The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie


In Essay, Faith, Food, Gab, Photos, Recipe on June 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm

La Bamba Casserole with Sides of Brown Rice & Organic Spring Scallions

I knew sending my child to Kindergarten would be an exciting adventure for him.  I anticipated that he would learn lots of new things, meet many new faces and more importantly begin to navigate his way in the world without me.   But the big surprise for me, I do have to admit, is that I entirely underestimated all the new things that I would learn and experience his first year of school.    Not only about being a mom, but about letting go.

During the hustle and bustle of trying to get him to school before the bell rang those first few weeks with a newborn and three-year old in tow, I found myself feeling very frazzled.  What an accomplishment it was just to get out the door each day.  Actually getting there was an entirely different and monumental task to hurdle.  I swear on the short walks to school that year, I spent more time chasing my three-year old than I care to remember.  For some reason he had acquired a fascination for following random birds with no regard for where I was, or where I needed to be.  Let’s just say that getting his older brother to school on time was not high on his priority list.   He’d been like that since day one, always following the beat of his own drum, and I would not have him be any other way; except maybe when we had somewhere we needed to be ; ).  

In those first weeks, it seemed I had no sooner finished the chaotic drop-off routine then chimes from the mantle clock reminded me it was time to return for pick-up.  Pick-up presented me with a whole new set of challenges usually in the form of rain, sleet or snow. The double stroller purchased specifically to make the task more manageable was wonderful, except that on most afternoons one of the seats remained unoccupied.  You see, boy number three was determined not to be a “stroller baby”.   On one memorable afternoon following a very fun-filled field trip to the farm, my kindergartener, still adjusting to life without a nap, was exhausted and whiney at pick-up.  He was in tears and was in no mood to make the short trek home on foot.  It was time to get creative.  I instructed him to sit his 50-pound body next to his dozing brother in the well-equipped ride.  On his way in, he handed me his ten pound souvenir from the farm.  Arms full holding a screaming baby in one hand and medium-sized pumpkin in the other, like a talented circus performer, I pushed the fully occupied stroller home using my chest and chin. I looked ridiculous, but when you’re a mom you do what it takes!

Shortly after returning home, the phone rang.  It was a friend wondering if she should leave a pitcher of margaritas on the porch.  Apparently, on her way home she had witnessed the final moments of my comical three-ring performance.  She made me laugh and let me know she was right there with me.   I have come to learn that life really does have a way of putting certain people in your life for a reason.  What I failed to realize though, is that if you miss meeting them the first time, thankfully, you might just meet them when you are ready to learn some of the life lessons they can offer.   Interestingly enough, on this occasion, it took some years and a couple of meetings before one such person actually touched my life.  We had gone to high school together, but didn’t really know each other.  Later, we met at our sons’ daycare center.  We would briefly chat from time to time at drop-off or pick-up in the baby room while flying around those first months as we both struggled to juggle new motherhood, midnight feedings and a career.  However, it wasn’t until our sons landed in the same Kindergarten class that we actually got the chance to become friends.

During the first weeks of school, we’d chat while our kids played on the playground.  On the short walks home, I discovered we had a lot in common.  We were both were living in the town we grew up in and were very fond of it.  Heck, she could even remember Fidler’s and agreed it was the best burger joint in town when we were kids.  Turned out she also loved cooking and talking about new recipe finds.   She suggested that we get together for coffee some morning to swap our best ones.  So busy getting from day-to-day, I had forgotten her suggestion.   Until one morning as we walked home she told me she had brought her best recipes with her.  What she pulled from her parked minivan was an impressive binder of hundreds of recipes she had collected and a Junior League Cookbook.  She and her daughter headed to my house for that long over due coffee.  It was the first of many “coffee talks”.

On that particular morning, one recipe she raved about caught my attention.  The saved page, torn from an old issue of Cooking Light, had a beautiful photo of the most amazing looking casserole on it.  However, it really was the name of the dish that caught my attention:  La Bamba.  With a name like that, how could it not be delicious?  I just had to try it.   And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.  Instant “Keeper” status was achieved.  So good in fact that not only one, but two teenagers with most discriminating Irish taste buds have amazed their mom by requesting this dinner.    It is still puzzling to me that something this easy to put together, can really taste so good.  Layer upon layer of Mexican goodness all under the cover of a crusty canopy of melted cheddar cheese.   What a perfect dish to bring to a party or to a friend who is sick.  What could be better?

