TUPELO – When Jima Alexander and her husband, Tim, married 32 years ago, she had two recipes she could prepare: a pasta dish they called Jima a la Roux, and a grilled pork chop made with Greek seasoning.
"Thankfully, I got cookbooks when I married," she said. "The one I used the most was 'The Mississippi Cookbook' from Extension. I always love a cookbook that's a mess with food splatters on it. That means it's good."
Now, one of her favorite cookbooks is "A Taste of Heaven" from Harrisburg Baptist Church, where Tim is the education pastor.
"In that cookbook, I started writing things by recipes, like which kid loved the dish or the date I made it or the occasion I made it for," she said. "That helps me remember the things we like to eat."
Alexander, who was the 2019-2020 Junior Auxiliary president, is the director of Parkgate Health Services, and she owns a personal care home in Houston called FernBrooke.
"I've worked in eldercare since 1999," she said. "I love, love, love old people. I decided at FernBrooke right from the beginning that we would cook the foods they grew up with. We're mindful of health concerns, but when you've got a 100-year-old gentleman who wants black-eyed peas with fatback and his family wants us to keep him happy, then that's what we're going to feed him."
Alexander also likes to keep her own family happy. She and Tim have two adult children, Jordan and Bethany, who live in Tupelo. Her parents, Jimmy and Addie Frank Steele, are both gone, but she has a brother, Jason, who has Steele's Dive in Tupelo, and a sister, Karen Willis, in Mooreville.
"Normally I cook three times a week," she said. "We like to eat breakfast for dinner – an omelet with green peppers, tomatoes and cheese served with thick-sliced bacon, fresh fruit and hash browns. Or we might have grilled lemon pepper chicken, baked sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus and yogurt for dessert."
The family has been spending a lot of time together since the coronavirus has kept people cooped up and Alexander is thrilled that both of her kids have taken up cooking, especially since they grew up in the age of fast food.
"They are interested in learning about new foods and making good food for people to enjoy," she said. "Jordan will come back from the grill with a whole meal prepared. And during COVID, Bethany has been planning weekly menus for the family that we can re-use. She calls our place Alexander Cafe and Grill."
"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 call Ginna at (662) 678-1581 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
DI'S CORN SALAD
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes
1 (11-ounce) can shoe peg corn, drained
1/2 can (2.25-ounce) sliced black olives
1 (2.25-ounce) can diced green chilis or jalapenos
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate overnight. Serve with tortilla or corn chips.
SPINACH SALAD WITH HONEY DRESSING AND HONEYED PECANS
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1 cup pecan halves
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach
1 cup quartered fresh strawberries
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
3 to 4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
For the dressing, whisk together vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Set aside.
For the pecans, microwave honey in a bowl on high for 20 seconds. Stir in pecans. Coat a parchment-paper lined jelly-roll pan with cooking spray; spread pecans in a single layer on pan. Combine sugar, salt and red pepper and sprinkle over pecans. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or until toasted, stirring after 8 minutes. Cool completely; break into pieces. Set aside.
To assemble the salad, toss together spinach, strawberries, red onion and blueberries; add 1/3 cup dressing. Sprinkle with bacon, cheese and honeyed pecans. Serve with remaining dressing.
LEMON PEPPER CHICKEN
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons Old Bay lemon and herb seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
14 to 16 small chicken tenders
For the marinade, combine lemon juice, oil, pepper, salt, lemon herb seasoning and garlic powder. Add chicken tenders and marinate at least 3 hours. Grill 6 minutes per side.
LOADED SWEET POTATO SKINS
6 medium slender sweet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and baked
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Cheddar or other cheese
1 tablespoon chopped canned chipotles
1 cup sour cream
6 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
When the cooked sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4- to 1/2-inch border of sweet potato flesh. Set scooped flesh aside for another use.
Brush skins inside and out with oil or butter and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet skin-side up and broil for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Flip and broil the other side another 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove and top immediately with cheese. Broil for another minute if you want it bubbly. Stir chipotles into the sour cream and dollop onto the skins. Top with bacon and scallions.
1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Trim the bottom inch off asparagus stalks, then boil them in salted water for about 7 minutes. Drain. Place asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil and lemon juice; toss stalks to ensure they're evenly covered. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, lemon zest and Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until asparagus is tender.
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, softened
1 box Duncan Hines butter golden cake mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups blueberries
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
With a mixer, beat cream cheese until creamy. Beat in cake mix. Add oil, eggs and vanilla and mix well. Fold in blueberries and stir until just combined. Pour batter into a greased and floured tube or Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean when placed in the center. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. While cake is cooling, stir together confectioners' sugar and lemon juice. Remove cooled cake to a serving plate and drizzle with lemon glaze.