SALTILLO • Jan Patterson works as customer service representative at the Bank of Okolona, but she lives in Saltillo, so going home for lunch every day is out of the question. And so is eating out.

“I take leftovers every day for lunch,” said Patterson, 56. “I do not believe in spending $10 every day to go eat lunch somewhere. When I make supper at night, I make enough for leftovers.”

And these aren’t ordinary leftovers. She might pack zucchini boats stuffed with rotisserie chicken and broccoli or boursin-stuffed chicken with a broccoli salad.

“Anytime I have a lot of leftover food, I’ll freeze it and then get it out for a quick weeknight supper,” she said. “I don’t get home until 6 in the afternoon, so by the time I get supper done, it’s 7 o’clock or later. If I planned ahead it would help, but I don’t know what I’m going to be in the mood for.”

Patterson grew up in Wynne, Arkansas, where she was a farm girl. Her father did heavy construction and farmed rice and soybeans. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen with grandparents and by the time she was 10 or 12, she was experimenting with candy.

“I made chocolate fudge, Rice Krispie treats, divinity, cornflake chewies,” she said. “We actually called the cornflake chewies ‘cafeteria treats’ because you used to get them in the school cafeteria at that time.”

When Patterson and her husband, Sam, married 21 years ago, she branched out from Southern cooking to more exotic fare.

“I grew up making beans, potatoes, cooked-to-death vegetables, fried squash,” she said. “As I got older and met Sam, I started eating different foods – Thai, Chinese, Greek, Korean. That made me want to cook different things.”

Today, Patterson’s 16-year-old daughter, Audrey, often helps her in the kitchen.

“We use a lot of lemon juice, rosemary, basil, garlic and olive oil when we cook,” Patterson said. “I’ve discovered fancy olive oil stores. Every time I go in one, I spend $100.”

Patterson said her dream job would be to have a build-your-own-bowl restaurant with stir-fried vegetables, protein, sauces and spices.

“I just love cooking,” she said. “I think cooking is a lot like therapy. After you’ve worked all day and answered the phones, you come home to the kitchen and just run a knife through it.”

SWEET CHICKEN BACON WRAPS

1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

1 pound bacon

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons chili powder

Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes. Cut each bacon slice into thirds. Wrap each chicken cube with bacon and secure with a wooden pick. Stir together brown sugar and chili powder. Dredge wrapped chicken in mixture. Coat a rack and broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place chicken wrap on rack in broiler pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until bacon is crisp.

PIMIENTO CHEESE

2 cups grated Pepper Jack cheese

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, chopped

1/4 cup finely diced green onions

3/4 to 1 cup mayonnaise

1 finely diced jalapeno pepper (optional)

Combine all ingredients. Use as a dip or a sandwich spread. Serve cold or bake until cheeses have melted.

STRAWBERRY-BASIL LEMONADE

STRAWBERRY-BASIL SYRUP

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced 1/2-inch thick

3/4 cup tightly packed basil leaves

LEMONADE

8 cups cold water

2 cups lemon juice, chilled

Ice

1/2 pound strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced 1/2-inch thick, for garnish

1/4 cup tightly packed basil leaves, for garnish

For the strawberry-basil syrup, place sugar and water in a medium saucepan over high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Add the strawberries, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the strawberries have softened, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the basil leaves, and stir to incorporate. Cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl; discard the solids. Cover the syrup and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the lemonade, pour the water, lemon juice and 1 1/2 cups of the strawberry-basil syrup into a 3-quart pitcher or punch bowl and stir to combine. Taste and add additional strawberry-basil syrup as needed. Add ice and garnish with the sliced strawberries and basil leaves. Makes about 12 cups.

OLIVE BITES

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

20 olives stuffed with pimientos

In a mixing bowl, combine flour and butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Mix in the Cheddar and Parmesan and knead lightly to combine. Form the mixture into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Unwrap the dough, take a small piece and cover an olive, making sure the pastry surrounds the olive and there are no gaps. Flour your hands and roll the olive-encased pastry into a ball; put it on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining pastry and olives. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. (Can be made a day ahead and held in the refrigerator.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the baking sheets on the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the pastries are light golden, about 10 minutes. Remove the bites from the oven and arrange on a serving platter. Makes 20.

SPICY PICKLED BEETS

4 cans plain sliced beets

1 cup beet juice

1 cup sugar

1 cup vinegar

1 to 3 whole jalapeno peppers

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat. Let cool before putting into 2 quart jars.

PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE

1/4 cup powdered coffee creamer

Hot water

2 cups sugar

1/2 stick butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pint marshmallow cream

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

1 cup chopped pecans

Place creamer in a measuring cup and add enough hot water to make 1/2 cup. Place in a saucepan with sugar, butter and salt. Boil 6 minutes after mixture starts to bubble at the edge.

Remove pan from heat and add vanilla, marshmallow cream, peanut butter and pecans. Beat together and pour mixture into a greased dish. Cool in the refrigerator.

SALAD DRESSING

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients in a Mason jar with a lid and shake well to combine. Good on salads with fruit and Gorgonzola cheese.

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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