Spring should be here. And life shifts gears for another great season in the land we love. An endless list of ideas seem to meander through my mind during this time of the year along with thoughts and memories of what Mother used to do.

Spring meant “airing out” clothes on hangers from every closet in the house for a few hours in the backyard. If the wind blew stronger than she expected, a wooden post was used to support the clothesline. While the clothes were being refreshed with crisp cool air, each closet was cleaned for another season. Certain heavy items were taken to a nearby dry cleaner, and other clothes were worn, then washed down in the basement in the wringer-wash machine. Despite other chores that seemed to occupy every minute of every day, supper was always served at 5:30.

Giving thought to what my own mind might be exploring on any given spring day probably includes dirt, a shovel, a bucket, annuals, perennials, seeds, new garden gloves, Roma tomatoes and anything else necessary to plant as soon as possible. In the meantime, my mind wanders through requests from readers that include maple syrup, butternut squash soup and a slow-cooked beer cheese soup Mike Repas recently shared. Other delicious recipes await attention like new chapters in a favorite book, and that’s the pleasure of living in a four-season state.

Slow-cooker beer cheese soup

4 slices bacon

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 stalk of celery, diced

1 large carrot, diced

¼ cup of flour

1 quart of chicken broth

12-ounce bottle (or can) of beer of choice, but NOT a light beer

2 cups heavy cream

4 to 6 slices of American cheese cut into pieces

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

In a skillet, render the bacon until crispy; remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel. To the bacon fat, add all except for the bacon, cream and cheese and mix well. Transfer to a slow cooker and cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. Stir in bacon, cream and cheeses and mix until the cheese melts.

Note: Broccoli or asparagus (or both) add another dimension. Cut broccoli florets and/or asparagus into small pieces to add during the last hour of cooking time.

Richard Olson, Past Exalted Ruler of Madison Elks Lodge #410, is still waiting for “just the right butternut squash soup” recipe. Recently discovered in “The Oz Family Kitchen,” an exceptional cookbook by Dr. Oz’s wife, Lisa, and with a dash of ginger and a few tablespoons of pure maple syrup, it might be just what he’s had in mind.

Roasted butternut squash soup with ginger

1 large butternut squash, about 3 pounds, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch pieces

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the squash, olive oil, and maple syrup in a large bowl and spread it in a 10-15-inch baking dish. Bake, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, but not particularly browned, about 45 minutes.

Melt coconut oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, carrots, ginger, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in roasted squash with its juices and the turmeric. Add enough cold water (about 8 cups) to just cover the squash, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. (To use a standing blender, let the soup cool until tepid. In batches, with the blender lid ajar, puree soup and transfer to a bowl. Reheat soup in the saucepan until piping hot.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Note: The “addition of turmeric heightens the color as well as the flavor.”

Serves 8 to 10

Returning to any season of the year, this is a recipe I’ll be making again and again. I happen to like Greek food and had most of the ingredients on hand plus a container of feta cheese waiting to be sprinkled on something. This was featured in Better Homes and Gardens’ Prize Winning Recipes cookbook containing 200 of the best recipes from BH&G’s Prized Tested Recipe Contest. Georgia L. Olin, Columbia, Missouri, was a Blue Ribbon recipient in 1991 using olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and feta cheese for a Mediterranean-style main dish that takes only 30 minutes to prepare.

Grecian-style chicken

¼ cup toasted wheat germ or fine dry read crumbs

4 medium skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced (1 cup) See Note

½ of a medium green sweet pepper, chopped

½ of a medium onion, sliced and separated into rings

2 garlic cloves, minced

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

Dash of ground black pepper

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

2 tablespoons water

4 teaspoons lime or lemon juice

3 cups hot cooked orzo, couscous, or rice

½ cup crumbled feta cheese (2 ounces)

Place wheat germ or bread crumbs in a shallow bowl; coat chicken with the wheat germ or bread crumbs. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat; add chicken and cook for 10-12 minutes or until tender and no longer pink, turning once. Remove chicken and keep warm.

In same skillet heat remaining oil; add zucchini, sweet pepper, onion, garlic, salt, and black pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add tomato wedges, water, and lime or lemon, cook for 1 minute more. Remove from heat.

To serve, divide orzo, couscous, or rice among four inner plates. Spoon vegetable mixture over; place chicken on top of vegetables. Sprinkle with feta cheese over chicken.

Note: Not having zucchini on hand, I doubled up with chopped sweet peppers.

Makes 4 servings

Recipes for two have become extra special. If you are ready for a dessert recipe, here is another winner found in a small special “Taste of Home Cooking for Two” soft-cover cookbook on display in grocery store checkout counters until May 2. Measuring about 8x5 inches with 71 “just-right recipes for you,” it’s easy to carry it to the store while shopping. If you crave cheesecake now and then, but don’t want or need a whole cheesecake, here is an amazing little parfait that takes only 15 minutes to make and is even more special with a touch of fresh fruit.

Easy berry cheesecake parfaits

2 ounces cream cheese, softened

2⁄3 cup marshmallow crème

½ cup frozen whipped topping

4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs

1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup fresh blueberries

Beat softened cream cheese and marshmallow crème until blended; fold in whipped topping. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cracker crumbs into each of two glasses or dessert dishes. Layer each with ½ cup cream cheese mixture, ¼ cup raspberries and ¼ cup blueberries; repeat layers. Refrigerate, covered, until serving. Serves 2

And many thanks to Dorothy Hoffman, whom I met one day while having coffee at Manna Café on North Sherman Avenue and so kindly gave me a Wisconsin State Journal 33rd Annual Cookbook dated Sept. 18, 1988.

Recent requests: Sugar-free macaroon cookie recipe and chili rellenos.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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