PONTOTOC • Kim Henson Easterling cooks five nights a week for two reasons: first, because she loves a good meal and, second, because she sees it as service to her family.

“It makes me feel needed,” Easterling said. “It’s something I can do that’s easy to me. We have such a busy lifestyle with the kids playing sports. It’s important to me that they eat well – it’s fuel for the body.”

Easterling was born in Vicksburg, spent her elementary-school years on the Gulf Coast and then moved to New Albany when she was in middle school. Her parents, Joe and Sandy Henson, still live in New Albany.

“I basically come from a long line of women who were good cooks,” said Easterling, 41. “Every meal we ate was cooked at home. My dad would grill or smoke the meat sometimes, but mother did everything else in the kitchen, from fried chicken to salmon patties. And she always included me in the process, she always said, ‘Let me show you.’”

Easterling said the first thing she ever remembers making all by herself was cookies.

“I was about 8 years old and I wanted my mother to make peanut butter cookies but she was tired and wanted to take a nap,” she said. “So I told her I would do it myself. I found her recipe and made them and she said they were as good as hers.”

Easterling and her husband live in Pontotoc with their daughters, 13-year-old Ella and 5-year-old Ivy Kate. She is executive director of Pontotoc County Habitat for Humanity and Jason is an accident reconstructionist for the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

“I didn’t get into cooking large meals until after I was married and started having children,” Easterling said. “As the children have gotten older, I’ve started cooking more. We introduced them to a variety of foods early. I’ve tried my best not to raise picky eaters.”

Easterling said the Crock-Pot and the stove are her best friends because she can start a meal and walk away and do something else. She tries to plan ahead when possible and always keeps chicken, ground beef and pork in the fridge or deep freezer.

A weeknight meal might be Beef Lombardi with a salad and bread, or a roasted pork loin with green beans and a crunchy romaine salad. And often when she cooks, she prepares enough to share.

“I have a large electric skillet and I can make a lot of food at one time, so when I cook for others, I usually just build around the meal we’re going to eat,” she said. “I like to provide meals for people who don’t cook a lot. They appreciate it and it makes me feel good to have a skills set that provides a service.”

SANDY’S CHOCOLATE PIE

4 tablespoons self-rising flour

1 cup sugar, plus 1/2 teaspoon

3 tablespoons cocoa

4 eggs, separated

2 cups milk

3/4 stick butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 baked pie shells

Combine flour, 1 cup sugar and cocoa in a pan. Beat egg yolks with milk and add to cocoa mixture. Melt butter in pan with milk and cocoa mixture. Turn heat to medium-low and stir mixture frequently. When mixture is hot, turn heat to medium-high, stirring constantly. Boil until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Divide mixture between 2 baked pie crusts.

Beat egg whites until stiff; add 1/2 teaspoon sugar to egg whites and beat again. Cover pies with meringue. Bake at 375 to 400 degrees until meringue is light brown.

GREEK PASTA

12 to 15 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked and drained

3 to 4 tablespoons Greek seasoning

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup canola oil

Juice of 2 lemons

1 can chopped black olives, drained

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 small jar chopped pimientos, drained

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

KIM’S FAVORITE GREEN BEANS

1 (14-ounce) can Double Luck green beans

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon bacon drippings

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook down.

BEEF LOMBARDI

1 pound lean ground beef

1 onion, diced

Minced garlic to taste

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 can Ro-tel tomatoes

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 (6-ounce) package medium egg noodles

6 green onions, chopped

1 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

Fresh parsley sprigs (optional)

Cook ground beef and onion in a large skillet over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes, stirring until beef crumbles and is no longer pink. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Drain. Stir in chopped tomatoes and next 4 ingredients; cook 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and bay leaf, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Cook egg noodles according to package directions; drain. Stir together cooked egg noodles, chopped green onions, and sour cream until blended.

Place noodle mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with beef mixture; sprinkle evenly with cheeses. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Uncover casserole, and bake 5 more minutes. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Note: To lighten, substitute low-fat sour cream and reduced-fat Cheddar cheese. Reduce amount of cheeses on top to 1/2 cup each.

BROCCOLI CHEESE STUFFED CHICKEN BREASTS

3 large chicken breasts

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, divided

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 cup broccoli florets, finely chopped

1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced

1 cup mild Cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

2 tablespoon olive oil

Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic powder. Use a sharp knife to cut a slice through the middle of the chicken breasts, but not all the way through, creating a pocket for the filling.

For the filling, place the broccoli in a microwaveable dish and add about 2 tablespoons of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 1 minute. Drain any excess water. To the dish add the bell pepper, cheese, mayo, remaining garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Mix until combined, then divide the mixture between the chicken breasts, using a toothpick to secure if necessary.

Heat a large, oven safe skillet (cast iron skillet is perfect), over medium heat and add the olive oil. Sear the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Cover skillet with foil and bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes, or until chicken reads 165 degrees. Let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Serves 6 (because the chicken breasts are large, 1/2 chicken breast is one serving).

CRUNCHY ROMAINE SALAD

DRESSING

1 cup vegetable oil

1⁄2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup sugar

3 teaspoons soy sauce

Salt and pepper

SALAD

2 heads romaine lettuce

2 packages ramen noodles, any flavor

1 stick butter

1 cup walnut pieces

1⁄2 head broccoli, stems and florets, chopped

5 to 6 green onions, sliced in thin rings

1 can mandarin oranges, drained

For the dressing, combine all ingredients. Set aside.

For the salad, wash romaine and cut into bite size pieces. Roll up in a clean dry towel and refrigerate for several hours to make lettuce super crisp.

Break the ramen noodles up into small pieces. Discard the flavor packets.

Melt butter in a large deep skillet. Add ramen noodles and walnuts and stir and cook over medium heat until light brown, watching carefully. Turn out onto a double thickness of paper towels and cool.

Place romaine in a large serving bowl; add broccoli, onions, oranges, ramen noodles and walnuts and toss. Add desired amount of dressing and toss again.

PAULA DEEN’S STUFFED BELL PEPPERS

HOUSE SEASONING

1/3 cup salt

1/4 cup pepper

1/4 cup garlic powder

PEPPERS

4 red bell peppers

1 pound ground chuck

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules, divided

2 teaspoons House Seasoning

1 cup cooked rice

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup Ro-tel tomatoes

1/2 cup salsa

1/2 cup chopped green onions, tops only

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 cup hot water

For the House Seasoning, combine salt, pepper and garlic powder. Store in an airtight container.

For the peppers, cut peppers in half lengthwise, leaving stems intact. Saute beef, onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon beef bouillon and 2 teaspoons House Seasoning until beef is done. Drain. Add cooked rice, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, salsa, green onion tops and soy sauce. Mix well and stuff pepper halves.

Combine hot water and remaining 1 teaspoon bouillon granules and pour into a shallow casserole. Place peppers in dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and spoon juices from pan over peppers. Bake, uncovered, an additional 10 minutes.

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 ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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