Got Vegetables? Make Soup

It can be a challenge cooking for two. When I made a big batch of Baked Garden Vegetable Stack the other day, I had a lot of tender vegetables left over. I turned them into creamy soup in 30 minutes.

The thin slices of potatoes and tender ribbons of cabbage seemed to demand caraway, that distinctly flavored seed typically found in rye bread. I used to love ladling my mom’s sauerkraut dotted with caraway seeds over creamy chunks of boiled potatoes.

I started the soup by sauteing chopped onions and caraway seeds in hot oil. I tried a bit of the Butter Olive Oil I bought at Oh! Olive, a cute little shop in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The oil is organic with natural butter flavor, but is dairy-free and contains no animal products. I’ve discovered it’s perfect for popping corn, or drizzling over a bowl of hot popped corn. Anyway, when the onions began to turn golden brown, I dumped in all my leftover vegetables (I had quite a bit — only two of us ate a meal from that big pan of veggies), poured in a few cups of vegetable broth and let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes.

The potato slices were falling apart at that point and the green beans and carrots were very tender.

I used my immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot. Of course you could use your blender or food processor for the job. I wanted to have control over how chunky the final product would be. And then, I just stirred in about a cup of milk and seasoned to taste. A sprinkle of minced fresh parsley over the top gave it the final touch.

The soup was so satisfying. The dark caraway seeds softened during the saute and simmer and added that German-style flavor I remember from years of eating the sauerkraut and dumplings my mom used to make whenever she wanted to make my dad’s day.

Either use up some vegetables you’ve already cooked or follow the recipe below.

Turn leftover Baked Garden Vegetable Stack into Creamy Caraway Vegetable Soup.

I plan to bake another big batch of Baked Garden Vegetable Stack, just so I can have more of those vegetables to turn into soup.

Creamy Caraway Vegetable Soup

First, cook the vegetables. Serve some up as part of a meal, then use the rest for soup. Here’s how to bake the vegetables:

  • Olive oil, for preparing pans
  • Yukon Gold potatoes, about 2 to 2½ pounds, peeled
  • Carrots, about 1 pound, peeled
  • Onion, 1 medium, sliced thin
  • Green Beans, 5 to 6 ounces, topped and tailed (trimmed), cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
  • Cabbage, about 4 ounces, sliced thin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare 2 shallow baking pans or baking dishes that are the same size. Two jelly roll pans (11- x 15-inch) if you are feeding a family or 2 to 4 gratin dishes if you are cooking for one or two. Lightly coat the inside of each baking pan or dish with olive oil. Set aside.

Use a sharp knife or a mandolin to slice Yukon Gold potatoes and carrots 1/8-inch thick, keeping them in separate piles.

Salt and pepper the inside bottom of one pan. Arrange about half of the Yukon Gold potato slices, shingle style, in the prepared pan, covering the bottom completely. Make another layer with all of the carrots, arranging them the same way. Sprinkle the onion slices, green beans and cabbage over the potatoes. End the stack with a layer of the remaining Yukon Golds, arranging them shingle style. Push the mixture down with your hands to pack it in to the pan tightly.

Brush olive oil over the top layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Set the other prepared pan upside down over the pan of vegetables. Wrap the pans up tight with heavy-duty aluminum foil to hold them securely together.

Bake in 400-degree preheated oven for 30 minutes. Carefully flip the pans over (be sure to use oven mitts) and bake for another 30 minutes.

Remove from oven. Allow the baked stack to rest for 5 minutes, then very carefully remove aluminum foil.

Lift off the top baking pan. Lay a large cutting board over the top of the baked stack and flip the stack over onto the cutting board. Carefully remove the baking pan. Slice the hot stack into squares or rectangles and serve. Refrigerate leftovers to save for soup.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 3 (approximately) cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dairy or non-dairy milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Minced fresh parsley, for serving

In a large soup pot, heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and caraway seeds. Saute until onions just begin to turn golden brown. Add all of the leftover vegetables to the pot. Add enough broth to just cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat, cover pot and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are falling apart and cabbage and green beans are tender.

Add milk.

Puree to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some fresh parsley on each serving. Makes about 6 servings, depending on how many vegetables you started with.



Summer salad easy to tote to Independence Day picnics.

If you’ve been to a Twins baseball game at Target Field on a Sunday afternoon, you may have satisfied your hunger pangs with a refreshing healthful salad from the Roots for the Home Team Garden Goodies Cart.

A couple of weeks ago, along with with other members of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of , Les Dames d’Escoffier International, I had an opportunity to have a taste of one of the salads created by young people who are participants in the Community Design Center of Minnesota (CDC), a youth development program on the east side of St. Paul.

