Taco Soup: The Perfect Weeknight Dinner

As school bells ring signaling the start of a new year, families everywhere will be faced with the weeknight dinner struggle.  Taco Soup is an easy, hearty, crowd pleaser that can be prepared quickly, mostly with ingredients from your pantry.  While the instructions state an hour-long simmering period, this recipe can be prepared in advance or left to simmer on the stove while homework is conquered.  Double the recipe and freeze the leftovers of this delicious dish for the first fall chill.  Tailor the toppings listed or add your own favorites to please everyone in your family.  Best of all, the preparation of this dish only dirties ONE POT making cleanup a breeze!

Photo by Jennifer Henry.

Photo by Jennifer Henry.

Taco Soup (RRR IV pg. 45)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chiles, Italian-style tomatoes or Mexican-style tomatoes
  • 1 can while kernel corn, drained
  • 1 can Ranch-style beans or pinto beans with jalapeno chiles
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning mix
  • 1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste

Toppings:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup chopped green onions
  • ½ cup sliced jalapeno chiles
  • ½ cup sliced black olives
  • 1 avocado, chopped

Directions:

Brown the ground beef with the onion in a large saucepan, stirring until the ground beef is crumbly; drain.  Stir in the undrained tomatoes, corn, undrained beans, seasoning mix, dressing mix, chili powder, garlic powder and Tabasco sauce.  Bring to a boil; reduce the heat.

Cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Ladle the soup into bowls.  Serve with the sour cream, cheese, green onions, jalapeno chiles, olives and avocado.

Serves 6.

Community Project Spotlight: Ready Hands!

After our son was born, my husband and I were amazed at the outpouring of love from friends and family – most of which came in the form of food! Nearly every day for weeks after he was born, church members, coworkers, friends, and family members stopped by to ooh and ahh over our bundle of joy and bring us dinner. It was a lifesaver during this chaotic time. As we struggled to adjust to life caring for both a newborn and a toddler and trying to stay on top of all our other responsibilities, having these “extra hands” to take care of one of our family’s basic needs truly meant the world to us.

Through its Ready Hands! committee, the Junior League of Baton Rouge lends an extra hand to nonprofit organizations hosting events throughout the Baton Rouge community. Ready Hands! touches nearly every aspect of our community, and Junior League members volunteer thousands of hours each year assisting organizations who fit within the League’s mission by providing brown bag lunches, frozen casseroles, handing out water at 5ks, assisting with registration at events, playing bingo with residents at Oak Park Plaza for their birthdays each month, preparing and assisting for luncheons and fundraisers, and countless other acts of service. If your nonprofit organization needs assistance for an upcoming event, learn more about Ready Hands! here!

Chicken-Spaghetti Casserole, River Road Recipes I, p. 129

This Chicken-Spaghetti Casserole is a great dish to bring to someone in need of an extra hand. As a bonus, kids love it too, making this dish a crowd pleaser for the entire family. Make it ahead and simply pop it back in the oven to reheat when you are ready to serve. The recipe makes 8-10 servings, so I recommend making it in two separate casserole dishes. You can keep one dish for your family and bring the other to a friend in need!

  • 1 large hen
  • 1 stick butter or oleo
  • 3 medium onions, minced
  • 2 bell peppers, minced
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes
  • One 16-ounce package spaghetti (Angel Hair or similar)
  • 1/4 pound mild cheese, grated
Photo by Leslie Ellis.

Photo by Leslie Ellis.

Boil the hen in enough water to make 2 quarts of stock. Sauté the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic in butter. Add 1 quart stock and tomatoes to the pan and simmer together. Bone the chicken and cut into  large pieces. Mix with the sauce and put it in the casserole dish. Add the cooked and drained spaghetti to the remaining quart of chicken stock, and mix well with the chicken and the sauce. Bake for 40 minutes at 350°, sprinkle with the grated cheese, and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes.

Photo by Leslie Ellis.

Photo by Leslie Ellis.

