Friday, February 27, 2015

Cheesy Taco Soup

Watching the weekend weather forecast has me scrambling for soup recipes. We may get 3 to 6 inches of snow, along with "a wintery mix." A warm bowl of soup after checking for new babies in the pasture sounds like the perfect wintertime weekend meal.

This Cheesy Taco Soup recipe has been on my radar for quite some time, since Jill recommended it. I already have a go-to, just-open-the-cans Taco Soup recipe from Eric's mom, Christy. So trying a new taco soup moved to the back burner, so to speak. But it had "cheesy" in the title, so how could I resist for long?

Shredded sharp Cheddar cheese stirred into a buttery roux sauce added just the right flavor and dimension to the soup. To serve, I added a sprinkle of chopped cilantro for color and flavor, along with the Frito chips. You can also sprinkle with more cheese, if desired.

Serve it up with fresh veggies and/or fruit, and a wintertime feast is ready in no time at all!

I'd be all right with having the soup on the menu and doing without the accompanying "wintery mix."
Cheesy Taco Soup
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
Serves 4-6

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 small onion, finely chopped (or minced onion to taste)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups milk, divided
Salt & pepper
1 cup freshly shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
1 10-oz. can Rotel, undrained
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
Fritos chips or crushed tortilla chips (opt)
Cilantro, minced (opt)
Additional grated cheese (opt)

Brown ground beef and onion in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat until no longer brown, adding salt and pepper to taste. Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, then stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 1 cup milk; season with salt and pepper, and stir until mixture is thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheese until smooth. Set aside.

To the browned hamburger in the soup pot, add taco seasoning, Rotel, black beans, cheese sauce and remaining 1 1/2 cups milk. Stir well to combine. Bring to a heavy simmer, then turn heat down to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle into soup mugs and top with Fritos, minced cilantro and additional grated cheese, if desired.

Need other soup ideas for this cold winter weekend? Here are some other tried and true recipes from The County Line.


(Copycat version of The Olive Garden recipe)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Seeing Double?

Randy has been seeing double in the cattle pastures and corrals. But he just might need glasses. (It's usually me whose eyesight is sketchy.)

One day, he called the house and told me there was a set of twins in the heifer corrals. To help them bond, he fastened the gate and left the two babies to nurse with the mama while he went to check other locations.

I decided to go out and document the arrival of the first set of twins for 2015. But, when the calves quit nursing and turned toward me, I made a discovery. I called my Farmer.

"Ummmm ... Did one of the calves come ready-made with an ear tag? I teased him.

It seems little No. 507 was an interloper, eating an afternoon snack from a substitute mama. She obliged. Sometimes, mamas aren't so accommodating, especially heifers. 
But it's this little baby - her "blood" - that later got the loves and nuzzles.
We had another "twin sighting" in the pasture south of our house. Randy saw two calves with very similar facial markings hanging around a mama.
We sat in the pickup and watched the trio for awhile. And, on closer inspection, one calf was larger than the other. And the mama definitely preferred the smaller calf and head-butted the other one away when he tried to nurse.
This pair "matched up" and the other calf eventually found its way back to its real mother. 
I must agree with Randy: The calves had more "family resemblance" with one another than with the mama. (The photo below shows the interloper.) See? The two babies could definitely be siblings.
But, if you're about to lose confidence in Randy's cattleman status, we did have a true set of twins.
However, as sometimes happens with twins, the heifer mama claimed one and didn't want to have anything to do with the other.
The claimed calf got the No. 515 ear tag.
Little No. 516 was racing around, trying to scavenge milk from different mamas. So No. 516 went to live with a Corn Valley 4-Her. Katie will give it a good home and then use it for a 4-H project. (Unfortunately, I was at a meeting when Katie and her family came to pick up the calf, so there are no photos of the introduction.)

Katie got a good price on a baby calf, and Randy didn't have to mess with bottle feeding an orphan. It was a win-win.
And his cattleman reputation remains intact - despite some unwarranted twin sightings. Big foot sightings? Crop circles? Alien landings? Nope, here on the County Line, we have twin sightings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Breaker, Breaker! Come In, Songbird!