Bryan and Ly’s Epic Quinoa Salad was tossed together on an outdoor patio at Swede Hollow Bakery and Cafe by two young CDC program participants who work in organic, sustainable vegetable and flower gardens in several locations in east St. Paul. One of the gardens borders the Swede Hollow patio.

Garden at Swede Hollow Bakery and Cafe planted and cared for by Garden Corps interns with the CDC.

As they dumped prepared ingredients into a large mixing bowl, the girls told us that quinoa is an ancient grain that is very good for us. When all the vegetables, fruit and herbs had been tossed together, they added an Asian-inspired dressing. This salad recipe was created by CDC members.

Bryan and Ly’s Epic Quinoa Salad prepared on the Swede Hollow patio by youth participants in the CDC.

I made the salad over the weekend and packed it into jars. They traveled well in a cooler on my weekend road trip. The unusual, refreshing combination of quinoa, kale, vegetables, grapes and mint gets a little kick of heat from chili garlic sauce in the dressing. It was a very satisfying meal in the park on an afternoon with temperatures over 90 degrees.

This easy-to-tote salad is perfect for 4th of July picnics and meals on the boat.

The Twins still have several home games scheduled for Sundays at Target Field. Stop by the Roots for the Home Team Garden Goodies Cart and try one of the fresh, flavorful and healthful salads. Roots for the Home Team makes it so easy to eat well at the ballpark.

Dates you’ll find the Garden Goodies cart at Target Field:

  • July 15th and 29th
  • August 12th
  • September 9th, 16th and 30th

 Bryan and Ly’s Epic Quinoa Salad

(recipe from Roots for the Home Team Garden Goodies Cart)


  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar


  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups packed shredded kale leaves (remove thick ribs)
  • 1 cup red cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 4 cups mixed spring greens
  • 1/2 cup roasted & salted sunflower seeds

1. Mix all dressing ingredients in large bowl. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Rinse with cool water; drain well.

2. Place quinoa in bowl; toss with half of the dressing. Add kale, tomatoes, grapes, cucumber and mint. Gently stir until well blended. Serve on top of spring greens. Drizzle each serving with remaining dressing and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Tips from the cook

  • I’ve discovered peanuts are a delicious substitute for sunflower seeds in this salad.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwich — It’s Amazing.

“I can’t believe we’re sitting here eating mushroom sandwiches.” My husband took another bite of the thick sandwich filled with a mix of sauteed portobello slices, onions, garlic and spinach. “A year ago, we wouldn’t have gone near a mushroom,” he said.

He was right. Until we’d gone hunting for chanterelles with Dick Ojakangas in Duluth last August, we had no idea what we’d been missing as mushroom-challenged individuals. The moment we tasted the chanterelles that Beatrice Ojakangas had sauteed, we were hooked. And that opened up a whole new world of culinary magnificence to us. You can read about that mushroom-enlightening experience on a blog post I wrote last year. Just click here to get to that story.

Since that mushroom turnaround last year, I went to Mushroom Camp, joined the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club, tramped through the woods on a few forays and have been eating mushrooms with enjoyment. Nothing from a can, though. Only fresh mushrooms will do for my palate.

These Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches have become a favorite. It takes little time to slice up a couple of large Portobellos and marinate them for a few minutes in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Italian seasoning blend. While the mushroom slices marinate, you can saute the onion and garlic, adding some fresh spinach or kale that wilts in just seconds. Then, add the mushroom slices, cook for a few minutes and serve on toasted bread slices.

It’s a gourmet sandwich. It takes minutes to make. We think it’s amazing — in more ways than one!

The Confetti Bean Salad in my column this week goes well with Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches. You can get the Bean Salad recipe by clicking here.

You might also enjoy Mushroom Crostini. I posted that recipe on this blog not too long ago. Click here for that recipe.

Marinated Portobello Mushroom Sandwich

  • 2 Portobello mushrooms, stems removed, tops dusted with a dry paper towel
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons dried Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 chubby cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 or 3 handfuls baby spinach leaves or baby kale leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Bread slices, toasted or grilled

Prepare marinade by whisking 3/4 cup olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Italian seasoning together.  Cut portobello mushrooms into slices about 1/4-inch thick.  Arrange slices in a 9-x 13-inch glass baking dish in a single layer. Pour marinade over the slices. Use your fingers to rub mixture over the slices, coating them completely. Turn slices over and  make sure all of the cut sides are coated. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch skillet (cast iron works well) over medium heat. Add onions to hot oil and saute until soft. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add spinach or kale and cook until wilted.  Add mushrooms, scraping any leftover marinade from the dish into the skillet. Stir and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes, until mushrooms are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve on toasted or grilled bread slices. Makes 4 sandwiches, depending on size of bread slices.