In a hurry? Modify this recipe by simply picking up a freshly cooked rotisserie chicken and a two quarts of ready made chicken stock at the grocery store instead of cooking your own hen!

Serves 8-10.

Member Spotlight: Eating Seasonally with JLBR Member Erin Nugent

Seasonal. Local. Organic. These are the culinary buzzwords of the last few years. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s almost impossible to have missed the “farm to table” movement that is dominating the national food scene. While eating seasonally and sourcing food locally may be a hot new trend for the rest of the country, in Louisiana, it’s something we have been doing for generations. In fact, we mark our seasons not by the changing temperatures, but instead by the available local fare: celebrating crawfish season in the spring, crab (and snoball!) season in the summer, shrimp season in the fall, and oyster and wild game seasons in the winter.

For Junior League member Erin Nugent, seasonal and local cooking comes naturally. With familial roots in Louisiana, Erin learned early on how to turn seasonal cooking and entertaining into a lifestyle. She was first introduced to the River Road Recipes collection by her mother in law, Simone Nugent. Drawing inspiration from Louisiana’s unique seasons and agrarian surroundings, Erin’s passion for incorporating seasonal and local ingredients into everyday recipes eventually led her and close friend Lauren Beth Landry to co-author Five Seasons, a regional cookbook devoted to “celebrat[ing] natural beauty and explor[ing] the versatility of seasonal ingredients.”

Erin with friend and co-author Lauren Beth Landry at one of their favorite spots in Baton Rouge. Photo from Five Seasons.

Erin with friend and co-author Lauren Beth Landry at one of their favorite spots in Baton Rouge. Photo from Five Seasons.

“Eating seasonally is more cost efficient, the produce tastes better, and it’s fun!” says Erin. “As they say, variety is the spice of life, and varying my produce from season to season not only forces me to be creative, it balances my diet.” Shopping at Whole Foods and the Redstick Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings in downtown Baton Rouge for the freshest, local ingredients, Erin cooks nearly every night of the week. “We eat at the table — no phones or TV. Sharing a meal each day is very important to me so we’ve done this since day one, but it’s especially important now because we put the baby to bed first, so it’s catch up time for [my husband] Justin and I (although it will also be nice when Oliver can stay up late enough to join us).” On the occasions when Erin does eat out, Baton Rouge restaurant Beausoleil is one of her favorites.

Erin sharing one of her favorite meals at Beausoleil with son Oliver: the fried oyster salad (substitute grilled shrimp) and a glass of the Whispering Angel rose`. Photo by Erin Nugent.

Erin sharing one of her favorite meals at Beausoleil with son Oliver: the fried oyster salad (substitute grilled shrimp) and a glass of the Whispering Angel rose`. Photo by Erin Nugent.

One of Erin’s favorite recipes is Chicken Pomodoro. “The chicken cooks down until shredded in a medley of fresh tomatoes, wine, and herbs so it’s light enough for warmer months, but also savory due to the addition of Parmesan cheese rinds — the perfect combination.” Her favorite dessert, found in the Five Seasons cookbook, is a Pavlova with lavender whipped cream and berries. “Berries are delicious right now!” notes Erin.

Pavlova with Lavender Whipped Cream and Fresh Berries. Photo from Five Seasons.

Pavlova with Lavender Whipped Cream and Fresh Berries. Photo from Five Seasons.

While cooking local recipes and ingredients is her forte, Erin is also not afraid to try things outside her comfort zone. “My stepfather is from Boston,” says Erin, “so every year, his family sends us live Maine lobsters. Boiling them is still a little scary for me, but they are fun to eat and so delicious — you can definitely taste the freshness!”

