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Is indulging a sin if it's dinner on the grounds?

I grew up Presbyterian, but a couple decades ago my father made my Baptist-reared mother happy by swapping over to her church. My mother died 14 years ago, but he's still going to the same little Baptist church in the country.



This past weekend, I went to visit him, taking a dress along in case church was on the agenda.



"They're starting revival Sunday, with dinner on the grounds," he said. Oh yeah, no question church would be on the agenda. These ladies love, and I mean LOVE, to cook.



I called one of them to ask what I needed to bring. "Not a thing, honey, not a thing. Just your precious self and your daddy," she said. Oh, bless their hearts.



I really did pay attention to the sermon. I sang every song and meant every word. But I couldn't help staring at the watch on the wrist of the man sitting ahead of us. his arm resting on the back of the pew behind his wife.



The blessed moment arrived, and we charged the fellowship hall.



Now, a moment here. One of the things I most love about dinner on the grounds is at least one lady will bring a dish that is on the cusp of a potluck trend. I don't know where they find out about these recipes. Back in the day, maybe they mailed them to each other. Today, perhaps they e-mail them around. Once upon a time, Seven Layer Salad would have been this dish. Before that, Sock It To Me Cake. Dirt Cake, the one that had the gummy worms cavorting around a silk sunflower stuck in a chocolate and Cool Whip cake in a clean flower pot, had its season in the sun.



One dish that I hope will never fade away is Tater Tot Casserole. It has to be one of the most perfect sides ever created. Tater Tots, cheese, sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, onions. Tater Tot Casserole will always be served by the lunch ladies in Heaven's cafeteria.



I think I found the current potluck trendsetter sitting near the end of the main eats table: a cornbread, red bean, corn and ranch dressing layered salad in a trifle bowl. Even though others had dug in before me, it kept its form surprisingly well.I got just enough for a taste or two, then filled my plate with butterbeans, string beans, sweet potato casserole, sliced homegrown tomatoes and a deviled egg. And a smidge of Tater Tot Casserole.



I don't know who brought that cornbread dish, but a search brought up this recipe from Paula Deen via foodnetwork.com. It is, appropriately enough, Southern Cornbread Salad. She includes a recipe for cornbread. I think the salad artist I came across used a much more basic recipe. The version I tried also had some crisp bacon crumbled on top. If this dish has been floating around the dinner on the grounds circuit for so long potluck gourmands have become jaded, I apologize. But an informal poll of my coworkers just revealed very few are familiar with Tater Tot Casserole, so we have some catching up to do.



SOUTHERN CORNBREAD SALAD

(courtesy of Paula Deen, via foodnetwork.com)

1 batch cornbread, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 (14.5 ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15 ounce) can niblet corn, drained

1 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped

1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped

3 large tomatoes, chopped

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar

1 (8 ounce) bottle ranch dressing

Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

In the bottom of a large glass bowl, place cornbread cubes. Layer beans, corn, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes and cheese on top of cornbread. Spread ranch dressing evenly over cheese. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

CORNBREAD:

1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus 1/4 cup for greasing pan

1 cup self-rising cornmeal

3/4 cup self-rising flour

1 cup cream-style corn

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar, optional

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Generously season a cast iron skillet with up to 1/4 vegetable oil. Preheat the pan either in the oven or on the stove over medium-high heat.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until combined. Pour batter into the preheated cast iron skillet. Place skillet in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. If making individual size cornbreads in smaller pans, they will require a shorter cooking time.

Yield: 8 servings.

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