TUPELO • Rheonna Wiuff was raised in Southern California, just a couple of hours from the Mexican border, so all she ever knew was fresh food.
“I grew up among orange groves and avocado groves,” she said. “There was a huge farm across from us where we could buy strawberries and tomatoes. My mother would take us to a local dairy for cheese and ice cream.”
The area where Wiuff’s family lived had a lot of migrant workers, and with those workers came their wives.
“My mother didn’t cook,” Wiuff said. “We always had someone to take care of the house and do the cooking. They were always making Mexican food. They didn’t really teach me, but I watched, and sometimes I’d ask if I could help.”
When she was 14, Wiuff spent a year with her grandparents in Indiana, and that’s when she first realized the real meaning of cooking for others.
“My grandfather worked in a factory and he paid me 50 cents a day to make his lunch,” she said. “He’d come home and say, ‘Oh, that was the best sandwich. You could sell those for $4 each.’ I didn’t care about the money. I just realized I loved preparing food for people.”
When Wiuff was in her 20s, she dated a guy from Northern Italy, a five-star chef whose family had owned a restaurant.
“That’s where I acquired a taste for all things Italian,” said Wiuff, 62. “All the sauces he made were so light, with lots of garlic, lemon and wine. I cook with those same ingredients today. I often say I was born in the wrong place – I should have been born in Italy.”
When she was 34, Wiuff moved to Nashville with her two young sons, and then almost immediately, they moved to Franklin. She stayed there for 23 years, before moving to Alabama for a few years. In 2019, she and her husband, Rory, moved to Tupelo for his job.
If you eat at Wiuff’s house, you’re likely going to get one of three things: Italian food, Mexican food or something Southern she learned to make in Tennessee.
“My husband can tell what we’re having for dinner when he comes in the house by the type of music I have playing,” she said.
The Wiuffs love to grill and they eat al fresco as often as they can.
“I enjoy setting a nice table and relaxing through a meal with good wine,” she said. “I love to cook for friends. I always do a pretty presentation. I think eating should be an experience. I think it should stimulate your senses.”
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@example.com.
SAUTEED GREEN BEANS WITH BACON AND MUSHROOMS
2 pounds green beans, stem ends removed
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 pound bacon, thinly sliced
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 to 5 small white button mushrooms, wiped of grit and sliced
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a big pinch of salt and add the green beans. Cook for about 5 minutes. The beans should still be crisp as they will be cooked more in the pan with the pancetta and mushrooms. Drain them and set aside.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan; add the garlic and bacon and cook until slightly crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Add the butter to the fat that has rendered from the bacon and sauté the mushrooms until golden and crispy. Season with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the pan and add the blanched beans. Add the sour cream and bring to a gentle simmer to reduce and thicken a little and allow the flavors to marry. Taste and season. Serves 4 to 6.
FRESH HERB SAUCE
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
In a small bowl combine all ingredients. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Bring to room temperature and spoon over grilled meat, seafood or vegetables.
2 pounds chicken cutlets, tenders or chicken breasts (halved horizontally)
2 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
10 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or white wine
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Season the chicken with 2 teaspoons salt and pepper on both sides. Place the flour on a plate. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off any excess.
Heat 3 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet set over medium-high until the butter has melted. Working in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan, add 1/2 the chicken and sauté until golden brown, about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side, until cooked through. Set the chicken aside on a plate when they finish cooking.
Add 3 more tablespoons of butter and 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and cook the second batch of chicken like the first.
Add the shallot to the pan drippings and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute longer. Add the stock or wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to low, then stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, capers, lemon juice, zest and cream. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Garnish with parsley if using. Serve the chicken with the piccata sauce poured over the top, alongside pasta or a salad.
BRUSCHETTA WITH TOMATO AND BASIL
6 to 7 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced or chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 baguette, French bread, or similar Italian bread
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. As the water is heating make shallow cuts in a cross pattern at the tip ends of the tomatoes (this will make the tomatoes easier to peel).
Once the water is boiling, remove the pot from the heat. Put the tomatoes in the hot water and blanch for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and let sit until cool enough to handle. Then gently peel off the tomato skins. Cut out the stem base with a paring knife. Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters and squeeze out most of the juices and seeds.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the top slot of the oven.
Finely chop the tomatoes and place them in a medium bowl. Mix in the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the balsamic vinegar. Stir in the thinly sliced basil and add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Use a bread knife to slice the baguette on the diagonal making half-inch thick slices. Using a pastry brush, brush one side of each slice with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and place olive oil-side down on a baking sheet or roasting pan.
