Niles cook dishes up more than just food

Tribune Chronicle photos / Michelle Jones Rebecca Brothers of Niles stirs Chicken Fajita Soup in the slow cooker just before serving.

NILES — Want to feel the love? Go to Rebecca Brothers’ house and sit at her table.

Brothers said that growing up Italian taught her to show her love through cooking.

“I love to entertain,” she said. “I love to make people happy.”

Friends, family and guests who are fed at her cozy Niles home aren’t the only ones who benefit. She also coordinates and cooks for the Niles Community Meals.

“This is my purpose, to serve others,” she said. “I get more out of that than picking up a paycheck.”

Brothers shops and cooks for 110 to 115 people each week. For a recent meal, she made 50 pounds of spaetzle, a German noodle. That meal also included chicken and gravy, a vegetable and cole slaw.

She said there’s definitely a need. When she began working with the program well over a decade ago, there were 74 in attendance.

“It’s my favorite thing to do,” she said. “It’s rewarding.”

For this Trumbull Cooks feature, Brothers set the table with an attractive array of toppings to go with her Chicken Fajita Soup.

“These are the icing on the cake,” she said of the toppings.

The soup is served in a Nora Fleming dish with an interchangeable little Mexican hat decoration. There’s a basket full of decorative options — birthday, starfish — waiting in the corner of the dining room.

This creamy soup is not hot, but it can be with some more cumin. It can be made on the stove or in the Crock-Pot. Brothers roasted a chicken the night before, but even a grocery store rotisserie would work. Everything went in the Crock-Pot in the morning and came out delicious by dinnertime.

“I’m all about quick and fast these days,” she said.

Brothers offered another slow cooker option called Mississippi Roast. Just take any kind of roast, sprinkle dry ranch on it along with a packet of McCormick au jus and add a stick of butter and some pepperoncini.

In addition to her volunteer work, she also does private care and takes catering jobs for up to 120 people.

Her husband, David, recently went hunting and came home with a deer. He’s the grill master of the house. This time, he brought the meat home canned.

“Oh my gosh, he could do surgery in our garage right now,” Rebecca Brothers said, laughing. She was referring to the grinder and industrial dehydrator.

The tortilla soup is one of her husband’s favorites, along with her wedding soup and lasagna.

Brothers said she and her husband, who recently celebrated their 31st anniversary, were boat owners for 14 years. And even that involved her cooking. She’d get everything ready on Wednesday, go on Thursday and then do it all over again the next week.

“There’s nothing like the sunset on the water,” she said, adding that it was a passion they had together.

With two close family members not well, Brothers said her chairs are empty. She said her father-in-law, who injured his back, has always been her best food critic.

“His goal is to get back to my table,” she said.

That seems like a worthy endeavor.