SALTILLO • Sammie Swinney grew up in a tiny community between Baldwyn and Marietta that was so remote “they had to pipe sunshine in.”

Her family had no telephone line, no electricity, no indoor plumbing. In the kitchen, there was an icebox with blocks of ice in it and an old wood stove for cooking.

“So my interest in cooking started when I took home ec in high school,” said Swinney, 71. “That’s where I learned what a real measuring cup was, what a real measuring spoon was and how to follow recipe directions. That was my start of learning to cook everything.”

Swinney started reading cookbooks and pretty soon she was cooking all the meals for her family.

“My mama was more of an outside person so she was happy for me to cook,” Swinney said. “By the time I married at 17, I’d been cooking for years.”

Swinney, who owns Paradise Mobile Homes of Tupelo, has two sons, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She cooks “big” a dozen or so times a year – Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays.

“The birthday person chooses the menu,” she said. “It’s different every year. They all like Mexican and lasagna but sometimes they want old-fashioned tenderloin with biscuits and potatoes.”

When it comes time for her birthday, one of her sons cooks for her – usually smoked ribs, baked beans and potato salad.

She doesn’t cook for herself on a regular basis. If she gets hungry she’ll fix a sandwich or a hamburger or go out to eat.

“Every now and then I might get in there and fix a big bowl of pimiento cheese and a bowl of chicken salad and eat on those for a few days,” said Swinney, who lives in Saltillo. “If I’m just in the mood to cook and I’m not feeding anybody, I like to make desserts. But I like to do meals if somebody is going to eat with me. All my family are big eaters. They don’t hardly cull anything.”

When it comes to cookbooks, Swinney likes “Bell’s Best,” anything Paula Deen puts out and community cookbooks.

“I like the little church cookbooks as long as they’re not too old,” she said. “Old ones don’t tell you what temperature to cook something at or how long to cook it. They just say ‘cook until done.’”

If there’s one piece of advice Swinney gives other cooks, it’s to use good ingredients.

“When you cook, use real butter and fresh spices and the best quality ingredients you can afford to buy,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

STRAWBERRY CAKE

CAKE

1 box Duncan Hines strawberry cake mix

1 small box strawberry gelatin

1 (10-ounce) package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed

4 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup water

FILLING

2 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh strawberries

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

1/2 stick butter, softened

1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup reserved strawberry puree

1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract

7 cups powdered sugar

2 to 3 drops red food coloring (optional)

For the cake, combine cake mix and gelatin. Reserve 1/4 pureed strawberries for the frosting; add the remaining pureed strawberries to cake mix mixture along with eggs, oil and water. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth, about 3 minutes. Divide batter among 3 round greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let layers cool completely.

For the filling, in a medium heavy saucepan, bring the strawberries, sugar and cornstarch to a boil. Stir the mixture constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.

For the frosting, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in 1/4 cup reserved strawberry puree and the extract. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth. For a pinker frosting, add food coloring.

To assemble, spread filling between the layers. Ice the sides and top of the cake with frosting. Refrigerate.

BANANA POUND CAKE

CAKE

1 box Duncan Hines banana cake mix

1 small box vanilla instant pudding

4 eggs

1/2 cup oil

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

GLAZE

1 cup powdered sugar

1 banana, mashed

For the cake, combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, oil and mashed bananas in a bowl and beat with a mixer about 3 minutes. Pour batter into a greased Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from pan to cool.

For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and banana. Pour over cooled cake.

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

2 cups cooked, chopped chicken

1 cup chopped bell pepper

1 cup chopped onion

1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese

1 (8-ounce) jar salsa, divided

8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

12 ounces processed cheese, cubed

1/4 cup milk

Stir together chicken, bell pepper, onion, cream cheese and half the salsa in a saucepan over low heat until cream cheese has melted. Spoon 1/3 cup chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla; roll up and place, seam-side down, in a lightly greased casserole.

Place processed cheese and milk in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until smooth. Pour the sauce over the tortillas and cover casserole with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove foil and pour remaining 1/2 cup salsa over tortillas.

SPINACH FLORENTINE AU GRATIN

2 (8-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach

1/2 stick butter

1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Salt and pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese

Thaw spinach; do not drain. In a saucepan, melt butter and cream cheese. Add undrained spinach and blend, making sure cream cheese is well mixed. Add bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper and mix well. The mixture will be soggy. Pour into a casserole dish and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown and heated through.

Note: If desired, you can add garlic and real bacon bits to this.

MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

8 slices bread, trimmed, buttered and cubed

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 stick butter

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup grated Swiss cheese

Line a greased casserole with half of the bread cubes. In a skillet, brown mushrooms in butter; remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. In the same skillet, saute celery, bell pepper and onion. Combine the mushrooms, sauteed vegetables, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and pour over bread. Place remaining bread cubes over all. Beat eggs with milk and pour over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to cook, remove foil. Spread mushroom soup over casserole and top with cheese. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour.

CHOCOLATE COBBLER

1 stick butter

3 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 cups self-rising flour

6 tablespoons cocoa, divided

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups hot water

Melt butter in a 9x13-inch casserole.

Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, milk and vanilla. Pour mixture over butter. Do not stir.

Combine remaining 2 cups sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa and sprinkle over batter. Pour hot water over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 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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