This is a summer shot of the windmill tower. Right now, it's wearing its winter drab look. 
We have the world's tallest plant stand in our backyard. It didn't start out as a way to hold up our overgrown trumpet vine. In its former industrious life, the tower held a windmill, which pumped out water for the farmstead. But that was long before we moved here nearly 30 years ago.

For years, we used the tower to boost our television antenna above our tree-lined farmyard. But, with a satellite dish, it no longer serves that purpose, though the hardware still hangs there.  It also held up the antenna for the business band radio that we used to communicate on the farm. 

A couple of weeks ago, Randy took the business band radio out of his pickup. He hadn't used it for a couple of years, and it was just taking up space on the pickup's floor board. The move was likely prompted by a nice, warm afternoon and a fresh memory of trying to work around it as he used the pickup for a "spa" for a cold baby calf. (It was also not the best footrest for the middle rider in the pickup cab. Yes, I speak from personal experience.)
For years, the business band radio was the way we communicated during the day. Cell phones weren't in everyone's pocket. (I know it's hard to believe!) Instead, we had base radios in our house and in Melvin & Marie's house. The tractors, pickups and other farm vehicles had mobile radio units, and we could talk back and forth.

I always take credit for moving the Fritzemeier men from hand signals to radios. It was a survival tactic for a newlywed farm wife. Though hand signals likely predated smoke signals, they are not the ideal communication tool for conveying a message (though men might disagree). Why not tell me what you want me to do rather than signal 100 yards away? My eyesight is just not that good to begin with!
As a child, we had CB radios on our Pratt County farm. Just like the truckers, we had our CB handles. Mine was Songbird. My Dad, who was born on April 1, was April Fool. My mom was Gadabout; Lisa was Candy Cane; and Darci was Doodle. Kent, the youngest, was Captain Kid. My grandparents also had CB handles. My Grandpa and Grandma Leonard were Tiger Lily and Handyman, respectively. Former K-State football player Grandpa Neelly was Wildcat and Grandma Neelly's name included "Rose," but nobody remembers the rest of it. (Thanks to my siblings for help in remembering all the names.)

My folks then converted to business band radios when that technology was available, and the CB handles were no more. And, yes, back then, business bands were considered new technology.

When I became a Fritzemeier back in 1981, I campaigned for adding the business band radios. We had a radio frequency assigned to us so that we didn't hear everyone else's chatter. It wasn't exclusive, however, so we did hear radio transmissions from a farm about 20 miles away. Truth be told, eavesdropping on each other's farm foibles forged a friendship that's still in place today. We were less thrilled to listen to a custom cutting crew who flooded the airwaves with constant chatter ... and the occasional cuss word. 
The radios were used for everything from figuring out meal delivery to calling a "taxi" service as we moved from field to field. If the truck died on its way back from the elevator during wheat harvest, I keyed the mike and sent out my SOS to Randy or my father-in-law. Marie and I made plenty of phone calls to parts stores, serving as middlemen to try and communicate what the guys needed from the parts counter.

But the next phase of technology - cell phones - made the radios less relevant. Randy could make his own parts calls now. (That works OK unless the cell signal is sketchy, which is sometimes a problem at some of our fields.)

Now, to remove the business band base from my kitchen. I have plenty of cookbooks I can put it its place!
It's hard to imagine what the next breakthrough in communication will be. I know this farm girl from South Central Kansas never envisioned carrying a phone around in her pocket as she drove wheat trucks during harvest.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snowy Sunday

