Skip to main content
Cathy Gillen Thacker
our twitterour facebook page

Dear Readers,

I have been fascinated with cooking as long as I can remember. I sat with my mom in the kitchen, every day while she made dinner, learning and watching, and yes, sometimes, sampling! My mom was great about letting me help, so I learned the skills of a sous chef at a very early age. When I was in third grade, she began letting me follow the instructions on cake, brownie, and muffin mixes.

And for Christmas that year, I received a Better Homes and Garden Junior Cookbook which I still have to this very day! I learned to make even more recipes out of that cookbook, including scrambled eggs, French toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, simple entrees and salads.

The next year, my younger sister Annie and I began helping with the canning we did every summer. We canned peaches, green beans, and tomatoes, and made sauerkraut and dill pickles for the winter. {My dad grew the vegetables in the garden, and planted fruit trees, strawberry plants, and blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry bushes.} We made jam and put corn, peas, broccoli and berries, in the freezer.

By the time I was in sixth grade, I could make a pretty mean fruit pie, and Toll House and oatmeal cookies from scratch. I learned how to make the Thanksgiving stuffing, and created a much-requested holiday fruit salad that consisted of mandarin oranges, pineapple, grapes, diced apple, Cool whip, coconut, and marshmallows. (Yes, it's a sugar high but oh so delicious, and there is fruit in it!)

When I got married, my first purchase with the coupons I saved from the back of cereal boxes was The Betty Crocker cookbook. It explained everything I didn't know and had pictures and problem solving tips, and recipes for all the basics. I used that as my kitchen reference, and still make recipes out of it to this very day.

But I didn't stop there. I began collecting recipes. From the newspaper, magazine. I watched my grandmothers cook, and my mother-in-law, and my friends. I picked up cookbooks wherever I could, and eventually began watching the cooking shows on TV, too.

I still love the wonderful comfort food of the Midwest, where I grew up, and I adore the Tex-Mex, and the mesquite-fired barbeque from Texas. Carolina has its own hickory-smoked barbecue and classic southern dishes as well.

I've included some of my finds in the Recipe section here. I admit the recipes have been tampered with to fit my taste. Seems I can't resist tinkering with even the best. I invite you to use my recipes as a starting point for you, and I encourage you to fiddle with the ingredients until you get it exactly right for you and your loved ones.

Happy cooking!

Cathy Gillen Thacker

Chile Con Queso Dip

Print Recipe

½ cup sweet  yellow onion, finely chopped
½ cup fresh tomato, finely diced
10 ounce can Rotel tomatoes, or tomatoes with green chiles
16 ounce block of Velveeta cheese
¾ cup of chicken stock
Saute onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, until it begins to soften.  Add the Rotel tomatoes, chicken stock, and Velveeta cheese, stiring constantly over medium low heat, until bubbly.  Add the fresh chopped tomatoes.  Keep warm on low setting, and serve with tortilla chips.
Variation:  Before serving, you can also add 1 cup of leftover beef taco meat, browned ground beef, or browned chorizo (Mexican sausage) for a heartier dip.


Print Recipe

3 large ripe Haas avocados  (Tip:  Buy them when they are dark green and fresh, and let them ripen on the counter, at room temperature, until they are just soft to the touch, and then refrigerate in vegetable bin until ready to use.)
1 cup peeled and chopped tomato
½ finely cupped chopped sweet yellow onion
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ lime

Remove the pit and peel from avocado, and mash in bowl.  Add tomato, onion, salt, and lime juice.  Mix well.  Serve immediately with tortilla chips.  {Also a wonderful garnish for fajitas.

Tex-Mex Layered Party Dip

Print Recipe

1 Can Refried Beans
1 packet Taco Seasoning Mix
8 ounces of sour cream
2 avocados
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large tomato, diced
4 ounces of sliced black olives
8 ounces of Colby-Jack or Cheddar shredded cheese
Salt to taste

Spread refried beans in a thin layer of casserole dish. Blend taco seasoning mix with sour cream, and spread mixture over top of beans. Peel and remove seed from avocados. Mash the avocados and mix with lemon juice, add salt to taste. Layer over sour cream mixture. Add diced tomatoes for next layer, then olives, then top with cheese. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with tortilla chips. (If desired, guests can spoon dip over chips, and microwave until cheese bubbles for a hot appetizer that resembles the ultimate queso served in many Mexican restaurants.)

Tortilla Soup

Print Recipe

1 medium yellow onion
1 8-ounce can Rotel tomatoes or any variety canned tomatoes with green chilies
2 cans or four cups of chicken stock
1 small can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded

For garnish: tortilla chips, shredded cheddar or Colby-Jack cheese

Saute onion in a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, until soft and translucent. Stir in all other ingredients, except chicken, and simmer for thirty minutes or until ingredients are well-blended.

