COOK OF THE WEEK: Science teacher entertains family, students with creative cooking

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

MANTACHIE – For eight years, Amber Strong has spent her days in the classroom at Itawamba Attendance Center, teaching science to eighth-graders.
But her evenings and weekends are reserved for her husband and her family and that means only one thing – cooking.
“Both my parents let me in the kitchen when I was very small,” said Strong, 31. “I even remember one time, my mother let me get all her good china out and set the table.”
Strong says both her parents – Gayle and Judy Reynolds of Mantachie – are good cooks, even though they have different culinary styles.
“My dad really likes to fry – traditional Southern cooking – and he’s really good at it,” she said. “My mother cooks much more healthy than he does. But at big celebrations, we cook the good stuff that everybody likes.”
Strong, who lives in Mantachie with her husband, Kyle, and their 3-year-old son, Aiden, tends to take after her mother’s style.
“I’ve always been very health conscious,” she said. “I don’t fry anything. Occasionally, I’ll pan sauté, but I don’t think I’ve ever deep-fried anything. I like to try a lot of different things. My mother-in-law has taught me a lot of things.”
Strong uses Weight Watchers magazines and sparkpeople.com to find quick and healthy recipes to prepare for her family.
“Weight Watchers has a lot of those five-ingredient, 20-minute recipes and I do a lot of those during the week during the school year,” she said. “I went through a phase when I did a lot of Crock-Pot dinners, so dinner was pretty much done when I got home from school.”

Southwestern fare
Strong is a big Harry Potter fan. She shared that enthusiasm with her students, by having a big English party and serving them treats like those that Harry, Ron and Hermione enjoy in the adventure series by J.K. Rowling.
“We did a cake with the Deathly Hallows on it and I made roast and gravy with Yorkshire pudding and we had butterbeer – milk and butterscotch chips melted and topped with whipped cream – and pumpkin pasties, which are just little pumpkin pies.”
Strong also likes to pull out her Southwestern-cuisine repertoire every now and then.
“Kyle really likes a lot of Southwest food – his parents lived a long time in Arizona,” she said of her in-laws, Carol and Stu Strong of Decatur, Ala. “Sometimes, we’ll put sliced avocado on grilled chicken. But at least once or twice a month, we’re going to have something in the Southwest range. People really like my guacamole. I really don’t have a recipe for it – just a list of ingredients.”

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@journalinc.com.