Cheeseburger Soup

Years ago, when our children were little, we used to hold an annual fall party for family and friends on our beautiful wooded lot.  We’d elaborately decorate the barn and yard with hay bales and pumpkins, colored lights and corn stalks.  I’d cook large pots of soup, chili, baked beans and bratwurst.  A dessert table always displayed an abundance of tasty autumn treats to satisfy all of the guests.  This cheeseburger soup was always a staple recipe made for the festive backyard party. I would double or triple the ingredients and separate the batch to freeze a portion in serving sized containers.  This way, we had a supply on hand to enjoy during the cool autumn and winter months. 

Cheeseburger Soup

2 pound ground beef
1 cup diced  onion

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

4 tablespoons butter, divided

6 cups chicken broth  (I use chicken soup base mixed with water, as directed on package)

5 cups diced peeled potatoes

1/4 cup flour

4 cups (16 ounces) process cheese (Velveeta), cubed

2 cups milk

1 1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon pepper 

In a large soup pot, brown beef; drain and set aside. In the same pot, sauté the onion, carrots, celery, basil and parsley in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, potatoes and beef; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt remaining butter. Add flour; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until bubbly. Add to soup; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the cheese, milk, salt and pepper; cook and stir until cheese melts. 

Tip: I make my own croutons to top the soup.  Just cube a few slices of day old bread or leftover buns and sprinkle them with oil, garlic powder and salt (to taste).  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.  Cool; store in an airtight container.

Cinnamon Spiced Pecans (Low Carb)

I’m always looking for a crunchy snack that is low in carbs but high in flavor.  This treat fits the bill. The sweet cinnamon flavor and spicy cayenne pepper make for a winning combination. Throw the simple ingredients together and this recipe takes about 5-10 minutes from start to finish.  The aroma of cinnamon and nuts warming over the heat  is simply devine!  Eat them alone or sprinkle them over a bed of lettuce with sliced berries and a light vinaigrette dressing.  YUMMY!

Cinnamon Spiced Pecans (Low Carb)

2 cups pecan halves

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 packets of Splenda artificial sweetener (or to suit your taste)

4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter and add cayenne pepper. In a single layer, add pecans to skillet and cook over medium heat. Stir constantly just until they begin to brown.  Be careful to regulate the heat as not to burn the nuts or butter.  Stir in cinnamon, salt, and powdered sweetener.  Remove from pan and cool.  Adjust seasonings to suit your taste.

Finger-Licking Pizza Roll

A sheet of Pillsbury crescent dough and a few spicy ingredients make this recipe a snap to pull together for a weekday dinner or afternoon snack. 

I’ve seen (and tasted) a version of this recipe posted elsewhere using a traditional bread dough loaf.  I found the dough to be dense and heavy… Frankly, the “dough to filling” ratio was a bit overwhelming.  

Here, I have used Pillsbury crescent roll sheets to bundle up the tasty Italian ingredients to make this undeniably delicious roll.  I just love the way the traditional filling sits within the light and flaky crust.  This Finger-Licking Pizza Roll recipe is incredibly hard to resist! 

Finger-Licking Pizza Rolls

1 can (8 oz) Pillsbury™ refrigerated Crescent Dough Sheets

1/2 6 oz. package pepperoni rounds

1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup pizza sauce 

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray. Lightly flour counter surface.  Unroll dough.  With a rolling pin, flatten dough evenly to stretch dough to 13×9″ rectangle. Spread pizza sauce over surface.  Layer on pepperoni, overlapping rows. Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella cheese. 

Starting with one short side, roll up rectangle; press edge to seal. Place cut side down on cookie sheet.

Bake 25-35 minutes or until roll is dark golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes. Slice roll into 3/4″ slices. Serve warm with leftover warm pizza sauce for dipping. 