Pour crushed chips in bottom of a soup bowl. Add soup, top with cheese and serve.


Print Recipe

Migas are a traditional Tex-Mex breakfast dish. Fast and easy to make, they're a delicious addition to any buffet.

2 cups lightly crushed store-bought tortilla chips
6 eggs
6 tablespoons of cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
Your favorite salsa for garnish or to taste

Lightly coat skillet with cooking oil spray or one teaspoon oil, and heat to medium. Break eggs into a bowl, and add cream, salt, and pepper. Whisk until light and frothy. Pour into skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until half set, then add crushed chips and cheese and finish cooking. Plate, and top with salsa, and if desired, extra cheese.

Banana Coconut Pecan Bread

Print Recipe

This is a favorite breakfast bread and great for snacking or putting in packed lunches. Tightly wrapped, it will keep well in the refrigerator for several weeks.

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
½ cup softened butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
2 medium or 1 cup mashed bananas
¼ cup orange juice
1 cup flaked coconut
¾ cup chopped Pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking soda, vanilla and salt. Beat with mixer for 2 to 3 minutes, until well mixed. Add bananas and orange juice. Mix well. Stir in coconuts and pecans. Spread into two greased loaf pans. (Although the batter can fit in one loaf pan, it will cook more evenly if the batter is divided into two pans.) Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes and then remove from pans

Breakfast Sausage with Cream Gravy

Print Recipe

1 lb. breakfast style bulk sausage
3 tablespoons melted butter, and or drippings from pan. (I use drippings and add butter as needed.)
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Form sausage into patties and cook until browned in a frying pan over medium heat. Drain on paper towels, and keep warm. Add enough melted butter to drippings in pan to produce three tablespoons. Add ¼ cup flour, and stir constantly, cooking until bubbly over medium heat. (Usually 2-3 minutes) Add milk, salt and pepper, and stir until thickened and bubbly. Pour gravy over cooked sausage and biscuits.

For easy biscuits, use Pioneer or Bisquick brand biscuit mix, or the Pillsbury buttermilk or southern style biscuits found in the freezer section of the grocery store. Prepare according to package directions.

Hearty Breakfast Tacos

Print Recipe

1 pound browned, crumbled pork sausage
12 eggs, beaten
12 flour tortillas
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Salsa for garnish (optional)
½ cup diced green pepper
½ cup diced sweet onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tortillas in a single layer on two large baking sheets.  Divide grated cheese evenly among the tortillas, lightly covering as much of the surface as possible, without going over the edges.

Meanwhile, add the cooked, crumbled sausage to a large non-stick skillet. Make sure the sausage is nice and brown, if not cook it a little more, because it is the golden brown caramelization on the meat that gives it the great flavor. Add pepper and onion and sauté until vegetables are soft, about five more minutes. Add beaten eggs, and cook as you would scrambled eggs over medium-low heat, stirring gently from time to time.

While egg-mixture is cooking, slide tortillas into oven for five minutes, or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven. Divide skillet mixture evenly among the tortillas. Fold and serve with your favorite green or red salsa, if desired.

Note: Melting the cheese directly on the tortillas helps keep them from drying out and gives the tortillas a soft, warm texture. And of course, the bubbly cheese is delicious, too! (If you don’t have a thirteen inch skillet, use two smaller ones, because there is nothing worse than egg sliding over the top and down onto the burner…!)

Beef Enchilada Casserole

Print Recipe

2 tablespoons shortening
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Mexican Hot, Texas-blend, or regular chili powder
1 small can tomato sauce
2 cans water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound extra lean ground beef

1 dozen corn tortillas, from refrigerator section
3 cups of sharp cheddar, or Mexican blend grated cheese (Using the Mexican blend will make it hotter.)
1 bunch of green onions

Brown ground beef, drain. Melt shortening in a saucepan over medium heat, add flour and stir until roux is smooth. Stir in chili powder until mixed, then add tomato sauce and two cans of water. Add salt, red and black pepper, and extra lean ground beef. Stir and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Spread one half cup of chili-beef gravy in bottom of a 13 by 9 casserole dish. Soften one dozen corn tortillas in microwave, or in warm skillet, two at a time. Slice one bunch of green onions. Fill each tortilla with two tablespoons of cheese and a sprinkling of green onions, roll, and place face down in casserole dish. Repeat with other eleven tortillas, placing rolls side by side. Top with remaining chili gravy, cheese, and diced green onions. Cover with foil, place in 350 oven for 25 minutes, or until heated through in the middle. Uncover and continue baking until cheese is bubbling and casserole begins to brown on top. Serve. This casserole freezes well, unbaked. It can go straight from the freezer to the oven, covered with foil. It will take longer to heat, of course. Figure at least an hour. This is a wonderful make-ahead dish.