Tip from the cooks

We like to brush both sides of bread with a light coating of olive oil and toast them in our grill pan on the stove.

It’s a good B.A.D. sandwich

It hardly seemed like Fall on the day my favorite exploring partner and I strolled the streets of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago just two weeks ago. From our hotel on West Surf Street, a leisurely five-minute stroll down Diversey took us to The Counter for an early lunch.

I hummed along with Macy Gray’s “Beauty in the World” playing in the background as I created a customized vegetarian burger from the list of fresh ingredients on the menu attached to a clipboard. My partner sitting across from me at our table along the front wall of wide open windows designed a loaded beef burger. We started filling our hungry tums with a “Fifty-Fifty” plate — half sweet potato fries and half crispy onion strings. I highly recommend that platter.

Filled with burgers, strings and fries, oh my — we continued our exploration by foot. We did have a destination in mind. About a mile and a half from The Counter, we knew we would find a luscious dessert at Floriole Cafe and Bakery.

The temperature soared to near 80 degrees as we headed west from The Counter on Diversey. South on Halsted, West on Fullerton and south on Sheffield, passing the lovely Lincoln Park campus of DePaul University. We admired the architecture of the stately homes lining the streets along the way. Finally, west on Webster. We passed trendy boutiques and tiny restaurants as we walked the last few blocks to our sweet destination.

There, tucked into a cozy block of old buildings between Racine and Magnolia, was Floriole. Lunch time at the cafe was in full swing. Mothers clad in shorts, t-shirts and running shoes fussing over their children dined beside women dressed in suits and heels at tables on the sidewalk in front of the bakery.

Inside, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and sweet desserts wafted through the air. The glass bakery case was filled with edible temptations — tarts, cookies, scones, croissants and sticky buns. Dainty madeleines dusted with powdered sugar and round pumpkin tea cakes decorated the top of the case.

We chose a table for two, not far from the huge window at the back of the cafe, allowing customers to watch the bakers at work on the other side of the glass.

What did I choose for my dessert?

A tart, just the right size to share with my favorite guy. Spicy gingerbread crust held velvety smooth butternut squash custard. A dollop of sweetened cream shared the top of the tart with two leaf-shaped gingerbread cookies. Luscious and satisfying.

I wished we would have had enough days left in our Chicago vacation to pay another visit to Floriole Cafe and Bakery for lunch. A sandwich described on the blackboard hanging on the wall behind the counter caught my eye. The B.A.D. sandwich included bacon, arugula and date-almond spread with goat cheese on their own yeasted corn bread. I made note of the sandwich in the little red book I keep in my purse.

I love Chicago! So many neighborhoods to explore, so many restaurants to try, so many places to see. Each time I go to Chicago is a brand new experience. I’ll go back soon.

In the meantime, I’ve made my own B.A.D. sandwich. I decided to try adapting my recipe for Apricot-Fig Tapenade. This time of year, I love serving the delectable tapenade with goat cheese and crostini as an appetizer.

I came up with an almond-date spread, spiked with port and flavored with orange zest, garlic and shallots. Bacon from Steve’s Meat Market in Ellendale, Minnesota, Uncle Paul’s bread from 3rd Street Bakery in Duluth, Minnesota, peppery, fresh organic baby arugula and organic goat cheese made in Wisconsin completed my breakfast sandwich. Yup, I made it my first meal of the day.

Works for me!

B.A.D. Sandwich

For each sandwich you will need:

  • 2 slices bread
  • Date-Almond Spread (recipe below)
  • Goat cheese, softened
  • Bacon slices, cooked crisp
  • Arugula
  • Olive oil

Crumble goat cheese over one side of a slice of bread. Try to gently spread it over the bread with the back of a teaspoon. Sprinkle some goat cheese over one side of remaining slice of bread. Spread with a layer of almond-date spread. Arrange slices of crispy-fried bacon over the spread. Pack a generous amount of baby arugula over the bacon. Lay remaining slice of bread over the arugula, cheese side down. Brush olive oil over the top of sandwich. Place the sandwich, oil side down, in a preheated heavy skillet, cast-iron pan or a hot griddle. Brush the top of sandwich with olive oil. When sandwich is brown, flip with metal spatula. Or, grill the sandwich in your panini press. When sandwich is golden, remove from pan. Cut sandwich in half and serve warm.

Tip from the cook

  • I make my own panini press by weighting down the sandwich as it cooks in my grill pan with a heavy cast iron pan.

Date-Almond Spread

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 8 ounces pitted dates, chopped
  • 1/2 cup port
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 (2-inch) strip orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Put toasted almonds in work bowl of food processor. Pulse until nuts are finely ground.

