In the Kitchen: Church food

When you grow up a Southern Baptist in Texas, you grow up with a love for Jesus, sweaty preachers and casserole dishes.

We moved up north a bit, so the preacher is quite a bit calmer, but Jesus and the casserole dishes are sure the same.

I’ve been serving meals at our church for about a year now, and I’ve seen all manner of food prepared and eaten there. Once, I had to make a pizza casserole, and I was a bit nervous because the recipe called for half a bottle of Italian dressing to be dumped in there with the pasta and pepperoni. (People ate it. Nobody died.)

From this group of Midwestern Christian folk, I’ve learned not just that there are other dressings besides Ranch, but that peanut butter balls are called “Buckeyes” and sometimes, cake is so good you can eat it off the floor.

This last week was my final week on the food service team, and I thought I’d serve up a little taste of home. I made a double Texas Sheet Cake (which everyone kept calling brownies, sheesh) and a Chili-Mac Casserole – homemade Hamburger Helper for those of you used to eating stuff out of a box.

Hamburger Helper always makes me think of my friend Rach’s husband, who seems obsessed with the stuff. He’s usually out of luck, cause she won’t serve it in her kitchen, and I can’t blame her. But here’s a recipe for a made-from-scratch version that is hearty and tastes great. (I’m not even kidding. We had the leftovers for dinner two nights in a row and no one complained. At all.)

The cake? Well, don’t make it unless you’ve got company coming, or you’ll eat the whole thing yourself. You’ll go cake crazy, like my little one who keeps running into the kitchen yelling, “CAKE. CAKECAKECAKEYCAKE.” Or you’ll make yourself sick, like a guest I had once who, while the rest of us were in the living room chatting, sat in the kitchen and devoured about half a pan.



Chili Mac Casserole
(adapted from

1 (16 oz) package elbow macaroni
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can Rotel
1 can sweet corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 envelope chili seasoning mix
1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
¾ cup milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup crushed tortilla chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, if you’re going to serve this right away. If you’re making it ahead of time, clear out a BIG space in your fridge or freezer. No, bigger. BIGGER.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground meat and drain the excess grease. Mix in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, corn, kidney beans, taco seasoning, and chili seasoning. Then bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

While it’s simmering, cook the macaroni, drain in a colander and set aside.

Whisk the soup and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Add in half the shredded cheese, the sour cream, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Arrange the cooked macaroni into the bottom of a 10×15-inch baking dish, and mix with the soup mixture. Pour the ground beef chili over the macaroni, and sprinkle with the rest of the cheddar cheese and, if you like them and you’re cooking it right then, the crushed tortilla chips.

Bake in the preheated oven until the casserole is hot and bubbling and the cheese topping has melted, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve topped with dollops of sour cream.

*If you’re making this ahead of time, take it out to defrost in the fridge the day before you want to cook it. Then, set it on the counter for 20 minutes while the oven heats.



Texas Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup butter (Yeah, you read that right.)
1 cup water
5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

6 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (Or bourbon, if you’re not Baptist. Or if you are Baptist but appreciate some of the finer libations available on this earth.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Taste the bourbon to make sure it’s good. Grease and flour a 10×15 inch (jelly roll) pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat in the sour cream and eggs. Set aside.

Melt the butter on low in a saucepan, add the water and 5 tablespoons cocoa. Bring mixture to a boil then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly, then stir cocoa mixture into the egg mixture, mixing until blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan. It’s gonna be really runny. Don’t freak out.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. For the love of Deuteronomy, don’t over bake this thing. It needs to be m…m…moi…that word I can’t say but means wet and gooey.

For the icing: In a large saucepan, combine the milk, cocoa and butter. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, mixing until blended. Spread the frosting over warm cake.

Keep the cake covered until you’re ready to serve it so it melts in mouths appropriately and doesn’t dry out.


In the Kitchen: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

So, we eat a lot of these. And by “a lot” I mean several bags a week. And be “we” I mean me.

