QUINCY

Growing up on a small farm outside of Paloma, Susan Hill spent plenty of time focused on family meals and their ingredients.

“Almost everything we ate came from our farm,” Hill said. “If I was outside with Dad, I was helping with those animals or those gardens, and if I was inside, I was cooking with Mom. She taught me a lot of tricks.”

More lessons in cooking came from her grandparents, church ladies and friends through the years.

“I think cooking brings people together. There’s time to talk and chat as you’re making something,” Hill said. “It’s just always been a part of my life.”

Now the Quincy woman cooks and bakes with her husband Tim and their sons Kenny and Lucas.

Her husband “does a lot of grilling and smoking of meats, but I like to do everything else,” she said, and their youngest already enjoys spending time in the kitchen.

“It’s kind of nice I have somebody I can cook along with at home,” Hill said. “It’s important for kids to have those skills to use. It’s something you can use every day of your life. You have to be able to eat.”

Hill, a teacher and now administrator at Quincy Christian School, used cooking in her classroom, supervised the school’s lunch program and prepares meals for school fundraisers.

“We started a mission meal a few years ago where I would make meals for people to just help raise extra funds as needed for the school,” Hill said.

“I’ve just used cooking in a lot of different ways, and to help people. I love to make meals for people who just had a baby or have been sick. It’s comforting. Food is comfort for a lot of people,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me at all to cook for 50 people or more, or just four in my family.”

What might be on the menu is her husband’s favorite Burritos — “just a good, easy meal,” Hill said — with homemade brownies, the favorite of her boys, for dessert.

“You can’t go wrong with a brownie,” Hill said. “It’s the recipe that my Mom gave me when I was little, that we always made at home.”

Another can’t-miss favorite is Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken. “There’s cream cheese, and there’s bacon. This seems to be a big pleaser for my family,” Hill said.

Stuffed Mushrooms is a must for extended family gatherings, and a frequent request of her youngest son, while Jalapeno Popper Dip works for snacking while watching a big game like the Super Bowl or for holidays.

Broccoli Cauliflower Salad features black olives, a family favorite, and Hill’s family also enjoys her Ham and Potato Soup. “For me, potatoes is my comfort food,” she said.

Hill often starts with a recipe — like for the burritos or the soup — then tweaks it over the years to make it her own.

“For my family, I’m a little more adventurous. If I’m cooking for a group, I’m usually following the recipe a little bit closer,” she said.

“Anyone can cook if they just try,” she said. “Just follow the recipe, and once you perfect that, add your own little twist to it to make it just right for you and your family. It’s just putting the time and the love into making whatever dish you’re creating.”

Hill makes cooking a priority between the demands of work, family and fighting stage four colon cancer for the past six years.

“That has taught me many lessons and changed my appetite and my taste of things as well,” she said. “It’s been a long fight, but I’ve been so blessed and am so thankful for every day I have. You have to have something to fight for, and I definitely have things to fight for. Staying positive through all this helps as well.”

Jalapeno Popper Dip

2 (eight-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese

1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided

1 (four-ounce) can diced green chilies

1 (four-ounce) can diced jalapenos

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup melted butter

Coat a two-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Using a hand mixer, mix cream cheese in a large bowl until creamy. Add mayonnaise, shredded cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan, green chilies and jalapenos. Mix until well combined. Spread into dish.

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, remaining Parmesan and melted butter. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over top of cream cheese mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve with crackers or scoop chips of choice.

Stuffed Mushrooms

3 (eight-ounce) packages Monterey whole mushrooms

2 (eight-ounce) packages cream cheese

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 tablespoons Greek seasoning

dash of chili powder

2 cups Colby-Jack shredded cheese

1 cup bread crumbs

Wash mushrooms with water, rubbing each gently to remove any debris. Pop the stem off and discard, then set mushrooms on a paper towel to dry.

In a bowl, mix together cream cheese, minced onion, Greek seasoning, chili powder and shredded cheese until smooth and creamy. Put bread crumbs in a separate bowl.

Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Using a teaspoon, fill each mushroom cap with about a half teaspoon of cheese mixture. Press filled mushrooms in bread crumbs, then place close together in baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until mushrooms are brown in color and filling is hot. Serve hot.

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken

1 pound bacon

15 ounces cream cheese

1 tablespoon minced onion

1 tablespoon Greek seasoning

3/4 cup Colby Jack shredded cheese

6 chicken breasts

Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Mix together cream cheese, minced onion, Greek seasoning and shredded cheese in a bowl. Cut each chicken breast in half long ways but not all the way through, leaving a hinge on one side. Put about 2 tablespoons of cheese mixture in the middle of the chicken breast, and spread to cover the inside of the chicken, then fold the top piece of the chicken back over to make it look like a whole piece again. Wrap one or two pieces of bacon around the chicken. Place bacon-wrapped chicken in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Burritos

1 pound hamburger

1/4 cup taco seasoning

1 cup water

2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese, divided

1 can tomato soup

1 can red enchilada sauce

1 can cream of mushroom soup

8-10 flour tortillas

Brown hamburger; drain. Add water and taco seasoning to hamburger. Stir and simmer until well mixed and cooked with little to no water remaining; turn off heat.

In a bowl, mix together tomato soup, enchilada sauce and cream of mushroom soup.

Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Pour 1 cup of soup mixture on bottom of baking dish, and spread around to cover with a thin layer. Fill one tortilla with about 2 tablespoons of taco meat, and sprinkle with cheese. Fold tortilla, and place in baking dish. Repeat until all tortillas are filled and placed close together in pan until pan is full.

Pour remaining soup mixture over top of all the tortillas, making sure all parts of the tortillas are covered. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until bubbling. Let set for a couple minutes before serving one or two tortillas per person.

Ham and Potato Soup

4 cups peeled and diced potatoes

9 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) diced cooked ham

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced onion

2 (15-ounce) cans or 4 cups chicken broth

5 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour

2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon pepper

salt to taste

In a large pot, combine potatoes, ham, celery, onions and chicken broth. Bring to a low boil, and cook over medium heat until potatoes are fork tender.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, and whisk in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until flour is golden, about a minute. Slowly add in milk, continuing to stir so that no lumps form, and cook until mixture is thick. Pour the flour and milk mixture into the soup, and stir. Add pepper and salt to taste.

Let simmer together, and serve hot.

Broccoli Cauliflower Salad

1 head broccoli

1 head cauliflower

1 can black olives

2 (6.5-ounce) cans mushrooms

1 (16-ounce) bottle Italian dressing

Clean and finely chop broccoli and cauliflower, and place in a large bowl. Drain black olives, and cut each olive in half. Add olives to bowl. Drain mushrooms, and add to bowl. Pour Italian dressing over the top, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold.

Brownies

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup melted butter

3 rounded tablespoons cocoa

3 eggs

1 1/8 cups flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

Mix sugar, cocoa and salt. Add butter, and mix. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each is added. Add flour and vanilla. Pour into a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

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