The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 5, 2012

Cheryle Finley: Variety spice of the brown-bag lunch

By Cheryle Finley
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — With school in full swing, I’ve been thinking of those lunch boxes the students anxiously open at lunch time. For that matter, I also thought of those adults who brown bag it to work each day to save money and time.

I try to take my lunch a couple of times a week, but I usually end up eating it by 10 a.m. and still have to go buy something. Variety is essential if you are preparing a lunch each morning, and has some awesome ideas for on-the-go sandwiches. Instead of bread everyday, use pita pockets, tortillas or a big leaf of lettuce as your sandwich outside. For the young ones, cut the sandwich into several pieces to make a puzzle that can be put back together. Or take a slice of both white and wheat bread and create a checkerboard effect by cutting the sandwich into nine or 12 pieces and flipping every other square.

Tortillas are also perfect for pinwheels with your favorite filling. Make a sandwich on a stick by alternating chunks of meat, cheese, tomatoes and pickles on a stick to make a kabob. Buy smaller square buns for a real kid fave -- sliders. Search your local store for a Wonder sealer and de-cruster to take the crust off sandwiches at a cost much less than buying name brand.

Even if you don’t like change and prefer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich each day for lunch, you could cut it diagonally instead of on a slant to try something different.

In last week’s column, I told you about a great little cookbook for only $5 that’s available at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Joplin. Keeping the momentum going on cookbooks that aren’t expensive, today I share information and recipes from “America’s Cookbook,” a neat little book I got for $1 at Dollar Tree.

I can’t go to Dollar Tree without thinking about my late friend, Margaret Mullikin. Each visit would inevitably include her asking me, “how much is this?” I would tell her, “$1” but she was always so blown away by the item offered that she was sure it had to be more than $1. A good hour and a full shopping cart later, she would happily pay $1 for each item, positive that she had got the bargain of the century. Then she wanted to get out of the store before the clerk discovered an error.

The $1 cookbook is full of traditional homestyle recipes plus fun facts about our favorite foods.

One of the features in the cookbook is the history and legend of the tomato. It seems that up until the end of the 18th century, doctors warned against eating tomatoes for fear that they caused appendicitis and stomach cancer because the skins would adhere to the stomach lining. Col. Robert Gibbon Johnson reportedly brought a tomato home to Salem, N.J., from abroad in 1808. He had been offering a yearly prize for the largest fruit grown, but the general public considered the tomato ornamental rather than a food source.

The story goes that on Sept. 26, 1820, Johnson proved once and for all that tomatoes are safe to eat as he stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and bravely ate an entire basket of tomatoes without keeling over in front of over 2,000 onlookers who were certain he was committing public suicide. There was even a local fireman’s band on hand to play a mournful dirge, which added to the excitement of Johnson’s display of courage. Of course, he lived to tell his story, and tomatoes began to grow in popularity as a food. Thank you, Col. Johnson, for making us see the light so we aren’t missing out on these wonderful delights.

In anticipation of eventual cooler weather, I want to share the first soup recipe of late summer. The creamy cheesy brat chowder is hearty and tasty -- a perfect filler-upper. Spice it up if you like with a hot sausage. The corn casserole takes a little time to get on the table, but it’s worth the wait. Let this dish cool a little bit before serving. For a little something sweet in those lunch boxes, try the sour cream cookies from They are just as good without the pecan half, or you could substitute chocolate or a different nut. Have a great week and happy eating!

Creamy cheesy brat chowder

2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup diced onion

3/4 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup diced celery

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups boiling potatoes, diced

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup shredded cheddar

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

16 ounces bratwurst, sliced

In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, heat olive oil to hot but not smoking; add onion, carrots and celery. Cook until onion is clear, lowering heat if necessary so onion and celery do not brown. Add the broth and potatoes; bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are just tender. Reduce heat. Place flour in medium bowl and add the milk while stirring. When well combined, slowly add the milk/flour mixture to the broth, mixing while doing so. Continue to mix and add both cheeses. When cheese is melted, add bratwurst. Cook until the bratwurst is heated through. Yields 4 servings.


Corn casserole

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 (15 ounce) can each whole kernel and cream style corn

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup melted butter

1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup diced onion

1 (8 ounce) package corn muffin mix

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except cup cheddar cheese; mix until well combined. Pour into a greased 2-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted off center comes out clean. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Return to oven for 5 more minutes or until cheese melts. Yields 4 servings.


Lunch box sour cream cookies

3/4 cup butter

11/2 cups sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup sugar or cinnamon sugar

Pecan halves

Cream butter and sugar until light and smooth. Add egg; beat until fluffy. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. Sift together flour salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients into creamed mixture. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. Place small balls of dough on greased cookie sheet. Grease bottom of a glass then dip in sugar or cinnamon sugar. Press each ball into a thin circle with bottom of glass. Press a pecan half into each cookie. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on rack. Yields about 5 dozen.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.