From Burger Flipper To Pastry Chef, And Everything In Between

As you check-out with Anna McGee, who works at the door at Jamestown’s Sam’s Club, you may notice her smiling face and her outgoing personality, but you may be surprised to know she is an accomplished cook having graduated from Southeastern Culinary Academy in Kissimmee, Florida. In her early years she had no idea that cooking was her passion.

“My very beginning was at a Tastee-Freez in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, where I flipped burgers,” she says. “People would come and get me from all over the county to babysit. I would clean their house and cook for them for 50 cents an hour. I would use the money to take the kids to Fairyland Forest.”

As a young adult she took a cook’s job at a nursing home with no training. It was after her move to Florida and acquiring a job at a hospital that she realized she loved to cook.

“I think because I am Italian I came by it naturally. In 1997, I went to culinary school and was in The Director’s Club and on the Dean’s List. The Vice-President and Director made this comment at graduation – ‘Every woman that made it through today worked ten times harder than any man that made it through, because they had to prove themselves.'”

“While I was in culinary school we went to an American Culinary Federation competition. I earned a bronze medal for a Vegetarian Asian Salad. I loved entering the competitions, but have never done it since because they are so expensive.”

She worked at Disney World in the Wide World of Sports banquet kitchen preparing food for 5,000 people and when she left she was given an impressive letter of recommendation. She has worked for several hospitals and several hotels.

“I have gotten on planes and arrived in cities to cater. I go to Sam’s Club and get the food, go to the place (where the event is held), set the tables and prepare all of the food,” she smiles. “I’ve done weddings, anniversaries and graduation parties. When the party is over, I get on a plane and go back home.”

“Most people have one job and do that one job their entire life. I’ve had several jobs and have a plethora of information which makes me multi-faceted. I think I adapt easier than most people do when they go to a new place.”

Aside from cooking she has many interests, sewing being one of those. A foster mother taught her to sew and she was able to make her own wedding gown and the groom’s suit when she was just 18 years old. The avid seamstress made her children’s pajamas, too. She has made “Frozen-themed” dresses for her granddaughter and a friend and especially enjoyed making a gown for her granddaughter to wear to a Girl Scout Victorian Ball.

“Everyone became quiet when she entered the room and asked where she bought the gown. I was asked to make gowns for others, but this is Chelsy’s thing,” she shares. “I didn’t have grandparents, but told myself I was going to be the best grandma.”

She collects decorative tins, having Elvis, The Wizard of Oz and several Girl Scout tins in her collection. A tea pot collection brings her enjoyment, too. Doodling is another favorite pastime and her beautiful drawings can be found on all of her lists, including work schedules. John Grisham is her favorite author.

“I have every one of his books. I’ve got all of the hardcover and paperbacks of each one. I also have a signed picture of him and two of his first books made by Windward. His publisher is now Doubleday. I’ve seen all of the movies written from the books and have his Theodore Boone books for teens.”

The talented cook has three children. Her sons Michael and Charles live in Florida and Melissa, her daughter, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has eight grandsons, three granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

“I give free classes about essential oils to any person or group interested in making a break from using chemicals in their daily life.”

Today, we have some of her favorite recipes. She developed the recipe for the Lemon Ricotta Tart.

“I created this while working at Bergamo’s Italian Restaurant, a fine dining restaurant in Florida, in the 90s when I was the pastry chef. I brought it into the chef and thought we could use it for the customers and he put it on his menu. Everyday he had me make one for him and five for the customers.”

The Orange Polenta Cake was made for her father’s birthday.

“It is a very dense Italian Cake. My father loves it and I made it for his birthday today.”

“The Dirty Yellow Rice recipe is mine. When I lived in Florida, whenever there was a funeral or any kind of get-together, they would call me to make that and there would never be any left.”

