For the past three years Abby has been cooking dinner on Wednesday nights at our church, Calvary Baptist, at 18th Street and Bosque Boulevard. I’m the unpaid kitchen help. I go to church after teaching my last class and help Abby for a couple of hours — washing dishes, chopping vegetables, whatever she needs — before I pick up the kids from school and head back to church. We start serving at 5 p.m., wrap up about 6:30 (or whenever we run out of food) and then proceed to cleanup. It makes for a full day for our family.
After the church members have dined, many of them are kind enough to come back into the kitchen to compliment Abby on that night’s meal. So that got us to wondering: What is the favorite Wednesday night meal Abby has prepared over the last three years? To determine this, I did a very scientific survey: I posted a question on the church’s Facebook page — “Hey Calvary peeps. If you have eaten at church on Wednesday nights in the last couple or three years, what have been some of your favorite meals that Chef Abby has made?”
And again, all of the comments were very nice, although some weren’t particularly useful in trying to decide the favorite dish (for example, “Every. Single. Thing,” or “We have to pick a favorite???? #thepressure,” or “Seriously. ALL OF IT.”)
But a few folks did mention King Ranch Casserole, which is one of our favorites as well. It was a recipe from Abby’s grandmother, Bessie Zemanek, so it’s a sentimental fave. And some others mentioned the meal that we prepared on the final Wednesday of the fall semester last year.
I had pestered Abby about preparing a menu of my choosing. She finally agreed, on the condition that I could be there all day to help. During the week before finals I had a Wednesday when I didn’t have to be on campus, so we got the kids off to school and spent the rest of the day in the fellowship hall kitchen, working on my menu: chicken and waffles.
I think I had only eaten this particular meal one time prior, at a now-closed restaurant on South Sixth Street. But I’ve always liked the idea of chicken and waffles, and this was finally the right opportunity to try cooking the meal ourselves.
We spent all day preparing dinner for 75 or so churchgoers. We marinated, battered and fried more than a hundred pieces of chicken, and we had two waffle irons going constantly. At one point, we blew a fuse or tripped a breaker or caused some other electrical malady. We managed to plug the hot box — a refrigerator-size commercial appliance that holds large trays of food that need to stay warm prior to serving — into the only other outlet of that kind in the kitchen, which was conveniently placed on a wall above a double-stacked oven. And then we had to move one waffle iron across the kitchen to another working outlet, but we got it all done. Because of the kind things people said that night and later on Facebook, it was worth the effort.
If possible, serve the chicken and waffles with real maple syrup. It’s more expensive than the stuff made with corn syrup and a bunch of other ingredients, but it’s worth it for this meal. (Look for the jar of syrup that has just one thing listed in the ingredient list: maple syrup.)
While the following dessert wasn’t on the church menu that night, when we had the waffle iron out at home a few days ago, we decided to try a dessert called Beet Cake Ice Cream Sandwiches, which were pretty darn good. Our first batch tasted fine, but the waffles didn’t have a real red color to them; they were on the brownish side. So we added some red food coloring to the batter, and that did the trick. But it was totally for the sake of appearance. The waffles tasted the same, regardless of hue.
Sour Cream Waffles
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 3 eggs
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- Toasted pecan pieces for garnish (optional)
Preheat the waffle iron.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together sour cream, vanilla and eggs. Pour into
the flour mixture; stir to combine. Stir in the butter.
Prepare waffles according to waffle iron directions. Top with toasted pecans, if using, and syrup. Makes 4 servings.
Fried Chicken Tenders
- About 2 pounds chicken tenders
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
Lay out chicken in a shallow baking dish; pour the buttermilk over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
In a bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Dip each chicken tender into the flour mixture and place on a sheet pan to rest for 15 minutes. This allows the flour to adhere to the chicken.
In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil to 365 F. When the oil is at temperature, carefully place 3 or 4 tenders in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Let cook for
2-3 minutes, flip the tenders and let cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Remove to a sheet pan lined with paper towels.
(The internal temperature of the tenders, on an instant-read thermometer, needs to be 165 F. If they’re nicely browned on the outside but not cooked through, finish them in a 350 F oven for 5-10 minutes.)
- 1/2 cup broccoli, finely chopped
- 1 medium beet, cut into matchsticks
- 1 1/2 cups carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 cup radish, cut into matchsticks
- 1 large sweet apple, cut into matchsticks
- 1/3 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup sunflower seeds (roasted, raw, salted, unsalted … whichever variety you prefer)
For the dressing:
- 2 1/2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup (or another sweetener of your choice)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
Place all chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Set aside.
In another smaller bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Add a small amount of water if the dressing is too thick. Pour dressing over vegetables, toss in sunflower seeds and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. If you have time, chill the salad for 2-3 hours or even overnight. Makes 6 servings.
King Ranch Casserole
- 2 pounds ground beef
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
- 1 can Rotel tomatoes
- 1 small bag Doritos (original flavor)
- 2 cups grated cheese
Heat oven to 350 F.
Season ground beef liberally with salt and pepper. In a skillet, cook beef with onion and garlic until browned through. Drain off any grease.
In a bowl, mix together soup and tomatoes. Set aside.
Spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of Doritos. Pour in the meat and onion mixture; top with the soup-tomato mixture. Place more Doritos around the edge of the dish, if desired. Top with grated cheese.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until bubbly and the cheese has melted. Makes 8-10 servings.
Beet Cake Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cups red beets, finely chopped and peeled
- Red food coloring (optional)
- Vanilla ice cream
- Mini chocolate chips (optional)
- Pecan pieces (optional)
- Sprinkles (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix together molasses, eggs, buttermilk, oil and brown sugar. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk to combine. Fold in beets. If you want your waffles to turn out a nice red color, mix in a tablespoon or so of red food coloring.
Prepare waffles according to waffle iron directions. Allow waffles to cool for a few minutes. Remove ice cream from the freezer so it can soften for about 10 minutes.
If the waffles are large, cut them into smaller sections, rectangles or triangles. Place a scoop of softened ice cream onto one waffle, smooth it so it’s even, and place another waffle on top. Sprinkle the edge of the ice cream sandwich with mini chocolate chips, pecan pieces or colorful sprinkles. Makes 8-10 large waffles.