Although I love to cook, I don't always have the time to spend with long preparations. This lasagna menu is one that doesn't tie me up for hours and hours in the kitchen but is applauded by my family and friends.

Hot Cheddar-Mushroom Spread, Golden Squash Soup, Simple Sausage Lasagna, Broccoli with Mustard Sauce and Caramel-Pecan Cheesecake Pie are tasty and satisfying, yet easy to fix.

Several years ago, a group of friends from high school got together for the weekend, and each of us brought our favorite appetizer to snack on. One of the women made Hot Cheddar-Mushroom Spread, and we couldn't get enough of it. She happily shared the recipe, which I've made many times since for various family holiday get-togethers.

Life-Altering Soup

Golden Squash Soup made me change my tune about a wonderful autumn vegetable. My early memories of squash include sitting at the table when I was little while my mom tried to coax me into eating it. Even butter and brown sugar wouldn't do the trick.

So I had never been a squash eater until I found this recipe in a newspaper a number of years ago. It sounded interesting, so I tried it. The mellow squash flavor mixed with leeks and cheddar cheese made me a squash convert. It's great for fall and winter meals. If I'm in a hurry, I microwave the squash to speed up the cooking time.

Simple Sausage Lasagna is a dish I "developed" after seeing a recipe in a church cookbook that did not call for precooking the noodles. I have loved lasagna since I can remember, but the traditional preparation was too time-consuming.

Now, even when I have the time, I still don't cook the noodles first for lasagna. My kids—Tony and Katrina—love this convenient version, and it makes a great dish for family get-togethers or any time.

Easy but not plain, my Broccoli with Mustard Sauce has a unique blend of flavors. Tony loves this sauce on any vegetables, and the only trouble I've ever had with this recipe is not making enough.

Made Ahead, Sure to Please

An impressive treat with a pretty, layered look, Caramel-Pecan Cheesecake Pie also has great flavor. I've taken it to potlucks, and always leave with an empty pie plate. Use your favorite homemade piecrust if you wish; a ready-made frozen crust works well if time is short.

  • Field Editor: Becky Ruff, Monona, Iowa
  • Family: Tony and Katrina.
  • Job: Becky works full-time at a residential care facility, supervising cooking sessions in which the residents learn to prepare food items or maintain their cooking skills.
  • Activities: Religious education teacher and other volunteer work at church, including helping to compile a sesquicentennial cookbook.
  • Hobbies: Flower and vegetable gardening; trying new recipes.

When putting together a dessert like this one, I think back to when I was about 3 and made "cakes" for my dad to enjoy when he came home from work. I'm afraid, however, that the enjoyment was mainly mine, since my cakes consisted of water mixed with every spice in my mom's cupboard.

Tony, Katrina and Becky Ruff

But Dad would always smack his lips and praise my cooking abilities. As I got older, my parents let me keep experimenting in the kitchen. It's also safe to say that my skills have dramatically improved since then!

Besides making meals for my family and working in the dietary department at a residential care facility, I look for other food-related opportunities as well. I've helped neighbors and relatives prepare food for large parties, and I've cooked and served food at church functions for up to 200 people.

I've lived here in northeast Iowa most of my life and can't imagine living anywhere else. Most people think of Iowa as being flat, but in this corner of the state, it's very hilly with scenic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Autumn brings tourists (leaf-lookers) to this part of the state to take in the spectacular fall colors.

It's also a time of year when a harvest of rich flavors—like those in this favorite meal of mine—are appreciated. Hope you'll give my recipes a try!


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