Bread Pudding


2 1/2 c Hawaiian bread, cubed

1 1/4 c warm milk

1/4 c sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 c raisins

1/4 c pecans, chopped

Brandy Sauce

1 c powdered sugar

1/4 c butter

2 tsp hot water

1 T brandy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease casserole dish. Set aside. Put bread cubes and milk in a large bowl. In a small bowl add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add raisins and pecans, then combine with bread and milk. Pour in casserole dish. Bake 45 minutes.

Brandy Sauce

Add all ingredients to a medium bowl. Beat on high until well blended. Put in refrigerator until ready to serve over warm bread pudding.

Smother Pork Chops

4-1″ thick pork chops, bone in

3-4 T flour

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T oil

2 T butter

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

3 c celery, chopped

2 tsp garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

2 1/2 c chicken broth

1/4 c heavy cream

Season chops with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour. Heat oil in skillet until very hot. Sear chops on both sides. Put chops in casserole dish. Deglaze pan with butter, then cook onions, peppers and thyme. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add broth and cream. Cook for 5 more minutes. Pour over chops in casserole dish. Bake at 300 degrees for 4 hours. Serve with rice.

Lemon Ricotta Tart

Pastry dough for tart

34 oz flour

28 oz butter

12 oz sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 lemons, zested

Mix all ingredients, including lemon zest. This makes enough dough for a few tarts.


1 1/4 c ricotta

3 eggs, separated

1/4 c sugar

2 lemons, zested

Beat egg yolks and sugar, then add ricotta. Beat egg whites in a clean bowl. Beat egg whites until stiff. Mix together. Put pastry in tart pan. Bake at 300 degrees until tests done when toothpick is inserted in center of tart.

Lemon Sauce

1 1/4 c sugar

3 T cornstarch

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 c cold water

3 egg yolks

2 T butter

1/2 c lemon juice

Combine. Bring to a boil until it thickens a bit. Serve over tarts. Garnish with fresh berries. Sprinkle a little lemon zest on top of tarts.

Linguine, Tomatoes and Capers

1 lb linguine

2 T olive oil

2 c tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 c green onions, chopped

3 T capers

2 T chopped basil

2 pinches salt

1 pinch pepper

1/2 c Parmesan cheese

Cook linguine al dente; drain. Heat olive oil over medium to high heat. Add tomatoes and garlic and cook 3 minutes or until tomatoes start to break down. Stir in green onions, capers, basil, salt and pepper. Add linguine and toss. Add Parmesan cheese and serve hot.

Italian Wedding Soup

1 T olive oil

1 lb bulk sausage

1/2 c onion, chopped

1/2 c carrots, chopped

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 c white wine

7 1/2 c chicken broth

3 c kale, chopped

1 c uncooked ditalini pasta

Grated Parmesan cheese

Combine olive oil, sausage, carrots,onions and Italian seasoning in large pan. Cook over medium heat about 4-5 minutes or until meat is no longer pink. Drain off fat. Add broth, wine and kale and bring to a boil. Stir in pasta and cook until pasta is tender. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Heavenly Lemon Meringue Pie

(Double lemon filling for a deep dish pie)

5 T cornstarch

2 pinches salt

1 c water

1/2 c milk

4 eggs, separated

1 c sugar

1 T butter

1/2 c lemon juice

1/4 tsp cream of tarter

2 lemons, zested


2 c flour

1 tsp salt

2/3 c shortening

5-7 T ice water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. For crust- measure flour and salt in a medium size bowl. Cut in shortening, then add 5-7 T water. Make a ball of dough and roll out. Put into pie pan. Poke dough several times with a fork. Bake until done.

In a 2 qt saucepan add 1 c sugar, cornstarch and salt. Mix well, then add water and milk. Cook, stirring constantly. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then add 1/2 c hot milk mixture to eggs yolks as to temper the yolks so as not to cook the eggs. Add told to pan. Simmer for a few minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add butter, lemon juice and zest. Pour into pie shell.

