Sunday, March 11, 2018

Houston for Spring Break and the Chicken Spaghetti Saga Continues....

March is here and with that is our annual trip south to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  Each spring our show season for the winter comes to an end with our cattle at one of the biggest shows in the nation in H-Town. Houston is the culmination of show season for many kids from our part of Texas as our county fairs are held in the fall of each year.  Houston with it's big city lights, world famous rodeo and livestock shows are always a great way to ring in our spring break even with a few hiccups here and there.

So thankful for sweet friends who capture the picture off the internet for me of the live show feed!

Pulling into first place in her class!

For more years than I can honestly count, our girls have shown in Houston with our Hereford cattle and competed in their Agricultural Speaking Contest.  With the show usually falling right smack middle of our spring break, it's always been a blessing that our girls did not have to miss school.  One side bar of competing at these events is making sure your first priority of your education is taken care of. Thankfully our little district and our great teachers understand whole- heartedly realize the premier growth and leadership opportunities that our kids get to experience from these contest. So, ultimately when school is missed as this week when spring break fell a week later than Houston for us, they are more than accommodating and supportive our our FFA students.  Not every school is that lucky and thank you to our administrators and our fantastic teachers!

These girls are just going in and coming out from speaking as I type this post!
Wishing them all the best at the largest speaking contest in the USA!

This past week our daughter Audrey and our Gilmer FFA show team traveled to Houston to compete in the Junior Beef Heifer Show with her Hereford female, NH She's A Treasure.  From the name you can tell we think a lot of this new little heifer and she was a substitution for the show due to her heifer she had previously won Grand Champion with at Fort Worth calving with her little bull calf.  She's A Treasure has been up in our barn since she was weaned and it a heifer we are all excited about.

Waiting to take backdrop photo.

Audrey's first inaugural show with her went surprisingly well and she garnered a Division Championship in the middle division. With three divisions chosen, this meant that Audrey and her calf were in the Grand Champion drive again for the year.  That in itself was very exciting for our Audrey and family to have happen twice in the same year and something we honestly do not take for granted. It's taken a lot of years to breed our cattle to what we hoped would stand well in the ring.  All those last placed, second to last and middle class placings built character, perseverance and helped build our cattle herd in the process.  Our girls have learned that the lessons you learn first in the barn are those that carry you forth in the ring and later on in life.  For all those times, we grew as a family and slowly, slowly built our herd to one that thankfully was more competitive and above all else docile enough that we knew our daughters could handle them in the ring.  Our Hereford breed has given us more than we could have ever imagined over the years.

Two Houston H's. One for 1st in class and then the second for Division Champion.

Family photo with another smiling shot of dad!

Audrey and Ag. Advisor Kyle

Audrey with Bethany

Audrey with Ilissa

Audrey and proud Scott

As always at these shows, it is a tradition of mine to cook one day. Each year I plan, purchase, prep and pack everything we need in my big, black, cooking box on wheels.  Years ago I remember how excited I was when my husband Scott came dragging in the barn my first black box on wheels proudly smiling and saying, "Here you go!  Your very own cooking box on wheels!"  Now, some women might not have been as thrilled as me with a cooking box to store their wares, but cooking is and will always be my way to share and give to others.  So this rolling cooking box was definitely one of my favorite gifts he has ever given me.  To date I have cooked my fair share of meals for our hungry show team and fellow Hereford friends with this year was no exception.  However, what we didn't realize initially was what was left at home...

Unloading at any stock show is a big event.  Trailers line up the night before, sit through until the light of dawn and gradually begin to file into the barn as the rooster crows.  This year much to our delight, dear family friend Grant Bitner made sure he was on the Houston Livestock Show Volunteer Welcoming Committee and had not one, but three tractors to unload all our gear.

Wish you could see a larger, more expansive picture of trailers unloading...

Grant, Grant as we call him has been one of our oldest daughter Ilissa's dearest friends since they were Texas FFA State Officers together their freshmen year of college.  They just clicked, attended Texas A&M together and has remained a dear family friend ever since. Grant and the over 40,000 volunteers for the three weeks of this event, make the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo run like none other for no pay other than the thank you from participants and visitors.  I am always amazed at the time and effort this show puts in to making everyone feel welcome and the world class event anything associated with HLSR is.  Thank you from all of us!  You all make this show a pleasure to attend each year!

