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Some of the best nominations for “One of Hardin County’s Finest Cooks” are made by you, my readers. Even though I have known this lady for some time, I had no idea of her love to cook.
It is my pleasure to recognize former Hardin County Schools board member, Radcliff citizen and community leader extraordinaire, Jo Emary. When I asked her if she would like to share some of her recipes with you, she was quick to say yes.
Jo is married to the love of her life, John. They have one married son, Billy, who is serving in the U.S. Army; and one daughter, Rae, a sophomore at Western Kentucky University. They have two grandchildren, Katie and Caleb. Jo is a graduate of North Hardin High School and was executive director of the Radcliff Chamber of Commerce for eight years and is now enjoying a new career as a Realtor with Semonin Realtors in Elizabethtown.
Jo provided three of her favorite and most requested recipes. The potato salad is Jo's own recipe. The secret is the cucumber ranch dressing. People seek out Jo at gatherings to inquire about the ingredients. They are always shocked when she says cucumber ranch dressing.
The carrot casserole is a recipe Jo’s mother found in a Southern Living Magazine in the 1980s, and it immediately became a family tradition at holiday gatherings. Jo said people who swear they hate carrots have eaten this and love it.
Lastly is Jo’s chicken salad recipe, which she doesn't really measure when making. She also said it usually stumps people because they can't quite put their finger on what it is exactly that makes it so unique and delicious when compared to other chicken salads. It's the cumin, an amazing spice when combined with certain foods.
Jo told me she learned to cook via telephone. Her parents both worked at Fort Knox, and when her sister and she were in their mid-teens, their mother decided it was time for them to start putting dinner on the table every weeknight. Jo was not happy. It wasn't presented as an optional activity, so her crash cooking course began, and she grumbled every step of the way until she discovered how much she really enjoyed cooking.
It was inevitable that freshmen cooks would get stumped here and there, so, when that happened, they would call Mom at work to ask about how to cook something. If she was in a meeting, we would ask her secretary, Ms. Iris, if she knew how to cook this or that and sometimes she could walk us through it.
If calling their Mom's office didn't work, they would try for Dad, which was a last ditch effort as he wasn't exactly a cook. After a while, they began to feel fairly confident when cooking and began to try different things. Their parents were great sports at the dinner table and they “oohed” and “aahed” over their meals.
One summer day, at age 15, and feeling rather confident, Jo decided to cook cabbage as a side dish for dinner. Her dad walked in from work and said, "Hey sis, what's cooking tonight?"
Jo said, rather proudly, "cabbage." He looked quizzically at the huge stock pot on the stove just boiling away and carefully raised the lid. He absolutely could not contain his big Andy Griffith grin as he said, "Don't ya think you ought to cut it up first? You'll be boiling this thing 'til the cows come home."
So, there and then, Jo learned one must first cut the cabbage, and then cook it. Jo learned a lot of other things about cooking since then and credits her mother, the late Jonny Holloway, for her love of and talent for cooking, which she always said was best enjoyed when shared with others. Jo added that she couldn't agree more.
"Jo is an incredible cook," said friend, Kendra Stewart. "She prepares each and every dish with love, humor and blatant disregard to calories. Jo loves cooking and it shows in the dishes she prepares. Not only does she cook wonderfully, she presents the meals in gorgeous and heartwarming style so when you eat with Jo, it's an experience. She has a gift for making you feel special and appreciated. She feeds your tummy and your heart."
“I sure hope she sends you the carrot recipe. It is the all-time best dish ever," Kendra added.
Jo Emary's Potato Salad
5 lb. bag of red potatoes
16 oz bottle of Cucumber Ranch Salad Dressing
Mayonnaise (to suit taste and consistency)
Real bacon crumbles (amount optional)
German mustard (amount is optional)
Goya Adobe seasoning (optional)
Boil potatoes whole; when tender, but not overcooked, dump into sink filled with cold water; let stand for 30 minutes. After cooling, selectively peel potatoes, picking out 'bad' spots and leaving some of the red skin on. Coarsely chop and dump into mixing bowl. Season with salts, pepper, German mustard and Goya Adobe seasoning if you wish. Mix all ingredients well and chill.
2 lbs. carrots
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 bunch finely sliced green onions
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups shredded Velveeta cheese
Peel and slice carrots; cover with water, add bouillon cubes. Cover and boil until just tender (do not overcook). Drain carrots and mix with the green onions, sour cream and Velveeta cheese. Pour ingredients into a greased 9”x 13” x 2” casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown on top.
Jo Emary's Chicken Salad
4 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 large bunch green onions, sliced
Red seedless grapes, halved (amount to suit taste)
1 – 1 ½ c. pecan halves
¾ - 1 c. mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
¼ - ½ t. cumin (remember cumin can 'overwhelm' a recipe)
Boil chicken breasts, allow to cool and pull apart (Jo does not chop her chicken for this recipe). Prepare remainder of ingredients and mix well with the chicken. Serve on mini or large croissant rolls. This recipe is best when made in advanced and allowed to sit in refrigerator overnight.
Nora Sweat is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.