheila was scheduled to return to London after the show, and Bob moved on to another show in Minneapolis.
At the last minute, Sheila was asked to go to Minneapolis to fill in for a sick colleague. This time she met Bob. After the show, they both returned to Chicago. Sheila was stuck here for three days waiting for a flight back to London. Since Bob was in Chicago, the two spent the extra days together.
Next came a 13-month long-distance romance. It was the ’80s, so email was not available. Phone calls were expensive. Their correspondence was by letter, which took 10 days to arrive. Bob visited London and Sheila visited the United States. Then came a marriage proposal, and long-distance wedding planning.
Thirty-two years later, the happily married couple have a son and a daughter.
Sheila has visited her family in England about a dozen times over the years. But she misses the camaraderie.
Thank goodness, she says, for St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Naperville. There she serves as the junior high and high school director of religious education. She took on the position after returning to school to complete a degree in religious education.
“The church family has become my family here,” she says. “I have been blessed with wonderful friends.”
One of the many programs she leads at the church is the annual Harvest Sunday food drive each fall. Church volunteers collect food for area food pantries during this effort. Last year more than 50,000 items were collected.
“Look for the tags at your doors on Oct. 26 this year and be generous. There are so many in need,” she says.
Sheila often hosts a dinner for her volunteer leaders after an event.
“Sharing a meal together is such a personal thing. I put a lot of love into it because I am so grateful to the people who help,” Sheila says.
She recently hosted a casual dinner featuring chicken pesto burgers on a pretzel bun, roasted couscous salad with vegetables and roasted potatoes. For dessert she served lemon tartlets and white chocolate raspberry cheesecake brownies.
“I think people look forward to desserts,”she says.
Many of her desserts feature a topping of real whipped cream because she still holds dear her years with the dairy industry.
Although her petite figure does not show it, Sheila enjoys desserts as well. On special occasions, she brings out her china from the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
“I have read that bone china is best for tea,” she notes, pouring tea into a cup from a pot that was covered with a proper tea cozy.
Her recipe for raspberry cheesecake brownies and a traditional English trifle follow her motto.
“I have learned to simplify recipes to save time,” she says.
Her version of a trifle is “simple to make and simply amazing to serve. It is perfect for graduation parties, bridal showers and other spring events.”
White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies
½ cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup less 1 tablespoon flour
4 ounces dark chocolate
Pinch of salt
4 ounces white chocolate
6 ounces raspberries
8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
Grease and line 9-inch-square pan with parchment paper.
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat thoroughly between each addition. Melt dark chocolate. Add flour, melted dark chocolate and salt. Mix thoroughly. Roughly chop white chocolate and gently fold in. Fold in raspberries. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat all ingredients for cheesecake mixture. Spread half the brownie mixture into prepared pan. Spoon half cheesecake mixture on top and swirl together. Spread remaining brownie mixture over the top. Drop and swirl the remaining cheesecake mixture on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes or until set. Cool in pan. Cut and decorate with whipped cream and fresh raspberries.
White Chocolate Raspberry Trifle
6 ounce raspberry gelatin
1 raspberry or strawberry filled jelly roll cake
6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 3.4-ounce packages white chocolate instant pudding mix
3 cups cold milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whipped cream for decoration (optional)
Dissolve gelatin according to package instructions and cool slightly.
Cut jelly roll cake into ½-inch slices. Use to line base and sides of clear glass or crystal serving bowl.
Reserve 12 raspberries for decoration and place remaining raspberries into serving bowl. Carefully pour raspberry gelatin over the raspberries and cake slices. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until gelatin is set, about 4 hours.
Whisk together pudding mix and 3 cups cold milk for 2 minutes until thick. Gently pour the pudding over the top of the gelatin and raspberry mixture. Smooth out mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes or until set.
Whip the heavy whipping cream until stiff. Spoon the cream over the top of the pudding and smooth out. Decorate with extra whipped cream, if used, and reserved raspberries. Keep refrigerated. Serves 12 to 16.