COOK OF THE WEEK: Attorney likes to prepare well-balanced plate | Cook of the Week

RIPLEY – There are those people who learn to cook from their grandmothers, and those people who learn to cook because their grandmothers can’t.

Jennifer Shackelford falls into the latter group.

Shackelford, who grew up in small-town Senath, Missouri, moved in with her grandmother when she was 13.

“I started to cook then because my grandmother didn’t like to cook, and when she did, it wasn’t very good,” Shackelford said. “In college, I taught myself to make dressing for the family.”

Shackelford, 48, went to school at the University of Mississippi, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She took a year off, and then went back to Ole Miss and got her law degree.

She has Shackelford Law Office in Holly Springs, and she’s also a youth court judge for Tippah and Benton counties. She lives in Ripley with her boyfriend and her mother, Meredith Williams. Her father still lives in Missouri.

At least five nights a week, Shackelford prepares a meal that almost always includes a protein, carbohydrate, green vegetable and some type of bread.

“I like a well-balanced plate,” she said.

She might make seared scallops, blue cheese grits, asparagus and French bread, or a shepherd’s pie with potatoes, carrots and peas, a salad and bread.

But if it’s comfort food she’s looking for, she’s going to make Jon Ben Ghetti.

“In the area where I grew up, everybody made it, or they’d had it, or their family had some variation of the recipe,” she said. “It’s not some fantastic recipe or anything. It’s just an all-in-one dish with meat and vegetables. Kids typically like it.”

Because she never knows how her day is going to go or what time she might get home, Shackelford always keeps cooked ground beef and cooked, shredded chicken in ziptop bags in the freezer.

“That way when we get in, if we’re tired, I can pull together chicken and dumplings or spaghetti quickly,” she said.

Shackelford enjoys entertaining in her home, but she hasn’t been able to do that much during the COVID pandemic.

“I like to cook for people,” she said. “When my daughter was at NEMCC, every Sunday night, I’d feed her and her boyfriend and about 10 of their friends supper before they’d head back to school.”

Shackelford’s daughter, Charley, now 22, is at Arkansas State studying to become a physical therapist.

While Shackelford likes to cook and is fearless in the kitchen, she’s not much on baking.

“We typically don’t have dessert,” she said. “If Charley is home, I may make brownies or chocolate chip cookies, but they’re sure not going to be from scratch.”

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1 small package egg noodles

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream-style corn, or whole kernel corn, drained

1 can French-style green beans, drained

2 cups shredded Velveeta cheese

Cook and crumble ground beef, then drain. Cook noodles according to package directions, then drain. Combine cooked beef, noodles, soups and vegetables, and pour into a greased casserole dish. Cover with cheese and bake at 400 degrees until cheese is melted and casserole is warmed through.


1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained

1 (15-ounce) can cream-style corn

1 small box Jiffy corn muffin mix

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Combine all ingredients and pour into a greased casserole. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until set and browned on top.


1/2 cup diced sweet onion

1 tablespoon minced or chopped garlic

3 to 4 strips bacon, diced

1 large bag Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

3 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, garlic and bacon until bacon is crisp and onions are translucent. Add butter, Brussels sprouts, salt and pepper and toss until sprouts are coated. Continue cooking about 5 minutes. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook an additional 5 minutes until sprouts are fork tender. Uncover and sprinkle brown sugar over all and cook until the sugar turns crunchy and is caramelized. Remove from heat and drizzle balsamic glaze over the top.


1/2 cup diced sweet onion

3 large tomatoes (can use different varieties)

6 basil leaves, cut in small strips

2 cups assorted shredded cheeses, such as Cheddar, Gruyere and Mozzarella

Unroll pie crust into a greased pie plate. Saute bacon and onion until bacon is crisp and onions are translucent. Spread on top of pie crust. Core and seed the tomatoes, then thinly slice or roughly chop them and pat dry. Layer tomatoes on top of bacon mixture, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with basil. Combine mayonnaise and cheese and spread over the top. Bake at 400 degrees until warm, bubbly and browned on top, about 35 to 40 minutes.


1 can Campbell’s French onion soup

1 can Campbell’s beef broth

Combine soup, broth and rice and pour into a greased baking dish. Slice the butter into pats and place on top of the rice mixture. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 400 degrees until the rice absorbs the liquid, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.


1 (14.5-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes

1 (14.5-ounce) can chicken broth

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Sour cream, shredded Cheddar cheese and croutons, for topping

In a large pot, melt butter and saute onion, carrot and garlic until tender. Add tomatoes, broth, basil, tomato paste, sugar and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Allow soup to cool, then transfer to a blender. Puree until soup is smooth, adding cream and cheese at the end. (You may need to do this in batches).

Transfer soup back to pot and reheat. Top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded Cheddar cheese and croutons. Good served with a grilled cheese sandwich.


3 large tomatoes, cut in bite-size pieces

1 large cucumber, cut in bite-size pieces

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 cup French dressing (not the creamy kind)

Combine tomatoes, cucumber, onion and bell peppers and season with salt and pepper. Whisk dressing and vinegar together and pour over vegetables. Mix until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve, at least a couple of hours.


1 package ranch dressing mix

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 can black beans, drained

1 can white beans, drained

Tortilla strips, sour cream, shredded Cheddar and avocado slices, to serve

In a large soup pot, brown the ground beef, then drain. Add seasonings, corn, tomatoes, tomato sauce and beans. Add water to thin, if needed. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Garnish with tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded Cheddar and avocado slices. Also good served with Fritos Scoops.


1 can jellied cranberry sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Place pork loin in a Crock-Pot. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over meat. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on low heat.


1 (38-ounce) can cut green beans, drained

3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds

In a large saucepan, melt butter, then add sugar and whisk until caramelized. Add green beans, and simmer about 20 minutes. Add bacon and almonds. Season with salt and pepper. (You can also add fresh chopped garlic, if desired.)


3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cubed

2 cups shredded Velveeta cheese

1 can white beans, drained

1 can black beans, drained

2 cans fiesta nacho cheese soup

1 small bag flour tortillas, cut into bite-size pieces

Crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, for garnish

In a large soup pot, saute chicken in a few tablespoons of oil, until cooked through. Add taco seasoning and stir to combine. Add cheese, cream, corn, beans, tomatoes and cheese soup, and enough water to make a soupy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Add in flour tortilla pieces and cook until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Garnish with tortilla chips and sour cream. Avocado or salsa can also be used as a garnish.


1 cup flour, plus 2 tablespoons, divided

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 small eggplant, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds

1 (12- to 16-ounce) bag medium or large peeled, deveined shrimp

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 to 5 basil leaves, thinly chopped

Combine 1 cup flour and seasoned bread crumbs; season with salt and pepper. Dip each eggplant round into the beaten eggs, then dredge in the flour mixture, making sure to coat the top and bottom. Lightly toss shrimp in the remaining flour mixture, and shake off excess.

Melt 1 stick butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry eggplant in batches, 5 minutes per side. Remove to a baking sheet and set aside.

In another skillet, melt remaining stick of butter and saute shrimp until pink, about 3 minutes, then remove from stove and set aside.

While shrimp are cooking, in the first skillet, brown the remaining 2 tablespoons flour, whisking constantly, and then whisk in cream, cooking until the sauce thickens to desired consistency. Stir in tomato paste and cook a couple of minutes longer.

Place a spoonful of sauce in the center of each plate and spread it out into a larger circle. Place 1 or 2 eggplant rounds on top, top with 4 to 5 shrimp, smother with more cream sauce, and top with a sprinkle of basil and green onions. Serves 4.