TUPELO — When Rhonda Armstrong Gibson was in sixth grade, she became her parents’ helper in the kitchen.
His father, Cornelius Armstrong, introduced him to things like oysters, mussels, shrimp and rabbit. His mother, Shirley Armstrong, taught him how to bake cookies, meat and vegetables.
When Gibson arrived at Memphis College of Art, where she majored in graphic design and illustration with a minor in painting, she expanded her palate.
“Thanks to my classmates, I learned to cook Greek, Italian, Thai, vegetarian food,” said Gibson, 55. “I was always asking questions. I had soul food. I wanted to learn other things.”
After college, she worked at a television station in Memphis for seven years before moving to Tupelo in 1996. She was an assistant teacher at Joyner Elementary for three years, then spent another seven at Okolona High School teaching art.
“I got tired of the art and ended up as an assistant clerk in Lee County Court for 17 years,” Gibson said.
After a workplace accident in January 2020, Gibson quit her job because she said she could no longer do her job properly.
But that didn’t keep her away from the kitchen.
“It takes a lot of energy for me to cook now,” she said. “I’m slower and a little limited, but I’m getting there.”
Four years ago, Gibson started a cooking club called Savory Seasoned Sistahs, which meets once a month at her home.
“I come up with a theme, and everyone has to cook a dish following that theme,” she said. “The club is limited to six people because that’s the number of chairs I have at my dining room table.”
Gibson is always trying new recipes or creating new ones as they go.
“I tasted like steak and Philly cheese, but without the bread,” she said. “So I cooked my steak, peppers and onions and put them in a pan on top of a layer of potatoes, topped with Provolone cheese.”
Lately, Gibson, a member of both the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Order of the Eastern Star, has taken to art again.
Last year she created two T-shirts – one for George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, and one for Juneteenth. She has also illustrated five books.
“I’m still creating art – I just can’t go to festivals like I used to,” she said. “But when I cook, it’s like I’m creating a work of art. On Facebook, when I post pictures, I like my food to look pretty, as if the plate is a work of art.”
DO YOU KNOW A GOOD COOK? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, PO Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can call (662) 678-1581 or email them to [email protected]
PHILLY CHEESESTEK CASSEROLE
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 can sliced mushrooms, undrained
All Bagel Seasoning
5 russet potatoes, unpeeled
2 tablespoons cold butter, thinly sliced
8 slices Provolone cheese, divided
Break up the steak and put it in the bottom of a slow cooker. Garnish with peppers, onions and mushrooms with juice. Sprinkle with Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and Seasoning for Any Bagel. Cook over high heat for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, cut the unpeeled potatoes and place them in a saucepan. Cover with water and add the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Boil until tender. Drain. Put the potatoes in a greased square pan and cover with sliced butter. Do not stir.
Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and pepper. Top with 4 slices of cheese. Top with steak mixture. Cover with the remaining slices of cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
1 pound chopped breakfast sausage
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 jar sliced mushrooms, drained
1 cup grated cheese, any type
Slices of sharp cheddar cheese
In skillet, cook breakfast sausage until browned and crumbly. Remove sausage to drain on paper towel. Sauté the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms in the cooking juices until tender.
In a bowl, combine the sausage, sautéed vegetables, beaten eggs, half and half and grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into a greased pie plate or shallow pan. Top with cheese slices and sprinkle with bacon bits. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
1 pound Italian sausage, cooked*
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons beef stock granules
All Bagel Seasoning
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan (do not drain vegetables). Cook until the mixture comes to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Cook over low heat for at least 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit for 15 minutes.
*Note: You can substitute Italian sausage with ground pork or beef.
18 large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
Wonton wrappers, cut into strips
Mince the prawns. In a bowl, combine the chopped shrimp with the garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, bell pepper and onion. Season with salt and pepper.
Using your hands, shape the mixture into balls (wet your hands to prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands). Completely cover each ball with wonton strips.
Fry in oil for 5-7 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Serve with a sweet sauce.
*Note: If you add shredded cabbage to the mix, you can make shrimp spring rolls.
12 ounces wide egg noodles
1 pound ground breakfast sausage or ground turkey
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 block of cream cheese (8 ounces)
Grated mozzarella or sharp cheddar cheese
Boil the noodles, drain and set aside. Cook sausage until browned and crumbly; drain. Mix the noodles and sausages with the cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms, cream cheese and milk. Pour the mixture into a greased pan and top with grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
1/4 extra sweet pickle relish
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt-free seasoning
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Mix all the ingredients and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
CARAMEL GRAHAM CRACKER
In a saucepan, heat the butter, sugar and pecans over low heat until melted. Place the graham cracker planks on a baking sheet. Spoon pecan mixture over graham crackers. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.