The cattle in the background were using the trees as a windbreak from the north wind on Peace Creek.
Sunday was a day not fit for man or beast. But because we have "beasts" who rely on us, man (and woman) were out in the cold to check on mamas and babies.
I don't know how we got so lucky, but we didn't have any baby calves born yesterday. The babies already on the ground found plenty of ways to keep snuggled up and warm.
Number 503 was playing hide and seek in the feeder - and keeping warm at the same time.
These calves nestled down into the fresh straw the guys spread in the corral before the snow started.
 While mama ate, this calf had a snooze in the hay that littered the ground from the feed bunks. 
While the barn has seen better days, it does provide some shelter for cows and calves. During Randy's early morning check, he found several pairs inside the barn. After church, several babies were still inside the barn (though, in the photo, you only see the mama peering out into the falling snow).
The babies also get warmed up with milk on demand. Nothing like something warm in your belly to help feel all warm and comfy.
The farmer had to wait until after the cattle check to get something warm in his belly - our typical Sunday waffle lunch!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet

It's all about that beef, 'bout that beef (no chicken).

(Inexplicably, I have the song, "All About That Bass," playing on my mind's soundtrack. And since beef is in our freezer and my Farmer would pick it any day over chicken, it seemed to work.)

This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet has a lot going for it.
  1. It uses some of the beef in my freezer.
  2. It uses one skillet, so it's quick and easy to prepare and clean up. 
  3. It's got a Mexican flavor flair.
  4. You can control the "heat" by using your favorite prepared (or homemade) salsa. You could also add more chili powder to amp up the spice.
  5. At our house, it produces leftovers. (Revisit the quick comment above.)
I know some people don't believe in using convenience items like Bisquick. You can definitely make your own drop biscuit dough and use that instead.

Pair the skillet meal with a fresh green salad with lots of veggies and you have dinner (or lunch or supper - whatever your terminology) ready to go in a snap.

It's all about that beef, 'bout that beef (no chicken).
Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet
From the Bisquick Cookbook
3/4 to 1 lb. ground beef
1 jar (16 oz.) thick and chunky salsa
1 can (15-16 oz.) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (8.5 oz.) whole kernel corn, undrained
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder (divided)

1 1/2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup water

1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

Cook beef in 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally until brown; drain. Stir in salsa, beans, corn, tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon of the chili powder. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low.

Stir Bisquick, remaining 1 teaspoon of chili powder and the water together until soft dough forms. Drop by 6 spoonfuls onto the simmering beef mixture.

Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover and cook 8 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serves 6.

Note: You can make this as mild or as spicy as you and your family like by anything from mild salsa to hot.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seasons Come and Seasons Go

Winter is an etching,
Spring a watercolor,
Summer an oil painting,
And fall, a mosaic of them all.
Stanley Horowitz 

There were probably some people who didn't appreciate the snow in northeast Kansas early this week. But the snow gave me a chance to add to a seasonal grouping that has been years in the making.

Frank Anneberg Park in Manhattan has a walking path that I enjoy using when I'm in the Little Apple. I already had several photos of a lonely bench on one of the walking trails. The spring version was taken in 2010, and I added the fall version in 2011. I've used both images for notecards.
I've always wanted a snow scape to add to the seasonal mix. When Randy went to Manhattan without me for meetings one winter, he attempted a photo. But his version was blurred. (There's a reason I am the official photographer for the family.)

While Randy was listening to research proposals for Kansas Wheat on Monday and Tuesday, I was getting my feet wet at Frank Anneberg Park. (I didn't plan ahead by bringing my snow boots.) I captured one image during the gloomy morning and one later in the day when the sun came out and the trees cast shadows on the snow.

But I think the wet socks and shoes were worth it. Now, I just need one more image to complete the four seasons vignette. I'm not sure of the timing for that fourth photo. Do I capture it in early spring bloom? Or do I wait until late summer? Time will tell.
I need to do the same thing with images a little closer to home. Maybe Peace Creek will be the setting for my next series of Seasons. Maybe it's the majestic cottonwood at the end of the driveway. If I do some digging, I probably already have most of those images hiding on the computer among the 40,000 or so photos. It's my own version of a treasure hunt.

