TUPELO • When Cathy and Buddy Wikle married some 46 years ago, they each brought a couple of dishes to the table.

“I could make waffles and Buddy could make cream cheese and olive sandwiches and beef stroganoff,” Cathy said.

“We married when I was 30, so I had some years of food necessity – I had some years to get prepared in the kitchen,” Buddy said.

Cathy remembers the first dinner party they ever hosted. They were living in Japan and she wanted to impress her Japanese guests.

“The only cookbook I had with me was Betty Crocker and I decided to do a recipe for S teak Diane. We borrowed everybody’s electric skillets and the meal that was supposed to take 30 minutes to prepare took two hours because we kept blowing fuses. We passed the test, though, because they invited us to their homes to eat.”

The couple met in dental school. He would go on to be an oral surgeon who’s now retired and she was the first dental hygienist in Tupelo. They moved here in 1974 and raised four children (one is now deceased) who have blessed them with seven grandchildren.

“When our kids were growing up, we invited them into the kitchen,” Cathy said. “Everybody could have their own stations and do what they wanted to do. All their friends were always at our house to eat.”

“Some people got the notion that I’m a more accomplished cook than I really am,” Buddy said.

Cathy disagrees.

“If we go to a restaurant, he can come home the next night and make the exact same meal – the spices, the seasoning, everything. He just amazes me,” she said.

On Sundays, the Wikles sit down and plan a menu for the week or at least talk about what they have a taste for. They cook together five or six nights a week and eat out once or twice.

“We don’t fry anything,” Buddy said. “We limit beef to once a week and eat a lot of chicken and fish. We also eat a lot of meatless meals.”

“We like being together in the kitchen. It’s like a hobby for us,” Cathy said. “We eat a lot of salad suppers like taco salad, grilled chicken Caesar salad, paella salad. If we’re going meatless, Buddy’s going to have a pan of cornbread for sure.”

The couple enjoys traveling and food is a big part of those trips.

“We would qualify as foodies,” Buddy said. “I’m in charge of finding places to eat when we travel.”

“And I trust his taste,” Cathy said.

CHICKEN NICOISE SALAD

VINAIGRETTE

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

SALAD

1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes

4 eggs

4 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups halved grape tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted nicoise or kalamata olives

For the vinaigrette, whisk together lemon juice, tarragon, shallots, Dijon, anchovy paste, honey and oil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the salad, boil the potatoes and eggs in a pot of salted water for 10 minutes. Add green beans and cook 3 to 5 minutes more. Plunge potatoes, eggs and beans in ice water, then drain. Slice potatoes 1/4-inch thick; peel and cut eggs into wedges.

Saute chicken in 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Cut chicken into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Combine potatoes, green beans, chicken, tomatoes and olives in a large bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette and gently toss to coat. Divide between 4 plates; garnish with eggs.

BENEDICTINE SANDWICHES

1/2 cup seeded, chopped cucumber

2 tablespoons chopped onion

2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint

4 ounces softened cream cheese

Salt

8 baguette slices, toasted

Fresh parsley

Pulse cucumber, onion and mint in a food processor. Drain pulp in a fine mesh strainer to remove excess water. Return pulp to processor. Add cream cheese and pulse until smooth. Season with salt.

Spread cream cheese mixture on toasted baguette slices. Garnish with parsley.

BANANA CUSTARD PIE

2 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 bananas, peeled and sliced

1 small box vanilla pudding, prepared according to package directions

1/2 pint whipping cream, whipped

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until foamy. Add sugar, gradually, until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla. Spread in a greased 9-inch pie pan and build up the sides. Bake at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool.

Place sliced bananas in cooled crust. Pour prepared pudding over bananas and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Spread whipped cream over pudding and sprinkle with nuts and chocolate chips.

TILAPIA VERONIQUE

4 tilapia fillets

Salt and pepper

Flour for dusting

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced shallots

1/4 cup dry vermouth

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3/4 cup halved seedless green grapes

1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Pat tilapia fillets dry, season with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Saute fish in olive oil 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in oven.

Add shallots to skillet and cook 1 minute. Add vermouth; reduce heat and cook until it nearly evaporates. Add broth and lemon juice and boil 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Whisk in cream, butter and mustard, then add grapes and simmer until the butter melts. Stir in tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Serve sauce over tilapia.

SPINACH APPLE SALAD

DRESSING

1 cup oil

1/2 cup sugar or Splenda

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

SALAD

2 Granny Smith apples, sliced into bite-size pieces

1 (10-ounce) bag fresh spinach

1 (10-ounce) bag salad greens

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 cup feta cheese

1 cup toasted pecans

3/4 cup dried cherries

2 cups diced rotisserie chicken

Combine the dressing ingredients. Combine the salad ingredients. Dress the salad with the dressing.

PASTA AND SPINACH SALAD

8 ounces bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces

1/2 stick butter

1 cup diced green onions

3/4 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper

1 pound bowtie pasta

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1 (10-ounce) bag fresh spinach, torn in bite-size pieces

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook bacon, drain and discard all but 1/4 cup of drippings. Set bacon aside. Add butter to bacon drippings and saute onions and peppers until tender, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and return it to the pan. Add mushrooms and spinach and pour the warm sauce over the mixture. Heat until the sauce is absorbed and spinach wilts. Divide among 4 plates. Top with Parmesan and bacon.

MOCHA NUT FREEZE

2 eggs, separated

1/2 cup sugar, divided

2 cups whipping cream

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

1/2 cup toasted almonds, minced

Beat egg whites until stiff; gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff.

Whip the cream with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the coffee. Lightly beat the egg yolks and add them and the vanilla. Fold in the egg whites. Dribble in the chocolate and almonds. Freeze in paper cups in a muffin tin. Take out of freezer a few minutes before serving.

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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