PLANTERSVILLE • Before COVID-19 put a damper on social gatherings, Betty Harris would often enjoy lunch three or four days a week with friends.
“There’s that old saying that food is the universal language,” Harris said. “I believe that. There’s nothing better than to sit at a table with good food and good friends and laughter. I miss that, very much.”
Harris, 72, grew up in Verona, the older of two girls born to the late Fritz and Marie Mallard.
“Verona was one of the most nurturing communities to grow up in in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” she said. “Everybody took care of everybody. If you did something wrong, your parents knew about it before you got home.”
She graduated from Tupelo High School in 1965 and went on to major in education at Mississippi State College for Women (now MUW). She taught special needs students at THS for almost 28 years, then worked in an administrative job with a federal education program until her retirement in 2009.
Harris and her husband, Butch, have been married for 51 years. They have one son, Chip, and his wife, Meredith; and one granddaughter, Olivia Katherine.
“Butch and I met on a blind date – we were set up by friends,” she said. “I never dated anybody after that.”
Harris started cooking around the time she went into ninth grade, when her mother got a job at a children’s clothing store.
“My mother did not like to cook,” Harris said. “She always said if she ever built a new home, it would not have a kitchen in it.”
Harris learned some things from her grandmothers and a lot of the basics from her home ec teacher, Mary Leathers.
“I could cook when I married, but one dish I made was a complete disaster,” she said. “Butch loved chicken and dumplings, but I’m not a big fan. I made them one time and that was it. He still laughs about them today, how tough and rubbery they were.”
After Butch had an aortic valve replacement in 2019, the couple changed the way they eat. They have more fish, seafood and chicken, and limit red meat and fried foods.
A typical weeknight meal might be Mediterranean cod, grilled asparagus and sliced tomatoes, if they’re in season, or a panini with a salad.
“Butch loves soup, so I’ll set aside a day and cook nothing but five or six soups,” she said. “I put them in the freezer and when the supply gets low, I set aside another day. I do the same thing with casseroles. Those are my fun days. I put on sloppy clothes and stay in the kitchen all day. Cooking needs to be fun – it doesn’t need to be a chore. And it never has been for me.”
1 tablespoon milk
1 pound Velveeta processed cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salad vinegar
3 (4-ounce) jars diced pimientos, drained
1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
Place milk and cheese in a double boiler and let cheese melt. While cheese is melting, beat egg; add sugar and salad vinegar. Add egg mixture to pimiento and add this to double boiler. Stir and cook for 20 minutes. Remove pimiento mixture from heat. Let cool until bottom of pan is cool to the touch. Add mayonnaise. Mix well.
MEDITERRANEAN BAKED COD WITH LEMON AND GARLIC
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds cod fillets (4 to 6 pieces)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)
Mix lemon juice, 5 tablespoons olive oil and melted butter in a shallow bowl. Set aside.
In another shallow bowl, combine flour, coriander, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Pat fish fillets dry. Dip fish in the lemon juice mixture, then dip in the flour mixture. Shake off excess flour. Reserve remaining lemon juice mixture.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat (oil should be shimmering but not smoking). Add fish and sear on each side to give it some color, but do not fully cook (a couple of minutes on each side). Remove from heat.
To the reserved lemon juice mixture, add the garlic and stir. Drizzle over fish fillets.
Bake fish at 400 degrees until it begins to flake easily with a fork (about 10 minutes but start checking earlier). Remove from heat and sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired. Good served with a Greek salad. Serves 4.
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cans artichoke hearts, drained and mashed
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Combine all ingredients. Pour into a greased casserole and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve with crackers or Scoops.
DILL SHRIMP DIP
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 (16-ounce) container sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced green onion
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 pounds cooked shrimp chopped
Whole cooked shrimp and fresh dill, for garnish
In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, dill, lemon zest, lemon juice, green onion, capers, Worcestershire and seasoned salt. Beat at medium speed with a mixer until well combined. Stir in chopped shrimp. Spoon into a serving dish. Garnish with whole cooked shrimp and fresh dill, if desired. Serve with crackers.
1 pound ground chuck
1/2 pound mild sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup water
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup milk
2 cups elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Brown ground chuck and sausage in a skillet. Remove meat with a slotted spoon to drain. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of grease from the skillet. Soften onion, garlic and bell pepper in grease. Season with salt, pepper, basil and oregano. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add water, tomato paste and tomato sauce to mixture and stir to combine. Return meat mixture to skillet and stir; simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
Combine cream cheese and milk. Cook in microwave on medium power for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once. Remove from microwave and stir until sauce thickens. Stir in the cooked macaroni. Add sour cream and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Stir to combine and coat pasta.
In a 2-quart greased casserole, pour in the pasta mixture. Top with meat sauce and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until casserole is bubbly.
1 can early peas with mushrooms and onions, drained
2 cans asparagus tips, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Crumbled Ritz crackers
Butter for dotting
Combine peas, asparagus, soup and cheese and pour into a greased casserole. Top with crumbled crackers and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
RUSTIC APPLE PIE
6 Granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 regular (9-inch) pie crusts
1 egg white
In a bowl, toss apples with 3/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon; set aside.
In a cast-iron skillet, melt the butter and add the brown sugar. Allow brown sugar to dissolve. Remove skillet from heat. Place 1 pie crust into the skillet on top of the butter/brown sugar mixture and up the sides of the skillet. Spoon apples over pie crust. Top with remaining pie crust.
In a bowl, beat egg white until foamy. Brush over top crust. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cut several slits in crust. Bake at 350 degree for 30 minutes or until golden.