Our Grant, Grant - Grant Bitner! 

This year after everything was unloaded and Scott walked in to check our stalling location, he called me a little frantic as my Bethany and I drove down after my work at 8:30 p.m.  "You're not cooking chicken spaghetti this year if we can't find your roaster!", he boomed over the phone.  I was like surely we packed it and he said he thought he saw it unloaded and placed out back with our table and chairs.  Many years before sadly, my favorite portable rocking chair had been stolen.  In my heart of hearts, I hoped this was not the same thing happening again.  Scott continued looking and Bethany started Googling for a Walmart on our route.  I knew innately how hard it was to buy one of these large 'turkey' roasters out of season and knew if we found one, we'd be lucky.

You see the saga of the chicken spaghetti was striking again!  First it was Fort Worth and now it was like the Houston of a year ago all over again.  Chicken spaghetti lunch was becoming more of a hassle than a positive.

Click here for the recipe for
The Ranch Kitchen's Chicken Spaghetti for a Crowd" - jumbo version!

Several years back while at Fort Worth, they stopped letting us cook in the barns to allow more money to be spent with the food vendors on the site.  While we all understood that, it just made us get a little more creative in how we fed our hungry crews of kids and adults.  One year in an effort to get my chicken spaghetti cooked in and in the barn and cooking it in the rental house before, I may or may not have parked my car just outside our barn and left it for a few seconds to cart in my roaster...  Just as I rounded the corner to our stalls a very overzealous police officer told me to move my suburban now or go to jail.... I was like seriously, I'm going to jail over my darn chicken spaghetti, this can't be real. Anger, tears, a few words about power going to someones head came out of my mouth and thankfully when I looked behind me after a feverish prayer, the cop was gone.  For the next few days the barn superintendents were so apologetic to me and thankful they also got a few bowls of my chicken spaghetti!  They are more hardened criminals running the streets than a woman carting chicken spaghetti in to a barn I promise you!

At Houston thankfully they still allow us to cook for our students in the barns.  We now have been moved to the outer edges and loading dock walkways to set up our 'camping' areas as they call them, but I am not complaining.  Each year mom's rush to find the spot with electrical outlets to plug in Crock Pot after Crock Pot.  Just this past years as I was cutting up my chicken spaghetti's onions, out at of the corner of my eye here come the Fire Marshall.  I thought, "Oh, good Lord....why me"... and yep, they were coming just for me out of an entire row a football field long line of mom's with Crock Pots and roasters!  I guess I must look approachable, but after they told me I had to turn off my roaster because I needed a surge protector, I quickly went into Moma Bear mode and pointedly told me if I went down, every lovely lady on the entire block was going down! I had some seriously hungry kids from the barn and especially their dad's would be sadly disappointed if they did not let me continue to cook.

As the saga continues this year, finding a plug meant cooking on top of the cooler for a bit to find a hot electrical outlet!  And yes...Fire Marshall found me again and I had to move.  LOL! You have to laugh...because in the grand scope of things, it's all small stuff!

Audrey and her fellow district officer Anna eating my chicken spaghetti!

I think as women get older, we don't take as much off people as we used too.  That day, as I turned to face a group of several maintenance workers and Fire Marshall and started pointing my finger at them excitedly, I must have looked quite a sight with the onion knife in my other hand.  I remember vaguely my Bethany taking it out of my hand and saying, "Just let me have that...."  Oh my...the memories....but you don't mess with chicken spaghetti day at the stock show around me!  Needless to say, I got to continue cooking... ;o)

Well, the saga continued this year with the missing roaster.  What could have been a small hiccup and expensive lunch for all on the grounds, thankfully turned out alright.  A new Oyster Roaster was found last minute at a Walmart on the outskirts of Houston and my chicken spaghetti for lunch on Saturday was on again.

Click here to buy your own from Walmart

Add liquid 3/4th of the way up the pan and gradually add noodles on highest setting until soft.

Spices in and ready to add cheese!  Almost lunch!

