NILES - If you're up for a challenge, the reward is worth it.
There's always the snow to shovel, making a clear path. There are the dishes to do, leaving a clean kitchen. There's the time at the gym, making a resolution come true.
But wouldn't you rather use a spoon to dig through a layer of cheese, then cut through another level of toasted French bread, until you find your reward of a savory onion-filled broth?
Brothers displays a bowl of French onion soup and a serving of cranberry and walnut salad at her home in Niles.
Becky Brothers admits that her French onion soup might not be a "good first-date food," but it's one of her and her family's favorites.
The youngest of five siblings, she's in her cozy kitchen wearing an apron, a habit she learned from her sisters. The room is filled with the smell of winter comfort food. Waiting on a white square plate is a sweet salad, a perfect precursor to the soup, the dressing tweaked a little with the substitution of balsamic vinegar.
Brothers places a piece of provolone over a crock of soup and places it under the broiler. The pieces of bread under the cheese have been brushed with olive oil and set under the broiler earlier, also watched carefully for the right moment to remove them. Earlier, she also added a tablespoon of sugar to the onions to help them caramelize.
French Onion Soup Recipes submitted by Becky Brothers
1 bag of yellow onions
4 tablespoons margarine
4 cans low-sodium beef broth
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Fresh-ground pepper to taste
Provolone or mozzarella cheese
Cook onions in butter until slightly brown. Add pepper, broth and Worcestershire sauce. Let simmer approximately one hour.
Ladle soup into crocks. Place slices of cheese (one type or combination of both) over the top of crocks.
Put crocks under broiler until cheese is melted and edges are brown and crispy.
Cranberry and Walnut Salad
1 large bunch of leaf lettuce, washed and chopped
1 8-ounce container of gorgonzola cheese
1 bag of cranberries
1 bag of chopped candied walnuts
1 packet of dry Good Season Italian dressing
3 tablespoons sugar (or Splenda)
Put chopped lettuce in bowl, top with the cheese, cranberries and walnuts.
Follow directions on seasoning packet - substitute vinegar and use balsamic vinegar instead.
Next, add 3 tablespoons of sugar. Shake well, and pour over salad.
This afternoon, the 42-year-old Brothers is serving two people, and she's having more over in the evening and likely on Sunday.
"I love having people over for dinner," Brothers said. "We have a family that likes to have dinner on Sundays. This is one of my family's favorites."
She says her passion for cooking grew from having two sisters and a mother cooking Italian. She also shares her love of food with two nephews - one owns the Fifth Season restaurant, and the other The Flat Iron in the Flats in Cleveland. She used to have a collection of recipe books but already passed them down.
"We share that beautiful bond of food, cooking," she said.
But Brothers, who works in the health care field, shares with more than just her family and friends. This past weekend, she delivered homemade chicken and dumplings to five shut-ins. (She happens to love Paula Deen, who got her start delivering box lunches to office workers.)
On select Thursdays, she cooks for the Community Meals in Niles, a program in which churches take turns serving a free meal. And these people, between 75 and 105 of them, get the best of her cooking, just as her family does.
Brothers visited another church in Warren to learn how to make spaetzle, a tiny dumpling, and now she can prepare them herself, along with chicken peppercosh (chicken paprika). Recently, she gathered ladies at her church to help her make a couple hundred cabbage rolls.
In addition, she and her husband of 25 years, Dave, recently helped their church host a homeless family by making sure they were fed and staying there overnight with them.
"You get a lot out of it," Brothers said. "To serve others, there's no greater gift in my eyes."
Brothers and her husband are both graduates of Howland, which is where they met, although she admits to having to chase him first. The also couple enjoys boating on Lake Erie. She said she's been blessed with a "good guy."
"I'd love to have a bed and breakfast someday and have my husband be a charter fisherman," she mused.
She also likes antiques, especially vintage suitcases because of their history and the many places they've been.
Brothers said her French onion soup is actually one of the easiest she makes. She even serves it in the summer, because it goes well with beef, such as a steak. The toasted bread isn't always included - it just helps the cheese keep from sinking into the bowl.
This cook also makes wedding and turkey soup, for which she has the meat ground by the butcher so she can make it into meatballs.
She's not into measuring, so she has gone through some of her recipes through the years and "critiqued" them so that other people could make them.
Just another way she can serve others, because her cooking is truly a gift to share.