Tag Archives: potluck

King ranch chicken casserole and going full circle with Mama Kate

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

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one of the treasured cookbooks she gave me all those years ago

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Mama Kate and a newborn Benny Boo

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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

Serves 6

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!

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Big daddy and I back when we were Clay and Aimee and just best friends. Circa 1979ish

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layer of tortillas

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soup mixture all whisked up and ready

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and a layer of shredded cheese

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pouring the soup over the bottom layer

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piping hot from the oven

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Rainbow Pasta Salad and lots of the good stuff know, I learned from my friends

So I have told ya’ll about my very good friend Betsy before, right?  I will give ya’ll a little more back story here because it is relevant to the recipe…well, mostly.  Ha ha!  Ya’ll know I love to tell a good story, right?  Anyway, I met Betsy back in 2005 when my oldest started MDO at First Baptist here in Shreveport.  Her oldest, Maggie, was in class with Ben.  I had 2 kiddos, aged almost 2 and 6 months old.  We had just moved from Keithville and I was still convinced I could absolutely be the perfect mom and all the other delusions we new mommies by into.  It’s true, girls.  Betsy is what you would call, shy, when you first meet her.  Friendly, but a little aloof and seems perfect beyond words.  It is a little intimidating.  We would make a little small talk, but she worked in the MDO and was always on her way to her own class.  Lo and behold, round about April, I was pregnant with #3 and she was pregnant with #2, now known as Aubrey and Annie.  We would meet in passing and exchange hellos.  Come fall, my Kayla was old enough and I put her in MDO with Ben and Betsy was her teacher.  We were both hugely pregnant and would talk about due dates and Kayla’s progress, which coincidentally, was not good.  You know how daycares and MDO’s always say “she will stop crying as soon as you leave and be fine.  We will call you if there is a problem.” Kayla was one of those rare babies that did not stop crying.  She in fact, sat in Betsy’s barely there lap and would sob inconsolably.  So, I would come and get her early everyday.  Keep in mind, I am due any day with baby #3 and my 18 month old was a mama’s girl.  I was experiencing mommy guilt, self doubt, mommy fear at it’s most primal…whatever you want to call it.  Aubrey came along in October and then Annie at the end of November.  I eventually took Ben and Kayla out of MDO because Aubrey kept getting so sick and finally got a stomach bug at 5 months old and I said enough.  I am not going to lie or sugarcoat it.  Having 3 kids, 3 and under and a husband who worked or hunted all the time was to say the least overwhelming.  I guess I had a little postpartum depression now that I look back on it.  Baby number 3 was a blessing and also a knockdown punch I was not expecting.  She cried all the time if she was not being held and I was just at my wits end.  So, fast forward to a year and half down the road, I was expecting baby #4 and Ben would be starting kindergarten in the fall.  I decided to try MDO again.  So I went back to the only place I really knew, First Baptist.  Little did I know how glad I would be that I made that decision.  I found out Betsy was also expecting a baby boy and was due in June. I was expecting a baby boy in July.  Well…as luck (or I say, God’s plan) would have it, that summer, right before I had Lucas, I saw Betsy in the Target parking lot.  I have goose bumps as I write this as I can see just how meant to be it was.  I admired her newborn baby boy, Jack Henry and made small talk.  Well, cut to the fall, and the girls started MDO.  Aubrey and Annie were in the same class and every day Betsy was not working at MDO, I would see her in Target.  We would laugh and joke about “ha ha see you in Target every time!  How funny!”  We exchanged phone numbers, but I was still adjusting to motherhood with 4 kiddos and did not see much of a future in our friendship.  I had not made friends very easily since moving to Shreveport and I did not have high expectations.  Well, somehow, we managed to carve out a nice little friendship and we banded together with some other moms and formed a nice posse that included about 6 moms and in excess of 25 kids.  Yeah, we were a motley crew at best.  Betsy and I spent lots of time together with the kids and without.  I ended up being her teaching partner for a year before they moved.  I loved those Tuesdays and Thursdays and I frankly loved spending time with my friend.  This pasta salad recipe is only one of the many things I treasure from our time together.  For someone who says she doesn’t cook, she sure does have some flipping awesome recipes.  Ya’ll know the rest of the story…they moved to South Louisiana so her hubby could join a practice and the rest of their story could unfold.  I miss her everyday and I know she misses me, but life has moved on for both of us and we have made our way.  She is still one of my good friends and our kiddos still love each other, even if we don’t see each other often.  And a few of those friendships still remain strong and that is a gift that keeps on giving.  (I am talking to you Lexie B)  You see, some things, like our friendship, are just meant to be.  God kept putting us in one another’s path until we realized…hey, I like this girl!!!  She likes Target as much as I do and she gets me.  She just gets me.  Thank God for friends who get us, right?  Those crazy years were made much more bearable because of Bets.  In many ways, she taught me how to be a mom.  She taught me how to pack lunches for my kids…no really, she is a mastermind at packing lunches kiddos love. She taught me how to make really delicious brownies.  She taught me you can never go to Chick fil A too often and how to do really good arts and crafts.  She taught me how to get over myself and roll with it with a little grace and not worry so much.  She taught me to laugh at myself.  And she taught me to trust in friendship again and that I was lovable just as I was.  Hot mess and all.  She is the yen to my yang.  This rainbow pasta salad is a perfect example.  For years I had wondered, how in the heck do the restaurants make such deliciousness?  Well, in walks Betsy to show me.  So delicious and yet so easy.  Too good to be true.  And yet…totally true.  Just like our friendship.  Love ya Bets. ~AMB