Life will throw you curves.  Although my chicken spaghetti curves are minor in the grand scheme of life, they have brought humor to my life in many ways.  I've fed many a hungry kid and parent over the years and met some of the nicest people as we share recipes from our cooking setups.  To me, cooking has always been a way to bring people together. My The Ranch Kitchen's Chicken Spaghetti for a Crowd is that recipe I know I'll always be remembered by.

And yes, in regards to the chicken, we are ranchers that proudly raise beef cattle and cook far more beef than any other meat.  But, my a bowl of chicken spaghetti will probably be etched on my tombstone one day!

Click here for The Ranch Kitchen's Chicken Spaghetti - family portion recipe (smaller sized)

So, today as I sit here supporting our Audrey and friends Jaici and McKenzie with her Ag. Advisor Sue Witt in her sixth Houston Agricultural Public Speaking Contest as her father and the rest of our crew loads our cattle and leaves for the ranch, I'm so extremely thankful for the life we lead.  The sometimes funny, stressful ups and downs of the show road with shenanigans like my chicken spaghetti make me realize how lucky we are to be involved in an industry we hold near and dear to our hearts. 

Audrey with her Ag. Advisor Sue Witt and friends Jaici and McKenzie!
They have competed for years together in FFA speaking contest! 

We go fast and we go hard, spending as much time as we can with our daughters and doing what we love, all while teaching them all we can in the process. Life is meant to be lived and we are trying to live it as fast and hard as we can. In life it's the small things that you look back on that make you laugh, smile and think what a great life we live even in the midst of a chicken spaghetti fiasco or two, or three!

Alise Nolan
The Ranch Kitchen

P.S.... as always you can also follow me on my The Ranch Kitchen Facebook page and Twitter for my newest recipes!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

My Momma's Chicken Salad - A True Southern Wedding Shower Favorite!

It seems that we never really make things as good as our moms.  For years I've tried my best to perfect my chicken salad recipe.  I've added different spices and added nuts, but never quite perfected my chicken salad until yesterday.  Being last minute on almost everything I do in and out of the kitchen, yesterday was no exception.

My Momma's Chicken Salad - Click here for the recipe

In the South, we love our wedding showers.  It is traditional to have certain appetizers to help celebrate the bride to be with.  Yesterday we got to honor one of my oldest friends sweet daughter Leslie Hodges on her upcoming wedding with a bridal shower.  She will be a beautiful bride here very soon and her aunt Camila, her family, along with her mom's and dad's friends came together to shower her with gifts for her home with her new husband.

I will always remember Leslie and her sweet sisters in their pajamas at our house after Friday night football games.  All our young friends would gather at our little house in town after home football games to visit and the kids would play and then pass out all over our girls bedrooms.  We've been friends with her parents for a lifetime and love them and their families very much.  Scott made them a part of our lives many years ago on our very first date and their 'Indian Rock' community connection from church, to classmates, to dear friends goes back a long way.  To sum it all up, it's very special to celebrate sweet friends kids whenever you can.

Leslie and her sweet mom Cindy

Leslie and her sisters Lauren, Lacy and mom Cindy

Hostesses for Leslie's wedding shower full of aunts and friends

Leslie with her mom and dear grandmothers

Leslie with friend Anna Jo and daughter Kayla

Leslie and Patti, her sweet stepmother

Cindy and sister Camila

Leslie and best friend Cassie

It is tradition to serve dainty foods and not a full meal at a southern wedding shower.  In our little town a favorite party food is always petite fours that are little white cakes with a delicate white icing on top.  You simply can never get enough of these and everyone loves them.  Along with those little cakes, you will always find these days beautifully decorated sugar cookies in beautiful bridal designs, fruits and cheese trays, seasoned and spiced nuts, sausage balls and little pinwheel sandwiches that in our part of the south are made with tortillas.  My job was to make chicken salad to serve with crackers for Leslie's shower and instead of store bought, I chose to make it from scratch last minute.

Stunning cookies

Loved these sweet and modern napkins

A pretty southern wedding shower table full of finger foods

Literally as I drove to the store, I called my mom and asked her to snap a picture of her handwritten recipe and send it to me.  You'll see her recipe note below.

My mom's beautiful handwriting.  You can tell it's a teacher's penmanship!

I know one day I hope very far in the future, that these recipe notes will all be handed down to me.  On this day, I was thankful for the technology of telephone photography and the ease in which I was able to get a copy of the recipe instead of having it recited to me last minute.

