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Dash of Class: New Finest Cook calls upon family heritage

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Food column by Nora Sweat

By Nora Sweat

The latest “One of Hardin County Finest Cooks” and I go back to high school when she and I played softball. Becky Yates played for Flaherty and I, of course, played for White Mills. What a flashback recently when I attended a funeral for one of her relatives at St. Martin’s Church in Flaherty. I hadn’t seen her since high school and didn’t realize she was the mother of one of my former students, Sharon Pike.

Sharon nominated her mother who has given us some winning recipes, according to her family. Becky has been retired for 10 years after working at Fort Knox for 35 years.

In Becky’s words, “I was one of 11 kids, seven girls and four boys. I was the middle child and I was a typical middle child. Mom always let us cook as long as we cleaned up our messes. Biscuits were our first conquests and after that, the rest was easy. We did not have indoor plumbing or running water but since we didn’t know any different, we made do.

“My mom was a good cook but my Aunt Lena was a better cook. We would beg her to come and stay with us. She was never married and stayed with families who needed someone for a while to take care of kids and cook and clean. She also stayed with families whose parents were out of town for a few weeks and sometimes months. In today’s times, she would be called a nanny, but to us, she was always Aunt Lena.”

Aunt Lena died 30 years ago, but Becky said her cooking influence lives on. One key tip from Aunt Lena was about chicken. She emphasized cooking chicken at a high temperature helps it stay moist.

“The most asked for dish in our family is fried chicken. I am a firm believer you have to learn to fry chicken and it takes many attempts, but the result is delicious and I always fix a dessert to have with dinner.”

Cooking is important in the Yates household, which is sizable.

“My husband and I have a blended family of nine kids. Yours, mine and ours to be exact. I tell people just to be funny we have 11. I have six and Joseph has five, which results in four plus three, plus two children together. Joseph is a very good cook also and will take many liberties with cooking that I won’t, such as stuffed veal breast and many Chinese recipes.

Congratulations, Becky, and thanks for calling attention to our softball days.

Pizza Casserole

1 lb. hamburger

1 box ziti pasta

1 package pepperoni

2 cups mozzarella cheese

1 jar spaghetti sauce

Brown hamburger and cook the ziti according to package directions. Put browned hamburger, cooked ziti, pepperoni, and spaghetti sauce in large bowl. Grease a 9” x 11” x 13” pan. Put half of mixture in greased pan and sprinkle ½ of mozzarella cheese on top and add the remainder of mixture to this and add the remainder of mozzarella. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Chicken Casserole

4 chicken breasts cooked, chopped or shredded

1 bay leaf

3 T. minced onions

3 T. chicken base

1 t. salt

1 t. pepper

1 stalk celery

2 boxes of dressing mix,   1 corn bread and 1 chicken

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ cup sour cream

2 cans chicken broth

1 cup melted butter (2 sticks)

Cook raw chicken breasts in 6 cups water with bay leaf, minced onions, chicken base, salt, pepper, and celery. Cook about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Drain broth to remove all the cooked things. Remove chicken breast; allow cooling before chopping or shredding.

Mix both boxes of dressing mix in large bowl. Using canned broth or homemade broth, combine the dressing mix and put half into a 9” x 11” x 13” pan. This dressing should be very moist. Mix chicken, cream of chicken soup, and sour cream together in a separate bowl. Pour this over dressing in pan and add the remainder of the dressing. Pour melted butter over top and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. 

Banana Pudding

2 packages Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies

6-8 bananas, sliced

2 cups milk

1-5 ounce box French vanilla pudding

1-8 ounce package cream cheese, softened

14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1-12 ounce container Cool Whip, thawed

Line a 9” x 11” x 13” pan with cookies and layer with bananas. Mix pudding according to directions on package using the 2 cups milk. In another bowl combine softened cream cheese and condensed milk. Mix until smooth. Fold Cool Whip into cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese and Cool Whip mixture to pudding mixture and pour this over the cookies. Cover with another layer of cookies and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Nora Sweat, author of "Mama and Me," is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.com or by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701