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Warm Up with Broccoli Cheese Soup

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Fall is a season of change here in Michigan. As the green leaves begin transforming into their colorful grand finale, we gradually swap out our flip flops for real shoes and our shorts for long pants (except for that odd breed of man who stubbornly sports pasty legs all winter long). We also cycle through five or more jackets of varying weights–sometimes all in a single day.

My body has never tolerated the cold very well. As the temperatures grow cooler, I cling to any little bit of warmth I can get, rejoicing in mild Indian Summer days, evenings by a flickering campfire and warm dogs curled up next to me on the couch. I have childhood memories of hanging out with a book in front of the heating vent in my parents’ bedroom. In high school, I wore my jacket all day and sat on the heat registers in my classrooms until the teachers shooed me off.

However messed up my internal temperature may naturally be, I realized yesterday that something was not quite right when I absolutely could not get warm. I was dressed in my work clothes: pants, a light shirt and a cardigan sweater. They failed to ward off the chill, so I fashionably topped them off with my bathrobe and my heaviest winter down jacket. I was still shivering…on a 60 degree day. I was getting sick.

Unfortunately, fall is also the time when we trade our relatively vibrant summer health for sniffling, sneezing, body aches and fevers. We teachers spend our days in a veritable petri dish of creepy crawlies, and within the first few weeks of school, many of us succumb to one bug or another. Realizing that this time had come, I temporarily ditched the bathrobe and dragged my cold achy self to the grocery store to pick up the one key ingredient that I did not have on hand to make at least my tummy warm and happy: a block of name-brand processed cheese-food. (A departure from my usual preference for real cheese). I was determined to cook up a big vat of creamy, rich broccoli cheese soup before I reached the point where I would have take to the couch and further accessorize my outfit with a tissue inserted into both nostrils.

The timing was perfect. I had some broccoli from the garden waiting in the fridge, and with Bill’s help, Project Broccoli Soup was finished and greedily consumed before 6:00 p.m. The tissue made its debut at exactly 8:30 p.m. Today, home from work and feeling miserable, the leftover soup was just what I needed.

It’s super-cheesy and ridiculously comforting. I would highly recommend giving this recipe a whirl. Click here to find it.

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Broccoli and Cheese: A Favorite Combo

As a prelude to today’s recipes, I thought I’d haul out a little bit of fiction that’s been hiding on a CD of my old writing from 2004:

A Detective’s Tale

“Lemme tell you a little story about a dame named Madame Gruyere.  Brianne Gruyere to be exact.  She’s known as Brie to her friends, although I doubt she’d consider me a friend.  She was the main suspect in a case I was working on a couple of months ago.  I was investigating a burglary at the Sargento Cafe.  Made me real upset, cuz it’s my favorite pizza joint.  Anyway, the owners, they claimed a masked lady with a French accent was the perpetrator, so I hauled in one of their regular customers, this Madame Gruyere, for questioning.

I get her into the interrogation room, and give her the once-over. She’s the kind of broad who probably used to be a knockout: long legs, creamy skin, but she’s not aging all that great. She has stringy over-processed yellow hair, and her orange polyester dress is straight out of the 70’s —really cheesy.  I suppose not everyone’s born with good taste.  But there’s something about her–her eyes, I guess–that kinda makes me melt. 

I got a job to do, though, so I try to get her to talk.  Turns out she’s a smart-aleck with a sharp wit, and a grating laugh that makes my blood curdle. She mocks me for being American, and says she doesn’t understand our culture. Her sarcasm is so thick you can slice it with a knife. Finally, she opens up a bit and tells me she’s been feeling blue lately, ever since her boyfriend, Jack, moved across the country to Monterey.  She’s been flying between Philadelphia and there whenever she can afford it, and has also been hanging out at the cottage of a friend in Pinconning, Michigan.  She then proceeds to lay out a pathetic alibi for the night in question, and right away I can tell her story is full of holes.  I mean, it really stinks.

So after I’ve milked everything I can out of her, I do some digging into her affairs.  She’s got a clean record, although she seems to be pretty cozy with the Romano crime family.  And she used to have a rep as quite a whiz-kid.  That genius IQ means this lady should have some smarts —at least enough to make up a stronger alibi.  I manage to convince a judge to give me a warrant to search her house, but that turns out to be a bust.  Nothing suspicious there, except some statements from a Swiss bank account, which I skim though.  Nothing.  She’s already shredded any evidence of the crime, I’m sure of it.

So now it’s part of my cold case files.  And unless I can think of another way to approach this crime, it’ll remain unsolved. Who would want to steal a hundred pounds of mozzarella anyway?”

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As you may have noticed, there is a bit of a theme running through the entire story.  Can you find all 31 cheese-related references?  Some of them are admittedly a bit of a reach, but they are in there nonetheless.

Oh, how I adore cheese!  When I was little, my mom would drench most vegetables in Cheese Whiz to get my sister and me to eat them.  Even our Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house–to this day–features a broccoli, rice and Cheese Whiz casserole.  As I have gotten older, I still love to enhance my veggies with cheese, although I no longer rely on pasteurized processed cheese-food products.  Rather, I prefer to make a sauce with the real stuff, preferably a nice sharp cheddar. The recipe that’s linked below is a cinch to whip up, and can be poured over broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower…you name it.

Broccoli with Onion Cheese Sauce

BROCCOLI WITH ONION CHEESE SAUCE:  http://www.food.com/recipe/broccoli-with-onion-cheese-sauce-133517

Also, I’ve included a link to a recipe for a Chicken and Broccoli Braid, which I tried out last week in my attempt to use some of the vast amounts of broccoli that I’ve picked from the garden lately.  I cut the recipe in half, since I was just cooking for two and used walnuts for crunch instead of almonds, because that’s what I happened to have.  I also did not have dill, so I used celery salt, as suggested by one reviewer.  Purple peppers from the garden stood in for the red peppers.   Truthfully, the whole thing looked like a toddler’s art project gone wrong before I put it in the oven, because the crescent roll dough was not braiding prettily as I had hoped.  It stretched and broke a lot, so I ended up just pinching it together haphazardly.  But when I took it out of the oven, it was actually appealing to look at–a nice golden brown with a bit of shine from the egg white.  And best of all, it was wonderfully cheesy!

Chicken and Broccoli Braid

CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI BRAID:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-and-broccoli-braid/detail.aspx