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Season of change

By Angie Sutton

www.mothersapronstrings.com

The leaves have changed from bright green to the fall hues of red, orange, yellow and brown. The big giant maple leaves are my favorite. A small army of kids with rakes make quick work of creating a few big piles of the patchwork-colored leaves. With rakes tossed aside, we eagerly leap from pile to pile laughing and taunting each other with handfuls. That’s how we spent the first weekend in our new home.

Several changes have come our way as of late. We’re experiencing new jobs, a new town, a new home and a new school. My new stove is gas. In four decades I’ve never had to cook on a gas stove. This is a big learning curve for me! As it always has for us, preparing and consuming food provides a central gathering and enjoyment point in our home. Food can provide that all-comforting stitch that keeps the fabric of family and friends tightly knit together.

This week has me pulling out our family favorites. Recipes I know will warm bellies and reassure minds. Recipes you can count on, even when you’re learning new skills like cooking with gas!

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity. Soon a new season will be here, and it too will hold joys and challenges for each of us.


Ultimate Hearty Queso

I put out a plate of carrots and celery, and we sometimes use this queso as a meal.

1 lb. lean ground beef, browned and drained
16 oz. block process cheese
1 c. half-and-half
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 (15 oz.) can no-bean chili
3 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. lime juice, fresh

Cut cheese into 1-inch cubes and toss in slow cooker with all other ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours, stirring once or twice. Continue to cook until cheese is melted and ingredients are combined, stirring every 30 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips.


Meatloaf Muffins with Barbecue Sauce

Source: Rachael Ray

These are the ultimate comfort food when served with green beans and mashed potatoes. The kids don’t even know they’re eating meatloaf!

1 2/3 to 1 3/4 lbs. ground sirloin
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 ribs celery from the heart of the stalk, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, seeds removed
1 large egg plus a splash of milk, beaten
1 c. plain bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. grill dry seasoning (recommended: Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick)
1 c. barbecue sauce
1/2 c. tomato salsa<
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Put ground beef into a big bowl. Put onion and celery into a food processor. Cut the pepper into a few pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse the processor blades to finely chop the vegetables into very small pieces then add them to the meat bowl. Add egg, beaten with milk, bread crumbs and grill seasoning to the bowl. Mix together the barbecue sauce, salsa and Worcestershire sauce. Pour half the sauce mixture into the bowl with the meatloaf mix. Mix the meatloaf together with your hands. Brush a 12-muffin tin (1/2 cup each) with vegetable oil or extra-virgin olive oil. Divide meat mixture into muffin bins. Top each meat loaf with a spoonful of extra sauce. Bake about 20 minutes. Cut open 1 muffin to test that the middle is cooked through.


Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

This is a one-dish wonder, and we like it with biscuits and honey.

1 1/2 lbs. baby red potatoes, halved
2 c. baby carrots
1 small onion, cut in quarters
3 lbs. bone in chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin removed
1/2 c. water
1 Tbsp. seasoned salt
2 tsp. parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. corn starch
1/2 c. milk

Place potatoes, carrots and onion on bottom of slow cooker. Lay chicken pieces on top of vegetables. Mix water, seasoned salt, parsley and black pepper in a bowl until blended. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low for eight hours. With 15 minutes left to cook, whisk cornstarch and milk together. Stir into juice in slow cooker. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer on high.


Slow Cooker Pork Chops

This recipe is almost too simple. The seasoning amounts can easily be adjusted, but I’m cooking for kids’ palates with this one. Mashed potatoes and cooked broccoli florets with cheese sauce complete this meal.

4 boneless pork loin chops

3/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 tsp. ground mustard

1/2 tsp. garlic-pepper blend

1/2 tsp. seasoned salt

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken broth

Add vegetable oil to a large skillet and turn to medium high heat. Meanwhile, in a large resealable bag, combine 1/2 c. flour, ground mustard, garlic-pepper blend and seasoned salt. Toss in pork chops one at a time and shake to coat. Add chops to skillet and brown on both sides, about 2 minutes each side. Transfer chops to slow cooker. Whisk together remaining flour and chicken broth and pour over chops. Cover and cook on low 4 hours.


Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yummo! Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

1 c. butter, softened
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. canned pumpkin
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt<
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Frosting:

1/4 c. butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add pumpkin and mix well. Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in walnuts. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. In a small bowl, beat the frosting ingredients until light and fluffy. Use a spoon to spread on cooled cookies.


Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. diced onion
1/4 c. diced green pepper
1/4 c. diced red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 container (32 oz.) chicken stock
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 c. hot tap water
2 cans (15 oz. ea.) black beans, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. cornmeal
5 corn tortillas, cut into strips

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder and salt. Rub olive oil on chicken breasts, then sprinkle a small amount of spice mix on both sides and rub in. Set aside remaining spice mix. Place chicken breasts on a foil-covered baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until chicken is done. Use two forks to shred chicken. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium high heat. Add onions, red pepper, green pepper and minced garlic. Stir and then add remaining spice mix. Continue to stir and add shredded chicken. Pour diced tomatoes and green chilies, chicken stock, tomato paste, water and black beans into pot. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes. Mix cornmeal with 1 tablespoon of water. Stir into soup and continue to simmer for 30 minutes more. Let soup sit 15 minutes before serving. Serve with garnishes of sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheddar cheese and tortilla strips.

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