My Momma's Chicken Salad in my pretty crystal bowl with matching platter.
Click here for the recipe for My Momma's Chicken Salad recipe.

Using store bought rotisserie chicken, I deboned the meat and cut it all into small bite sized portions.  Fresh celery, green grapes, long, green onions (green tops as well), and fresh squeezed lemon were added to make My Momma's Chicken Salad the best I've honestly ever had.  The things that I believe took this chicken salad over the top were the pineapple and sour cream along with the Real Mayonnaise that we mixed in with plenty of salt and black pepper.  If you are not a fan of black pepper, you can hold off on it, but I love, love it in abundance and especially with this chicken salad.

My youngest daughter Audrey was a huge help slicing the grapes with my newest, favorite cherry tomato slicer and helped me mix it all together while making sure I was following my mom's recipe exactly as it was written.

Audrey and I doubled the recipe using two rotisserie chickens so that we could have some for lunch the next day and for the week ahead.  My Momma's Chicken Salad was seriously a huge hit at the shower and from the 8 cups I took, literally only 1 cup was left.  I promised to place the recipe on my blog and recipe site today, so that we could share with all those who asked for it.

As always a special thanks to my sweet mom who inspires me more than she knows with her cooking, her tried and true recipes and love for us all.  She is one of my biggest cheerleaders ever and along with so many of her and my Granny's recipes, her chicken salad will forever be on my shower menus from now on.

So whether it's a wedding shower, birthday party, or you just want a wonderful chicken salad to serve with crackers or between to pieces of bread as a sandwich, try My Momma's Chicken Salad  recipe.  In a pinch, store bought can be a great substitute, however from start to finish Audrey and I had My Momma's Chicken Salad Recipe recipe done in under 30 minutes and in a pretty crystal bowl ready to go.  Sometimes last minute recipes are the best recipes!

Enjoy and let me know if you like it please.

The Ranch Kitchen    

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ranchero Cookies

I have a sweet tooth. I love anything with chocolate and if it's in a cookie, then jackpot! For years I've been looking for a Cowboy Cookie recipe that had oatmeal and chocolate that created a crisp yet, soft centered cookies. Traditional Cowboy Cookies have anything from oatmeal, rice crispy cereal, chocolate chips to even shredded coconut.  Eliminating coconut, rice crispy cereal and adding in brown sugar along with granulated white sugar, I finally hit the jackpot with these Ranchero Cookies that made about 6 dozen delicious treats!

Click here for the recipe for Ranchero Cookies

With Valentine's Day this week, these cookies would be a huge hit at parties, work or just as a delicious dessert to have in your cookie jar at home anytime of the year. Trying to get ahead of  my busy week, Saturday night involved baking these cookies and watching the Olympics with my family at home.  Perfect evening in my book.

For my first batch, I made my Ranchero Cookies larger with about 2 tablespoons of batter on the cookie sheets. After seeing how large they were (about as large as my hand), I reduced the dough to 1 tablespoon in size and they were perfect. These cookies may bake faster than the 7  - 9 minutes I recommend.  Our favorite cookie scope is our ice-cream scoop at our house.  It works perfectly, especially when lightly greased with a oil.

Be careful and watch these Ranchero Cookies closely in your oven as you don't want them to get to bake too long. If you are like me, you'll want a chewy middle with a brown, crispy outer edge.

Click here for the recipe for Ranchero Cookies 

This week my Ranchero Cookies will be shared with my daughter's golf team, co-workers and high school English teachers as this recipe made so many.  You can easily halve this recipe and still have around 3 dozen cookies depending on the size of dough you place on your baking sheets.  I did use parchment paper to line my pan for easy cleanup.  I also used the convection bake element on my oven switching the cookie sheets halfway through to make sure all cookies baked evenly.

I hope you'll enjoy these Ranchero Cookies!  They will definitely be a cookie I will bake for many years to come.

The Ranch Kitchen

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A January to Remember As A Family

January over the last thirty years was just one of those dreary, dull months.  Honestly the only thing I looked forward to used to be snow.  I'm an outdoor, sunshine kind of person who rarely sits down.  So January, and all the cold and wintry weather, never suited me. Then we started showing our Hereford cattle, our girls got involved in the FFA and January changed dramatically.  January is now one of my favorite months and this last one will be one I will always cherish and remember forever.

