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Stories Written by Ginna Parsons

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Lauren Vann of Tupelo tries to prepare healthy, balanced meals for her family, which includes her husband and three small sons. Here, she's made turkey burgers, sweet potato fries and garlic mashed cauliflower.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Lauren Vann of Tupelo tries to prepare healthy, balanced meals for her family, which includes her husband and three small sons. Here, she’s made turkey burgers, sweet potato fries and garlic mashed cauliflower.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lauren Vann says she believes God gave her a husband and three sons on purpose.

“I love to cook, and now I cook for and feed four boys,” said Vann, 29. “I’ve always tried to cook healthy and now I’m trying to balance healthy with kid-friendly and budget-friendly.”

Vann and her husband, Joel, are both agents for Tommy Morgan Realtors. They have 3-year-old twin sons, Paxton and Isaac, and a 1-year-old, Luke. The couple moved to Tupelo in early 2010.

“I like to prepare healthy, whole foods, but I’m not going to be the mom who deprives my kids of all sugar,” she said. “But for the most part, they eat real food.”

Vann is from Washington and grew up in the Seattle area. She and Joel, who is a Corinth native, met at church when he was in college in Washington.

“In college I had a tiny studio apartment with a microwave and a mini-fridge, so I didn’t do much cooking,” she said. “We married three weeks after I graduated from college, so I went from not cooking at all to being a wife all of a sudden.”

Vann said Seattle is known for its health-consciousness, so she grew up eating natural, unprocessed food.

“When we first married, I cooked a lot from ‘The Maker’s Diet’ by Jordan Rubin,” she said. “Our bodies function better when we eat food we’re meant to eat. We don’t call what we do ‘paleo’ or anything like that, but we do try to eat more whole, plant-based foods.”

Vann said her cooking had evolved since she began her family.

“With the kids, we hide a lot of vegetables in their foods,” she said. “There’s a serving of zucchini in our turkey burgers and I serve mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes and they clean their plates every time.”

Vann said she Googles paleo recipes to get ideas for meals and she also uses Pinterest.

“I usually always start with a base recipe, but then I go off on my own,” she said. “I’m always tweaking and I’m not going to go out and buy something if I have a substitute for it in my cabinet.”

She said she doesn’t buy everything organic in the grocery store, but she tries to balance it as best as she can.

“I buy free-range chicken eggs and grass-fed beef,” she said. “In the summer, I love the Tupelo Farmers’ Market and buying foods that have been locally grown. I feel like Tupelo is really moving that way – localvores, is what my dad calls it.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com The Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are Vann's most requested sweet treat.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
The Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are Vann’s most requested sweet treat.

Green Smoothie

2 cups leafy greens, such as spinach or kale

1 cup liquid (water, coconut milk or almond milk)

1 cup plain yogurt

3 cups frozen or fresh fruit (banana, mango, berries, peach, pear, etc.)

Honey or Stevia (optional)

Protein powder (optional)

Flax seed oil (optional)

Blend leafy greens and liquids together first to avoid leafy chunks.

Add fruits and additional ingredients, if using, and blend again.

The Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 sticks butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

212 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups rolled oats

Combine eggs, raisins and vanilla in a small bowl; cover and let stand 1 hour (this is the secret).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Sift together flour, cinnamon and baking soda and stir into creamed mixture. Add raisin mixture and rolled oats.

Drop by teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2 large sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil

Salt and pepper

Cavender’s Greek seasoning

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel sweet potatoes and cut them into even matchstick slices.

Toss potatoes with oil, salt, pepper and Cavender’s. Place them in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, flipping the fries halfway through. Fries are done when they are lightly browned and crispy on the edges. While fries are hot, sprinkle with a little more salt.

Peanut Sauce with Honey

14 cup honey

14 cup peanut butter

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or red pepper sauce (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Taste and adjust flavors/consistency to your liking.

You may need to add a little honey and oil if it’s too thick.

This makes a great dipping sauce for chicken. Or make a bed of brown rice, top it with sautéed spinach and grilled chicken, and drizzle this sauce over the top.

Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

1 (32-ounce) carton chicken or beef broth

1 medium head cauliflower

3 tablespoons butter

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper

14 cup milk or cream

14 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Set a stockpot of broth over medium-high heat.

Clean cauliflower and cut into small pieces. Cook cauliflower in simmering broth until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a s lotted spoon, move cauliflower to a food processor. Puree hot cauliflower with butter, garlic, salt, pepper, milk and cheese until smooth.

Herbed Turkey Burgers with

Zucchini ‘Buns’

1 pound Italian-seasoned ground turkey

2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 egg

12 cup Italian bread crumbs (optional)

1 large zucchini, half chopped finely or grated, half cut into thick slices for “buns”

Olive oil spray

Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine turkey, oregano, garlic, egg, bread crumbs and grated zucchini and mix thoroughly with your hands. Form into 4 to 6 patties.Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Spray zucchini slices on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill zucchini 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Place turkey burgers on grill, cooking 3 to 5 minutes per side, until fully cooked.

Serve burgers between zucchini slices and add your favorite toppings and condiments.

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By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

BELDEN – When I was growing up in south Alabama, summers were marked by endless early-morning trips to the pea patch (where we also picked butterbeans, corn, tomatoes and okra) and afternoons bathed in steam from my mother’s canner.

I loved the days when she canned plum jelly. I didn’t care for the jelly as much as I enjoyed eating the sweet foam she’d skim off the top of the bubbling mess. It was enough to induce a sugar coma that lasted for days.

Her homemade chow-chow was legendary in our small town. She’d spend hours turning the handle of a meat-grinder that temporarily attached to the edge of the kitchen counter. On the floor beneath sat a big dishpan ready to catch minced bell peppers, green tomatoes, onions and cabbage that would go into the relish we liked to put on top of peas.

I decided last summer that I wanted to learn to make chow chow. I bought a grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and I found a recipe in Mississippi Gardener magazine that looked similar to the one Mama used.

But it used terms that went over my head, like “sterilized jars” and “hot water bath” and “headspace.” And it didn’t go into detail about what these terms meant.

So I tucked the grinder away and stashed the magazine and decided my family would have to do with store-bought chow chow.

And then in February, I saw an ad in the Daily Journal about continuing education classes at Itawamba Community College-Belden. One of them was on canning.

I signed up immediately.

I attended the class this past Thursday, along with seven other women. Some had experience canning; others were as green as I was. We were to learn how to make strawberry jam.

Janet Jolley, county coordinator in Marshall County, was the instructor. She went through a PowerPoint presentation and then showed us a 30-minute video made by some folks at the University of Georgia.

Here’s the 10-cent version of what I learned in the class. I had a ball, as did the other participants, and we each went home with two half-pint jars of delicious, if I do say so myself, strawberry jam.

The basics

• There are only three to four ingredients in homemade jam: fruit, sugar, pectin (what makes it gel) and sometimes acid (in the form of bottled lemon juice).

• The canning equipment you need includes a hot water bath canner with a lid and basket (about $20) and a canning funnel, a plastic wand for removing bubbles, a jar lifter and a magnetized lid wand for lifting hot lids out of water and setting them gently on top of filled jars (the kit that includes all this is $8 to $12).

• Tempered-glass jars produce the best results. Reputable ones will have names on them, like Kerr, Ball and Mason. Inspect them for chips, nicks and cracks. Wash them in hot, soapy water.

• Sterilize jars and lids that will be processed less than 10 minutes. To sterilize empty jars, put them right side up on the rack in a boiling-water canner. Fill the canner and jars with hot water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Boil 10 minutes. Keep the jars in hot water until they’re ready to be filled with jam.

• You can re-use the metal bands or rings that you screw on the jars multiple times, but the flat lids can be used only once.

• Foods that can be canned in a hot water canner include jams, jellies, pickles, tomatoes, pickled okra, salsas and, you heard this correctly, chow chow!

