PONTOTOC • Margaret Anne Sample Robbins says she gets tired of making the same old thing every night, so she often turns to the internet for recipes.
Sometimes they turn out; sometimes they don’t.
After she was contacted about being featured as a cook in the Daily Journal, she found a recipe online for an Italian egg drop soup.
“It sounded very simple, so I gave it a try,” Robbins said. “It was horrible looking, but we ate it. I threw the recipe in the trash can. We laughed and said, ‘Cook of the Week has epic failure.’”
Robbins, 73, was raised in Verona and attended school in Tupelo. She went to college at Millsaps and then lived in Cleveland for about 25 years. That’s where her two children grew up.
“The most fun job I ever had was when I lived in Cleveland,” she said. “I owned a bookstore there for about 10 years called Cotton Row Bookstore. It’s still there.”
She moved back to Northeast Missisippi, to a home in Pontotoc County, in 2008 after she and a childhood friend married.
“Jimmy and I knew each other growing up,” Robbins said. “He was my first friend. We’d played together since we were 3. We got together through a class reunion in 2007 and married the next year.”
One of the things the Robbinses have in common is a love of good food.
“I don’t particularly love to cook, but I love to eat,” she said. “And I love to eat good food. Jimmy loves to cook. I’ve gotten accustomed to sitting at the kitchen counter and watching him cook.”
During the week, the couple has simple meals, like baked catfish, meatloaf or pork chops, and she’s a big fan of leftovers.
She’ll take leftover pork chops and repurpose them into pork fried rice. Leftover steak becomes steak and eggs for supper the next night. Pot roast leftovers are used as a base for vegetable soup.
“We have two terms for leftovers here: ‘balance brought forward’ and ‘free meals,’” she said. “We don’t throw anything away.”
Robbins had rather make party foods than meals, and sometimes she makes meals out of party foods.
“I’m just drawn to party foods – I like to do big trays of them – and I enjoy a pretty presentation,” she said. “I love color. You don’t want a beige plate. We don’t have beige plates here.”
Robbins is the executive secretary for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. Right now, she and other board members are getting ready for this year’s banquet.
“We didn’t get to have a banquet in 2020 because of COVID, so we’re gearing up for one in Pass Christian on June 12,” she said. “I think we’ll have a good turnout.”
ARROZ CON POLLO
1 (3- to 4-pound) hen
1/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked, long-grain rice
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups reserved broth
Simmer hen in water to cover until done. When hen is cool, skin, bone and chop meat. Reserve broth. In large skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add rice and stir until it begins to color. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender. Add tomato, pepper, cumin, salt and 3 cups reserved broth, along with the chopped chicken. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cover and cook about 25 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.
Note: Don’t omit the cumin. It’s a key flavor.
BAKED CHICKEN NUGGETS
7 to 8 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 cups fine, dry bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried basil
2 sticks butter, melted
Cut chicken into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Combine bread crumbs, cheese, salt, thyme and basil. Mix well. Dip chicken pieces in melted butter and coat with bread crumb mixture. Place on a greased baking sheet or in a single layer in a 9x13-inch Pyrex dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until done.
1 1/3 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rum
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, cubed and softened
2 tablespoons butter, melted
For the crust, combine wafer crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and softened butter; mix well. Firmly press into bottom of a 10-inch springform or deep tart pan; set aside.
For the filling, melt chocolate morsels over hot water in top of a double boiler. Set aside.
Combine eggs, sugar, rum and sour cream in the container of an electric blender; process 15 seconds. Continue blending, and gradually add melted chocolate and softened cream cheese. Add melted butter; blend well. Pour cheese mixture into chocolate crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until cheesecake is set in center. Cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Chill at least 6 hours. Remove sides of pan. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
2 (8- to 9-inch) skillets cooked cornbread
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 (2-ounce) jar chopped pimientos
1 cup chopped green onions, with tops
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped, or cherry tomatoes to taste
2 cups mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
Crumble cornbread into a large bowl. Add celery, green pepper, pimentos, green onions, pecans and tomatoes and toss gently. Gently stir in mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate overnight. Serves 6 to 8.
GRILLED BARBECUED CHICKEN
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 broiler halves (or pieces like breasts and thigh leg quarters)
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in small saucepan. Add lemon juice, garlic salt, paprika and oregano. Place chicken in a pan. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, and pour marinade over chicken. Cover. Marinate 3 to 4 hours in refrigerator, turning occasionally. Place chicken, skin side up, on a grill grate set 3 to 6 inches from charcoal. Brush generously with marinade. Cook and baste with marinade while cooking until chicken is done.
Note: This chicken tastes better cooked over a charcoal fire rather than a gas grill.
ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP
1 whole chicken
3 large whole carrots
1 rib celery
6 large cloves of garlic
1 pound lean ground beef
1 scant cup Progresso bread crumbs
4 eggs, divided
Salt and pepper
1 large bunch Swiss chard, endive, escarole or kale
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook chicken with carrots, onion, celery and garlic in boiling water to cover. When done, remove chicken from broth and when cool, take chicken off bones. Using an immersion blender, blend cooked carrots, onion, celery and garlic in the broth.
Make tiny meatballs (about the size of a marble) with ground beef, bread crumbs, 1 egg, and salt and pepper. Bake the meatballs at 350 degrees until done.
Cut up greens in bite-sized pieces and add to broth. Add chicken and cooked meatballs and bring to a boil.
At the last minute, stir the remaining 3 eggs into the boiling broth. They will cook immediately. Stir and remove from heat. Add cheese onto top of each serving. This feeds a crowd.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
6 cups mixed greens
3 medium oranges, peeled, seeded and sliced, or canned Mandarin oranges
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
1/3 cup slivered almonds
For the dressing, combine oil, sugar, vinegar, salt and almond extract in a small jar. Shake to incorporate. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, combine greens, oranges, celery, onions and almonds. Drizzle desired amount of dressing over all.
Note: For a Feta-Pear Salad, use the same salad dressing, minus the almond extract. Use sliced fresh pears instead of oranges. Sprinkle with walnuts instead of almonds.
ROSEMARY CHEESE WITH FIG PRESERVES
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, softened
1 (3-ounce) log goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons honey
1 clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon pepper
1 jar fig preserves
Grease a mini loaf pan or mold. Line with plastic wrap, making it smooth and allowing edges to extend slightly over edges of pan.
Process cream cheese, goat cheese, rosemary, honey, garlic and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Spoon into prepared mold and chill at least 2 hours. Unmold cheese onto serving plate. Remove plastic wrap. Stir preserves and spoon over cheese. Serve with crackers or toast points.
Note: You don’t have to use a mold. This works fine on a shallow plate or bowl.
WILD RICE SALAD WITH CRANBERRIES AND PECANS
1 cup brown rice wild rice mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted or untoasted)
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon orange zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a saucepan, bring rice, salt and water to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 50 minutes. Do not stir. Do not uncover.
Remove from stove and let sit, covered for 10 minutes. Then uncover, fluff up with a fork, and let cool to almost room temperature.
In a medium-sized serving bowl, mix the rice with the dried cranberries, pecans and green onions.
In a jar, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, orange zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake to combine.
Just before serving, mix dressing in with the rice mixture. Serve warm, chilled, or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.