Like Five Seasons, the River Road Recipes collection draws inspiration from the ingredients and traditions that make Louisiana unique. Long considered “the textbook of Louisiana cooking,” Country Roads Magazine recently noted in its April 2016 article “By the Book,” by Lucie Monk Carter and Anne Monk, that the River Road Recipes collection, and others like it, “act as cultural totems – keeping Louisiana cooking traditions alive and accessible to the modern cook.” “These cookbooks act as extensions of the neighborhoods, towns, and cities in which they are founded. More so than most mass-produced cookbooks, River Road Recipes . . . and the like list the author’s name with every recipe, adding a layer of familiar—almost neighborly—assurance.”

This week, we encourage you to celebrate whatever is being harvested in your region currently by trying something new in your own kitchen. If you’re in the Louisiana area, okra, summer squash, corn, bell peppers, and eggplant all make great contenders. If you need inspiration, trust the “neighborly assurance” found in the tried and true recipes from your “neighbors” at River Roads Recipes or Five Seasons!

Corn Fritters, River Road Recipes I, page 40

While corn is typically considered a spring crop, ears of corn still abound during the summer months in Louisiana. You can use fresh corn from your local farmers’ market  or your community shared agriculture box to make these delicious corn fritters, which pair perfectly with an evening summer fish fry!

Fresh ears of corn from Luckett Farms. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Fresh ears of corn from Luckett Farms. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cups drained corn
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
After frying up your fish, drop spoonfuls of the corn fritter mixture into the hot oil to cook. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

After frying up your fish, drop spoonfuls of the corn fritter mixture into the hot oil to cook. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Beat eggs and stir in milk, flour, and other ingredients. Drop from spoon in deep fat until brown. Note: you can get creative and add different spices, cheese, or even jalapeños to change up this recipe!

Serves 6 to 8.

Hot, freshly cooked corn fritters. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Hot, freshly cooked corn fritters. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Member Spotlight: Dining with Our President, Kathy Victorian

Every Friday evening, my family has what we call a “special night.” I pick up our three year old daughter from daycare; we get “freats” (we are still working on that “tr” phonetic combo) – usually our favorite Talenti gelato to share and a nice bottle of Malbec for Mommy and Daddy; then we pick out a movie to watch as a family. One of her favorite  movies for nights like these is Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. At the beginning of the movie, Tiana’s dad, James, makes the following observation while helping his daughter make the perfect pot of gumbo: “You know the thing about good food? It brings folks together from all walks of life. It warms them right up and it puts little smiles on their faces.” I could not agree more!

Kathy Victorian, President of the Junior League of Baton Rouge, also knows that there is truly something special about sharing a meal with loved ones. Growing up, Kathy remembers fondly the meals she shared with her family. “My mom was an amazing cook, and I remember vividly her preparing a home cooked meal for us every day, but she made Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas magical in our home with her cooking.” Today, Kathy continues this tradition with her own family. “I LOVE to cook,” she says, “because cooking a meal is one of the most personal things I can do for someone. I’m literally providing plated ‘love’ made with my own hands and creativity – even if I’m following a recipe, I picked the recipe and planned the meal!

Kathy Victorian

Kathy Victorian, Junior League of Baton Rouge President 2016-2017

Like most of us, the typical weeknight dinner at Kathy’s house varies, depending on how busy everyone is. “The typical weeknight can consist of take out or a sit down dinner with my husband, Michael, but Sunday after church, my cooking skills are on display at Chateau Victorian!” One of Kathy and Michael’s favorite River Road Recipes is the Chicken Stew found on page 195 of River Road Recipes III – A Healthy Collection. Another favorite from RRR III is the Creamy Risotto, featured below. “I had never prepared homemade risotto until I got my hands on RRR III, and when I turned to the recipe, I found my elegant comfort food. Needless to say, I prepare this dish often.”

Kathy with friends enjoying a casual evening dinner at home.

(Left to right) Kimberly LaMotte, Kathy Victorian, Elisha Browder, and Brunetta Adams enjoying a Memorial Day Weekend cookout and surprise birthday party for Elisha! “Food always brings me and my loved ones together,” says Kathy. “Friends plus Family plus Food equals FUN!”