Applesauce Spice Cake

Family Day at Purdue University brought us down to campus for a weekend of fun and football.  When looking over recipes to serve on the tailgate table, this applesauce cake caught my eye.  As many of you that frequently bake might testify, I rarely follow a recipe as it’s written.  I am constantly checking my stash of leftovers to see how they can be transformed into deliciously satisfying baked goods.  This week, I adapted an apple cake recipe that I found in an old community cookbook to create this moist, dense cake. I had made applesauce earlier in the week and I was looking for ways to use it up before having to freeze it.  This cake fit the bill and everyone enjoyed its apple and cinnamon spiced flavor.  The recipe is especially good with a cup of hot tea or coffee on a cool fall or winter day. 

Applesauce Spice Cake

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups applesauce (chunky or homemade style)

1 cup canola oil

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup whole oats

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray, with cooking spray, a 13×9 inch baking pan.  In a medium bowl, mix first six dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine applesauce, oil, and eggs; mix well.  Pour dry ingredients into applesauce mixture and combine until well blended.   Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle batter with oats and nuts. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts

As the cool winds blow down the length of Lake Michigan, they usher in autumn showers and chilly temperatures.  This weekend we are experiencing “lake effect rains” and the cooler temperatures have me searching through my files for all of my favorite “comfort food” recipes. 

This irresistible snack is great for a fall tailgate party or family get-together.  Roasted cashews mixed with a blend of sweet and spicy ingredients make this crunchy finger-food hard to resist.  Nearly everyone that has tried these spiced nuts find them irresistible.  Make a couple of batches because they’re usually gobbled up rather quickly.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts

1 1/2 lbs. cashew nuts

1½ tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 teaspoons brown sugar 

½ teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spread cashews in a single layer on a jelly roll pan.  Roast the cashews for 8 to 12 minutes, or until lightly toasted and golden brown. 

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine fresh rosemary, brown sugar, cayenne, and salt; add melted butter, mixing well.Remove the nuts from the oven and carefully add hot cashews to the spice mixture.  With a large spoon or spatula fold in the nuts to completely coat with the spice mixture. Cool cashews in a single layer on a piece of foil or parchment. Serve warm or  transfer to an airtight container and keep at room temperature for a few days.

(adapted from the Food Network)

Our Very Own Little Free Library

For the past several months, I’ve been working with a local literacy coalition to help promote the love of reading in our schools and regional communities.  One of the ideas that we proposed was to promote Little Free Libraries in our urban and rural environments.  I figured the best way for me to promote this idea was to create one myself.  

Throughout the campaign we’ve been stressing the use of recycled materials and simplistic design.  When I presented the idea to my husband, the creative juices began to flow and he soon constructed this adorable residential Little Free Library.  To learn more about constructing and registering your very own LFL, visit

This is a grass roots movement and the LFL site includes a world map where registered LFL locations are posted so that those interested in doing a tour or an afternoon bike ride to visit all of the “mini libraries” in their area can print the map and get going.

As I mentioned earlier, we promote the idea of using simplistic, recycled materials to bring to life this lovely idea to stress the importance of reading in your community.  Use old furniture, large baskets, cartons, or plastic tubs to make inexpensive, upcyled models.  My husband found scrap wood and other building materials to make this LFL for our home.  His skill level might be better than most but don’t stress about the perfect model.  Stick with your skill level and be as simplistic or as ornate as you like.  Check out all the images on the site to inspire ideas for your very own Little Free Library.

Quick Fix Brownies

We spent a beautiful day in Chicago on my brother’s boat yesterday. I volunteered to bring along some munchies so I turned to my favorite brownie recipe to add to the collection of appetizers and desserts.  These brownies hold up well when traveling and they slice into dense dark chocolatey squares, perfect for a family outing.  A regular cake mix is used for the brownie base.  This is a quick and easy recipe that is sure to please all of the chocolate lovers in your life!

Quick Fix Brownies

1 (18 1/4 oz) devil’s food or dark chocolate cake mix

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1/3 cup brown sugar 

1/4 cup water

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup chocolate chips

3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Set the oven rack to the second-lowest position.  Spray with cooking spray a 13×9″ baking pan.  In a large bowl mix all ingredients except chocolate chips (and walnuts) until smooth.  The batter will be quite thick.  Add chocolate chips and walnuts, if desired; mix to combine. Spread batter evenly into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes (do not over bake).   Cool completely before frosting with a frosting of your choice.