The steps

We started by washing our jars and lids and sterilizing them. Actually, instead of using a canner to sterilize them, we used a big turkey roaster filled with water heated to 180 degrees, which freed up the canner and kept the jars hot until we needed them.

Next, we washed the strawberries and took turns chopping them up and then mashing them. We put them in a heavy stockpot with the gelatin and took turns stirring the mixture over high heat until it boiled and bubbled. Then we added the sugar and continued stirring until it came back to a hard boil. After 1 minute, we removed the pot from the heat and skimmed the foam off the top. (Yes, I ate it, but I wasn’t the only one.)

We took turns lifting hot sterilized jars out of the turkey roaster and placing them on a soft towel. Using a small ladle, we filled them with the hot jam to just 1/4-inch from the top of the jar (this is called headspace). Then we took a plastic ruler-type gadget and stirred the jam to remove any air bubbles. With a damp paper towel, we carefully wiped the jars and especially the rims of the jars. If there are any food particles left behind, the hot lids won’t seal properly. After putting the lids on, we added a metal ring and tightened the jars with our fingers (not too tight).

Using tongs, we eased the filled jars into the basket of a canner filled with boiling water that covered the jars by a couple of inches. We put the top on and let them process (rolling boil) for 5 minutes. Then we turned off the heat and let them sit in the hot water for 5 minutes.

We took turns lifting the jars out of the canner and placing them on dry towels (put them on a cold counter and they’ll explode) about 1 to 2 inches apart. It wasn’t long before we heard the jars “pop,” meaning they had sealed properly. We were told to remove the rings from the jars after 24 hours or a couple of days (to reuse the rings) and store the jam in a cool, dry place.

Now that I know the basics of water bath canning, I feel totally confident about making chow chow this summer!

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

GINNA PARSONS

GINNA PARSONS

Easter morning, to me, is the perfect occasion for a breakfast casserole. You can prepare and eat it before church, if you’re going, and it isn’t so heavy that it ruins your appetite for the big lunch you’re planning.

Sometimes, I make breakfast casseroles that start with chunks of bread, and then incorporate eggs, cooked meat and cheese. But I’m a pushover for a good grits casserole, especially one that features cheese, bacon and fresh herbs.

This recipe, which I’ve halved, is from “Glorious Grits,” by Susan McEwen McIntosh. The original, Susan says, comes from Patsy Riley, the former first lady of Alabama.

I plan to make it Sunday morning and serve it alongside fresh fruit and my husband’s homemade biscuits. This would also make an excellent brunch dish.

Bacon and Cheddar Cheese Grits Casserole

4 cups milk, divided

11⁄2 teaspoons salt

1 cup uncooked stone-ground grits

1 stick unsalted butter

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons dried dill, thyme or sage or a combination of the three (or 1 tablespoon fresh)

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

3 to 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Combine 3 cups milk and salt in a large, heavy saucepan; cook over medium-high heat just until the milk starts to boil. Gradually whisk in grits and butter. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until thick, stirring often.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove grits from heat; add remaining 1 cup milk, stirring to cool grits mixture. Stir in eggs, herbs and 1⁄2 cup cheese. Pour grits mixture into a greased 9×13-inch baking dish; top with remaining 1⁄2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle crumbled bacon on top of casserole. Serve immediately.

Makes 7 to 8 servings.

Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Donna Tucker, chairman of the Lee County Master Gardeners' annual plant sale, checks out some of the plants that will be for sale Saturday at the Lee County Extension Office on Cliff Gookin Boulevard.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Donna Tucker, chairman of the Lee County Master Gardeners’ annual plant sale, checks out some of the plants that will be for sale Saturday at the Lee County Extension Office on Cliff Gookin Boulevard.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County Master Gardeners are hoping Saturday will bring their best spring plant sale ever.

“In the past we had some plants that were tiny and just didn’t sell, but this year, we’ve got the healthiest plants ever,” said Carl Oglesby, a Master Gardener volunteer.

The plant sale will be from 8 a.m. to noon at the Lee County Extension Office on Cliff Gookin Boulevard in Tupelo.