In addition to cooking at home, Kathy enjoys eating out. While she has several favorite Baton Rouge restaurants, Mansurs on the Boulevard takes the cake. “If I had to pick one,” Kathy says, “it would be Mansurs on the Boulevard simply because of their fantastic staff, and every meal I’ve eaten there has been Ahhhhhh-Mazing!” Whether dining out or trying a new recipe from the River Road Recipes collection like Kathy, or even just sharing store bought “freats” with your loved ones on the couch like my family, there are so many opportunities in the Red Stick to enjoy some “plated love” and create lasting memories with both friends and family alike.

Creamy Risotto, RRR III p. 132

This Creamy Risotto, as Kathy says, makes for an elegant comfort food that works well as a side or as the main dish!

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tub margarine
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cup arborio rice or medium grain rice
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups defatted chicken stock, less salt
  • 1/3 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • Black pepper for seasoning
Aborio is an Italian short grain rice and can typically be found at most grocery stores on the grain aisle. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Aborio rice is an Italian short grain rice and can typically be found at most grocery stores on the grain aisle. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Heat oil and margarine. Sauté vegetables for five minutes. Add rice and stir for 30 seconds. Add wine and stir for one minute. Add stock, cheese, and spices. Simmer until the rice is tender but slightly firm to bite and the mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes. Season with pepper. Serve with extra Parmesan cheese if desired.

Creamy Risotto. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Creamy Risotto. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

This recipe has 208 calories, 6.4 grams of fat, and 511 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is over 5 grams less fat compared to the original! You can take the nutritional benefits a step further by omitting the olive oil and margarine and simply sautéing the vegetables in the chicken broth to save an additional 3.7 grams of fat and 33 calories per serving. Try using a sodium-free broth to cut additional sodium.

Maximizing Flavor While Minimizing Your Health Risks

Weight loss seems to be a topic of perpetual interest in our society. While we are bombarded daily with images of svelte models and fad diets, it can be easy to forget that the true goal is being healthy, not necessarily being thin. Unhealthy lifestyles lead to a variety of health issues, and unfortunately, this health crisis hits close to home. Baton Rouge is #1 in obesity in the country for cities of our size, and 1 in 3 children in Baton Rouge are obese.

What is Obesity?

Obesity it defined as having excess body fat. It is based on the Body Mass Index (BMI), which utilizes height and weight measurements. For adult men and women, a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is classified as overweight and a BMI larger than 30 is classified as obese. There is no absolute BMI that defines obesity in children; the CDC has standard reference charts (growth curves) depending on age. A BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles is classified as overweight, and a BMI greater than the 95th percentile is classified as obese. Obesity affects all ages and increases risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and arthritis.  There isn’t one single cause for obesity; there are many contributing factors. Those include: genetics, environment, types of food eaten, lack of physical activity, medical conditions and side effects, and lack of access to fresh foods.

Lack of access to fresh foods, like healthy nuts and fruits, can lead to obesity. Areas with a lack of access to grocery stores and healthy food providers are known as "food deserts," and can typically be found in impoverished areas. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Lack of access to fresh foods, like healthy nuts and fruits, can lead to obesity. Areas with little or no access to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, or healthy food providers are known as “food deserts” and can typically be found in impoverished areas. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Easy Tips for Cooking Light

While there are many factors contributing to obesity, eating better is a cornerstone to living a healthier lifestyle and reducing health risks. Contrary to popular belief, eating healthier doesn’t mean sacrificing on flavor. In fact, River Roads Recipes III is entirely devoted to “lightening” some of our favorite dishes while preserving the tastes we have grown to love. Additionally, River Roads Recipes III  contains helpful tips throughout on how to reduce calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol. A few of these tips are listed below and can be incorporated into any recipe to make it healthier:

