TUPELO • Some of Cheryl Cockrell’s best memories are of being in the kitchen with her maternal grandmother in Pontotoc.

“She made cornbread every single day and I have the bowl she mixed it up in,” said Cockrell, 49. “I remember in the summer, she always had a garden and she would go out and gather peas and okra and come in and shell the peas and then put on a long-sleeved white shirt to cut the okra up, because if you got the okra plant on you, it would make you itch. Then she’d cook those peas and fry that okra and make a pan of cornbread. Those are some of the best meals in my memory.”

But Cockrell doesn’t cook the way her grandmother did. When she was in school at Ole Miss, she worked at a gym and that’s when she was introduced to more healthful meals and a proper balance of protein, fats and carbs.

“It’s the way I’ve eaten ever since,” she said. “I tell my kids, ‘It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle and if you eat this way you will never have to say you’re on a diet.’”

Cockrell and her husband, Tim, have two daughters. Kristen is studying at Blue Mountain College and E.C. is a senior at Tupelo High School. A typical evening meal in their home might be blackened chicken with mixed vegetables over rice, or seared tuna with black beans and cauliflower rice.

“My girls and I eat really healthy, but Tim veers off the straight and narrow when he gets the chance,” she said. “I can resist almost anything, but if you put a basket of chips and some salsa and cheese dip in front of me, it’s over. I have no willpower.”

While the meals Cockrell prepares at home are largely healthy, that’s not the story at Hope Church, where she’s the kitchen manager in charge of Wednesday night suppers.

“At church, it’s all about the taste, the fat,” she said. “They just want it to be good. They really like queso chicken, which is fried chicken tenders drizzled with queso and topped with brown gravy, bacon bits and chopped green onions.”

Cockrell works in sales for Acuity Merchant Services, which is based in Tennessee. Because she works from home, she makes sure she hits the gym at least once a day to interact with people.

“The gym is kind of my social time,” she said. “I do weights four times a week and cardio six days. Sometimes I go twice a day. But I take Sundays off.”

GRILLED TUNA WITH AVOCADO SALSA

AVOCADO SALSA

2 avocados, peeled, seeded and cubed

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

Juice of 2 limes

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)

Salt and pepper

Garlic powder

TUNA

4 (8-ounce) tuna steaks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

For the salsa, combine avocado, onion, lime juice, cilantro and jalapeño, if using. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Rub fish with olive oil. Combine spices and rub all over fish. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Grill fish to desired doneness. Top with Avocado Salsa.

Note: You can substitute salmon fillets for tuna steaks.

BLACK BEANS

4 cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons lime juice

1 1/2 cups spicy V8 juice

In a saucepan, combine black beans with remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. If mixture seems dry, add additional V8 juice.

ANGEL FOOD CAKE DESSERT

1 homemade or store-bought angel food cake

1 pint strawberries, washed and sliced

1 small box vanilla pudding, prepared according to package directions

1 large container whipped topping, divided

5 to 6 bananas, peeled and sliced

1 small box banana cream pudding, prepared according to package directions

Tear angel food cake into pieces and place half in the bottom of a large serving dish. Top with sliced strawberries, then pour vanilla pudding over the top. Spread with half of the whipped topping. Add remaining angel food cake pieces and top with sliced bananas. Pour banana cream pudding over all and spread remaining whipped topping over all. Chill before serving.

TURKEY MEATLOAF

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey or 1 pound ground turkey and 1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 cup spicy V8 juice

3/4 cup oats

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped jalapeño slices

1/2 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and pepper

Barbecue sauce

Ketchup

Lemon juice

Worcestershire sauce

Combine ground meat, bell pepper, onion, V8, oats, jalapeños and garlic and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from oven. Combine barbecue sauce, ketchup, lemon juice and Worcestershire to taste and spread on top of meatloaf. Return to oven and bake an additional 15 minutes.

RED WINE POT ROAST

3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup red wine, such as Burgundy

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 onion, sliced

6 red potatoes, washed and halved

6 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths

8 pearl onions, peeled and halved

Sprinkle the roast evenly with the flour and set aside. Heat oil in a Dutch oven with lid over medium-high heat. Brown the roast on all sides, about 10 minutes total; remove from heat. Pour in water and wine. Sprinkle with the basil, marjoram, thyme, salt and pepper. Arrange the onion slices on the roast.

Replace the cover and bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours. Add potatoes, carrots and onions. Add more water if roast looks dry. Continue baking covered until the roast pulls apart easily with a fork, about 1 hour longer.

SKINNY LEMON CHICKEN

3 tablespoons coconut oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cubed

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups vegetable broth, divided

Zest of 3 lemons

Juice of 3 lemons

1 tablespoon light soy sauce, Braggs aminos or coconut aminos

1 tablespoon cornstarch

4 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1/4 cup green onions, diced

Melt coconut oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add chicken and brown quickly, but don’t cook through. Place chicken in a Crock-Pot and sprinkle with garlic and salt. Drizzle 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours or until very tender.

About 30 to 40 minutes before serving, whisk together remaining 3/4 cup vegetable broth, lemon zest and juice, soy sauce, cornstarch and honey. Pour mixture into Crock-Pot and stir to coat chicken. Turn heat to high and cook for 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds and green onions.

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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