Every season contains within it the potential for beauty, 
and we draw more of that beauty
 into our lives by our response to whichever season we're in.
Jamie C. Martin

Which one of the winter images do you like better - overcast or sunshine?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It's a Snap(shot)

In the scheme of things, a month doesn't seem like all that long. But a month without seeing these two cuties is long enough.
So, after going to the the K-State basketball game with Brent on Saturday evening, we headed to Topeka for a day with Kinley and Brooke - and their parents, of course.
A month is a long time during a baby's first year. A lot can happen in a month - like belly laughs.
At 5 1/2 months, Brooke can sit up by herself for a little bit, though it's best to have adult hands ready when she starts to topple over.
And while big sisters don't change quite as much in a month's time, I love reading Kinley books, watching her play and listening to her talk - whether to me or to her dollies.
 (If you are a mom or grandma who is looking for a great gift for a preschool-aged girl, these Magiclips are better than Barbies. Kinley can change their clothes all by herself. She already had some, and we got her more for her Valentine's gift.)
She used her Valentine money from Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Moore to get a fleece blanket for naptime at school. She'd been using a baby blanket. Now, she has a big girl blanket - and it's got the Frozen characters!

It was "frozen" outside this weekend, too, so we got to see her all bundled up to go to church. She is a mini Jill in her fashionable coat! (Mommy's coat is bright yellow. I wish I'd gotten one of them together, but they were rushing out the door to Sunday School. Priorities!)
My best Valentine's gift was time with family. Since Randy had Kansas Wheat meetings in Manhattan on Monday and Tuesday, we spent Monday night with Brent. I also spent time during the day with my sister, Darci.

As the old newspaper clippings from the society pages used to quip, "A good time was had by all."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sun Sets on Another Week

Sunset on February 12, 2015, across the road

The sunrise is God's greeting,
 the sunset His signature. 

I began the week with sunrise photos, so it seems like the exclamation point at the end of a sentence to close out my blog week with the sunset from last night.
I went with Randy to check heifers and cows and couldn't resist the beautiful sky with its sun-kissed clouds.
Sunset at Peace Creek

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentine Treats: Apple Butter Snickerdoodle Bars & More

Looking for a quick and easy Valentine's Day treat? If something has "snickerdoodle" in the title, it has promise, right?

My Mom is the queen of snickerdoodles. For Valentine's Day, she'll often pipe pink-frosting hearts on top of her traditional snickerdoodle cookies. Frosting flavored with a dab of almond extract makes everything taste even better - even snickerdoodles (which are pretty tasty all on their own)! 

When I saw the recipe for Apple Butter Snickerdoodle Bars, I decided to make my church friends the guinea pigs for something new. Our United Methodist Women make and sell cinnamon apple butter each year for the fall bazaar. So it's a bonus to find a recipe where I can use even more of our apple butter.

I'm always a fan of time-saving bar cookies since they don't have to be individually dropped on a baking sheet. They went over well at the church meeting, and I stuck some in the freezer so I can pull them out and "recycle" them for Valentine's Day.

But they are easy enough for you to pull together quickly as a special treat for your special someone(s) for Valentine's Day on Saturday. (There are some other ideas for Valentine's Day at the bottom of this post.)

Apple Butter Snickerdoodle Bars
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup apple butter
2 tbsp. sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 13- by 9-inch pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until well creamed. Add eggs and vanilla, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Combine salt, baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and flour. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture, and mix well.

Reserve 1 1/2 cups dough. Press remaining dough into prepared pan. Spread apple butter evenly over the dough layer. Drop remaining dough as evenly as possible over the apple butter. It won't cover it completely.

Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until edges are set and center is just slightly loose. Don't overbake.

Allow to cool before cutting into 24 squares.


Here are some other ideas for Valentine treats:

Homemade Pretzels

Chocolate Chip Truffles

 Cake Ball Truffles

 Caramel Chip Bars

My Valentine would prefer a blueberry pie.

There are lots of other tried-and-tested dessert recipes here on Kim's County Line for everything from snack mixes to drop cookies to bar cookies to cakes to pies. I don't post them unless we like them! There is a search function at the upper left of the blog. Or, you can always ask. Just post a comment here or email me at

Happy Valentine's Day!