Show season at our ranch involves a lot of time spent in the barn and prepping our cattle for the Fort Worth Junior Hereford Show and the National Hereford Show there as well.  For two weekends in a row we make the treck up I-20 to Cowtown and live there almost two weeks out of the month of January.  It's an intensive month full of Scott, Audrey and Steve washing, blowing, walking and packing show supplies up for both shows.  Bethany and I pack and bake sweets!  For the junior show Audrey can only take one heifer to show because there are so many juniors and breeds across the state of Texas showing.  For the second, following weekend of National Hereford Show, breeders from across the US bring both their bulls and heifers to compete in this highly prestigious show.  We try to stay well and not come down with the 'Fort Worth crud' from the constant changes in temperatures and being around so many people.  The flu has hit our nation hard this year and I've tried to keep our family both well and loaded with vitamins in anticipation of these shows.

Audrey's first Fort Worth Stock show and still one of my very favorite photos taken by a friend

Since our oldest daughter Ilissa started showing over 19 years ago, our first large show was the Fort Worth Stock Show. In those days we traveled with our local school's FFA team which numbered over thirty one head of cattle and kids.  Add in two to three family members in there and it was one of the largest groups in the state.  In those days we used to cook meals in the barn to feed our crowd at lunch each day.  Mr. Thomas' stew was always something everyone loved and then there was that one year that everyone made spaghetti...  He blended it all together in large one pot!  That recipe is one that will go down in history for our juniors!  The kids secretly went and bought baked potatoes, hid and ate that year.  They still talk about it to this day! Fun memories!

During those humbling years and the process of building our Hereford herd Ilissa and later our middle daughter Bethany showed with many last places, second to last and mid-class showings with their show heifers.  Each year we'd excitedly come back to Fort Worth ready to show their newest heifer once again or one that was still old enough to show from the previous year.  We were always excited to see old friend and inevitably made new ones.  Just the hard work and perseverance it took and taught our girls still amazes me to this day. Our two older girls learned a lot during those years with both showing on how to lose graciously. Gradually, step by step, our cattle after seven years started to build into a herd that was competitive on the state and national level.  You can buy your cattle all day long and I promise you we did that early on to build our herd. But a home-grown win is the best of them all!

Audrey showing NH North her heifer in the junior show at Fort Worth Stock Show

This past month while at the Fort Worth Junior Hereford Stock Show our Audrey earned an honor that as a family our ranch has never achieved. When the final handshake was given, Audrey and her heifer NH North were awarded Grand Champion heifer of the horned breed!  To say we were thrilled is an understatement and to say we are still reeling from it is even truer.  This win was the result of years and years of Scott's and our girls breeding program on our ranch.  Most special of all was that this win was the product of both the sire (father) and the dam (mother) also being bred on our place.  As a breeder the best feeling of all is when the win is with the lineage of cattle totally off your place.  For Audrey and our entire family that day, this moment was even more special because we shared it as well with our great FFA chapter who had helped haul our girls all over the state and country for many, many years.  I honestly don't think our older two daughters could have been more excited even if it had happened to them.  Both in their own rights have won Grand Champion at The State Fair of Texas (Ilissa) and Houston Livestock Shows (Bethany), but Fort Worth had always been something that had eluded us. We'd hit all around the grand championship with a few division winners and been in the hunt at this show, but never achieved what for us seemed the hardest nut to crack - Fort Worth Grand Champion.

Fort Worth Grand Champion Jr. Hereford NH North with Audrey, family and Ag. Advisors Sue Witt and Kyle Keahey along with Texas Hereford royalty. 

The smile on my husbands face said it all as you'll see in the pictures above and below.  He later mentioned that as he haltered Audry's calf as she left the ring and asked her, "Do you realize what you just won?", she grew a few inches taller and could also not take the smile off her face and was in total shock.  Her sisters later told me that they mentioned to Audrey she could just 'enjoy' coming to Fort Worth after this year - no pressure- because she'd just won the pinnacle in their eyes!

