Jan. 25—NETTLETON — When Elizabeth Riley Cruber was about 13, her father started working out of town some, and because she was the oldest of four children, she knew she needed to pick up some of the slack around the house.
"I learned quickly that if you cooked the food, you got to pick what was for supper," said Cruber, 29. "So I started cooking and experimenting, and things went well, so I kept on doing it. Cooking is kind of like a puzzle. My mind is mathematically inclined, so it's like putting together an equation for me."
Cruber, a radiology nurse at North Mississippi Medical Center Gilmore-Amory, said before she tied the knot six years ago and was still living at home, she routinely cooked supper for her parents, siblings and her fiance most nights.
"When I married, I had to learn to cook for two people instead of an army," she said. "Those recipes I'd been doubling, I was now having to cut in half."
Not long after Cruber wed, her only sister, Maggie, was killed in a car wreck, just before entering her senior year of high school.
"I started cooking more because it made people happy," Cruber said. "We planted a garden, and spending time outside and being able to use the food we grew together was part of the healing process."
Today, Cruber cooks just about every night for her husband, Dakota, and daughters Riley Rose, 5, and Ruby Rae, 3. Her parents, Amy and Wes Riley, live across the street from Cruber in Nettleton.
"I do my meal planning and pick up my groceries on Saturday," she said. "I have an agenda that has all our activities on it, so I know what we've got that week and what I'm going to cook."
Cruber uses a schedule she adapted from one of her favorite blogs, thefoodnanny.com.
Monday night is comfort food, like creamy chicken noodle soup; Tuesday is Italian, which might mean spaghetti; Wednesday is breakfast for supper, like homemade biscuits, tomato gravy, deer sausage and eggs; Thursday is Mexican, which could be Mexican lasagna; Friday is homemade pizza, or a night out; Saturday is anything goes; and Sunday is family traditions, like pork chop and rice casserole, or roast with potatoes and carrots.
"I try new recipes about once a month, but we have a pretty good rotation meal-wise, so we're not eating the same things too many times in a row," she said.
Cruber said when she was growing up, she didn't spend a lot of time in the kitchen with her mom because cooking for her was more of a chore than enjoyment. But she did learn to make some things from her maternal grandmother, Janet Thomason of Tupelo.
"I learned to make her Catfish Allison after I married," Cruber said. "Broccoli salad is my favorite thing she makes. I have the recipe, but some things, when certain people make them, just taste better."
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 (662) 678-1581 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
OVERNIGHT FRENCH TOAST
1 tablespoon softened butter, plus 1 stick cold salted butter
1 (16-ounce) loaf Italian bread, cut in 1-inch-thick slices
10 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Pure maple syrup
Grease a deep 9x13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon softened butter. Arrange bread slices in the baking dish in two rows, overlapping the slices.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk in the cream, milk, granulated sugar and vanilla. Evenly pour the mixture over the bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Place the brown sugar, pecans, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Grate the stick of cold butter on top and mix until blended and crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture over the casserole.
Bake the casserole, uncovered, until browned, and the inside is set but soft, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly.
Dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm with maple syrup. Serves 12.
ALMOND-TOPPED CHICKEN CASSEROLE
3 cups cooked, shredded or cubed chicken breasts
1 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup raw rice, cooked
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 stick butter, melted
Combine chicken, celery, onion, lemon juice, cooked rice, soup, mayonnaise and broth and spoon into a greased 9x13-inch casserole.
Combine cracker crumbs, almonds and butter. Sprinkle over the casserole. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve with a green salad and bread.
KAMUT FRENCH BAGUETTES
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar divided
2 1/2 cups white kamut flour
2 teaspoons French gray salt
Melted butter (optional)
In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the warm water (105 to 115 degrees), the yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir just to combine and cover with plastic wrap or a plate. Let the mixture stand about 5 minutes until a little foamy.
In a large bowl, mix together using a spoon, dough hook or electric mixer: flour, salt, remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar, and the yeast mixture. Gradually add remaining warm water (up to 1 cup), and mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. (If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth and elastic.
Cut the dough into 4 even pieces for mini ficelles, or in half for regular baguettes. Shape dough into baguettes by folding over once and shaping from center toward ends as you roll. Grease baguette pans and place the loaves in the pans. Score the loaves down the middle, making a shallow cut. Cover with a lightweight dish towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 15 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place a shallow pan of water in the bottom of the oven to create steam. Bake baguettes for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on size being made) or until they have a hollow sound when tapped with a knife. If desired, brush the tops of the loaves with butter halfway through baking. For a softer crust, brush with butter when they have finished baking.
3 cups peeled, mashed figs
2 small boxes raspberry gelatin
3 cups sugar
Thoroughly mix figs, sugar and gelatin in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue boiling for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour quickly into sterilized jars. Cover at once with 1/8-inch hot paraffin. Makes about 6 half-pint jars.
Note: You can make Fig-Strawberry Preserves by substituting two packages of strawberry gelatin for the raspberry gelatin.
1 stick softened butter
3 tablespoons Fig-Raspberry Preserves
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Combine softened butter with preserves and powdered sugar. Mix with a hand-held mixer.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup cold water
Dash of salt
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
Combine flour, shortening, cold water and salt and mix until a pie-crust-like dough forms. Roll out.
Cream together cocoa powder, butter and sugar and spread on surface of pastry. Roll from one end, tucking in the sides like you would a burrito.
Place in a cast-iron skillet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden and molten. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in a cast-iron skillet. Stir in flour until smooth. Let cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add milk and stir until smooth. Add tomatoes and cook until they collapse and mixture gets jammy, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.