In small heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add shallot and garlic. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until tender. Add ginger, dates, port and zest; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until port is a syrupy consistency and dates are softened, stirring occasionally. Add water as it cooks. Remove and discard zest. Let mixture cool slightly, then transfer to food processor containing ground almonds; process all together until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. Stir in vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool. (Make ahead: Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

The first time I saw the word Hungarian describing mushroom soup, I was perplexed. I am a descendent of grandparents who came to the United States from Hungary when they were young adults. My mother was 100% Hungarian. I don’t remember ever seeing mushroom soup on the dinner table. No, I’m sure if I’d grown up eating Hungarian Mushroom Soup, I would have always enjoyed eating the earthy fungi.

The truth is, I’ve never cared for mushrooms. The texture, the taste — not for me. Since last August, that’s all changed. My transformation from mushroom-challenged to fungi-infatuated began with an unexpected hunt for chanterelles when I was in Duluth. It developed further when a farmer in Frazee, Minnesota shared some of his freshly-harvested shiitake mushrooms with me. A recent weekend at Fall Mushroom Camp at Little Elbow Lake Park on the White Earth Indian Reservation clinched it. Done deal. I’ve become a lover of fresh mushrooms. Stuffed, stir-fried, paired with pasta or simmered in soup, I eat them. I’ll admit, it’s a remarkable transformation.

At Mushroom Camp, I thought it best to try to learn to identify just two or three edible wild mushrooms. I focused on Shaggy Manes, Lobster Mushrooms and Honey Mushrooms. Now, after spending time at Camp with very experienced mushroom foragers as my teachers, I feel confident I can safely harvest and eat these three mushrooms.

Morning walks with my dog, Gracie, have become forays. I wear my hiking boots so we can veer into the woods when I spot oak trees, a honey mushroom’s favorite place to propagate. With my “mushroom eyes” turned on, I hunt for honeys.

I was surprised to find honey mushrooms growing right in my own yard. I discovered a large cluster of the mushrooms growing at the base of an oak tree.

As I circled around the tree, I continued to find more honeys.

In no time, I had a small basket filled with honey mushrooms from my yard.

I made a pasta dish with some of the mushrooms. That recipe is in my column this week. Then, I dug out my Hungarian cookbooks in search of a recipe for soup. Last week I hosted my Simple, Good and Tasty Book Club for our monthly meeting. We decided on a mushroom potluck dinner. One of the members brought Hungarian Mushroom Soup. The recipe I’m sharing with you is an adaptation of that recipe combined with a couple of variations in my Hungarian cookbooks.

I served my Hungarian Mushroom Soup with Bacon, Green Pepper and Tomato Sandwiches today. Full of creamy mushrooms, dill weed and paprika, the soup is marvelous.

I looked back at some pictures I took when I was in Hungary a few years ago. Sure enough, I spotted honey mushrooms in a shot I took at Central Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok) in Budapest.

I’m not sure why the woman selling them looked so unhappy — maybe just tired after foraging for all of those wild mushrooms.






I’m hooked on mushrooms. I find it thrilling to forage for them — it’s a wonderful way to enjoy a Fall day of sunshine and crisp air.

And, my Hungarian taste buds relish this Mushroom Soup.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, stems removed, sliced (honey mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms or cremini mushrooms work well)
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 4 cups vegetable, chicken or beef broth, divided
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra for serving
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in soup pot. Add chopped onion, green pepper and carrot. Saute 5 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add garlic. Saute 2 or 3 minutes more. Add mushrooms. Saute 5 minutes.

Add dill weed, paprika, soy sauce and 2 cups of the broth. Bring soup to a simmer. Cover pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Whisk milk and flour together until mixture is smooth. Pour into soup, stirring well to blend. Cover pot and simmer soup for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add remaining 2 cups broth and lemon juice. Stir. Heat to a simmer. Take pot off of heat and add sour cream, stirring until completely blended into the soup. Return pot to heat and warm soup until hot. Do not allow the soup to boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle hot soup into heated bowls. Add a small dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley to each serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.



The good, the bad and the great green tomato

I’ve been up and down and all around with the good, the bad and the great green tomato.

I’ll begin with the good news. I spent a lovely weekend at Fall Mushroom Camp, hiking through the peaceful woods on the White Earth Indian Reservation by day and gazing up at a black sky illuminated with millions of sparkling, bright stars at night. The 3rd Annual Fall Mushroom Camp was sponsored by White Earth Tribal & Community College Extension Service. Experienced mushroom gatherers taught our group of 25 campers where to look for bright orange lobster mushrooms, honey mushrooms, chicken-of-the-woods and shaggy manes and specific detailed characteristics to help us identify each kind. My hiking boots put on miles as I became familiar with gills, partial veils and spore prints. The proficient foragers shared their reverence and respect for nature as they taught us how to harvest the edible fungi.

