TUPELO • Pat Agnew’s father once told her she could learn to do anything if she could read a book. So, she learned to cook.
Today, Agnew is fearless in the kitchen. Long, detailed recipes don’t scare her. In fact, in 2019, she and her husband, Sam, ventured to Italy for a weeklong cooking school.
“We were in Lucca in Tuscany,” said Agnew, who turned 69 today. “We would cook for four or five hours, then eat the meal we’d prepared.”
The couple learned to make such delicacies as fresh tuna, steamed mussels, and octopus salad.
“After we got back, I started making focaccia bread, and it was a piece of cake,” Agnew said. “We learned a lot of different techniques.”
Born and raised in Phoenix, Agnew is the older of two children. They grew up on Mexican food – not Tex-Mex, she stressed – like tamales and frijoles.
“But the first meal I remember cooking was for a Girl Scout badge,” she said. “It was sweet and sour pork over rice from ‘The Joy of Cooking’ cookbook.”
After high school, Agnew moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, to attend the University of the South. That’s where she met Sam. He was a senior; she was a freshman.
“I got homesick and went home after a year,” she said. “He finished and followed me to Arizona. He got there, got an apartment, found a job, and we were engaged, all in two weeks.”
The Agnews have two children. Lewis and his wife, Katie, live in Nashville with their three girls, Elizabeth, Mary Anne and Rebecca. Their daughter, Barbara Jo Brillard, and her husband, Ricky, live in Guntown with their two boys, Wyatt and Dean.
Agnew earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in interior design from Arizona State University. Most of her career has been spent in commercial design.
In Mississippi, she’s done work on the Lyceum at Ole Miss; the Mississippi Museum of History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, both in Jackson; the Polymer Science building at the University of Southern Mississippi; and at the Tupelo Aquatic Center, and North Mississippi Medical Center Hematology and Oncology in Tupelo.
The Agnews lived in Jackson for more than 25 years, then moved to Tupelo in 2015 for Sam’s job.
“We love Tupelo,” Agnew said. “The people here are really nice.”
She spends a lot of her time playing golf and volunteering as a Lee County Master Gardener, and she is a member of the flower guild at First Presbyterian Church.
But cooking is still a passion.
“I try a new recipe as often as I can,” Agnew said. “I’m going through food fatigue right now. I’m tired of the same old recipes.”
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 [email protected].
WHITE CHICKEN CHILI
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies, drained
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cans navy or Great Northern beans
1 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken breast
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and salsa, for garnish
Put olive oil in a large sauce pan, add onion and cook for 4 minutes or until transparent. Add chilies, flour and cumin. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add beans and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened. Add chicken. Cook until hot. Garnish with cheese, sour cream and salsa, if desired.
MORNING GLORY BREAD
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 cups shredded zucchini, carrots, or mashed bananas
3/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a large bowl, combine first 5 ingredients. Stir in pecans. Combine remaining ingredients and add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans, and let cool on wire racks.
This batter may also be used for muffins. Increase baking temperature to 375 degrees and decrease baking time to 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 16 muffins.
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 packet active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar or honey
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
For the infused oil, in a cold medium skillet, combine olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary and pepper. Place pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes or until aromatic, but before the garlic browns. Set aside.
For the dough, in a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar or honey. Stir a few times, then let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Mixture should be bubbly.
Put yeast mixture in a stand mixer fitted with dough attachment. Add 1 cup of the flour and 1/3 cup of the infused oil mixture to the bowl. Knead for about 1 minute until the flour has moistened. Let sit for 5 minutes. Gradually add in the remaining flour and the fine sea salt. When the dough comes together, transfer to a floured board and knead 10 to 15 times until the dough is smooth. Dough will be very soft
Shape dough into a ball, place it in a large oiled bowl and cover with a warm, damp towel. Let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. (It’s best to let the dough rise in a warmer area of your kitchen).
Use 2 tablespoons of the infused oil mixture to oil a 9×13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet, then press it down into the pan. Use your fingers to dimple the dough. Drizzle the top with the remaining infused oil mixture (don’t leave any of the garlic on top or it will burn) and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Let the dough rise for 20 minutes or until it puffs slightly.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place a bowl of water in the corner of the oven rack. Place pan in the oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool baked focaccia bread on a wire rack.
Refrigerate or freeze leftover focaccia. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then in foil. Will keep in the refrigerator up to 2 days and in the freezer for about a month.
1 Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate cake mix
1 small box instant vanilla pudding
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 (16-ounce) carton Cool Whip, at room temperature
1 (6.8-ounce) Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds, finely chopped
For the cake, combine all ingredients with a mixer. Pour batter into greased 9×13-inch rectangular cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool.
For the frosting, cream together cream cheese and sugars. Add Cool Whip and chopped candy bars (save enough chopped candy bar to sprinkle top and sides of cake).
To assemble, slice cake into two layers. Spread half of the frosting on the bottom layer. Place top layer on top of filling. Spread remaining icing on top of cake. Sprinkle approximately 1/3 cup of the chopped candy on top. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.
SAUSAGE & SHRIMP JAMBALAYA
8 ounces smoked sausage, sliced
8 ounces andouille smoked sausage, sliced
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons ground thyme
2 cups long grain converted rice, washed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (16-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
3 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and tails removed
In a 6-quart heavy pot, sauté sausage until firm; remove with a slotted spoon.
Add olive oil to drippings and sauté green pepper, celery onions, celery, parsley, garlic, thyme and bay leaves for about 5 minutes. Add rice and sauté 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomato paste and cook 3 more minutes. Chop the tomatoes and add them and their liquid to the pot, along with sausage, chicken broth and the remaining herbs and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook slowly, stirring occasionally until rice is almost done, but still a little wet. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink. Transfer to a 9×13-inch glass casserole. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Add olive oil to top before cooking if jambalaya looks a little dry.
SLOW COOKER PORK LOIN WITH BACON AND MUSHROOM GRAVY
8 slices applewood smoked bacon, chopped
1 (16-ounce) package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
6 tablespoons butter, divided
2 (18-ounce) cans Progresso Vegetable Classics creamy mushroom soup
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
In a 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until bacon is crispy and browned. With slotted spoon, transfer cooked bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Add mushrooms to skillet with bacon drippings; cook 5 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add garlic; cook 30 to 60 seconds or until fragrant. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
Season pork loin with pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in skillet; add pork and cook 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until well browned. Transfer pork to a 4-quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray. Add cooked bacon, soup, sage and rosemary to mushroom mixture in bowl; mix well. Pour on top of pork in slow cooker.
Cover; cook on low 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until thermometer inserted in center of pork reads at least 145 degrees. Remove pork from slow cooker and place on a cutting board; cover and keep warm.
In small bowl, mix cornstarch and water to make a slurry; stir into mushroom gravy in slow cooker. Cover; cook on high for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and thickened. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter.
Slice pork and serve with mushroom gravy. Garnish with additional chopped sage and rosemary. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.
TOMATO BASIL SOUP
4 (15-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, undrained
6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 cups chicken broth, divided
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Melt butter in large sauce pan. Add onions. Sauté 7 to 8 minutes over medium heat. Chop the tomatoes and add them and their juice to onion mixture. Stir in tomato paste and next 5 ingredients. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add 4 cups broth. Cover and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Puree in batches in electric blender or food processor. Add remaining 2 cups broth. Return soup to pan. Reheat, stirring in cream. Makes 4 quarts.