TUPELO • Mary Jane Meadows grew up in Mobile, Alabama, near the Dog River and Alligator Bayou.
“Seafood was part of our life,” Meadows said. “And we lived kind of out, so there was no such thing as pick-up food. We had a lot of fresh vegetables.”
When Meadows was raising her children, family recipes from her mother and grandmother sustained her.
“After my grandmother in Louisiana was widowed, she took in foster boys on her farm,” said Meadows, 67. “She fed those boys all the time – she made big meals. She’d go out and get a chicken out of the chicken yard and twirl it around and have it for lunch. It was quite amazing to see her cook all that food. She made tea so dark, it would walk off by itself.”
After Meadows moved to Tupelo in the mid-1970s, she started reading about good food and found friends who shared her passion.
“I started out with Martha Stewart and then discovered Julia Child,” she said. “I found friends who were interested in food as an art, as I was. Food was a mutual love as a hobby. I developed a flair for what goes together. I like interesting combinations, things out of the ordinary.”
Today, Meadows cooks at least four times a week in the home she shares with her husband, Reed Hillen. The two have a blended family that includes five children and five grandchildren.
“I try to follow the Mediterranean diet guidelines as much as I can,” she said. “We eat a lot of fish and lean meat. We eat beef maybe once a month. I enjoy eating that way. I don’t want to skip meals. I enjoy my three squares a day.”
A weeknight meal might be roasted skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts with a baked sweet potato and fresh green beans, or cod roasted with lemons, olive oil, garlic and cherry tomatoes served over brown rice with fresh broccoli.
“I cook a pot of brown rice every couple of weeks and freeze it in individual containers,” she said. “And three or four times a year, I make homemade chicken stock and freeze that. It’s a ritual I enjoy.”
Meadows tries a new recipe at least twice a month. She’s always up for anything Ina Garten from the Food Network makes, but she also frequents websites and blogs such as epicurious, food52, chowhound and pinchofyum.
She was a stay-at-home mom most of her life, though now she’s a yoga instructor and one of the leaders of Indivisible Northeast Mississippi. She also volunteers her time to help the ladies at Talbot House.
“I work out and exercise four times a week,” Meadows said. “I believe junk food, fast food and processed food is killing our children and our whole population, so I stay away from all of that. I intend to live the best life I can.”
7 to 8 medium carrots
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons butter
Cut carrots on the bias into 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick slices. Cook, covered, in boiling salted water until just tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain.
Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and ginger in a small saucepan. Add orange juice and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Boil 1 minute then stir in butter. Pour over hot carrots and toss. Garnish with chopped parsley. These can be made ahead and reheated without losing any of their zest.
BAKED PUMPKIN BITES
1 banana or 4 ounces applesauce
1 cup oats
1/2 cup pure pumpkin
2 tablespoons oil (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup milk or almond milk
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
Beat egg in a large bowl; add remaining ingredients and mix together. Pour batter into a greased 12-cup mini muffin tin, filling cups to the brim. Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Allow to cool completely before removing or oatmeal might stick. Use a knife to cut along the edges and twist to remove.
GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH BLOOD ORANGES
3 blood oranges
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds fat asparagus (25 to 30 spears)
Peel and finely chop shallot and macerate for 30 minutes in the juice of 1/2 orange and the balsamic and red wine vinegars. Whisk in olive oil to taste to make a vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Peel the zest from one of the oranges, chop it very finely, and add it to the vinaigrette. Set aside.
Cut away all the rind and pith from all the oranges and slice them crosswise, into thin rounds. Parboil and then grill the asparagus, or steam it until tender. Arrange asparagus on a platter with orange slices on top. Drizzle the vinaigrette over all. Serves 4.
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
1 tablespoon maple syrup or to taste
Combine spices and rub spice mixture evenly over flesh side of fillets. Place fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; broil 6 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Brush fillets evenly with syrup; broil 1 minute. Serves 4.
If grilling, preheat grill to medium. Place fish on grill rack coated with cooking spray and grill 7 minutes. Drizzle fish with syrup and grill 1 minute or until fish flake easily when tested with a fork.
ROASTED CARROT AND GINGER SOUP WITH ORANGE
2 pounds carrots, chopped about 1/2-inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
4 cups water
1 small bay leaf
Basil and coconut milk, for garnish
Place carrots in a large roasting pan and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, until soft and caramelized.
Once carrots are roasted, heat soup pot on medium-high heat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add onions and saute 3 to 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add garlic and ginger and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Add roasted carrots, orange zest, orange juice, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaf and blend soup using an immersion blender or countertop blender. Add 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with basil and coconut milk. Serves. 4.
GRILL-ROASTED CORN & SWEET POTATO SALAD
1 (1-pound) sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 ears fresh corn, shucked and silks removed
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 whole green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Combine sweet potato, red onion, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large disposable aluminum baking pan. Toss to mix thoroughly, distributing the oil and seasoning evenly; spread in a single layer.
Brush corn with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, coating all sides evenly.
Preheat grill to medium, then liberally oil grates. Place pan of potatoes and onions over direct heat and cook, stirring every 4 to 5 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, place corn directly on grill and cook until very lightly charred, about 2 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until lightly charred on all sides. Remove from grill and set aside to cool slightly. Cut the corn from cobs and place in medium mixing bowl; set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, maple syrup and vinegar. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons oil until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer warm roasted potatoes and red onions to the bowl with the corn. Add green onions, bell pepper, parsley and bacon. Add just enough vinaigrette to moisten the salad and toss gently to coat and mix evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: To cook in the oven, place a baking pan in center of oven and heat oven to 450 degrees. When pan is hot, spread potatoes and onions evenly on pan and roast for 10 minutes. Stir potatoes, then add corn to one end of pan; return to oven and continue cooking until potatoes are golden brown and just tender when pierced and corn is tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes longer.