Name: Laura Leigh French
Background: I grew up in Thomaston and graduated from Upson-Lee High School in 1997. I graduated with a degree in management information systems from Florida State University in 2001. I moved to LaGrange in 2002. LaGrange has always been a second home because my grandparents, Ellis and Jean Smith, are here, and my mama, brother, sister and I spent a lot of time here growing up.
Family: I am married to Matt French who owns First Cut Communications, a video and corporate communications company. We have three children: Catherine Claire, 5, who will be in the first grade at LaGrange Academy, and twins Blake and Ashley Anne, 2, who will be at Montessori preschool.
Job: I am a full-time mama and wife - the highest paying job with no paycheck.
Hobbies, activities: My world is my children so my hobbies and activities include reading and listening to books, playing dolls, playing ball, swimming, dancing, playing games, building forts, riding bikes, being “Mama’s Shoe Shop” and “Drive-through of the day choice.” We are getting ready now for the Sweet Land of Liberty 4th of July Parade. I also love to shop (especially for my children) and travel.
How did you learn to cook? In Mama’s kitchen and by just doing.
What is your favorite memory of cooking or being in the kitchen? I remember watching my great-grandmother “Boo” cook and thinking how delicate and time-consuming cooking must be for it to taste good. She was a wonderful cook and loved cooking. However, when she cooked, she never left her kitchen. She would bring a chair and watch a turkey cook in the oven or her famous dressing or a good pie. I’ll never cook as well as she did, but I’m thankful that I have discovered some fast ways to cook with three small children.
What ingredient is always in your pantry or refrigerator? Lemon pepper and Dale’s seasoning.
What is your favorite cooking tool? My crock pot. It’s hard to start cooking dinner sometimes before that first cup of coffee, but the feeling of having supper “cooked” before anyone else wakes up is one I truly appreciate. Having supper ready and me not in the kitchen makes the 5-6:00 hour much easier at our house.
Do you have a favorite cookbook? My Mama, Lesia Smith Mikell, is my favorite cookbook. I call her to get recipes, to tell me what to use in place of the ingredient that I don’t have, and to help me fix an almost disaster—she always has the right answer!
What would people be surprised to find in your kitchen? Bath toys and baby wash — my twins love a good sink bath.
When you go out to eat, what is your favorite thing to order? Well, most of the time we go out to eat at Charlie Joseph’s or Chick-fil-A. I get a double cheeseburger at Charlie Joseph’s and rotate between the sandwich, nuggets and salad at Chick-fil-A. When I find myself at more of a sit-down restaurant (very rarely)—my favorite thing to order is time to sit.
Do you have a favorite cost-saving cooking idea? I like to buy in bulk when items are on sale. It really saves a lot of money. I also like to cook extra and eat leftovers later in the week. I think that saves money and time.
What is your “old faithful” recipe that you rely on time after time? Everyone seems to enjoy my meatloaf. I break up bread and put Dale’s seasoning and pepper on it, add the hamburger meat and lots of salsa (we like spicy food), make the loaf and put it in the oven.
Final note: I like quick and easy recipes for a busy mama, so I thought I would share some with you. Most of these can be doubled if needed.
2 cans whole green beans
1 can English peas
1 can lima beans
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 arm celery, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Drain all beans and put in a bowl. Add cut up onions, pepper and celery. Mix salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar and oil and pour over vegetables. Refrigerate and let marinate at least 24 hours. Good for a week in refrigerator. You can even add more vegetables to the existing marinade if needed within the week.
Mexican Corn Cheese Dip
1 can Mexicorn (I use Green Giant)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Sliced jalapeno peppers to taste (as few or as many as you like)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until bubbly and slightly brown on top. Serve with corn chips.
This is very easy, but we are having fun experimenting with different flavors and different colors to go along with certain themes. For instance, to make orange and blue for my daughter’s kindergarten graduation dinner from LaGrange Academy, I used blue-raspberry Jell-O, blueberry yogurt, mandarin oranges and blueberries. Honestly, I was scared to taste it, but it actually was really good, and everyone loved the color theme. So have fun with some flavors and colors.
Make Jell-O according to directions on the box. I usually use two big boxes or four little boxes to make in a big pan. Let Jell-O cool on counter, but only until it is still watery. Add a carton of yogurt and some cans of drained crushed fruit. Refrigerate. You can add whipped topping if desired once it is congealed.
Crock Pot Chicken Lasagna
1 bag frozen cooked diced chicken
2 packages spinach—cooked, drained and pressed
2 (10 ounce) packages refrigerated Alfredo sauce
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chicken broth
4 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
9 uncooked lasagna noodles
Stir spinach, chicken, Alfredo sauce, soups and three cups of cheese. Put 1/4 cup of chicken mixture into a lightly greased crock pot. Put three noodles over this. Repeat two times. Top with 1 cup of cheese. Cook 3 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook 30 minutes.
Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce
2 jars traditional spaghetti sauce
2 jars mushroom spaghetti sauce
2 packages frozen peppers and onions
Brown hamburger meat with pepper; add the rest of the ingredients and put it in the crock pot. Cook on high 1-2 hours and then turn down to low for the rest of the day. Stir when you can and serve when ready.
Today’s cook encourages readers to participate in:
The all-youth Sweet Land of Liberty parade begins at 10 a.m. July 4. The parade will honor grand marshal Debbie Burdette, executive director of Certified Literate Community Program in Troup County. Burdette, along with her alter ego, “Mama Jama,” promotes reading and literacy. This year’s parade theme is “American Stories” and is open to youth 19 years and younger. No adults are allowed in the parade except those designated by the committee. Floats must be made by the participants, although they may have adult supervision. Participation is free and registration forms are available from Troup County Parks and Recreation.