COOK OF THE WEEK: Italian woman cooks for enjoyment of pleasing others

TUPELO – Like any full-blooded Italian, Audrey Brandow can put a good, stick-to-your-ribs meal on the table. But Brandow doesn’t cook because she enjoys it.
“I cook so I can enjoy people,” said Brandow, who works for Health Port, which scans records for the North Mississippi Medical Center medical clinics. “I love to entertain. For my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, I had a sit-down dinner for 27 people.”
Brandow was born in a city in northern Italy called Trieste. She lived there until she was 11, when her family moved to Canada for five years. From there, they made their home in Brooklyn, New York. That’s where she met the love of her life, Ray.
“My husband and I met on a blind date and it was love at first sight,” she said. “I was 16 and he was 22. He proposed after three months and we got engaged the next year.”
Ray Brandow was a detective in New York, although when the two met, he had planned to be an actor.
“But when we decide to marry, he thought he needed something more steady, so he became a cop,” she said.
With the help of her parents, the Brandows raised three children – Andrea, Sean and Wendy. Born brain-damaged, Wendy lived to be only 12.
In 1991, Ray Brandow decided he wanted to leave New York and move to a smaller town with a less hectic pace. After a trip to Northeast Mississippi to visit relatives, the couple fell in love with the area and decided to move here.
Ray Brandow was the chief of police in Plantersville and then the assistant chief in Verona. When he died in 2003, Brandow moved in with her parents, who had also made their home in Tupelo.
Now that Brandow’s father has passed away, it’s just the two women, who speak to each other in Italian.
“My mother is the real cook around here,” said Brandow, 65. “I can eat the same thing every day. But my mother, she wants something different every day. No one can touch her sauces.”

Black-eyed peas, anyone?
Brandow, who has twin grandchildren who live in New York City, still manages to get in the kitchen to prepare meals three or four times a week. But she likes to keep things simple.
“As long as you have olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese, everything tastes good,” she said. “I do miss the markets in New York, but it’s getting better here. You adapt.”
One thing Brandow has not adapted to is Southern cooking.
“I’ve never done any country cooking,” she said. “I do love the fried foods, but I try to stay away from them.”
Actually, Brandow did try her hand at making black-eyed peas – once.
“I cooked at Wesley United Methodist Church for five years and one day I decided to make black-eyed peas,” she recalled. “I put some olive oil in the pot and sautéed some onions and threw the dried peas in there. Obviously, I didn’t know you had to boil them for an hour or two. I wish you could have seen the faces of those people when they tried to eat them. They never let me forget 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 e-mail them to ginna.parsons@djournal.com.

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal