The power of a good meal

As we gather together around the dinner table this time of year, we share our favorite stories, reminisce over past dishes enjoyed and find solace in the familiar. Food is powerful and family recipes are a treasure, bringing people together and reminding us of the safe and familiar during times of trouble. 

This time of year we choose to carve out time to gather around a table surrounded by family or close friends and enjoy a meal together. We share our favorite stories, reminisce over food, and find solace in the familiar. We choose to celebrate the season with loved ones, and we view our table as a safe spot, a place for fellowship, acceptance, and joy. Food is powerful. Family recipes are treasure. A good meal is the best way to bring people together and celebrate our blessings. However, 2020 has wrought great concern and confusion, so will we even interact in group situations? How do you plan to gather this year? With small, intimate gatherings as opposed to large family reunions? Whatever you choose to do, definitely plan for lots of traditional dishes, as well as the new recipes you want to try this year.

Chicken and Potato Casserole

• 1 ½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed (1 inch)

• 5 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

• 3 TBSP. olive oil

• ½ TBSP. paprika

• 1 TBSP. garlic powder

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. black pepper

• 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (can use a combination of Colby-Jack and Monterey Jack)

• 1 cup cooked, chopped bacon

• 2 green onions, diced

Optional: sour cream, Ranch dressing, and hot sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the diced chicken and potatoes into a greased 9x13 baking pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Pour over the chicken and potatoes. Stir to coat. Bake, uncovered, for 50-55 minutes, stirring once while baking.

Once the chicken and potatoes are fully cooked, remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with cheese, bacon, and onion. Bake another 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream, Ranch dressing, and hot sauce.

Fall Chopped Salad


• 8 cups chopped romaine lettuce

• 1 medium apple, chopped

• 1 medium pear, chopped

• 1 cup dried cranberries

• 1 cup chopped pecans

• 8 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled

• 6 oz. feta cheese crumbles

• Poppyseed Salad Dressing (Brianna’s Home Style or Marzetti)

• Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (Newman’s Own Light Balsamic)

On a large platter, combine the lettuce, chopped apple and pear, cranberries, pecans, bacon, and feta cheese. To make dressing, in a small bowl combine 5 oz. of poppyseed dressing with 3 oz. of balsamic vinaigrette. Drizzle salad evenly with the dressing.

Mini Cheese-Herb Muffins

• 2 cups self-rising flour

• 1 cup butter, melted

• 1 (6.5 oz.) container Alouette Garlic & Herbs spreadable cheese, softened

½ cup sour cream

Stir together all ingredients just until blended. Spoon batter into lightly greased miniature muffin pans, filling to the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 2 ½ dozen.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Trifle

• 1 fudge brownie mix

• 1 cup peanut butter baking chips

• 1 cup milk chocolate chips

• 2 (13 oz.) packages miniature peanut butter cups

• 4 cups milk

• 2 (5.1 oz.) packages instant vanilla pudding mix

• 1 cup creamy peanut butter

• 4 tsp. vanilla extract

• 3 (8 oz.) tubs frozen whipped topping, thawed

Prepare brownie mix according to directions; stir in peanut butter chips and chocolate chips. Bake in a greased 9x13 pan for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toothpick comes at clean but do not overbake. Cool on wire rack; cut into 1-inch pieces. Cut peanut butter cups in half and set aside. Reserve 1/3 cup for garnish.

In a large bowl, whisk milk and pudding mixes for 2 minutes. Add peanut butter and vanilla extract; mix well. Fold in 1-1/2 tubs of whipped topping.

Place a third of the brownies in a large trifle bowl or other large glass serving bowl. Top with a third of the chopped peanut butter cups. Spoon a third of the pudding mixture over the top. Repeat layers twice. Cover with the remaining whipped topping and garnish with reserved peanut butter cups. Refrigerate until chilled.

— Amy Fischer has worked as an educator and librarian in the Fort Payne City School system the last 27 years. She loves to cook, plan menus and host large family dinners or small luncheons for friends. Her column, Set the Table, appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions.

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