I thought it would be fun the other night to make my own in the hopes that maybe by taking so much time to craft them I’d be less likely to inhale them.

Not so much. These cookies lasted 18 hours in our house. Maybe you have more willpower?



Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour


1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Make the filling first. Combine the peanut butter and sugar and refrigerate until somewhat firm.



For the cookies, combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. Next, cream together the shortening, peanut butter, sugars, egg and vanilla.



Gradually add in the flour mixture on low speed. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and chill the dough for about 20 minutes, then roll it onto waxed paper.



Cut out identical shapes using a cookie cutter. Or, if you’re utensil challenged such as myself, a measuring cup works great. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until they begin to brown on the edges. They won’t spread, so you can fit them in closely.

Cool the cookies on a plate or wire rack, then spread a tablespoon of filling on half the cookies and top with the other half. Hide them from your husband and toddler. Sneak downstairs at 2 am and enjoy with a glass of cold milk.

Why don’t you just go fly a kite

I have a love/hate relationship with Kansas City, my home since winter of 2008.

The weather is insane, hate. The crime rate is really high, hate. The sports teams are ALLCAPSAWFUL, hate.

But the BBQ is heavenly, love. The highways make it a dream to get around, love. And there is so much to do here.


This morning we woke up with no direction. We ate breakfast, sat around in our pajamas with SportsCenter on (I’ve been brainwashed) and watched the late morning sun shake off the chill of last night.

Normally I’m happy to do this, but today I wanted to go GO GO. And of course, so did Monkey. He’ll even tell you, “Shoes, Mama. Go. Go car. VRRRROOOM.”

So after a quick Google search of events in our area, we headed out to the 2012 Flights of Fancy Kite Festival. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’d never even heard of this thing before, but that’s kind of the beauty of living in a “newish” place – there’s always something new to discover.

When we pulled up next to MCC-Longview, the sky was a sharp blue and the breeze barely tickled the tops of the trees. Parking was easy enough to find with only a short walk to the festival field.

Monkey had fallen asleep during the drive so when we got him out of the truck he put on his best grump face, crossed his arms and slumped in the stroller. But as soon as we made it around the bend, he saw this and perked right up.

There are certain days in spring where living feels like Heaven on Earth, and this was one of them. The breeze picked up. The savory smells from the food trucks intermingled with the sweet scent of the freshly-mown grass. Strains of rock music provided a beat for the announcer as she told us all about the different kites in the sky.

People are serious about kites, it seems. They have a club, y’all.

One guy had several kites that he would rotate through. Some of them were fast and capable of quick, twisting maneuvers, like this one. Others were large and capable of pulling some weight and he would have to throw himself backward onto the ground to keep from being pulled aloft.

While many, many people brought their own kites, we were just happy to stand and observe, to be a part of the landscape and to witness such a perfect day as this.

Today was love.

In the Kitchen: Grilled Pork Skewers

While I was in Texas a couple of weeks ago, I took my nephews to the South Texas State Fair. We got there in time for opening ceremonies, where I patiently waited through all the hoopla to not only get in free, but to gorge myself on the most awesome of fair foods: The Pork Kabob.

They don’t mess with veggies on these kabobs – it’s just a giant skewer full of marinated, slightly charred meat.

The boys spent their entire evening riding ridiculous things like this, while I kept my feet planted safely on the ground and periodically gnawed my way through my dinner on a stick.

When I got back to Kansas City, I made my way directly to the grocery store where I picked up several packages of country-style pork ribs. This cut of meat is can be found boneless, but does have a considerable amount of fat and connective tissue, so a little at-home carving is necessary before cooking.

But worth it. So worth it.

I couldn’t find anyone online willing to give up the marinade secret for fair kabobs, so I took inspiration from here for the basic idea and ended up with some tender, juicy kabobs that we polished off with much gusto. (And ok, I did throw in some vegetables to make it a proper meal. But they never, not once, came in contact with the meat.)