To make cheese enchiladas, simply omit the ground beef in the chili gravy. To make beef enchiladas, fill tortillas with cooked ground beef and onion, and omit cheese, or use a light cheese topping.

Texas Style Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy

Print Recipe

2.5 to 3 pounds of tenderized round steak
1 5 ounce can evaporated milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp paprika
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
Vegetable oil

Trim steak of any fat, and pound with meat mallet if necessary, to tenderize. Cut into 6 to 8 pieces.

Combine milk, egg, and salt in a shallow bowl--blend well. Measure one cup flour into a bowl. Combine remaining flour and the rest of the spices into another bowl. Dredge meat into plain flour, egg and milk mixture, then seasoned flour. Set aside. Repeat with remaining pieces until all are coated.

Heat 1 or 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet, suitable for frying. Fry meat until both sides are crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Put in another pan, in low oven (250) to keep warm while you make the gravy.

Cream gravy: Pour off all but six tablespoons of fat from the frying pan. Add six tablespoons of the seasoned flour and cook until lightly browned and a nice smooth roux. Gradually stir in 2 and one half cups of milk and stir and cook until thickened. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper. Cover steaks with gravy when served. Excellent served with mashed potatoes and vegetable and salad of your choice.

Charleston-Style Crab Cakes

Print Recipe

The seafood is fabulous in Charleston. After sampling the crab cakes at numerous restaurants, while researching my Deveraux series, I decided it was impossible to find a variation of the South Carolina specialty I didn't like.

1 pound lump crabmeat
1 large egg
3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 dash hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Pick over crabmeat, removing any cartilage or shell. Whisk together egg, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, parsley, cayenne pepper, salt, and hot pepper sauce. Gently fold into crab, being careful not to break up the meat too much. Gently stir in bread crumbs. Form crab cakes into eight patties. Flatten gently, if necessary. Bake for 15 minutes in a 375 degree oven, or if you prefer, melt one tablespoon butter and two tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet, and saute crab cakes until they are lightly brown on both sides.

Beef Fajitas

Print Recipe

2 lbs beef skirt or flank steak
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup lime juice
12 flour tortillas
1 large sweet onion
1 large green pepper
1 tablespoons olive oil
sour cream
sharp cheddar cheese, grated
shredded lettuce
diced tomatoes
picante sauce

Mash garlic and seasonings together. Rub on both sides of the steak, covering well. Rub olive oil on steaks. Put steak in a single layer in a glass rectangular baking dish. Pour lime juice over steak, making sure that the meat is covered in lime juice on both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for at last 30 minutes, or overnight, in refrigerator.

Heat skillet, add one tablespoon of olive oil and sliced green pepper and sweet onion, cook until onion and pepper are browned on edges and tender. Set aside.

Add steak to the hot skillet and cook, over medium high heat, in one tablespoon of olive oil, until cooked through. Remove steak from pan, cut in thin strips. Return reserved onion, green peppers, and steak to skillet, and saute together until sizzling. Warm tortillas.

To serve, layer steak, lettuce, tomato, cheese, guacamole, picante sauce, and sour cream on center of flour tortillas. Roll up the tortillas, and enjoy!

For added flavor, the steak can be grilled over hot coals, then sliced, and warmed in skillet indoors, as per directions.

Traditional Pan Stuffing

Print Recipe

6 cups dry bread crumbs
¼ cup butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
3-4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 10 inch glass baking dish with deep sides.

Over medium heat, melt butter in a large skillet.  Add onion and celery and sauté until clear—about five minutes.  Add chicken stock and the salt, poultry seasoning, sage, and black pepper.  Cook another five to ten minutes, until aroma of spices fills the kitchen.  Then gently fold in the dried bread crumbs.  (Mixture should be very moist, like a thick batter, but not soupy.  Hence, the variable amount of chicken stock.)   Spread mixture in the baking dish, and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the top of the stuffing is golden brown.  Serve with roast chicken or turkey and pan gravy.

Tip:  I like to use stale white or white-wheat bread  that I let dry out in the fridge for a week or so before I want to use it.  (The bread will still dry out over time, but there is no possibility of mold.) I break up the bread into pieces, and put it in blender or food processor, either one will do, to grind it into fine crumbs.  I prefer this method to using prepackaged crumbs, but I have used Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix in the recipe with good results.  (I still add the spices.)  For a fluffier stuffing, add one beaten egg to the mix, just before you put it in the pan. 