Toast the baguette slices for 5 to 6 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.
Arrange the toasted bread on a platter, olive oil side facing up. Top each toasted bread slice with some of the tomato mixture. Serves 6 to 10.
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 box long grain and wild rice, cooked according to package directions
1 1/2 sleeves Ritz garlic and butter crackers, crushed
Season chicken breast halves with oil, salt, pepper, garlic, herbs and seasoned salt. Place in a covered casserole and bake at 350 degrees until just cooked. When cool enough to handle, chop or shred chicken.
In a large bowl, combine sour cream, soup, soy sauce, cooked wild rice and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in chicken, stirring to coat.
Pour mixture into a greased 9×13-inch casserole. Combine crushed crackers, softened butter and poppyseeds and place on top of chicken mixture. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake until hot and the top has browned a little.
EASY SKILLET CHICKEN THIGHS
6 boneless chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish
Use a paper towel to pat the chicken thighs dry.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, and black pepper. Rub the seasoning mixture all over the chicken thighs, on both sides.
Heat a large cast iron to medium heat and add the olive oil.
Place chicken thighs skin side down in the hot skillet and cook, until skin is crispy about 5 minutes, flip chicken thighs and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes or until internal temp is 165 degrees. Transfer chicken to a plate.
Add the butter, shallot, and garlic to the skillet. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the chicken broth, lemon juice, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low and stir in the heavy cream. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until sauce thickens up a bit.
Place the chicken back in the pan with the sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve the chicken warm with the sauce.
2 1/4 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
5 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces
32 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 bottle dry red wine such as Pinot Noir, divided
2 pounds carrots, scrubbed and cut diagonally into 3/4-inch slices
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can reduced-sodium beef broth, divided
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied into a bundle
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
10 to 12 ounces frozen pearl onions
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Toasted baguette slices, for serving
With paper towels, pat the beef dry. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned and beginning to turn crisp and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a large plate.
Add the mushrooms and 1 tablespoon butter to the pot. Stir to combine. Sauté over medium low until the mushrooms are nicely browned and have given up their liquid, about 8 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir coat. Let cook 30 additional seconds. Transfer to a separate plate or bowl that is separate from the bacon.
Increase the Dutch oven heat to medium-high. Add a single layer of beef cubes (be careful the cubes do not touch – you’ll need to work in batches) and sear until the beef is nicely browned on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes (you do not need to cook it all the way through). Remove to the plate with the bacon. Repeat with remaining beef.
Carefully pour in about 1/4 of the bottle of wine. With a wooden spoon, stir to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots, onion slices, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Sauté the onions and carrots until the onions are lightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds, until very fragrant.
Return the beef and bacon to the pot, along with any juices that have collected on the plate. Add the remaining wine and broth.
Add the thyme. Increase the heat to bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover, then carefully transfer the pot to the oven. Bake the boeuf bourguignon at 250 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The meat and vegetables should feel very tender when pierced with a fork.
Place the pot back on the stove. In a small bowl, mash the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and flour together with a fork. Stir it into the stew.
Stir in the pearl onions and reserved mushrooms. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the herb bundle. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve hot with toasted baguette slices for soaking up the broth. Serves 6.
NOT YO’ MAMA’S BANANA PUDDING
2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies, divided
1 (5-ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding mix
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
Line the bottom of a 9×13-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.
In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate. Serves 12.
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
12 to 15 corn tortillas, 6- to 7-inch size
1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
1- pound lean ground beef
15 ounces black beans, rinsed and drained
4 ounces mild green chiles
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese, divided
2 cups enchilada sauce, divided
Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Working one at a time, fry tortilla, turning once, about 7 to 10 seconds per side, just enough to warm the tortilla. You don’t want the tortillas to get crispy. Transfer the tortilla to paper towel lined plate to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil or avocado oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef, onion, and garlic. Cook until beef is browned and no longer pink, crumbling with a wooden spoon as you go. Drain any excess grease.
Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the black beans and green chiles. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the shredded cheese and 1/2 cup enchilada sauce.
Pour 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce into a 9×13-inch baking dish and spread around to lightly coat the bottom of the dish.
Lay a tortilla flat on a clean work surface. Fill each tortilla evenly with the beef mixture. Roll the tortillas tightly and place in the baking dish, seam side down.
Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the tortillas and top with the remaining shredded cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven and serve warm with desired toppings, such as sour cream, avocado, cilantro, shredded lettuce, jalapeno slices, cotija cheese, chopped onions and/or pico de gallo.