COOK OF WEEK: Multiple cooking phases don’t faze Saltillo homemaker

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – When Stephanie Wright first married, she went through several different cooking phases.
First, of course, she had to learn how to cook.
As a young girl, she’d mastered chocolate chip cookies. As a teenager, she’d moved on to pies and cakes. But when she wed, she figured out she was going to have to learn how to put real food on the table.
“I really didn’t start preparing meals until after I married and realized men can’t just eat desserts,” she said, laughing. “Every night, I’d call my mom and say, ‘How do you cook this or how long does it take to cook that?’ I got cookbooks at wedding showers, and I used those, too.”
Wright, who raises horses at her home in Saltillo, grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in Vancleave. Her paternal grandmother was Italian, so she was exposed to a lot of authentic Italian dishes. But her maternal grandmother and her own mother were more inclined to prepare Coast comfort foods, like gumbo, cornbread, fried catfish, shrimp – and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Mama would go to the farmers’ market and bring home bushels of purple-hull peas in the summer,” Wright said. “If it wasn’t purple-hull peas, it was Silver Queen corn. One time she went through a blueberry stage and we had blueberry jelly coming out our ears.”

Food Network junkie
Oddly, Wright, the mother of three girls, latched onto ethnic foods when she made her initial foray into the kitchen.
First, she tried Chinese cooking. She and her husband, Doug, would sit down to lemon chicken or sweet and sour chicken or egg drop soup.
Next came a Mexican phase, with homemade salsas, chicken enchiladas in a white sauce, fajitas and quesadillas. There was also a barbecue phase.
Now, Wright, a homemaker, is into Mediterranean cooking.
“My favorite cookbooks are by Giada de Laurentiis,” said Wright, talking about the Food Network star.
She has experimented with lasagna, gnocchi and short ribs with tagliatelle pasta. A favorite family meal is grilled Mozzarella cheese sandwiches, Parmesan-crusted chicken tenders and a tossed green salad.
“Everything I make of Giada’s turns out right,” she said. “I tape Giada and Ina Garten. I love Rachael Ray’s personality, but sometimes her food is a little spicy. Sometimes I try to catch Tyler Florence and I’ve made a couple of things from Sandra Lee. I watch Paula occasionally, but I don’t think I’ve made any of her recipes yet.
“The Food Network is nice because it makes a lot of things accessible and we’ve been introduced to a lot of new foods, a lot of new vegetables and flavors.”

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.