All of the meals were prepared for campers on-site by a trained chef who used the wild mushrooms we had collected from the forest in creative ways. He served up exquisite, flavorful soups, chowders and entrees. I came home late yesterday afternoon with lots of lobster mushrooms and honeys and a realization that I need a warmer sleeping bag if I am going to be sleeping in a tent with temperatures that plunge to 35 degrees at night. Brrrr. I was cold.

It was a refreshing, rejuvenating and educational weekend with not one bit of technology involved. I was totally disconnected from the electronic world. Nature was my classroom. The other campers were my friends. We talked and learned about one another without twittering. It was an amazing weekend.

Now, the bad news. On Friday, before I left for Mushroom Camp, my hard drive crashed. The people at Bemidji Communications tell me I’ve lost everything I had stored on my computer. They are not able to retrieve anything. Photos, recipes, columns — all gone. I do have an external drive that I’ve saved some of my things on, but I can’t really remember when I last did that. I’ve learned a computer lesson the hard way. I am thankful there is so much more to life than what is stored on a computer. And, lucky for me, my husband is willing to share his laptop computer with me while I wait for mine to come home from the doctor’s office.

After preparing not-too-sweet Emma’s Green Tomato Pie with a friend, I was inspired to create a more savory green tomato treat. I took the picturesque baked tart to a meeting of food professionals in the Twin Cities. I knew they would be critical taste-testers and would offer constructive feedback. I heated the baked tart in a 350-degree oven just until the cheese got soft and melted. When the rustic-looking tart was cut into small squares, it became a delectable warm appetizer. It would also make a wonderful meal when paired with a salad of fresh greens, some fruit and nuts and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

Unfortunately, the picture I took of the Cheesy Green Tomato Tart was lost forever when my hard drive crashed. I’ll make it again soon and add a photo to this post later. You can read about Emma’s Green Tomato Pie and see that photo in my column this week. Just click here.

If you’ve got green tomatoes, make this tart. Take time to walk outdoors in the sunshine. And, make this day a good one.

Cheesy Green Tomato Tart

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 to 2 pounds green tomatoes
  • 15 Ritz crackers, ground
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) grated Eichten’ Hidden Acres Tomato Basil Gouda
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) grated Swiss cheese
  • Pastry for double crust pie
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line 9-inch tart pan or 9-inch pie plate with pastry. Sprinkle cracker crumbs over the pastry shell. Set aside.

Peel onion and cut in half lengthwise. Slice each half. Saute sliced onion in butter over medium heat until tender.

Core clean tomatoes. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange slices in a single layer over crumbs in shell. Fill in spaces with small pieces of tomato. Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese over tomatoes. Spread cooked onions over cheese. Cover onions with remaining cup of cheese. Arrange tomato slices over center of cheese layer.

Top all with lattice crust. Place pie on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for 20 minutes, until crust begins to turn golden brown. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 40 minutes, or until pie is bubbling.

Tips from the cook

  • Use any soft cheese that readily melts when heated. Provolone and Monterey Jack would work well. I buy made-in-Minnesota Eichten cheeses at my local natural food co-op.
  • You can watch a very short video that will give you a view of Cheesy Green Tomato Tart as I demonstrate how to make the lattice crust over the top of the tart. Click here.

Gourmet gets easy with red pepper vinaigrette

Ever since my weekend in Duluth, I’ve been thinking about the Duluth Grill-prepared curried polenta lettuce wrap I ate while sipping beer at the Lake Superior Brewing Company.

Fresh leaves of Bibb lettuce formed a cup that held slices of fresh, creamy avocado, roasted red pepper and a sliver of polenta that was made with cici flour, also known as chickpea or garbanzo bean flour. A few fresh cilantro leaves and a drizzle of Red Pepper Vinaigrette contributed the finishing touch.

The lettuce wrap looked like a piece of edible art in a table-top exhibition.


On display at the other end were individual pies: banana cream (the same pie that sent Food Network’s Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives into a blissful swoon) , lemon and blueberry fillings in flaky, melt-in-the mouth pastry.

In between lettuce wraps and the desserts were rolls of homemade lefse surrounding sweet smoked salmon and bowls of not-your-everyday slaw and potato salad. All edible. All exquisite.

Duluth Grill owner, Tom Hanson, and his son Louie, delivered the gourmet lunch to our group of about 30 members of the Minneapolis-St.Paul chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and some of their spouses. Louie described each item we would be eating with detail. The lefse had been made using his grandma’s recipe. Just as all food listed on the Duluth Grill menu, our lunch that day was homemade with as many locally produced ingredients as possible.

