I have told y’all the back story about how I came to be a displaced coonass in the middle of Shreveport. When I first came around Shreveport for the first time at 19 and started dating BD, I was about to start my semester at LSU. I had attended LSU-A for my first year at my parents’ encouragement and the plan was for me to move to Baton Rouge to start my life. I was engaged to my high school sweetheart and he moved there too. I had it all set. It was laid out. How it was going to be. Then we got the call that BD’s mom, was very ill and we needed to come and see her. (Remember we used to live across the street from one another for a while as children and our moms were friends too). I was 19 and was LSU bound and I decided I needed to go and say my goodbyes to a lovely woman who had influenced me and had been another mom to me growing up. And I wanted to see BD. Well…he was known as Clay back then…my childhood friend…clay. He harassed me. Ripped my dolls head off, and so on. Lol. On to Shreveport we went. She passed away a few days later and my family naturally went to the funeral. I will not go into all of the emotions that came about during this time or all that transpired…just know that I was in a relationship and it was not a great one. No offense to the guy I was with, but we just weren’t meant to be, though we tried. I certainly had a plan of how things would work out and falling in love with my best friend from childhood really was not part of my plan. And yet….I guess it was part of God’s plan. That is pretty plain to see now. So, cut to a few months later and I had broken my engagement (I am truly not a flaky person and take commitment seriously but the heart wants what it wants and I wanted Clay. It was just right) and left LSU behind and moved to Natchitoches to attend Northwestern. Now maybe I did not give LSU a chance, but looking back in retrospect it wasn’t the place for me. And I fell in love with clay and NSU all at once. When I first came around Keithville, where BD’s daddy ran the Farmer’s Supply Co-op and everyone knew everyone and I knew no one. I was an outsider. Cajun catholic chick from Alex. That was me. And though people were friendly enough to me, there were some people who embraced me right away. They were happy to know me and pulled me right in. Mama Kate was one of those people. Mama Kate was a Southern gentile lady if there ever was one. She wanted to know you and wanted you to be comfortable. She reminded me of my Momou and I was down with that. So I was going to Northwestern and had my new redneck man (ha ha!!!) and I was living with my cousin, Robin and y’all life was good. I felt at home. And for a homebody like me, that is true happiness. I will never forget one evening in January I guess, there was a knock on the door. It was John, a friend of big daddy’s and mama Kate’s grandson. He had something for me. Sure enough, 2 cookbooks that mama Kate wanted me to have and she had marked a few that clay might like and had written her thoughts in the margins. Y’all. I was blown away by this lady’s kindness. Her thoughtfulness. Remember, BD’s mom was no longer with us so that guidance that would be there was no longer and Deb (his stepmom and my wonderful mother in law and grandmother extraordinaire was not in the picture yet). This lovely lady wanted to make sure when he was around, that I fed him well. And I am sure at some point she and I had talked recipes and she knew I liked to cook. Remember now, I was 19. It pleases me so to think back and realize she knew I had it in me to get in there and cook or that I wanted to. Because let me say, Mama Kate was kind, thoughtful and she could cook circles around most.
As fate would have it, she moved next door to bd and I before we became new parents. And after I had Ben, my oldest, John’s wife, Kylie, had a baby a few months later. Kylie is a lot like mama Kate and we had lots in common. We became friends. It made those lonely days in the country more bearable as BD worked a lot trying to build his Farm Bureau business. Ben and I would walk next door and visit mama Kate. He would play on the floor and she would tell me stories and we would just chat. Kylie and I would go over together. And sometimes, she would invite BD and I over to have Sunday dinner with them. I am big on framily (friends who are family) and I guess Mama Kate and Kylie were the ones who taught me the importance of framily. Oh my. It was such a treat when you got to eat anything Mama Kate cooked. I would not trade those memories for anything. Though we moved “to town” and life got in the way, I would talk to mama Kate from time to time. I probably did not give her the time she deserved and I cannot make excuses for that. Other than to say I was having babies and just stayed busy. We stayed in touch though and would talk from time to time. She passed away about 2 years ago and nothing will ever be the same for any of us. I am grateful for the memories I have with her. And that at a time or several times in my life as a new girl in town, a new mom, a lonely mom, she was there. I hope one day I will be able return that favor to someone else who is in need. I still have that cookbook where I found several go to recipes that we still love. King ranch chicken casserole is one of those. First time I made it in college, we fell in love. No matter where you have your roots or where you are, it is a dish worth making. It is a comfort food that you will never forget. And when I told Big Daddy I was making it tonight, he replied via text “yes!!!” Lol! That is the appropriate response to knowing this meal is on the menu. It is easy enough that you can pull it together and it is memorable enough that you will be asked to make it over and over. It is a dish you will crave. It is a meal that unites us, country peeps and Cajuns, young and old, newcomers to town and town regulars…kind of like mama Kate did for me and I am sure many others over the year. It is a dish that brings you full circle and makes you glad you took the time to make it. And got to know the person who introduced you to such a simple, fantastic recipe. Hope y’all love it too.~AMB
one of the treasured cookbooks she gave me all those years ago
Mama Kate and a newborn Benny Boo
A very pregnant and swollen me and Mama Kate at a shower some friends gave me holding a blanket she had made for the baby who would be named Ben.
King Ranch chicken casserole
Stuff you need~
12 flour tortillas, soft taco size
3 pounds chicken breasts, cooked and shredded or a rotisserie chicken works too
1 small onion, diced fine (optional)
2 cans Rotel (I use mild)
2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
1 can cream of chicken
1 can cream of mushroom
2 cans chicken broth or 1 of those cartons (it’s the same amount)
What to do with the stuff~
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a large casserole dish (3 quart) with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the tomatoes, soups, and the broth together. Set aside. Tear 6 of the tortillas up into bite sized pieces. Layer them at the bottom of the casserole dish. Layer half of the shredded chicken and the diced onion on top of the tortillas. Now, sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the top of this. Next, pour 1/2 of the soup tomato mixture all over the top of this. Repeat the whole process, starting with tortillas and ending with pouring the rest of the soup tomato mixture over the top. Pop that baby into the oven and cook for about 60 minutes. It will be a little soupy when you pull it out, that’s good. You don’t want it dried out. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and that will allow the rest of the liquid to absorb into the tortillas (creating a dumpling like texture…making this casserole the delicious dish it is!). Serve it up with a nice green salad and you are golden!
Big daddy and I back when we were Clay and Aimee and just best friends. Circa 1979ish
soup mixture all whisked up and ready
and a layer of shredded cheese
pouring the soup over the bottom layer