Grilled Pork Skewers

2 lbs boneless country-style pork ribs
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp garlic powder (or minced fresh garlic if you have it)
1 tsp white pepper
Two splashes of Sriracha, if you like heat

Trim the meat and cut into chunks. Mix ingredients in a large plastic or glass bowl. Marinate the meat overnight, or at least 4 hours.

Drain the marinade into a squeeze bottle, then slide the chunks of meat onto the skewers. (Be sure they are pre-soaked if you’re using wood.)

Grill the skewers over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, basting the meat with the leftover marinade occasionally. Low and slow is key when cooking pork, otherwise you end up with shoe leather.

Embracing change: Gain vs. Loss

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There are so many hard lessons we have to learn in life. Our family, friends and even our enemies usually teach us. Sometimes we can find answers in books, on television, or in school.

Our personal encyclopedias of knowledge are the sum of our experiences, and it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same material available to them.

I read a lot as a young person, before life got so jam packed with responsibility that I spent less time with my books. I learned so much from the stories in those pages, and one lesson stands out.

It was a story of a young girl who had an older sister. They had always been so, so very close. No matter what life threw at them, they weathered the storm together.

Because of the vast age difference between them, the older sister moved out and married when the younger sister was still at an impressionable but somewhat selfish age. The older sister moved far away, and so the younger sister wasn’t around to witness her new life on a daily basis.

Instead, she had a picture in her head of what life had always been like. Subconsciously, she didn’t really acknowledge the changes.

One summer, the little sister went to stay with her older sibling, her husband and their new baby. She went with her old expectations.

It was disconcerting to have to share her sister – whom she had always considered her other half – with other people. It was even more disturbing to realize that instead of being the sun in her sister’s universe, she was now just a planet. An important planet, but still.

Her sister didn’t always have time for late night chats. She couldn’t just drop everything and take her to lunch, or to the mall. And worst of all, her sister would retreat behind closed doors with that man, that outsider, and share secrets that she was no longer privy to.

She became very unhappy that summer. She couldn’t understand why her sister had replaced her. In her mind, with its expectations written in chapters of the past, her sister had betrayed her.

And then she had a disagreement with her sister’s husband. It was silly, really, but blew up when she complained to her sister about the husband, and her sister, instead of immediately taking her side, chided her about learning to get along with others.

Furious, the little sister called her parents and told them she was flying home early. She had been betrayed. Her sister never had time for her, she had pushed her aside in favor of new people. What about family?!

The morning of her flight, her brother in law had to drive her to the airport.

She sat fuming in the passenger seat.

He tried to explain, to help her write another chapter in her book of knowledge.

I will always remember his speech, if not word for word, at least in summary.

“You were always number one,” he said. “But then your sister found a love of a different type, a type you don’t yet understand. And then she had a child, and another new love.”

The little sister rolled her eyes. All this talk about love. She understood love. Who was this guy? He was just a guy. He didn’t understand sisters.

“The thing is,” he continued, “You’re not number one anymore. You’re not number two either. But if you could learn to settle for number three, or later on, number four, you’d see that it’s not so bad.”

“It doesn’t mean your sister doesn’t love you. It just means that life has changed, and with it, so have priorities. You can still be a part of your sister’s life. An important part. But not number one.”

This was an earth-shattering revelation for the sister. Not number one.

“And you’ll most likely find that you’re gaining more than you’re losing. Yes, you won’t always win disagreements. Yes, your phone call might not be the first she returns. But you get a brother. And you get a niece, and maybe on down the line more children who will love you and call you their favorite aunt.”

He parked the car and looked at her. She stared back, tears forming, still unyielding in her posture but her heart beginning to understand.

I think of that story often as our family grows. As my favorite aunt married later in life. As my uncle remarried and gained a step child.

And now as my sister prepares to share her life with someone.

I haven’t always agreed with, or honestly, in the beginning, even liked my new uncle, my new aunt, my new cousin or my future brother in law.

But I was happy for my family members when they found their partners, understood when my place in things changed, and because of that have gained so much.

I have an uncle who is remarkably gifted in research, wholly generous and incredibly funny.

I have an aunt who is so strong she can handle anything that gets thrown at her.