Louie Hanson shared the Duluth Grill’s recipe for the Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette that added sweet and smoky flavor to the curried polenta wraps I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Their recipe makes a large quantity. I reduced it and adapted it by using fresh basil, so abundant in my garden right now, rather than dry basil, cutting back on the mayonnaise and increasing the amount of Parmesan cheese just a tish.

I built a salad of leaf lettuce, avocado and cilantro and served it on top of wedges of warm Pepper and Herbs Skillet Flatbread, doused with Red Pepper Vinaigrette, of course. Pepper and Herbs Skillet Flatbread is made with cici (garbanzo bean) flour, just as Duluth Grill’s curried polenta. The Flatbread recipe is in my column this week. Click here to get to that recipe.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette offers gourmet flair and flavor and is not difficult to prepare. A food processor makes quick work of pureeing roasted red peppers, basil and garlic with oil and vinegar, mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese, creating a creamy, sweet, slightly smoky dressing.

This vinaigrette would make a lovely dressing for pasta salad. I also plan to top a fresh spinach salad with some of the Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette that I have stored in jars in my refrigerator.

This salad comes close to tasting like the lettuce wrap served at the Duluth Grill. But, if you want the authentic lettuce wrap served with curried polenta, you’ll just have to stop in at the Duluth Grill. Be sure to have banana cream pie for dessert. Then walk (or waddle) over to Lake Superior Brewing Company for a tour and some tasting.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

(fashioned after Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette from Duluth Grill)
  • 1 cup roasted red peppers
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Put roasted red peppers, basil and garlic in food processor. Pulse until mixture is blended. Add chipotle powder and red wine vinegar and process until mixture is smooth. Add mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese and pulse until blended. With food processor running, slowly add olive oil. Continue to process until mixture is emulsified. Store vinaigrette in tightly sealed jar in refrigerator.

Tips from the cook

  • I roasted 3 medium-sized red bell peppers, which yielded 1 cup of roasted pieces. You can also purchase roasted red peppers in a jar at the grocery store. To roast the peppers at home, place washed whole peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under the broiler. Use tongs to turn peppers until they are blistered and black. Transfer the peppers to a glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to steam in the sealed bowl for at least 10 minutes. Remove from bowl and slide the skin right off of the peppers.
  • Ground chipotle pepper is available in the spice aisle in most grocery stores.

Time for Easy, Cheesy, Garden Vegetable Frittata

I’ve never been a big fan of scrambled eggs. I can eat an omelet if I’m in the right mood, but only if it is fluffy and puffy and full of fresh, slightly crisp vegetables. And, I must have plenty of buttered whole wheat toast and crisp bacon on the side. But, just tell me there is a frittata in the oven and I’m there.

I was a young teenager when I ate frittata for the first time. I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Chicago. Both raised on Indiana farms, they loved to garden. They had a huge garden that took the place of grass in most of their relatively small suburban-Chicago yard. On this particular day, my uncle had gone out to the garden to harvest onions, peppers, tomatoes and basil. With those ingredients, he created one large, fantastic frittata — a mish-mash of fresh and flavorful garden vegetables and herbs all cooked together in a blend of eggs the color of the sun in a clear morning sky.

When I close my eyes, I can almost smell my aunt and uncles kitchen that morning, a perfume of fresh basil, Hungarian paprika, sauteed onions and peppers. And then, my mouth actually begins to water with the anticipation of the breakfast to come.

My vegetable garden consists of two pepper plants and a tomato plant each flourishing in its own big pot. There’s nothing ready to harvest from those plants, yet. Two big, bushy basil plants are in last year’s square-foot garden plot. I’ve been pinching off aromatic leaves from those plants for weeks.

Lucky for me, local farmers started their gardens way before I did this year. With the fruits of their labor, my favorite meal partner and I had a lovely frittata for lunch today.

The round frittata, chock full of peppers, onions and zucchini, begins cooking on the stove. When the egg-mixture is still a bit soft and liquidy in the middle, cheese is scattered over the top. The frittata finishes cooking under the broiler as the cheese melts and begins to bubble.

Today we topped each serving with a chopped ripe tomato and ribbons of fresh basil. I forgot the toasted pine nuts that I meant to sprinkle over the tomatoes and basil. If you happen to have some pine nuts, I highly recommend toasting a handful in a small pan over medium heat. They are so delicious eaten with this Garden Vegetable Frittata.

A nice big wedge of Garden Vegetable Frittata makes a great meal morning, noon or night. It’s quick and easy to prepare. It’s healthful. It’s scrumptious. What more could you ask for?

