While Victoria Benson is a busy mother, she has a love of cooking and prepares all their meals at home. She has become organized at grocery shopping and planning meals by designing themed dinners for some nights. Victoria and her husband, Braden, moved to Opelika in 2018 and have three small children, Lewis, 5, Phoebe, 2½, and Theodore, 1.
Braden is a Biblical counselor at the Owen Center in Auburn and is also an ordained minister, preaches at different churches and conducts weddings. Victoria works from home with Joni and Friends, an international ministry that helps families with disabled children attend retreats in Christ-centered environments.
Victoria grew up outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When she was a teenager, her family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, which she now considers home since her family is from there, as well as Braden.
Her mom came from a large family with six children, and Victoria is the oldest of eight with the first five children being girls. When she was growing up, her mother would have all the girls in the kitchen helping. Her grandmother did not allow children to be in the kitchen, but later regretted it.
Victoria’s family cooked Creole and Cajun dishes with long and detailed recipes. She is sharing an easy to make crawfish etouffee. Her mother made cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and pizza dough in a bread machine. She made homemade pizzas every Friday night. Now Victoria is continuing the tradition using a bread machine to make homemade dough for her family’s pizzas on Friday nights.
Her mother also made wedding cakes. Victoria is sharing favorite cakes that she often makes for special occasions, such as baby showers.
Before having children, Victoria was a special education teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, while Braden was attending college. She worked with children who had autism and behavior challenges, which was her specialty. Now she works from home with Joni and Friends, an international ministry helping families with disabled children.
Joni and Friends was created by Joni Tada, who went with Billy Graham on some of his crusades. She was injured in a diving accident and has a desire to help families impacted by a disability. The organization is headquartered in Los Angles, with area ministries located around the country.
Victoria worked for ministry retreats in Mississippi, and then she launched the Alabama program, which provides a five-day retreat for families with a child who has a disability. Some of the retreats are held at Camp McDowell near Huntsville.
During the summer, the ministry provides about 75 families with retreats. Victoria is an event manager for the organization and directs the volunteers, as well as supporting regional managers. There are also retreats in Georgia, Florida and Louisiana.
Victoria finds the appropriate accommodations, and each family has a volunteer. She coordinates getting volunteers and matching them with families. It allows her to work from home and attend meetings over Zoom. Her children go with her when she is taking care of the families and managing the volunteers.
While Victoria is a busy mom, she makes time to spend in the kitchen cooking homemade meals. “We enjoy eating together at home, and we don’t go out,” she said. “I think sometimes we overthink our meals for the week. I think you can keep it simple.”
Since Sundays are busy, Victoria keeps lunch simple after church. During warm months, she serves salads, and during the winter she prepares soups to serve with grilled cheese sandwiches. She serves breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights.
Victoria keeps menu planning easy with a Mexican dish or tacos on Tuesday nights. With the pizzas on Friday night, she has a head start on planning every week.
While Victoria sometimes arranges menus for a couple of weeks, other times she will just make a list of dishes she wants to cook. She basically only grocery shops every two weeks, and she will take the children.
“We are always baking and cooking together in the kitchen,” she said. “It gives us things to do. Lewis is not quite five yet, but he can make a box of macaroni and cheese and sandwiches on his own.”
On hectic days, she will cook a meal in the crockpot or will use the Instant Pot.
“I encourage people to enjoy the food they eat,” said Victoria. “In this age with social media, you can get overly concerned about what you should cook or what friends are making. I enjoy Indian and Thai food, and the kids have learned to like it, too.
“Someone told me when I was first pregnant that just as your children go through many stages, you go through many stages as a mom,” Victoria added. “That is true even with cooking as there are different stages. If you have just had a baby, the thought of getting in the kitchen is overwhelming, but you will get the energy back. Just be patient with yourself and remember to enjoy the food you cook for your family.”

1 box penne noodles
1 lb. mild Italian sausage
1 diced onion
Garlic salt to taste
1 jar sundried tomatoes
Heavy whipping cream
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the penne noodles in a pot of water until “al dente.” While the noodles are cooking, cook the Italian sausage and onions in a pan. Add garlic salt to taste. Add chopped sundried tomatoes as well as the oil from the jar.
When noodles are cooked, add noodles to sausage mixture. Pour heavy whipping cream on top until creamy. Add in Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

2 chicken breasts
½ onion diced
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1/3 stick butter in little slices
¼-1/3 cup honey
2-3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Place all ingredients above (in that order) in a crockpot. Cook on high for 4 hours. Serve over rice.

We love this soup during fall and winter for Sunday lunch with cheese quesadillas. From Naptime Kitchen
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 (12oz.) jars salsa, 1 regular and 1 salsa Verde
32 oz. broth
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion and pepper in the olive oil until soft.
Add everything else to the pot except topping.
Let simmer on the stove for at least 30 minutes.
Put soup in blender and blend until smooth.
Serve with avocado on top and cheese quesadillas.

We love this salad on Tuesdays in the spring and summer. My husband is a deer hunter.
Deer meat or ground beef
Cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste
Tortilla chips
Romaine lettuce
Select Toppings:
1 can corn
1 can black beans
Red onion
Diced tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. lime juice
½ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 clove garlic
Cook meat and season with cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Place tortilla chips in bottom of bowl. Cover with romaine lettuce and top with desired toppings.
Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake. Pour dressing over the top.

This is a game day or shower staple. Serve with bagel chips.
Layer ingredients in the following order in a round glass container:
Chopped sundried tomatoes
Chopped pecans
Parmesan cheese, shredded
Cream cheese
Garlic salt
Feta cheese
Press the layers in the container and place in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve, flip out the dip onto a plate and serve with bagel chips.