I have a cousin who, although I rarely see him, is still one of my favorite people to run into and is brilliant and funny and has a rebel soul that is kindred to my own.

And one day, I will hopefully have a brother in law – no, a brother. A brother that I have always wanted. One who keeps my sister in line, wink wink, and helps my family do life.

That last change, that newest change, will be hard for me. My sister has three boys, nephews that I have helped to raise and have loved fiercely since the moment I saw them. And now they have a daddy, and instead of just calling up my sister and saying, “Hey, I’m coming to get the boys,” which has always been cool with her, I have to remember to ask if it’s cool with him too.

I have to learn that his ideas on child rearing and family and the general way things should be done is going to be different than mine, that it will most likely affect my sister’s way of thinking as well. And that it’s ok. That’s how things work.

I will know my place. I will accept it. And I will be glad for all I have gained instead of mourning something lost.

In the Kitchen: Salmon(ella) Quiche

I meant to post this yesterday as an April Fools’ joke, but instead we were incredibly lazy and napped, sat around with the boy and then watched the entire season 7 of Weeds after he went to bed.

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A few weeks ago, I had a hankering for some quiche. I’d eaten some with brie and asparagus awhile back and it was positively dreamy, so I figured I’d make my own and publish a long-overdue recipe post.

It turned out to be the beginnings of a nightmare.

Here it is, beautifully turned out. It tasted heavenly – cheesy and bacony and spinachy.

I ate two huge pieces, but hubs and the boy aren’t fans and barely touched theirs. Eh, more for me the next day for lunch, right?

But around five the next morning, when I woke up to bottle feed a litter of puppies I was helping to rescue, I got so dizzy I had to wake my husband. My head was pounding and I just felt…wrong.

I went back to bed for a few hours but when I awoke the room was spinning, my head still hurt and it felt like The 2012 Weasel Olympics were being held in my guts.

Throughout the day, my symptoms worsened. I took up residence in the bathroom.

Over the next five days, my fever would spike up to 103.2. I had violent chills but my husband, on orders from my grandmother who he’d called for advice, wouldn’t give me a blanket.

So I huddled under a sheet, basically vibrating from the chills. I began to hallucinate. I asked my husband for broccoli. I was pretty sure I was going to die myself dead.

I remained convinced through most of those lost days that I’d been the lucky host of a virus – a virus that was surely the biggest asshole ever because didn’t he understand I was a mom and moms can’t get sick and I had STUFF TO DO?!

Finally, that Saturday my husband ordered me to see a doctor, who diagnosed me with, you guessed it, food poisoning. He gave me drugs (blessed drugs) to kill the bacteria holding their Inaugural Intestinal Jamboree in my belly and, within three hours, I began to feel human again.

Hubs and the boy got sick as well, but were both somewhat resistant to the bacteria and barely felt the effects.

As a result of this illness, which we tentatively traced back to the eggs in the quiche, I can no longer live dangerously.

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As someone who bakes regularly, I can tell you that not licking the bowl or spooning out a quick bite of cookie dough is torture. I almost took a bite of cake batter a couple of days ago and then froze, throwing the spoon into the sink as if it contained arsenic.

So here it is – Mamamash’s Salmonella Quiche – perfect for those occasions when you’d really like to lose 10 pounds in the most painful way possible.***

Quiche a la’ Bacteria

1 premade pie crust
6 eggs
¾ cup milk
1 small onion, chopped
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice

Place the crust in a pie pan and crimp the edges.

Crumble in onion, spinach, bacon and cheese.

Beat eggs with milk, salt and pepper and pour over the mixture in the crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until eggs are set.

***Please never make this. Ever.

Also! Back when I started blogging, I met a crew of people through the community at Yeah Write, which was at the time called Lovelinks. Headed up by the Princess of Picky Prose, Erica M, the community proved to be a great place to meet other bloggers of all backgrounds and genres. For old time’s sake and to help Yeah Write meet its new goal of a full slate of 75 weekly entries, I’m linking up this week. C’mon, you do it too.