“We’ll have coffee and breakfast items for sale for people waiting in line, because there will be a crowd here long before the gates are opened,” said Donna Tucker, chairman of the event.

This year, the group will be offering annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, trees and herbs as well as gardening books, Quick Crete pots and raffle items.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Butterfly weed is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Butterfly weed is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly.

The plants are too numerous to name, but here’s a sampling: Japanese maples, coleus, butterfly weed, ornamental peppers, petunias, zinnias, umbrella plants, salvia, begonias, angel trumpets, ivy, datura, rose campion, peach cockscomb, Shasta daisies, trillium, roses, hydrangeas and curly willows.

They will also have moonflower, hyacinth bean, morning glory, mina lobata, black-eyed Susan and sweet potato vines. Herbs include fennel, cilantro and basil, and there will be some cherry tomato plants along with jalapeño peppers.

“A lot of our stuff comes from people’s yards, so we don’t know just what all we’ll have,” Tucker said. “I’m bringing some natives like wild geraniums and woodland phlox. We’ll just have a little bit of everything.”

There will be three raffle items offered. One is a fairy garden, complete with sedums, bacopa, yarrow and a cedar tree along with a gazebo, swing, bench and bridge made from twigs. Another is a pot planted with butterfly weed, asparagus fern, purple and red salvia, bacopa, sweet potato vine and zinnias. The third is a Briggs & Stratton tiller with 12-inch tines.

Raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5. They are available at the Extension Office and the day of the sale. The winner will be announced Thursday.

Because the gardening group realizes that not everyone can make the Saturday sale, they are extending it into next week. On Monday and Tuesday, plants will be for sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at full price. On Wednesday and Thursday, plants will be for sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at half price.

“We’re calling it an after-plant sale for the remaining plants,” Tucker said.

Most plants will in the $2 to $10 price range, although some, like tomatoes, will be $1.50 and others, like trees, may fetch $30.

The annual plant sale is the Master Gardeners’ only fundraiser. Some of the projects it helps fund are the Help Center, Junior Master Gardener classes and workshops, adult education, demonstration gardens, and gardens at Sanctuary Hospice House and Ashbury Courts.

For more information, call (662) 841-9000 or (662) 620-8280 or visit leecountymastergardeners.com.

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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PLANT SALE

Who: Lee County Master Gardeners’ Spring Plant Sale.

When: Saturday, April 12, 8 a.m. until noon.

Where: Lee County Extension Office, 5338 Cliff Gookin Blvd.

What: A variety of annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, herbs and trees will be for sale at affordable prices.

Info: Call (662) 620-8280 or visit leecountymastergardeners.com.

ROPER

ROPER

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Patty Roper, editorial director for Mississippi Magazine, will be the guest speaker at the GumTree Museum of Art Guild of Volunteers’ spring fundraiser, “Hats in the Garden Luncheon.”

The event will be Tuesday, April 22, at the home of Doyce Deas, 645 Highland Circle in Tupelo. Champagne will be served at 11:30 a.m. followed by the luncheon at noon.

“We were trying to think of something for the springtime and my family is good friends with Patty, so I took a chance and checked to see if she was available and she was,” said Liz McIntosh, director of the GumTree Museum of Art.

Roper’s topic will be fun and easy ways to entertain family and friends.

“But you don’t have to love entertaining to want to hear her,” McIntosh said. “She’s really a great speaker.”

The menu for the luncheon will consist of recipes from Roper’s many cookbooks and the dishes will be prepared by guild members. Lunch will feature Tomato Tartlets, Brie and Pepper Jelly Tartlets, Pimiento Cheese, Chicken Salad with Cranberries and Pecans, Hospitality Fruit Dip, Coconut Pie, Butter Cookies, Praline Muffins and Blueberry Bars.

Roper will also be selling and signing copies of her books at the luncheon.

Tickets are $30 person and seating is limited to 100. Reservations must be made by April 18. To reserve tickets, call Betty Harris at (662) 790-4313.

