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.



What would Julia do with a load of fresh vegetables?

I think Julia Child would love Bemidji, the community in northern Minnesota I’ve called home for 11 years. I never had the opportunity to meet the woman who brought French cooking into American home kitchens, but I’ve read a lot about her and I’ve visited with people who knew the wonder woman who suggested good fun, good food and good flavor go hand-in-hand in the kitchen.

I know Julia Child demanded fresh ingredients. She would be thrilled with the two farmers markets we have in our community, offering shoppers appreciative of good food prime pickings from local gardens.

She might like to teach some cooking classes in the community kitchen at Harmony Co-op, centrally located downtown just a few blocks from the farmers markets. She’d love to visit some of the community gardens where families have an opportunity to grow some of their own food.

I’m sure she’d be amazed at all of the sharing, caring and friendly people who live in Bemidji. One of those people is Doris Swedmark, who spends 8 hours a day working in her vegetable garden that measures 30 feet x 60 feet. All of her hard work pays off — her cabbage won a blue ribbon at the county fair this year. She keeps plenty of plastic bags on hand, ready to share the bounty of her garden with others.

Swedmark shows off red cabbage in her garden.

I am one of the lucky people to come home from Doris Swedmark’s garden with a load of

Swedmark with mangle beets.

vegetables. She yanked some enormous orange mangle beets from the soil, picked some beans, carved out a chubby red cabbage with her very sharp knife, pulled some carrots, cut some kale and gathered some tomatoes. She invited me to grab some fennel and dill on my way out of the garden.

I’m not sure what Julia Child would do with all of these fresh vegetables — ratatouille, maybe? I did know what to do with my treasured loot.

I pulled out my Clay Coyote cazuela and started in on a Greek-style vegetable dish.

I weighed out a pound of beans from one of the bags, chopped an onion, minced some garlic, squeezed the seeds from some tomatoes and chopped them up, and diced a small zucchini. I sauteed the vegetables in olive oil in the cazuela, then added some water, tomato paste and a bundle of mixed fresh herbs that are commonly found in Greek cooking.

I do have luck growing herbs when I tuck them in around my flowering perennials. It took a quick trip around my gardens to collect Italian parsley, oregano, Greek basil, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. I tied the sprigs together with kitchen twine, feeling very Julia Child-like, and tucked it into the mixture in the cazuela. And then, into the oven it went for about 40 minutes. As it bubbled in the heat, a wonderful aroma wafted through my kitchen.

I planned to serve the Greek-Style Vegetables with orzo. None in the pantry. I chose some brown rice Caserecce instead. It was a good pick.

You could top the baked dish with crumbled feta cheese before serving. I didn’t. The meal was aromatic, satisfying and delicious. It’s not French, but I’ll bet Julia would approve.

Today is Julia Child’s birthday. If she was living, she’d be 100 years old. Celebrate with good fun, good food and good flavor in the kitchen — French or not. Bon Appetit!

One pound of beans from Swedmark’s garden ready to go into Greek-Style Vegetables.

Greek-Style Vegetables

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
  • 3 chubby cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound of green beans, topped and tailed (trimmed) and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or beef soup base
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 sprig each of: Italian parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley, for serving
  • 1 cup crumbled Greek feta cheese, optional

In a large skillet or cazuela, heat olive oil. Add onions and saute until tender. Add garlic and beans and saute. Add tomatoes, zucchini, water, soup base, tomato paste and lemon zest. Stir to mix. Bring mixture to a boil. Tie sprigs of fresh herbs together with kitchen twine. Tuck them into the bubbling mixture. Cover the skillet or cazuela with aluminum foil and bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve with cooked orzo or pasta of choice. Offer feta cheese at the table. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

P.S. Greek-Style Vegetables is one of the dishes I’ll be preparing on Saturday, August 18th during my cooking demonstration at 11:00 at the Lakes Area Farmers Market in Detroit Lakes.



Sweet Potato and Pear Soup

Not too many years ago I was standing in the produce department at a grocery store, gazing at a variety of pears. I was planning to make a special dessert that involved poaching pears. I’d never poached pears. I had no idea what kind of pear to use.