If Garden Vegetable Frittata with toast is a complete meal for me and my husband, this recipe is just right for the two of us. Add some bacon and roasted potatoes on the side, and this Frittata will yield 3 to 4 servings.

Here in northern Minnesota, there is a long harvest season ahead. Well, several weeks, anyway. That means so many easy, delicious meals of Garden Vegetable Frittata to look forward to.

Garden Vegetable Frittata

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 of a green bell pepper
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 ripe tomato, chopped
  • 4 leaves fresh basil, sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)
  • Fresh basil sprigs for garnish

Heat olive oil in a 10-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add onions, peppers and zucchini and saute about 10 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.

In a 4-cup glass measure, use wire whisk to blend eggs until mixture is all the same color. Pour over vegetables in skillet. Swirl pan to spread eggs evenly. As egg mixture cooks, it will get firm around the edge. Use a thin metal spatula to carefully lift the edge as you tilt the pan to allow liquid egg to run down into the empty space you’ve created. Continue this procedure around the pan 4 to 6 times. The egg will finish cooking under the broiler.

Scatter cheese evenly over the top of the frittata. Place oven rack about 6 inches below broiler. Slide pan with frittata under the broiler. If you have the option, broil on Low. If your oven does not have that option, just watch the frittata very carefully. Remove when cheese is melted and bubbling and just beginning to turn golden brown.

Cut the frittata into serving-size pieces and place on plates. Top each serving with chopped tomato. Sprinkle with ribbons of fresh basil. Serve hot. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Tip from the cook

  • Toasted pine nuts are a pleasing addition to this Garden Vegetable Frittata. Sprinkle them over the top of each serving.
  • Orzo Skillet Dinner is another way to make good and tasty use of zucchini. It’s in my column this week. Click here to get to the recipe.



Eat your greens the Moosewood way–with tofu and spice

I first heard of Moosewood Restaurant sometime in the 1980’s when I lived in Fargo and often took cooking classes from Andrea Halgrimson. She spoke highly of the restaurant located in Ithaca, New York that serves natural, healthful food, making it sound exotic, alluring and hippie-ish and very alternative to the common, everyday meals I was preparing and eating for my young family in Fargo, North Dakota.

Visiting Ithaca and eating at least one meal at Moosewood Restaurant has been on my “Must Do” list ever since those cooking classes in Andrea’s kitchen. In the meantime, I’ve been collecting the cookbooks that keep coming from the Moosewood collective.

One of the Moosewood books I’ve used most is “Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day.” That book holds the recipe for the first Pad Thai I ever prepared in my own kitchen. It’s the only one I will ever make. It is that delicious.

Earlier this summer, a young friend of mine prepared a meatless meal that I was so lucky to be invited to eat. She used a recipe from a cookbook she’d gotten as a gift from a friend, “Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: fresh ideas for the weeknight table.”

I enjoyed every flavorful bite of Scrambled Tofu with Greens & Raspberry Chipotle Sauce. I came home with the a copy of the recipe. Last week, with a 3-pound bag of beet greens from the farmers market in my refrigerator, I knew it was time to pull out the recipe from “Simple Suppers.”

This meal takes little time to prepare. The recipe suggests using kale, chard or collards. I’ve discovered beet greens work spectacularly well. Beet greens are thin, allowing them to wilt quickly. Tofu takes on the flavors of whatever it cooks with. In the original recipe, the greens, onions and garlic offer their deep flavors to the tofu. I added half of a hot yellow banana pepper and some minced garlic chives from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) basket. A smoky sauce of jam and chipotle is served along side. I used some homemade strawberry-blueberry-Grand Marnier jam a friend shared with me. I like the dish spooned over cooked brown rice.

A friend of mine ate at Moosewood Restaurant last week. She sent me an email to tell me she had enjoyed a meal of quinoa and marinated vegetables with a cup of gazpacho. Sounds so healthful, doesn’t it? Not to mention hippie and alluring :) One of these days I’ll get to that restaurant myself.

My husband and I gobbled the scrambled tofu and beet greens right up. It completely vanished before I even thought to take a picture. My bag of beet greens is gone, but I’ll be making the dish again tomorrow with spinach or chard.

Scrambled Tofu with Greens & Berry Chipotle Sauce

(adapted from “Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: fresh ideas for the weeknight table,” by the Moosewood Collective.)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 of a hot banana pepper, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic chives
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 cups chopped beet greens
  • 1 (14-ounce) cake extra firm tofu, drained and mashed with a fork
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce

For sauce:

  • 1/3 cup berry jam
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotles
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pour olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chopped onions, banana pepper and chives. Saute until onions and pepper are tender. Add beet greens and stir to coat with mixture in pan. Cover with tight-fitting lid and steam until greens wilt.