In case of rain, the outdoor event will be moved indoors to the GumTree Museum of Art.

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Terri Moore and her mother, Kinue Moore, are part of Moore's Kitchen, a family-owned business on Easton Boulevard in Tupelo.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Terri Moore and her mother, Kinue Moore, are part of Moore’s Kitchen, a family-owned business on Easton Boulevard in Tupelo.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Plate lunches, which included a meat, two sides, bread, drink and dessert, are a best-seller at $5.99.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Plate lunches, which included a meat, two sides, bread, drink and dessert, are a best-seller at $5.99.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – If you want a plate-lunch bargain in Tupelo, look no further than Moore’s Kitchen on Eason Boulevard.

The family owned and operated restaurant/convenience store opened last May and the lunch business has taken off. The folks you’ll see in the eatery just about every day are Dale and Kinue Moore, their son, Takashi, their daughter, Terri, and her son, Harley.

“Mama’s the main cook, but we all cook,” said Terri. “And Daddy does the smoking.”

A plate lunch, which includes a meat, two sides, bread, a drink and dessert, is $5.99.

“The plate lunches are our most popular thing, but our Philly cheesesteak sandwiches have picked up and we’re now known for our gumbo,” Takashi said. “And our chicken and dumplings are taking off.”

The restaurant has a set menu every week, which is also available on the Moore’s Kitchen Facebook page.

Monday is fried pork chops, grilled pork chops and chicken spaghetti. Tuesday is smoked chicken, smoked barbecued chicken, meatloaf, and chicken and dumplings. Wednesday is honey-baked ham, grilled ham, gumbo and spaghetti. Thursday is barbecued riblets, smoked riblets and tater tot casserole. Friday is fried catfish and hamburger steak.

Five or six side items are available each day on a rotating basis. They include mashed potatoes, green beans, fried okra, baked beans, potato salad, slaw, broccoli and cheese, corn, stir-fry vegetables, french fries and fried rice.

“Mama’s fried rice isn’t like anyone else’s you’ll get around here,” Takashi said. “The ingredients aren’t standard. We call it MamaSan’s fried rice. It has way more vegetables and different kinds of meat, not just chicken or beef or shrimp. She might add ham or bacon.”

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Harley Moore, left, and his grandfather, Dale, help customers with their lunch orders at Moore's Kitchen on East Boulevard.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Harley Moore, left, and his grandfather, Dale, help customers with their lunch orders at Moore’s Kitchen on East Boulevard.

Kinue Moore, or Mama, is from Okinawa, Japan, and the family is planning to add more Asian-inspired dishes to the menu.

“Saturday is our open day,” Takashi said. “We’re slow that day so we play around. You never know what you’re going to get on Saturday.”

“We use the weekends to experiment,” Terri said. “We’re always looking for new ideas and suggestions.”

Most of the restaurants customers are factory workers from nearby businesses, such as Cooper Tire, Truck Center and H&H Truck and Trailer, and the majority of their business is carry-out.

“Most of our customers are regulars,” Takashi said. “Some of them come in here every day to eat.”

Moore’s Kitchen also does a brisk breakfast business. They offer sausage, ham, bacon, chicken and egg and cheese biscuits as well as toast and hash browns. The prices range from 99 cents to $1.49.

“That’s what pulls in a lot of the breakfast crowd,” Takashi said. “Our prices are really low.”

The businesses started out as a plate-lunch restaurant, but gradually they’ve added convenience store items.

“We kind of fell into the convenience store thing,” Takashi said. “That’s something my dad had always wanted to do, so it kind of worked out.”

The two men are also proud to point out their military service: Dale served two tours in Vietnam with the Navy and Takashi served two tours in Iraq with the Army.

“We are veteran-owned and operated,” Takashi said.

In the back of the restaurant are a few tables and booths for eat-in diners. The family is thinking of adding more tables to the convenience store area as the business grows.

“More space wouldn’t hurt,” Takashi said. “We may have to put in some more seats.”