  • Cut the Fat
    • Use leaner cuts of meat and trim all visible fat
    • Limit dairy fat by using alternative skim or low fat products
    • Remove the skin from poultry and game
  • Reduce Sugar
    • Use 1/4 less sugar than the recipe calls for
    • Try substituting 1 cup of sugar for 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce
    • Try substituting 1/2 cup of fruit juice concentrate in place of 1 cup of sugar
  • Prepare Food Differently
    • Bake, broil, roast, or grill rather than frying or pan searing
    • Use non-stick skillets to cut back on the fat and oil called for in the recipe
    • Use more spices and herbs to enhance flavor and reduce your use of oils and butter
    • Toast nuts to achieve more flavor from smaller portions

Curried Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney, RRR III, p. 68

This is a great, quick and easy healthy recipe from our River Road Recipes III cookbook. Note how the recipe cuts down on the calories and fat found in traditional chicken salad recipes by removing the chicken skin, toasting the chopped walnuts, and using low calorie mayonnaise and nonfat dairy substitutes, yet maintains great flavor by adding the curry powder and mango chutney.

Curried Chicken Salad 3

Curried Chicken Salad from RRR III. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

  • 1 pound skinless chicken, cooked, and cubed
  • 2 cups seedless grapes or golden raisins (I like to cut these in half)
  • 2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup low fat/low calorie mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • Lettuce leaves
  • 4 tablespoons mango chutney

In a bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients. Chill for 2-3 hours. Serve on lettuce leaves with mango chutney on the side. Serves 4.

Mango Chutney 2

Mango chutney served with fresh mango slices. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

*Nutrition Note: This recipe has 324 calories, 14.4 grams of fat, and 190 milligrams of sodium per serving. You can take the health benefits a step further by substituting the walnuts for 1/2 cup of chopped water chestnuts (this will reduce over 4 grams more fat per serving). You can also try using a fat free mayonnaise to trim an additional 4 grams of fat per serving.

After the Crawfish Boil: What to Do with Your Leftover Crawfish Tails

While other states may have more traditional seasons, we in Louisiana do not mark the passage of time with the usual spring/summer/fall/winter monikers. Instead, we observe Crawfish Season, Crab Season, Shrimp Season, and Oyster Season. As this year’s crawfish season draws to a close, we have a few helpful tips on how to extend the joy a few months longer.

Crawfish season typically spans March to June, and you will doubtless attend multiple crawfish boils during this time (to achieve the perfect crawfish boil, check out RRR IV, p. 211). While I personally aim to ensure  no boiled crawfish gets left behind uneaten, even the best of us will occasionally boil more than we can consume in a single afternoon. If refrigerated fairly quickly (within 2 hours of cooking or so), boiled crawfish can last around 3 days. Your best bet, however, is freezing the leftover tail meat.

Start by peeling the leftover crawfish tails, de-veining them, and removing the orange “mustard.” The mustard is high in fat and will spoil within two months, even if frozen. After peeling and cleaning, rinse the tail meat with water and lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Place the cleaned tail meat in a vacuum sealed or airtight, heavy-duty freezer bag and label the bag with the date. Your crawfish tails will keep up to six months!

When that crawfish craving hits you later in the year, thaw your frozen crawfish tails and use them in a wide variety of recipes. Some of my favorite classics include Crawfish Bisque (see RRR I p. 240) and Crawfish Étouffée (reprinted below, or see RRR II p. 129). If you’re looking for something a little more exotic, check out the Acadian Sushi Rolls in RRR IV, p. 40.

Crawfish Etouffee

Photo: Lauren De Witt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crawfish Étouffée, RRR II, p. 129

  • 1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Red and black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • 1-2 pounds crawfish tails and fat
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes, or equivalent
  • Green onion tops, chopped (optional)
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)

Melt the butter in a heavy large skillet. Sauté the vegetables in butter for 30 minutes. Add seasonings to taste and then the crawfish tails and fat. Sauté for a minute and then stir in flour. Continue sautéing for 3 minutes, then add water, chicken bouillon, and optional green onions and parsley. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then serve over rice. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Crawfish Étouffée also freezes well. Freeze it in family size or individual portions and thaw it later for a quick weeknight meal!