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friendship is indeed a gift

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A good friend gives your cozy coupe a push when you need it.  

Rainbow Pasta Salad 

Stuff you need~

1 package of rotini pasta, cooked al dente and then rinsed with cold water

5 cups of chopped vegetables (you can use anything but I use cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, purple onion)

1/2 – 1 cup of cheddar cheese and/or Mozzarella cheese cubes

1/2 cup Salad Supreme seasoning

8 ounces or 1 cup of Italian dressing

What to do with the stuff~

Put your cooked, drained and cooled pasta in a big bowl.  Toss in your chopped veggies and cubes of cheese.  Stir in the seasoning blend and the Italian dressing.  Add more if you think it needs it.   Toss well so that the seasoning and dressing coats every last noodle.  You will be so happy and full of joy when you take a bite of this yumminess.  It will make you smile and want to give some to your friend.  Do it.  She might just love you for life!!

Shout to my girl Bets for this and so many other wonderful things she introduced me to!!!

*For this batch I added in some penne pasta because I needed to stretch it a little further to feed a large group.  I added a little more salad dressing and seasoning accordingly.

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The secret ingredient 

 

this is a potluck go to recipe.  It makes a ton and pleases everyone

So full of color and flavor…you will love it and so will your friends

Callie’s Ham Salad

This must be my week to try new things.  I cannot recall having ham salad before and to be honest I was a tad bit reluctant  to try it.   I love most things that include the word salad…tuna salad, potato salad, definitely chicken salad, egg salad..but ham salad?  Yes, ham salad.  Now, I know lots of people are very familiar with ham salad but not me, so forgive my innocence or what I call now…my ignorance.  Several recipes for ham salad have caught my eye, and I have kind of planned to make it, but the minute I saw this little beauty, I knew I would have to make it.   Like now.  Cannot wait.  Impulsivity reigns supreme when it comes to a recipe I see that must be made.  I may perish if I don’t make this asap.  (said in my best Southern damsel in distress voice…)  Tomorrow is another day and by God, I will make this ham salad!!!  Now,   what I love about this recipe is that it is simple and straightforward.  I like recipes that tell me how to get from a to z directly.  Shortest route here people.  No need to reinvent the wheel.  I guess because I deal with kiddo mood swings, fake illnesses, deciphering their language (mine are all at ages where nothing is as simple as it once seemed, maybe it is just me?)…so a recipe should get down to the nitty gritty pretty quickly.  If you start off and tell me that I need to cook a whole ham first before I can get a ham salad out of it…well no thank you.  I am tired, need more coffee and want ham salad.  This recipe took you straight to it.  No hoops to jump through.  This is very easy, takes few ingredients and you can double to feed a hungry bunch if you need to.  Now, this original recipe comes from a cookbook that is now at the top of my list to buy.  My birthday is coming up…hint to BD.  The cookbook is called Callie’s Biscuits and Southern Traditions and I discovered it when I came across blog lovin and this link~ http://www.thecountrycook.net/2014/01/callies-ham-salad.html?m=1.  If you have never had ham salad, I encourage you to try this recipe.  It made a believer out of me.  we ate it in a sandwich, but some people spread it on crackers.   I will be making this one again and again.  Cajun mama is a ham salad convert…spread the word.

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Definitely on my make again list…already.  

Ham Salad

Stuff you need~

1 lb. ham (I used a ham steak that I bought at the store.  It was a little over a pound.  That is what the blogger I got this recipe from did.  But you can use leftover ham from Easter (great idea, Laura!) or any time you bake a good ole ham.