A favorite from
Mississippi family
1 stick butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
4 thin slices lemon
1 Tbsp. parsley
2 Tbsp. chopped red bell pepper
1 tsp. flour
1 lb. cleaned chopped crawfish tails, including fat
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Sauté onions and celery in butter until soft. Add everything except the tails (including the fat) and simmer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the contents of the pan. Now add crawfish tails and simmer for five more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot over rice.

A favorite to serve at
baby showers.
From Elisabeth and Butter
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temp
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 /2 cup whole milk, room temp
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups peeled and finely chopped apples (I used Granny Smith)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
Cinnamon for sprinkling on top
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease three 8-inch cake pans.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until combined.
In a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, beat together softened butter, brown sugar and oil for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add in half of the dry ingredients, beating until just combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and add in vanilla extract, milk and applesauce, mixing until just combined.
Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until smooth, then add in the 2 cups of chopped apples and stir to combine.
Pour batter into the three greased cake pans and bake for 18 to 24 minutes or until take is set and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Let cakes cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
For Frosting:
In a clean mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, beat softened butter and cream cheese together for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy.
Turn mixer to low speed and slowly add in the confections sugar, vanilla and maple syrup and beat on medium speed for 1 minute until smooth and fluffy.
To assemble, place one cake layer on a plate or cake pedestal and spread a layer of buttercream. Repeat with other layer and then frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Store cake in the refrigerator but let it return to room temperature before serving.

From Half Baked Hart
1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts
3-4 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste, to taste
2 tsp. ground ginger
3 Tbsp. sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil or regular basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, plus more for serving
1 (14 oz.) can full fat coconut milk
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (optional, but recommended)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
Juice of 1 lime
Steamed rice, for serving
Roasted peanuts and Persian cucumbers, for serving
For Spicy Lime Mango:
1 mango, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
Juice and zest from 1 lime
Instant Pot
Toss chicken with 2 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste, ginger and 1 Tbsp. oil. Let sit 5 minutes.
Set Instant Pot to sauté. Add 2 Tbsp. oil and the chicken to the pot and sear on both sides until browned, about 2 minutes. Add Thai red curry paste to taste, and add the basil and the cilantro. Turn the pot off.
Add coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce (if using) and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook on high pressure for 8 minutes.
Once done cooking, use natural or quick release function. Stir in peanut butter and lime juice. Set pot to sauté and bring to a boil, boil 5 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Note, there is going to be a lot of sauce.
To make spicy lime mango. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Top with roasted peanuts, cucumbers and spicy lime mango.

1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey or chicken
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh leaf parsley
3 Tbsp. grated onion
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
Zest of lemon
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 egg
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
2 tsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 cup uncooked orzo
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Extra feta cheese for garnish
Add all meatball ingredients to a mixing bowl and use your hands to combine ingredients being careful not to over mix. Coat your hands with a bit of oil and scoop out approximately a Tbsp. size amount of the meat and roll into a ball. Place meatballs onto a plate.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat along with a Tbsp. of olive oil. When skillet is hot swirl oil to coat the bottom of it. Add the meatballs to skillet and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes turning them often for even browning. While meatballs cook wash the plate. Place cooked meatballs back onto plate and cover with a piece of foil to keep them warm.
Wipe out skillet if needed, then, over medium heat, add 2 tsp. of olive oil, garlic and the orzo. Stir together and toast orzo for about a minute. Pour in chicken broth, roasted red peppers and lemon juice. Stir everything together and bring it to a boil.
Cook until orzo is tender, about 7-8 minutes. Stir orzo often to keep from sticking to bottom of skillet. When orzo is tender, stir in kalamata olives and fresh herbs. Place meatballs on top of orzo and sprinkle in feta and extra herbs.

This is a staple for us when people come for dinner.
From the Lazy Genius.
Marinate boneless chicken thighs in oil, salt and spices for 1-36 hours.
Roast, grill, or sauté the chicken whole or in pieces. We like to bake it in the oven at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
Serve with any of the following toppings, over rice, with a salad, wrapped up in pita, or whatever you like.
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. coriander
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Topping Options: tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, avocado, rice, lettuce, pita, etc.

One of my favorites for a baby shower.
From Elisabeth and Butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups finely grated carrots
Cream Cheese Frosting:
½ cup salted butter, softened
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioner sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 8-inch pans with shortening and flour, then line each bottom with parchment paper. This is a tender cake, and the layers tend to stick to the pans, so lining them prevents cake fails.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg until combined. Add oil, beaten eggs and vanilla extract and mix until just combined using a rubber spatula or spoon.
Peel and finely grate carrots using a fine grater or food processor and fold into batter until all combined.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and layers are firm to the touch. Leave in the pans for 10 minutes and then remove the layers and let cool completely on a drying rack. Once cooled completely, I like to wrap the layers in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for a few hours. This makes it easier to assemble since the cake it so tender.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat softened butter and cream cheese for about 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Turn mixer to low and slowly add confectioners’ sugar and then vanilla extract and beat on medium speed for another minute. The frosting should be smooth and fluffy.
Place first layer of cake onto a cake stand and top with about a cup of frosting. Spread to edges and make sure the frosting is smooth and even. Continue with other layers and then frost sides of cake with an offset spatula. Use an icing smoother or offset spatula to scrape the frosting off and give it the semi “naked” look.
Publisher’s Note: Recipes were submitted to The Observer by Victoria Benson.