“This is the only thing I try not to miss,” says Kim Maher, “because I love being with the women.”

Kim has only recently joined the group of young mothers who mix good food and good company via the Lake Highlands Area Early Childhood PTA Recipe Club. Does membership qualify Kim as a gastronome? An emphatic reply of “No, No, No! This makes me a cook,” she laughs. “I’ve gotten better though.”

Gotten better she has. Kim won that evening’s prize for best dish with her grandmother’s green bean and potato casserole recipe – it was the club’s “Casserole Night.” There have also been Italian night, Mexican night, Brunch night, and Soup and Salad Night.

Casserole Night is underway, and most of those already arrived at hostess Noel Walling’s house begin their evening together by pouring themselves a glass of wine. “When we did brunch, we did mimosas,” explains Lisa Daves, one of the club’s original members. “We do margaritas if we are doing Mexican…,” and so on.

Lisa, Noel and Club Chair Tricia White have been with the recipe club since it started four years ago.

“We meet once a month at someone’s house, and we have a different theme each month. Everybody brings their recipe, we all eat, and then decide who wins,” says Noel. “We chat; it’s fun. We have a lot of fun doing it.”

Hostessing the club exempts said person from cooking, but Noel has forgone the option this evening and made a San Francisco Mint Pie. Noel’s recipes, it is said in club circles, win four to five times a year. Unfortunately, she says, she is currently “not on a good streak. My husband keeps going: Did you win? Did you win? And I say: no, and he says: You need to get back on that streak!”

Dads and kids have every reason to make what happens at the club meetings a priority. After all, they are the ones who will be eating from these recipes for the next month.

“We all cook the same things every three or four nights, so we get new ideas [here],” says member Stephanie Enlow. For these women, the main criterion when choosing recipes is their feasibility.

“A recipe out of a cookbook…you don’t know if it’s gonna turn out,” says Katy Henderson. “Here, you get to test it. All of us are moms, so [recipes] have to be possible to cook and not take seven hours!”

That is precisely what these women have in common: young children, and the need for expediency with a bit of spontaneity at around 7 p.m. every evening when a good dish is all it will take to win over their hungry families.

“I think a lot of what we bring in here is geared toward the kids. I don’t think anyone goes through their cookbooks thinking: Would my family not eat this?”

The efforts new mothers make for their children mirror the good memories they retain of their own childhood: “My mom cooked all the time”…”We were four girls and a mother that spent a lot of time in the kitchen.” Appropriately enough, this evening laughter drifts among moms just enjoying being girls together.

HAMBURGER PIE

Recipe from Monica Chessmore

¾ cup shredded pizza cheese

2 cups fresh mashed potatoes or refrigerated mashed potatoes

8 oz. lean ground beef

4 oz. bulk sweet Italian sausage

½ cup chopped onion

2 cups sliced zucchini or yellow summer squash (or one cup of each)

1 14 ½ oz. can chunky pasta-style tomatoes

½ of 6 oz. can tomato paste (1/3 cup)

¼ tsp. pepper

Paprika (optional)

Preheat over to 375. Stir ½ cup of the cheese into the potatoes; set mixture aside.

In a large skillet, cook ground beef, sausage and onion. Drain. Stir in squash, undrained tomatoes, tomato paste and pepper. Bring to boiling. Transfer the mixture to a two-quart casserole.

Spoon mashed potato mixture on top of meat mixture (see note). Sprinkle with remaining cheese, then sprinkle with paprika is desired. Bake for 30 minutes or until mashed potato is golden brown.

Note: To make a good top layer of potatoes without breaking up the meat layer, drop large spoonfuls of warm (at least not too cold) potatoes evenly spaced across the dish and then smooth together lightly with the bowl of the spoon. If too much potato starts to stick to the spoon, stop and scrape off the excess before continuing.

MEXICAN CHICKEN

Recipe from Noel Walling

1 lb. (4) chicken breasts

1 lb. Velveeta Cheese

Doritos

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can Rotel (diced w/green chiles)

garlic salt

Boil chicken. Dice and put in bottom of casserole dish. Cut Velveeta in thin squares and out on top of chicken. Sprinkle with garlic and pepper. Crush and sprinkle half package of Doritos on top of cheese. In a separate bowl, mix soups and Rotel. Pour mixture over chips, then sprinkle remainder of chips on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

GREEN BEAN AND CORN CASSEROLE

Recipe from Kim Maher

1 12 oz. can Mexican style corn

1 16 oz. can French cut green beans

½ cup celery, diced

½ cup onion, diced

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ cup sour cream (or yogurt)

1 can cream of celery soup

¼ cup melted margarine

½ cup slivered almonds

1 cup herbed seasoned stuffing mix

Combine first eight in bowl and stir. Spoon into 8” baking dish lightly greased. Combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over casserole. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serves six.

GRANDMA’S POTATO CASSEROLE

Recipe from Sarah Dorsey

2 lb. frozen has brown potatoes, thawed

½ cup melted butter or margarine

1 tsp. salt (optional)

¼ tsp. pepper

½ cup onion, chopped

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 pint sour cream

10 oz. cheese, grated

Lay’s Potato Chips

Mix all ingredients except chips and place in a three-quart casserole. Top with crushed chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

SAN FRANCISCO MINT PIE

Recipe from Noel Walling

Half gallon mint chocolate chip ice cream

Large bag of Oreos

Large container Cool Whip

Crush Oreos and press half of mixture into the bottom of a rectangular pan. Spoon ice cream over the crust and spread Cool Whip on top of the ice cream. Sprinkle remainder of crushed Oreos on top. Store in freezer.