3 stalks celery, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 onion, chopped

2/3 cup mayo (as always…Duke’s is my fave)

2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 sandwich sliced pickles, chopped (I used BD’s favorite kind Claussen that we already have in the house-picture below)

1 1/2 tsp. pickle juice

1 Tablespoon light brown sugar

kosher salt and black pepper to taste (slow your roll and give it a taste first.  I added salt without reading that part and it was a tad too salty for us.  But still amazing)

What to do with the stuff~

Now, she suggests just pulsing the ham and celery together for 20-25 pulses or so.  Again, I did not read all the way through and tossed all the ingredients in the food processor and pulsed it all.  I had left the pickles and onions pretty coarsely chopped and it turned out fine.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can still make this but the consistency might be a tad off unless you chop the ham silly fine.  So, as I said, my way was to throw it everything into the food processor and pulse it a few times until it was combined. Lol!  I was being a hardheaded gal today (or more so than usual…) She says after you pulse the ham and celery set aside.  In a bowl, combine other ingredients.  Add the ham and celery mixture to the mayo mixture and gently stir.    Potato potato I say.  It was dang good my way so I think any way you go, you are golden!!  And that ham salad will taste so good with a glass of iced tea and some potato chips.  Ya know…if you like that sort of thing.  And I do.  I really do.  OOH she also added a few  pieces of chopped green onion (green parts) to the finished product.  I did this as well.  Mmmmmmm….

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Yes, yes, I am a believer in the powers of ham salad.  

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Big Daddy’s and Benny’s favorite pickles 

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All set to be pulsed all together into a lovely ham salad…it was good even if I didn’t do it right

Creamy grape salad and unexpected joy

Wow!!  I came across this recipe for grape salad on Pinterest a few weeks ago.  I was really hungry at the time I think, or it might not have appealed to me at the time.  I am so glad I was open to something unexpected and new, because this salad is a flavorful explosion of textures and sweetness in your mouth.  A virtual party.  One you weren’t sure you really wanted to go to, but felt obligated to attend and then enjoyed staying far too long and having a blast.  Yes, just like that.  It is creamy, slightly nutty, sweet with a little tang from the green grapes and it is just so fabulous.

There is just something about being surprised.  Trying something new, breaking out of your typical role and testing your limits.  For example, this morning was Muffins with Mom at my kids’ school.  I will be really honest and say, I really thought I could do without waking up an hour earlier and corralling the kiddos into getting dressed super early, especially when it is freezing cold outside.  2 of kiddos were on the fence, one flat out did not want to go, and one was insistent that we go.  My oldest.  I really tried to talk him out of it.  I offered McDonald’s for breakfast on the way to school. No dice.  He was definite.  “We’re going mama, it is your special day!!”.  He melted my heart.  10 years old and he still truly, genuinely likes me.  Well…most days.  I could not be happier.  But still, I was reluctant.  This morning, hoping he would sleep in, he woke up and said “mama don’t forget we have to get up early today!”  Deep down I knew that would not work and he would stay the course.  Indeed he did and we ended up going.  I had muffins with my babies.  I am so happy that we went and I rose to the challenge.  To break out of my routine and shake things up.  Same thing could be said for having 4 kids.  I never expected to have 4 kids, much less 4 kids back to back.  To relish the chaos that comes with raising 4 kiddos.  I never expected to start a blog or write a food column.  Yet, wow, here I am.  So many things in life take me by surprise.  I just  have to accept that the unexpected can be fun, delightful, sweet, nutty, enjoyable, and wonderful.  Joy can be in the unexpected places.  You just have to be willing to be open to it.  Just like this grape salad.  ~AMB

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Me and my sweeties…so much of life is unexpected joy.  

Creamy grape salad (adapted from http://www.allrecipes.com)

Stuff you need~

4 pounds green seedless grapes

1-8 ounce block of cream cheese

1-8 ounce container sour cream

1/2 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces chopped pecans (plus more for sprinkling on top)

2 Tablespoons brown sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)

What to do with the stuff~

Wash and dry the grapes, In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, white sugar and vanilla.  Add grapes and mix until the grapes are well mixed with the other ingredients.  Mix in brown sugar and pecans gently.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  I sprinkled a little more brown sugar and chopped pecans on top before serving.  Holy moly…get ready for the explosion. mmmmmmmmmmm….

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Unexpected joy indeed.  Oh my the sweet creaminess of it all!!