When the temperature drops below 40 degrees, my soup pot makes its seasonal appearance. Some mixtures require many minutes to shimmer away and meld the flavors. But this soup needs just about 8 minutes to throw together and a few more to melt the most important ingredient — cheese. You can easily hide the healthy stuff under the cozy cheddar blanket that will make you crave a bowl when the chilly winter evenings set it. With only a few ingredients that you’ll likely already have on hand, this is a filling and affordable winter staple in my Midwestern home (i.e. tiny apartment).
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 to 1/3 cup broccoli, cooked and chopped (I used more broccoli, as a personal preference. You can also decide how finely to dice the broccoli based on your own taste).
3 slices of American cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Melt the butter in a medium sized sauce pan, adding the flour and stirring until its smooth. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the chicken broth and milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add the shredded cheese, broccoli, sliced cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir until the cheese is well-blended and enjoy!
This serves two people and takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare. The recipe is also a great throw-in-the-freezer soup for those chilly winter evenings where you don’t care to part from a comfy couch.
My mom stumbled on this recipe when she worked as the home and food editor for the Indianola Record Herald and Tribune. This soup was a featured recipe in a church fundraiser in 1982 and easily won my mom over with its taste and convenience. For the 35 years since then, it’s become a weeknight and cold weather necessity.
I have a slightly odd obsession of wanting to know what people like to eat on their birthdays. This is a tamer version of learning what people’s last prison meals were (which is also mind-boggling and somewhat soul crushing — so much KFC chicken requested).
What people eat on important junctures in their life, whether celebrating life or hours before their death, is telling. Describe what you eat and it says something about you who are. Taking account of people’s birthday meals is easiest for me, as I don’t have many friends currently on death row. But time will tell…
Just a few weeks ago, my grandma turned 90 years old. For being nearly a century old, she doesn’t look it. Dare I say her years of drinking whole milk and consuming butter have helped preserve her health? Nah, that’s probably should be attributed to her Midwestern attitude and practice of staying busy. The summer prior to this milestone birthday, Grandma watered her tomato plants and potted a plethora of flowers. Her kitchen table is alternatively covered with her water-color paints for landscapes or papers from handwriting her on-going autobiography. Since about 1980, she’s read more than 1,000 books, keeping track of the titles on a notepad so to not have duplicates. At 90, she has the same love of stories that she had at 18 as a country school teacher.
It was decided that Sunday brunch would be the prime opportunity for the family to gather around Grandma. There were cheesy sausages, a hot fruit compote and a delightful french toast casserole with pecans. My aunt topped off the bountiful brunch with this seasonal parfait of spiced apples and yogurt. It’s only slightly sweet, getting a pleasant apple pie punch from the spices.
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
Biscuit or shortbread type cookie
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 teaspoons of cinnamon with the apples and 1 teaspoon to combine with the yogurt
Caramel sauce – optional
Peel and chop your apples into smaller bite sized pieces. Combine the apple pieces with the brown sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg and cinnamon in a microwave safe bowl. Nuke for about 2 minutes or until the apples are softened and it all smells like a fall Bath and Body Works candle.
In a separate bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, honey and cinnamon. This isn’t enough to truly make the yogurt sweet, but just to take the edge off a bit. Crush your biscuit or shortbread. Picking your choice vessel (mason jars are your oh-so-obvious fall pick), layer the Greek yogurt, apples, then biscuit crumbles, repeating until full. Drizzle with the caramel sauce if you need that extra sweet kick.
An Authoritative List of the Best Parts of Autumn
- Sweater Weather — Current sweater count is at 18. I’m coming for you cooler temps.
- Watching nature slowly decay and die — so colorfully.
- Watching the seasonal transition in Target from “School Supply September” to “Christmas Comes Early October.”
- It’s socially acceptable to drink hot beverages again.
- No shave November (and all the other months until Spring).
- Jumping in leaf piles — being itchy has never felt more fun.
- Great television returns! And then we wait for it to get uploaded to Netflix/Hulu.
- Duck boots are back — arrival of the L.L. Bean catalog is the Midwest version of Fashion Week.
- Lower electric bills and more blankets.
- Forget the NFL! Apple orchard season is back!
If it’s at all possible, please situate your home within a comfortable driving distance to an apple orchard. Should you have enough land and dirt that can actually sustain life, please plant an apple tree. Mother Nature blessed my childhood with both and I enjoyed the literal fruits of the orchard and my grandparents labor. Pies, apple sauce, apple dumplings, apple butter, oh, the sweet taste of an apple-y autumn. It’s a scent and a season Bath and Body Works can’t fully capture.
This salad is an easy way to break into the realm of apple-related delicacies. A super-simplified take on the Waldorf Salad, cooks can get their apple crunch in about 10 minutes.
1 large crispy-type apple (my favorites are Gala, Fuji or a Honeycrisp. You can read up on more apple varieties and their various attributes here).
1 large rib of celery
1/2 cup of nuts, preferably walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoons of salad dressing, like Miracle Whip
Optional – 1 cup of mini-marshmallows
Wash your fresh producer. Dice the the unpeeled apple and then dice the celery. Slightly chop the nuts. Take care to keep all fingers attached during this process. Combine everything (including the optional mini-marshmallows) in a bowl with the salad dressing, adding more dressing if needed. This makes about 2 small servings, so double to triple everything for an extra helping.
Everyone has their own appreciation for an apple recipe — What’s your favorite? Please share and compare in the comments below.
The temperature outside has dropped into the sweater weather range and bakers all across the Midwest can now comfortably turn on their ovens without transforming their kitchen (or in my case, entire apartment) into the third circle of Hell. Bring on the casseroles, the soups and the gorgeous pies. I shan’t roast alive while making a pot roast!
