From a family that loves to cook

Halfway woman uses ingredients that often surprise guests

Halfway woman uses ingredients that often surprise guests

May 14, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

HALFWAY - The food that comes out of Melinda Malott's kitchen is always something a little different.

When she makes lasagna, she fills it with seafood.

When she makes meatloaf, she uses a blend of three different kinds of meat.

"She uses ingredients that most of us don't know," says Shary Iobst, one of Malott's friends who is known to "moan and groan" when Malott cooks.

Malott, 43, of Halfway, grew up in Allegany County, Md., with a family that loved to cook. Both of her parents spent much time in the kitchen and both of her siblings grew up to love cooking and baking. Her brother, Ed Truly, is a chef at the Log Cabin Inn in Hancock.

"My sister had an Easy-Bake oven," Malott remembers of her childhood. "We had many experiences with the Easy-Bake oven," she says laughing.


Malott's sister, Melissa Hadley, of Hagerstown, says cooking was always part of their family's traditions, and it still is.

"Pretty much every occasion centered around the food," Hadley says. "Melinda has just taken it to another level."

Malott says she loves a challenge in the kitchen. When she cooks, she makes it a serious endeavor.

Before she had children, it would not be uncommon for her to plan for a dinner party days in advance. She would go grocery shopping at 6 a.m. the day of the party to make sure she had the freshest ingredients. Dinner parties always include multiple courses, she says.

"I am a perfectionist at nothing. But when it comes to cooking, I am a maniac," Malott says. "I want everything to be just perfect."

One of the ways Malott challenges herself in the kitchen is to try to develop her own recipes based on some of her favorite restaurant dishes.

That's how her Seafood Lasagna came about.

Malott liked the white lasagna that was served at the former Twilight's Ristorante in Hagerstown. "So I decided to try and make something like that," she says.

Her Seafood Lasagna has become a real crowd pleaser, she says. It's a dish that she makes for special occasions and has shared with friends and family.

She did the same thing with a tilapia dish that she tried at Nick's Airport Inn, north of Hagerstown. She re-created the dish with her own spin, making a lemon-butter sauce sauted with pecans and apricots. She made that dish for a date with Jason Malott, now her husband.

Jason Malott remembers thinking he was eating at a gourmet restaurant when Melinda cooked for him.

"She fixed some fancy meals for me when we first started dating," he says. "That's one of the main reasons I married her!"

Jason Malott says he likes everything his wife makes, but he's partial to Melinda's meatloaf, made with beef, veal and pork.

"I know meatloaf sounds kind of bland, but the way she makes it, it's excellent," Jason Malott says.

Melinda Malott's dream is to one day take some formal culinary courses. And she'd love to open up a small caf serving lunch.

"I call myself a foodie," she says. Cooking "is an opportunity for me to explore my creative side. I'm just passionate about food and flavors. A day in the kitchen is heaven to me."

Melinda Malott answered the following questions in her Halfway home while serving her Seafood Lasagna:

Q: Who taught you how to cook?

A: Actually, both of my parents taught me to cook when I was a very young girl. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and she baked bread twice a week - homemade bread. We never had store-bought bread in the house. So I used to sit and watch her knead bread, mix it up. She always had pies, cakes, cookies, candy in the house. There was always something sweet. So I learned the baking aspect from her.

My father did a lot of cooking. He would open the refrigerator and just pull stuff out - really wouldn't need a recipe and would cook that way. Between the two of them, they were both good cooks but just in different ways."

Q: Is there anything that your mom made that you make?

A: She has a wonderful peanut butter cookie recipe - they're very, very good - pie dough, her bread dough. Also, a family favorite is plum pudding. I don't know that a lot of Washington County people have had plum pudding, but Mom makes really, really good plum pudding, and I've made it a couple of times.

Q: With a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, how has being a mom changed cooking?

A: Well, the frequency of meals ... I'm going to serve up today is far fewer. It's very difficult for me to cook out of a box, but my kids won't eat anything but Kraft macaroni and cheese, and I just don't have the time to do it. I still love to do it, so when I can I do - so that's changed.

Q: Do you have any tips in the kitchen that have worked well for you?

A: One thing is to be prepared. I used to plan these elaborate meals and, like, start shopping at 6 o'clock in the morning the day of. Now, knowing that I was doing this today, I kind of make a list in my mind of what I can do, and I prepare, like if there's something I can chop - nuts - three or four days in advance. Any steps that I can do ahead of time, I try to do that. So that's, I think, one tip that is very helpful.

Love to cook?

Do you know someone who makes an unforgettable dish or a decadent dessert?

The Herald-Mail is looking for Tri-State-area amateur cooks who keep friends and family coming back for second helpings.

To nominate someone for The Herald-Mail's In the Kitchen feature, contact Kristin Wilson at 301-733-5131, ext. 2330, or

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