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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MOORE’S KITCHEN

Where: 2831 Eason Boulevard, across from the VF Factory Outlet.

When: Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What: Breakfast biscuits, plate lunches, sandwiches.

Info: Call (662) 269-2301 or visit the Moore’s Kitchen Facebook page.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Taylor Blue likes to make up most of the dishes she prepares, like these cupcakes made with sweet potatoes from Vardaman, her hometown.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Taylor Blue likes to make up most of the dishes she prepares, like these cupcakes made with sweet potatoes from Vardaman, her hometown.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – When Taylor Blue entered college a couple of years ago, she was prepared to major in journalism.

“But I hated it,” the 20-year-old said. “I enjoy writing, but I don’t like deadlines.”

So she changed courses and decided to pursue educational psychology.

“My mom is the special education director for the Houston School District so I figured I could get a job anywhere,” Blue said. “But I hated it.”

Blue didn’t know where to turn at this point. And then her mom, Lisa, came to the rescue.

“She told me to do what I love,” Blue said. “She said, ‘Where are you happy?’ And I said, ‘The only time I’m happy is when I’m cooking.’”

Today, Blue is a student at East Mississippi Community College, pursuing an associate degree in hotel and restaurant management at Lion Hills in Columbus. In 2015, she hopes to transfer to Mississippi University for Women in Columbus to earn a bachelor’s degree in either culinary arts or food science.

“Most of the recipes I cook I make up myself,” she said. “I don’t like doing what everybody else does. I don’t want to do things everybody and their mama can do. I want things that taste good and look good.”

Blue cooks dinner every night for herself and her roommate and then when she goes home to Vardaman on the weekends, she cooks there, too.

“Most nights I have no idea what I’m cooking until I either see what’s at the grocery store or I stand and stare at the pantry for 15 to 20 minutes,” she said.

One night when she was feeling particularly creative, she made little grits cakes and froze them before baking them and topping them with turnip greens, pineapple-balsamic shrimp and a bacon-crawfish cream sauce.

Blue won’t give out that exact recipe because she hopes to serve the dish one day in her own place.

“After I get my associate and bachelor’s degrees, it will be time for Mama to retire,” Blue said. “We’re going to go in together and do something small, like a coffee shop or a bistro-type place. A small place with really, really good food. I always said I wanted to go to Florida or North Carolina and open up something, but now, with Mama with me, I think I’ll keep it local.”

Blue worked at the Piggly Wiggly in Calhoun City for two years, and that was good experience for the aspiring chef.

“I like going to the grocery store and getting mark-downs to cook,” she said. “You don’t have to have the most expensive cut of meat to have an amazing meal.”

Just recently, she started work at Central Station Grill in Starkville, where she is a hostess and a server.

“I’ll do anything possible just to get my foot in the door of a restaurant,” she said. “I feel like I need to pay my dues.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Rum Frosting

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Rum Frosting

Skillet Steak

Olive oil

3 to 4 (1-inch) chuck steaks

Blackened seasoning

Salt and pepper

1 large onion, sliced

Heat cast iron skillet over high heat. Cover bottom of skillet with olive oil. Coat meat with blackened seasoning and salt and pepper on both sides. Sear meat quickly in prepared pan until a crust forms. Remove meat from skillet and cover to keep warm.

Add sliced onion to skillet and cook until brown and caramelized. Return meat to skillet and continue cooking over medium heat until desired degree of doneness.

Chicken and Grits Bake

4 cups water

1 cup quick grits

2 cups of shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie is fine)

1 (15-ounce) container whole milk Ricotta cheese

11⁄2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped onion, cooked until soft

1 (3-ounce) package real bacon bits

Creole seasoning to taste

Sauce topping

2 cans petite-diced tomatoes

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring water to a boil and add grits. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and let stand until grits are thick. Pour grits into a large bowl and add chicken, cheeses, onion and bacon bits. Stir and add Creole seasoning to taste. Pour mixture into a large greased casserole dish and bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For the topping, combine tomatoes, olive oil, parsley flakes and salt and pepper in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes.