Beat egg whites with cream of tarter until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 c sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread over lemon filling, making peaks with spatula. Bake until golden brown.

Cornbread Jalapeno Style

2 c cornmeal

3 pieces cooked bacon, chopped (reserve drippings)

2 T baking soda

2 pinches salt

2 eggs

1 c cream corn

1/8 c butter

1/4 c jalapeno, chopped

1 T bacon drippings

Mix all ingredients in bowl, then pour bacon drippings in cast iron skillet. Put batter in skillet. Add butter around edges. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Collard Greens

3/4 lbs ham, cubed small

12 slices smoked bacon, chopped

1 large sweet onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

3-32 oz cans chicken broth

3 lbs fresh collards

1/3 c apple cider vinegar

A fistful of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon. Add onions, ham and garlic. Stir in broth and remaining ingredients. Cook for two hours. This makes a lot, but these taste great the next day.

Anna’s Dirty Yellow Rice

3 c long grain rice (I prefer Uncle Ben’s)

salt and pepper to taste

Pinch saffron

2 tsp poultry seasoning

2 T oregano

1/2 lb cooked chicken, chopped

Chopped jalapeno (optional)

3 T butter

3 T oil

3 c chicken broth

1 large onion, chopped

2 tsp garlic, minced

3 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 c red pepper, chopped

1/2 c green pepper, chopped

Put all ingredients in large casserole dish. Cover with foil. Bake 45-60 minutes at 375 degrees. Stir. Check to see that rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Macaroni and Cheese

3 c uncooked macaroni

1/2 c heavy cream

1/2 c milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp paprika

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1 C sharp cheddar cheese

1 c colby jack cheese

1 c Monterey Jack cheese

8 oz Velveeta cheese

3 eggs

1 c smoked cheddar

Shred all cheeses, but do not combine the smoked cheddar with others. Cook macaroni, drain and put into large mixing bowl. Set aside. In a 4 quart saucepan heat milk and cream. Add first three cheeses and spices, stirring until cheese is melted. Pour over macaroni and combine. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Scramble raw eggs and stir into macaroni mixture. Top with smoked cheddar cheese. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes.

Baked Chicken Italian Style

4 boneless Chicken Breasts

1 c flour

Salt and pepper to taste

4 T olive oil

3 T minced garlic

2 c chicken broth

1 c tomato paste

1 tsp basil

1 tsp oregano

4 slices mozzarella cheese

4 tomato slices

4 tsp grated Parmesan

Combine flour, salt and pepper, then dredge chicken in mixture. Brown chicken in olive oil. Set chicken in casserole dish. Add garlic to pan in which chicken was seared and cook a couple of minutes. Add broth, tomato paste, basil and oregano and bring to a boil. Pour sauce over chicken. Bake 25-35 minutes at 400 degrees. Take chicken out of pan, pour out sauce, reserving it. Place chicken back in casserole dish. Put sliced tomato and mozzarella cheese on chicken. Put back in oven for 6-10 minutes or until cheese is just melted. Take out of oven. Serve with reserved sauce over each piece and Parmesan cheese sparkled atop.

Orange Polenta Cake

6 eggs

4 oz butter

1/2 c Ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur

1/3 c milk

1/2 c orange juice

4 c flour

2 c plus 2 oz polenta

Zest of 3 oranges

2 c sugar

2 T baking powder

Combine all ingredients. Spray a Bundt pan, then sprinkle sugar in bottom. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach Panini

1 loaf focaccia bread

1 1/2 c fresh spinach leaves

1 jar roasted red peppers, drained

3/4 c red onion, thinly sliced

Olive oilAnn

4 of fontina cheese, thinly sliced

1/4 c mayonnaise

1 tsp pesto

Cut focaccia loaf long way in half. Layer spinach, peppers, fontina and onion. Combine mayonnaise with pesto and spread on top layer of focaccia. Grill until golden brown and cheese has melted. Cut into four sandwiches.


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