Summer sings its swan song with these “Best-Ever Biscuits.” A bold naming choice from my grandma, but not one that I would argue. They are nice little multitaskers, serving happily on the sidelines or as a foundation for the main course (hello, chicken and gravy over biscuits, my old friend). As my grandma so wisely wrote, “Nothing is tastier than a biscuit hot from the oven. If a meal is not quite large enough, a pan of biscuits become a special treat.”
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar (this is optional, depending on whether you’re going for a sweet or savory biscuit)
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Revel in the fact you can do this without turning the kitchen into a hot yoga studio. Sift together in a bowl the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and sugar (if added). Beat the egg in a separate bowl, adding the milk. Set aside.
Using a pastry blender (pictured above), cut in the shortening to the dry ingredients. PRO TIP: If you don’t have a pastry blender already, invest $5. It is the first line of defense in keeping your mitts from becoming butterfingers and we’ll use one for all of our upcoming pies (gasp, spoilers!). Mix the shortening and dry ingredients until you have a crumb-like texture.
Add the egg-milk mixture into the bowl, stirring until it’s just gathered together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface (I use a pastry cloth, available a most retail stores and not gas stations (if you were searching)). Very gently knead 12 times and 12 times only. Tender and flaky biscuits depend on you not manhandling them. Basically, pretend this is a first date and it’s all about eye contact and accidental brushes of the hand.
Roll or pat out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick and cut out the circles of goodness with a biscuit cutter. Snuggle them up in a pan and bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Please be wiser than I and make sure you actually own a biscuit cutter before starting this entire process. A jam jar lid worked as a means to an end, but the biscuits featured are a wee bit pint-sized. No less tasty. A dab of butter or jam and you’re just a pot away from tea time. Cut up some of the last summer strawberries and its a rustic strawberries and cream. If the McDonald’s drive-through is longer than the line for the new iPhone (or if you’re saving for the new iPhone), you’re just an egg and cheese slice away from having a scrumptious breakfast biscuit. Hmmm, I’m loving it.
Hmm, the smell of back-to-school hits like a leafy September freight train. The air grows a bit crisper, the sunsets a bit more glowy and I walk longingly through the back to school items at Walmart. All I want is a fresh pack of crayons and new pencils, man!
Though the first few days of the school year may be sweet, they give way to the dreaded season of fundraising. Cough it up parents, your students needs cold hard cash for [insert organization, trip, sports item, etc. here]. And they need it by Monday. Door-to-door sales were never stronger than in my middle school and high school years. Armed with a black pen, a calculator and a disarming smile, I’ve sold magazines, Avon, knives, braided bread, frozen food and tickets to sub-par soup suppers. “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” was an underlying theme for our prepubescent salespeople.
While most groups have moved to *professional fundraiser groups,* the crumbs of some tried and true classics do remain. Ah, the bake sale. Thrown together the night before with a desperate request for thousands of delectable treats due, oh I don’t know, tomorrow morning? By 8 a.m., please? Don’t worry, stressed and sweaty parents, here’s your bake sale-ready banana bars.
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
3 mashed ripe bananas (you likely have some you’ve been eyeing with some trepidation for awhile now. Throw them in!)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
You ready for this? Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss all the bar ingredients in a bowl and blend with a mixer. Pour into a big, jelly roll pan so to maximize the batter and pan space. You’ll want the batter to be fairly thin, otherwise you’ll move from the realm of bars into cake-land. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown (during which is the perfect time to literally whip together the frosting).
For the cream cheese frosting, mix everything together until it’s a smooth and spreadable consistency. Bam! Watch a 30 minute episode of choice reality TV while bars cool and then frost like the dickens. These sinfully moist little suckers will go like hot cakes as soon as they hit the bake sale table. Pro tip – cut a few squares into test-taste size cubes and quickly convert people to the dark side. After all, we have banana bars there.
If baking was a beauty contest and the participants were cupcakes, mine would fall somewhere near the bottom tier. Their frosting isn’t piled high like a luscious bouffant and they opt to go sans accessories. The golden oven coloring is a bit uneven, like they got a beautician-in-training to apply the fake tan because it came at a discounted price (no, I’m not drawing from personal experience). Instead, my cupcakes have traded the cutesy names and add-ons for some homemade realism.
These vanilla cupcakes served a sweet purpose, making their way into both my grandma’s and mom’s school lunches. Grandma once described her lunch pail as basically an old tool box, small in size but made of heavy metal. She lugged all sorts of rustic samplings to country school, varying from sandwiches on homemade bread to soups in the winter. The kids would bring potatoes, putting them on the single stove that kept the one-room school house and its occupants warm. Hmmm, country chic and a far cry from today’s cardboard pizza.
In 1945 and at just 17 years old, Grandma went from the student to the master, getting a temporary license to teach country school. After turning 18, she qualified as an educator for kindergarten through the 8th grade (so, teens, what have you done lately?). After getting married in 1953, Grandma stacked and packed homemade meals for her growing family. For several decades, making lunch boxes was a daily task and one my grandma took very seriously (a trait passed to my mom). And if these cupcakes made the cut, you know they’re good.
The 4 Minute Cupcakes
2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)
2/3 cup milk
Using a mixer, combine the above ingredients in a bowl, beating for two minutes. Then add…
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat for another two minutes until creamy. Using the care and steady hands of a brain surgeon, transfer your batter into a paper cup-lined muffin tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full. I squeezed 19 cupcakes out of this recipe. It’s worth noting Grandma says NOT to double the recipe (reason unknown… world destruction possibly?). Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden like a co-worker who scraped together enough PTO to go on vacation to Miami.