I love the quiet, intensity on her face in this shot

For me as the mom, what meant the most was having our entire family there with all our daughters and Scott to watch as Audrey won.  Along with our Ag advisers Sue Witt and Kyle Keahey there,  and family friend Taylor Shackleford too, was huge to Audrey.  And to our friends and family who texted, messaged and came by to congratulate us, thank you as well. Your support and genuine smiles and words of congratulations meant the world as well to Scott, Audrey and the girls and I.

Kyle Keahey, our Ag Adivisor with our family!  So proud he is in Gilmer and as Scott said,
got to clip the Grand Champion! A rare, full face Scott smile!

Audrey with Gilmer FFA Ag. Advisor Sue Witt and Kyle Keahey

The following weekend we came home, washed some laundry, tried to rest and then Scott and Steve left for Fort Worth again on the following Thursday after arriving home on Monday.  It was time for the National Hereford Show and the Texas Hereford Association weekend of socials, meetings and show on Monday.  My favorite weekend in January was finally here where we could relax a little, visit with friends from across the state and nation and most of all be with all our girls again.

This year was even more special as Scott and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary!  On my Facebook post when I mentioned our anniversary, I told him that I wouldn't have it any other way than celebrating at a cattle show as we had for the last 20 and said here's to the next 30....he then commented, "I sure hope we can still go to a cow show when we are 83!"  It's become a tradition to celebrate our anniversary with a family dinner at least one night while there bringing along friends that have come in to town for to come to the events of the weekend.  This weekend as in many past, we enjoyed having our cousin Jennifer and husband Andy join us at one of our favorite restaurants the Silver Fox.  Thirty years have come and gone by so fast, but I could not imagine being more lucky to have Scott and our girls.  We married young as everyone did in those days. Looking back he's been my rock, best friend, supporter and biggest encourager all wrapped in one rough and tough package. I love you Scott and here's to another 30 or more years!

Anniversary dinner at Silver Fox

Throughout the entire weekend and anticipation of the National Show on Monday, our families thoughts and prayers were gearing up for another big event in our Audrey's life, her district officer election that she would compete in that Monday immediately following the show in Fort Worth.  For a period of eight years as soon as the two oldest girls showed their heifers and bulls in the National Hereford Show, we jumped in the car and headed east to the Daingerfield District FFA Convention  in just enought time for our our girls to run for district officer. Praying all the way, the girls try to take a quick nap, then gear up for their speech and thought quesions on the stage that follow while I just seriously pray that we arrive safely.  I know I make our Ag advisor Sue a nervous wreck!

Audrey with all our Gilmer FFA Ag Advisors.
Selfless, dedicated and love all our in Gilmer like their own!

A huge part of our girls lives are and will always be the FFA and a tradition for them is running for leadership positions in our chapter and then district, area and state levels.  This weekend it was finally our Audrey's turn and we all could not have been more excited for her or anxious.

Candidate #5 Audrey Nolan from Gilmer FFA!

With our first two girls, the practice for their speeches and competitions were always a part of our nightly routine where they'd get up and say them during commercials or with anyone that would hear them.  Audrey is different however and prefers to practice in her own way, quietly and more intensive with a great deal of self reflection.  More like her dad in many, many ways, her style works for her, but makes her mom a little nervous!  However, by the end of the night and a stellar speech performance and question response, Audrey was name our Daingerfield District officer from over 15 neighboring chapter FFA kids!  Our goal was to just be an officer.  When her name was called out last, I've never seen our sweet girl more confident and proud of herself than that night.  

Audrey as Daingerfield District President performing closing ceremonies.

As she closed the convention as the new president, all the years of watching our two older girls came flooding back with a great sense of pride.  Audrey was following in her sister's footsteps, but making on her own place in the world, one step at a time.

All smiles and a huge thumbs up for our Audrey!

As I reflect on the last two weeks, I give credit to God first of all for holding us safe and allowing us to do what we do as a family.  The life we live is fast paced and full of love, laughter and lots of hard work.  Agriculture, our beloved Hereford cattle, their people, associations and the FFA have left indelible marks in our hearts and soul.  Each of these, without a doubt have shaped our daughters in to the young women they are and have become.  We could not feel more blessed and thankful.

For a month that used to be dull, January is anything but but that now.  This past January was one for the record books in our little family's lives and we realize more than anything the events of it were years in the making.

Alise Nolan
The Ranch Kitchen