To serve, place a serving of grits on each plate and top with sauce. (Do not pour sauce over the casserole or it will become soggy.)

Serves 6.

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Rum Frosting

3 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

1 box of golden butter cake mix

4 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 stick butter

Rum Frosting

2 containers whipped buttercream frosting

11⁄2 teaspoons rum extract

1 (7-ounce) package sweetened coconut

2 (2-ounce) packages Fisher chopped walnuts

For the cupcakes, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Beat for at least 3 to 4 minutes. Fill cupcake liners 2⁄3 of the way full with batter and bake for 23 to 25 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a cooling rack before frosting.

For the frosting, combine frosting and rum extract. Toast sweetened coconut at 350 degrees until golden (watch carefully or it will burn). Frost cupcakes and top with toasted coconut and chopped walnuts.

Makes about 24.

Shrimp and Grits

2 (2-pound) bags uncooked frozen shrimp

1 stick butter, divided

Creole seasoning

Red pepper flakes

1 (32-ounce) container chicken broth

11 cups water

31⁄2 cups quick grits

2 to 3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1 pound bacon

6 green onions, green and white parts, chopped

Olive oil (optional)

1⁄4 cup cream sherry

Thaw shrimp. Peel, devein and remove tails. Melt 1⁄2 stick butter and pour over shrimp. Stir to coat. Sprinkle shrimp with Creole seasoning and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat shrimp. Set aside for about 1 hour.

Combine chicken broth and water in a large stockpot and cook grits according to package directions. Add cheese to grits and allow to melt. Blend melted cheese throughout grits.

In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon until crispy. When cool, crumble. Pour off most of the bacon grease. Return sauté pan to heat. To drippings in the pan, add remaining 1⁄2 stick butter and let it melt. Sauté green onions. If more liquid is needed, add some olive oil. Add sherry and crumbled bacon to pan. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp has turned pink. Cover and set aside.

Put a scoop of grits into an individual serving bowl. Top with a serving of shrimp mixture. Serve with garlic bread and a salad.

Serves 10 to 12.

Baked Balsamic Tomatoes

4 vine-ripened tomatoes

1 cup balsamic vinaigrette

2 tablespoons capers

1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven at 400 degrees. Quarter tomatoes but do not cut all the way through. Pour vinaigrette over tomatoes and top with capers. Bake for 20 minutes. Add cheese and bake 5 minutes more or until bubbly.

GINNA PARSONS

GINNA PARSONS

Chicken Tetrazzini is one of those dishes I’ve been making for about 15 years now. It’s not something I grew up with – my mother didn’t do a lot of casseroles or bakes because my father was a meat-and-potatoes man.

I’ve tried several different recipes over the years. Some use canned soups, some add green peas or broccoli florets. Almost all of them have both mushrooms and black olives, two ingredients I think are essential to a good tetrazzini.

The first time I made the recipe below, I followed someone’s suggestion and used white wine in place of the dry sherry. But after reading in the “Food Lover’s Companion” that the original dish – believed to be named for Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini – was made with spaghetti, chicken and a sherry Parmesan cream sauce, I decided sherry was also essential.

When I made this Sunday evening, I used the sherry and the dish turned out beautifully. I had planned to serve a salad and crusty French bread with it, but I spent most of the weekend feeling puny, so this was my only offering.

Chicken Tetrazzini

6 tablespoons butter, divided

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup half-and-half

4 cups cooked diced chicken

1⁄4 cup dry sherry or white wine

8 ounces spaghetti, cooked and drained

1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1⁄2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-low heat; sauté sliced mushrooms in butter until golden. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butte. Add flour and salt, stirring until smooth. Add chicken broth and half-and-half and cook, stirring, until sauce is thickened. Add chicken, cooked mushrooms and sherry or white wine; heat through. Place cooked, drained spaghetti in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish; pour sauce over noodles and stir to combine.

Combine Parmesan and bread crumbs and sprinkle over top of casserole. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 8.

Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.