Remove lid from skillet. Increase heat to high and cook off any remaining water in the pan. Add mashed tofu and stir. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Use a spatula to turn over the tofu mixture. Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, until tofu begins to brown.

While the tofu cooks, make sauce by mixing jam, adobo and water together in a small saucepan. Simmer on low heat until hot and slightly thickened. Add lemon juice.

Serve tofu and greens with warm sauce. Brown rice is a nice accompaniment. Makes 3 or 4 servings.

See and/or purchase the book “Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers” at BetterWorldBooks.

Learn more about Moosewood Restaurant and see some of their recipes at their website:

If you are intrigued with this recipe, you will find my recipe for Brunchschetta, an anytime meal� using beet greens with bacon and a poached egg on toast in my column this week. Click here to get to the recipe.



Time To Eat Rainier Cherries

Just on the edge of the vegetable garden my Hungarian grandparents had on their Indiana farm was a cherry tree. The sprawling branches thick with leaves provided a welcome canopy on hot, sunny days — and a perfect climbing structure for fun-loving children.

I do remember climbing very carefully into the tree, not too high, but just far enough off the ground to be able to reach for ripe cherries that I would pop into my mouth, spitting the hard-as-stone pits onto the earth below. And, thus began my insatiable desire for sweet, rosy cherries.

Several years ago, I brought a handful of Rainier cherries home from the grocery store. I couldn’t resist their characteristic rosy blush with a warm, sunny undertone. I ate one. I was hooked. It was the sweetest, most delicious cherry I had ever eaten. The creamy colored flesh was juicy and much more flavorful than the traditional bing cherries I was used to eating. The Washington Rainier was cherry perfection.

Yesterday I was in cherry heaven when I had lunch at the Hotel Donaldson (affectionately referred to as HoDo by all the locals) in downtown Fargo. Executive Chef  Tim Fischer, a semi-finalist for the 2011 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Midwest, and his team were chosen to represent North Dakota in the Northwest Cherries Tree-to-Table campaign. In celebration of National Rainier Cherry Day, which was yesterday, Chef Fischer agreed to highlight 40 pounds of Rainier cherries in dishes his diners could not resist.

This Executive Chef and his team did not disappoint.

Sous Chef Ryan Nitschke created a sensational salad of fresh butter lettuce, mild goat cheese, roasted walnuts and warm cherry and prosciutto vinaigrette.

Nitschke’s luncheon salad would have been all I needed, but how could I pass up a serving of Frozen Maize Cheesecake, covered with ground caramel corn and topped with pitted and halved Rainier cherries in a not-too-sweet syrup? A pretty edible flower, plucked from the HoDo’s rooftop garden, along with a dark smear of sweetened huitlacoche, turned the plated dessert into a masterful work of art.

What is huitlacoche, you ask? Well, it’s Mexican corn fungus. It’s a delicacy. I can’t really describe the flavor — maybe a little sweet, a bit sour, slightly earthy, musky — it was not like anything I’ve ever tasted. All I know for sure, is that the sweetened huitlacoche brought perfect balance to the sweet cherries and cheesecake with caramel corn. Expertly developed with a sensational blend of flavors, so gourmet and exactly the surprise you would expect coming from the kitchen team of a James Beard-nominated chef.

Sous Chef Ryan Nitschke is definitely creative and knows exactly how to combine flavor and texture that excites the tastebuds.

He was so kind to take the time to give me a peek into the kitchen, where Sous Chef Nick Weinhandl was busy pitting delicate Rainier cherries, one at a time, all by hand. And, all by himself.

Nitschke assured me enough Washington Rainier cherries were set aside so that the salad and the frozen maize cheesecake could be featured on the HoDo lunch menu all this week. If you’re in the mood for dinner at the HoDo this week, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a five-course Rainier cherry-tasting meal created by Executive Chef Tim Fischer. Call ahead, though. These gourmet dinners featuring cherries will be available only as long as the 40 pounds of Rainier cherries from the Tree-to-Table promotion last.

You can find the participating Tree-to-Table restaurant in your state by clicking here and then click on your state on the map.

I checked with grocery stores in Bemidji and Fargo and discovered Rainier cherries have just begun making their appearance, with prices ranging from around $7.00 to $10.00 per pound. I think they are worth every penny. Pick up a few and see for yourself!

And, if you buy a few extra Rainiers, stuff them with cream cheese whipped up with almonds and orange zest and serve them in a pool of rich chocolate sauce. The recipe is in my column this week. Click here for the details.

While you do that, I’m off to the store to buy some Rainier cherries! Boy, I’ve come a long way with cherries since my tree-climbing days.