Easy Banana Pudding

Print Recipe

6 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
2 pkgs instant banana pudding
3 cups lowfat milk
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
1 12 oz container of frozen whipped topping
1 8 ounce container of light sour cream

Mix banana pudding with milk until blended. Fold in half the whipped topping, sour cream, and vanilla. Blend thoroughly. Layer vanilla wafers in the bottom of a 13 by 9 serving dish. Then add a layer of pudding and a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat each layer two more times. Top with remaining half of frozen whipped topping. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Favorite Stovetop Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Print Recipe

1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup cocoa powder, special dark, or regular
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup peanut butter
4 cups quick cooking rolled oats
½ cup shredded coconut

Combine butter, sugar, milk, and cocoa in a three quart saucepan.  Stir constantly over medium  heat until mixture begins to boil.  Boil for one minute, then remove from heat.  Add vanilla extract, peanut butter, oatmeal and coconut.  Stir to combine, then put in a buttered eight inch square baking dish.   Refrigerate until firm.  Slice into bars.  Enjoy!

Holiday Fudge Pie

Print Recipe

1 unbaked pie crust
4 ounces  unsweetened baking chocolate
1 stick of butter
I cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
Dash of salt
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for garnishing

Melt chocolate and butter together.  Add sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, nuts, salt.
Mix well.  Pour into a prepared unbaked pie crust.  Bake for thirty minutes at 350 degrees.
Cool.  Serve with vanilla ice cream topping, or whipped cream. 

Old-Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler

Print Recipe

2 and 1/4 cup flour
2/4 cup Crisco shortening
1 tsp salt
4-8 teaspoons ice water
2 pints blackberries, rinsed and well-drained
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter

Mix flour and salt, then cut in shortening with a pastry cutter until it resembles fine crumbs. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until mixture holds together in a ball. Divide in half. Sprinkle flour on board to keep from sticking, then roll out two crusts to fit the baking pan you are using. Lay the first in the bottom and sides of the pan, to form the base crust.

Mix filling ingredients together, and lay over pastry crust. Top with additional pastry, crimp edges, add slits across the top to let steam escape. Sprinkle top with sugar if you desire. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until the filling is bubbling up through the slits, and the pastry is a nice golden brown. Remove from oven. Serve hot or cold. Delicious with whipped cream or ice cream. (The recipe works for other fruits, as well.)

Peach Pie

Print Recipe

1 tsp salt
3/4 cup shortening
6 tablespoons cold water
5 cups sliced fresh peaches
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour (or 1/4 cup cornstarch, if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Blend flour and salt in bowl. Cut in shortening until crumbly. Add one tablespoon water at a time, until all flour is moistened and dough forms a round ball. (One to two tablespoons of additional water made be needed, depending on moisture content of flour.) Divide dough in half. Roll out on floured surface, to form 2 10 inch circles. Line pie plate with one crust.

Prepare filling by mixing sliced peaches and lemon juice. Stir together sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Mix with peaches. Put peaches in pastry-lined pan, dot with butter, cover with other pastry circle. Pinch edges together, to seal, and cut slits in top of pastry to allow steam and juices to escape. Cover edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Bake in 425 oven for 30 minutes, remove foil on edges and continue baking for another 15 minutes, or until pastry is light brown and you can see fruit juices bubbling through the slits.

Ranger Cookies

Print Recipe

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
3 cups Rice Krispies
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup dried cherries

Cream the butter and sugars together. Add the eggs and vanilla; mix until smooth. Sift flour, soda, baking powder, and salt together; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Add cereal, oats, chocolate chips, dried cherries and pecans, and mix. Form into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Should yield about six dozen cookies.

Note: The variety of Ranger cookies is wide. Many cooks only add the crispy rice cereal and dry oats. Others (like me) jazz their Ranger cookies up with nuts, chips, and dried fruit. Feel free to adapt any way that suits your fancy.

Texas Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Print Recipe

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecans
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 unbaked pie shell for a deep dish 9 inch pie--if using a frozen crust,
let thaw first.

Combine sugar, butter, flour, and eggs, and mix until smooth. Add chocolate chips, pecans, and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into the unbaked pie crust and bake at 350 or until the top is golden brown. Can be served warm, with vanilla ice cream. (This is a holiday favorite at our house.)

Texas-Style Chocolate Sheet Cake

Print Recipe

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
¼ cup cocoa
1 cup water
½ cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease and flour a  15 ½ by 10 ½ jelly roll pan.

Sift together sugar and flour in a large bowl and set aside.  Combine butter, shortening, cocoa powder, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and pour over dry ingredients, mixing well.  Allow to cool slightly, and stir in beaten eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda, blending until smooth.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.   Cake will have a fudge-like texture.
Meanwhile, five minutes before the cake is done baking, prepare the icing using:

½ cup butter
¼ cup cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 pound powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped Texas pecans

Combine butter, cocoa and milk in sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from heat and add powdered sugar, vanilla, and pecans and stir until ingredients are smooth.  Pour the icing over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Cut in squares, to serve, straight from the pan.

Note:  This popular cake makes an appearance at every potluck and social in the state!

Cathy Gillen Thacker is the bestselling author of witty romantic comedies and warm, family stories whose books are published in 17 languages and 35 countries.