What I really like about this recipe is it’s one really meant to be made your own.   You don’t like chopped tomatoes, then top with sliced black olives instead.  Want it spicier, add a dash of cayenne.   Don’t like refried beans, substitute some organic black beans.  Serve it with a side of brown rice, tortilla chips or eat it all alone.  It’s entirely up to you.  Let your own taste buds be your guide.  Take a chance.  It won’t let you down.

Like Ritchie Valens’ hit song of the same name about a traditional Mexican wedding dance, La Bamba will get you in the kitchen moving.  And that is what I so admire about this friend.  She is always on the move, a real “do-er”.  She gets an idea and she is on it.  Whether it requires a staple gun, Benny Moore paint chip wheel or heaven forbid, lugging a large piece of furniture to a different spot, she is going to give it a whirl.  Sometimes, it takes me so long to put even the simplest idea into action; turning it over in my mind a million times wanting it to be perfection the very first go around.  Thankfully, I am learning that nothing gets done this way.  I am realizing that sometimes courage is putting your ideas into action.  With her encouragement, I’ve changed the paint in a few rooms in our little blue house and even moved a piece of furniture or two.  She’s showed me that you have to get out there in the world and make things the way you want them to be; or at least strive to make it a little more “colorful” than you found it.

So whether you like yours with a kick of cayenne pepper or smokey paprika, make this one your own because it is heaven in an 8×8 glass dish.  If you have the gumption make it a mission to find whole fire-roasted green chilis in a can rather than diced to form the bottom layer of this dish.  I find it is the trick to holding the casserole together.

La Bamba Casserole


1 5.25-ounce can whole fire-roasted green chiles (drained)

1 cup chopped onion

1 pound 93% lean ground turkey (Jenni-O)

2 tablespoons chili powder* (I like Penzey’s medium hot chili powder)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon salt

 2 cloves garlic, minced

1 10-ounce can Ro-tel diced tomatoes and chilis, undrained (I use the original style)

2 cups frozen whole kernel corn

1 16-ounce can fat-free refried beans

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped tomato

1/2 cup thinly slice green onions

 Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place whole green chilis on bottom of greased 8×8 square glass baking dish.  Next heat onion, garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder in saute pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Cook for a few minutes until onions begin to soften.  Add ground turkey and cook until it crumbles.  Add Rotel tomatoes.  Mix well and cook about 5 minutes until liquid evaporates. 

Spoon seasoned turkey mixture over chili layer in square pan.   Top with thawed corn.  Carefully spread the refried beans over corn.  Sprinkle shredded cheddar over beans.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.  Let stand for 5 minutes and top with tomatoes and green onions.  Serve with brown rice or tortilla chips.

 I like to add a dash of cayenne pepper to the ground turkey when sauteing with the onions, but I like it spicy. 

*Note:  I’ve increased this amount from the original Cooking Light Recipe.

First Day. Blue View Elementary. August 2008.

My Turn. Blue View Elementary. August 2010.

Girlfriends. Uniontown, OH. August of 1977.

Cookbook Swap. Recycle Road.  June of 2011.  Photo Credit J. Hayes.

  1. Can’t wait to try this, Sue! I was so excited to see another post so soon after “Noodles”. Keep up the good work–you are so talented!! Looking forward to buying one of your books someday soon!

  2. Another great story about life. I love the doers in my life too. They have taught me a lot. I’ve learned you can’t plow a field in your mind. That’s an old Irish proverb. : ). I have to make this. My girls love it.

  3. Ahhh, one of my favorites!! 🙂

  4. So glad to see another recipe and be able to read another fabulous story! You are remarkably talented and look forward to trying this one soon.

    • Thank you Jenny. Your encouragement means so much. I love writing and am so Joyful that you love reading it. –suebthefoodie

  5. Wow! When did you post this one? I love it. Life comes with wonderful memories even though at the time of their creation they seem like mountains to climb when in hind-site you realize they were only ant-hills. Keep your friends close, you still have many more mountains to climb and cliffs to scale and a friend with a rope or a pitcher of margarita’s makes the journey a little more bearable. Remember that your mom tries to be around with a net if needed.

    Love ur mom!

    • I know you are! Thanks Mom. I’m a mountain climber or at least married to one ; ). Onward and upward. Ps. Thanks for the net. –suebthefoodie

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