Summer Fun in the Kitchen

Newlyweds Laurie and Kenneth James cook up some picnic-ready side dishes.

Laurie and Kenneth James met on a blind date and soon discovered they had a connection in the kitchen. Laurie learned the ropes from her grandmother's cook while growing up in Rayne, and Kenneth enjoys trying out recipes and techniques from the Food Network.

"I'm like the mini sous chef sometimes," says Laurie. "My best recipe ever is German Chocolate Cake." Kenneth is no slouch in the sweets department either and is known for his Best Ever Pecan Pie. Having recently celebrated their first anniversary, the couple now has a year of food memories behind them.

There's been a few humorous moments in their culinary adventures. Laurie made her famous cake in three layers for Kenneth's birthday, and he tried desperately to finish it so her feelings wouldn't be hurt. And one night for dinner, he tried out a cumin-spiced rub on a steak, and Laurie hated the taste of cumin so much that she threw the bottle away.

This summer, Laurie and Kenneth are thinking simple and easy. Five Cup Salad and Sweet Potato Casserole call for some festive summer ingredients, and both pair perfectly with fried chicken or ham at an outdoor picnic.

"Anyone can make these two recipes. They're not intimidating, and they're surprisingly good," says Laurie, a member of the Junior League of Lafayette. Combining coconut, Mandarin oranges, pineapple, pecans and marshmallows in a sour cream base, Five Cup Salad is light and sweet, more like a dessert. "It takes three minutes to make," says Laurie. "That's my kind of salad."

She puts it in the refrigerator overnight to achieve the right consistency. The recipe also suggests throwing in diced apricots and/or white seedless grapes.

Sweet Potato Casserole evokes another memory in Laurie's food history. The dish was her first contribution to the table at her family Christmas and was recommended by her mother. "The special ingredient is bananas," says Laurie. "It doesn't have that cinnamon spice taste." The recipe calls for brown sugar and orange juice, but Laurie eliminated those ingredients when her father developed diabetes and added an extra cup of bananas instead.

The recipe recommends layering the sweet potatoes and bananas, but Laurie mixes them all together like a cake mix. She also throws some chopped pecans and dates into the sweet potato mixture. "It is never completely the same," she says. "I tweak it just a little bit."

Five Cup Salad
1 cup coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 cup Mandarin oranges
1 cup sour cream
1 cup pineapple bits
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup miniature marshmallows
Drain fruit, and mix all ingredients. Let set overnight in the refrigerator. Serves 8. Variations: 1 cup diced apricots or 1 cup white seedless grapes.

Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups mashed (hot) sweet potatoes
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (can omit and add an extra cup of bananas)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Handful of dates
1/4 cup grated coconut
2 cups mashed bananas
Mix above ingredients except for bananas. Place half the potatoes in an 8-inch shallow baking dish. Cover with bananas and other half of potato mixture. (You can also mix all ingredients together like a cake batter.) Top with crumbled corn flakes, whole pecans or marshmallows and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Dot with butter. Bake for 25 minutes at 275 degrees.