COOK OF THE WEEK: Iuka homemaker a dabbler when it comes to cooking

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

IUKA – Toni Randolph may be a petite woman, but she knows how to cook big for her family.
The 49-year-old homemaker credits her father, Elmer Ray Counce of Acton, Tenn., with teaching her how to cook.
“My dad was a big influence,” said Randolph, who lives in Iuka with her husband, Odell. “My mother didn’t cook much, and if she did, it was Italian food. She didn’t really grow up in a house that cooked.”
But her father did, so a bit of what Randolph learned came from his mother.
“My Mamaw Counce – my paternal grandmother – was such a fantastic cook,” she said. “I can remember going to her cupboard and grabbing a homemade biscuit and a piece of country ham. Back then, they used lard when they cooked, so nothing was refrigerated.”
Even today, Randolph cooks the old-fashioned way, meaning she uses very few recipes.
“I’m a dabbler – a little of this, a little of that, just whatever I can find,” she said. “It turns out better that way. The only time I follow a recipe is when I’m baking.”
In fact, Randolph can’t even give out a recipe for her signature dish – a chicken and broccoli pasta – because it’s not written down anywhere and she never makes it the same way twice.
“I do a lot of pasta dishes and this one is by far my family’s favorite,” she said. “But I can’t give you a recipe for that because it’s one I dabble with.”
Whenever Randolph makes that big dish, her son, Jason and his wife, Sheree, and their two children, Sadie and Rhett, are sure to be in attendance. They also like her heaping portions of chicken and rice, fried pork chops and lemon-baked chicken.
“And I make all my vegetables from scratch,” she said. “I season my green beans with pieces of ham. Kids today use prepackaged stuff, but I don’t hardly do that ever.”
In keeping with tradition, Randolph will prepare the Thanksgiving meal this year for her family.
“I used to split it with my mother-in-law, Lola, but she’s not able to cook like that anymore, so I’ll cook the whole shebang on Thanksgiving,” she said. “My mother-in-law has given me a lot of her recipes.”
Another family tradition is a big breakfast on Christmas morning – bacon, country ham, eggs, homemade biscuits and red-eye gravy – and sub sandwiches on Christmas Eve.
“My daddy started that tradition,” she said. “Those sandwiches are so good and they have a homemade dressing on them. Of course, I can’t tell you how to make the dressing. It’s oil and vinegar and some different spices.”
Because of some health issues, Randolph, who’s just a bit over 5 feet tall, decided to join Weight Watchers a few weeks ago and has already met with success.
“I was putting on a few extra pounds and I can’t afford to do that with my back,” she said. “Plus, with this program, you can eat what you want to, you just have to follow your Points (eating plan). So far, I’ve lost 6.6 pounds, so it’s working for me.”
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.