Lucky for me, the produce manager recommended Bosc pears for poaching. He explained that their flesh is firmer than most pears, so they tend to hold their shape well during the poaching process. His voice took on a note of passion as he described their wonderful flavor, “Like the best white wine you could ever taste,” he said. “That is what a ripe Bosc pear tastes like.”

The cinnamon-colored skin of the Bosc makes them stand out in a crowd of Anjou and Bartletts. Their elongated neck flowing down to a rounded bottom gives them a look of regal elegance. The produce manager helped me choose Bosc pears that were ripe, but still firm. I tasted one as soon as I got home. That man was absolutely right. The juicy pear was divine. That was the day I fell in love with the Bosc pear.

The pears looked perfect after poaching and tasted divine.

When I brought a bunch of Bosc pears home from the store the other day, I had no plans for poaching. I made a batch of Honey-Glazed Roasted Pears and served them for dessert with a generous dollop of coconut milk yogurt. I made enough so that some of the roasted pears could go into the refrigerator to be used another day in my breakfast bowl of hot oatmeal.

The rest of the Bosc pears got peeled and cored and cooked into soup. Bosc pears marry perfectly with Garnet sweet potatoes. Garnet sweet potatoes are moist with dark orange flesh. I didn’t even peel the sweet potatoes before chopping them and cooking them in water with a cinnamon stick. While the sweet potatoes simmer to softness in cinnamon-spiked water, the pears simmer in white wine to reach tenderness. Then everything gets pureed together in a blender or food processor. I like to use my blender for this soup. It gives a velvety texture to the soup that the food processor doesn’t offer.

I made the soup dairy-free by replacing butter with the organic coconut spread I had in my refrigerator. Rather than using half-and-half to add a touch of richness to the soup, I used coconut milk creamer. These substitutions actually make the soup perfect for vegans.

I served the the thick, creamy soup with flaky turnovers filled with spinach, sundried tomatoes, onions and tofu. The turnover recipe came from “Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.” I’ve got four of the Moosewood cookbooks and use them often. I’ve never been disappointed with any of the recipes I’ve tried from the books.

It’s also a nice soup to start your special Valentine’s meal. Velvety, rich, creamy, not sweet with a hint of cinnamon hiding in the background while the pears and sweet potatoes marry and become one. Perfect!


Sweet Potato and Pear Soup

  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into small pieces
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter or organic coconut spread
  • 3 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup white wine or apple or pear juice
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half or coconut milk creamer
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Combine sweet potatoes, water, cinnamon stick and salt in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender. Remove cover and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick and set sweet potato mixture aside.

Melt butter or organic coconut spread in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pear pieces and saute 5 minutes. Add wine. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until pear pieces are tender.

In food processor or blender, puree sweet potato mixture and pear mixture in batches. Return pureed soup to Dutch oven. Add half-and-half or coconut milk creamer and pepper. Stir well to combine. Heat through and serve. Makes about 8 cups.

Recipe adapted from Perennial Palette, by Southborough Gardeners in Southborough, Massachusetts. 2001.


Beans, beans

At the start of each  new year, I promise myself that I will eat a wide variety of healthful foods on a daily basis and work to avoid cravings for sweet and salty foods. I do pretty well the first couple weeks of January, but as I move into the third week, my resolve begins to wane.

This year, I’ve taken affirmative action that will help me stay on track. I turned to some health-conscious people I know to get their suggestions on some basic foods I can keep on hand along with creative ways to prepare them that will be flavorful and keep me satisfied, happy and healthy — I call it the “Good Life” track.

I first met Kelly Jo Zellmann, RD, LD when she volunteered to be my assistant during a cooking class I was teaching several years ago. As soon as I saw Kelly Jo’s bright smile and the sparkle in her eyes, I knew she would be an amazing person to work with in the kitchen.

Registered Dietitian, Kelly Jo Zellmann, was happy to share her knowledge about nutritious foods with me and with all who read this blog.

What is one food you recommend people add to their menus for a healthy 2012?

Hmm…Beans!  I actually didn’t have to think too long on this as beans popped into my head right away.  Even though there are so many healthy foods to choose from, beans are at the top of the list.  Any kind of bean is good and the list to choose from is plentiful ~ black beans (one of my personal favorites), garbanzo (also known as chickpea), kidney, chili, cannellini , pinto, soy, navy, green, edamame, lima , black eyed peas, and refried beans.  And, there are many more!  According to a recent survey that identified top food trends for 2012, a key theme is that Americans will be eating more locally grown, unprocessed foods, along with increasing fruit and vegetable intake.  Both of these contain fiber, a key nutrient often lacking in many people’s diets.  Beans, whether canned or dried, are a great option to meet these trends.

Other than the fact that they can keep us trendy in 2012, why are you so jazzed on beans, Kelly?

Versatility, variety, economical, and availability (no matter what the season) are a few reasons that come to mind.  More importantly, though, beans pack a powerful punch when it comes to nutrition.  If there is a magical food (which there really isn’t) beans are as close to it as you can get!  With the new USDA “ChooseMyPlate” recommendations to fill half your plate with produce, beans are a great food because they are a vegetable and if you already have plenty of colors on your plate, they can also count as a protein source, too!

Beans can be particularly helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, aiding in weight loss, stabilizing blood sugar levels in diabetes, as well as decreasing risk of colon cancer.  Beans offer healthy amounts of several nutrients including; niacin, thiamine, B6 vitamin, complex carbohydrates, fiber, which helps slow absorption and increases satiety (feeling of fullness).  Beans are also a good source of potassium, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium, and are naturally low in fat.  In addition to all of that, beans also provide a great source of protein and can be a wonderful alternative to meat.  For every ½-cup serving there are six to seven grams of protein, which meets at least 10% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, yet costs about 20 cents per serving.

Although most beans are fairly high in carbohydrate content, they are also high in fiber.  A half-cup serving of cooked dried beans provides about 7 grams of fiber, which meets ~25-30% of the Daily Value of dietary fiber.  If you have diabetes, for example, and are counting carbohydrates, if a serving has >5 grams fiber, you can subtract “half” the fiber content from the total carbohydrates.  For example, if you have a 1 cup serving of beans with 14 grams of fiber, you can subtract 7 from the total carbohydrates.  But, don’t let the numbers get you confused, the bottom line is beans are beneficial, so just eat them!

Canned or dried?

Canned beans are fast and easy to use.  But, you can also use dried beans for any recipe that calls for canned.  The trick to using dried beans is you need to plan ahead and soak the beans.  For greatest economy, cook up a whole bunch at one time and freeze in quantities similar to the can sizes you use.  (1 cup dried beans = about 3 cups cooked beans, 14 oz can beans = about 1½ cups drained beans).

Bean tip from Kelly Jo:

About the only drawback to eating beans is that they can often result in passing gas.  Remember the old saying:  Beans, Beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat the more you ____?!?  Well, that saying is partly true and false.  Beans are not a fruit but a vegetable, and they do often result in flatulence due to the high amount of oligosaccharides (sugar) present in beans.  A good tip to remember is whenever you are increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, go slow and always drink plenty of water.

Do you have some favorite ways you incorporate beans into the meals you prepare for your family?

There are so many ways to add beans to your diet.  First think about foods or meals you already enjoy.   If tacos are on the list, for example, try adding black beans to them for a change.  Another idea is to sautée edamame, combine with cooked chicken or grouse, and add some corn to make a tasty salad.  You can also add almost any kind of bean to a number of soups.  Experiment to find out what kind of beans you like best, and then have fun throwing them in to some of your favorite dishes.

Please share some information about yourself that will give us a glimpse of who you are.

I am a full-time, working mom of three boys – ages 7, 5, and 1½ and have been married to my husband for eleven years.  I can relate to the struggles of getting a good meal on the table and sitting down to eat together as a family.  Some days it’s a quick dinner thrown together at the last minute, but that’s reality.   A key to making this happen is having all your favorite ingredients on hand so that you can do this in a pinch.

Currently I work part time at the Leech Lake Diabetes Clinic in Cass Lake and Neilson Place – WoodsEdge Senior Living in Bemidji.  I also do independent nutrition consulting for individuals, corporations, and groups.  I am a licensed provider for Real Living Nutrition’s Balance program, an online weight management program ( and a Registered Dietitian for   I am looking forward to making 2012 a great year of exploring new foods and yet more ways to incorporate beans into our diet and wish the same for you!

Happy and Healthy 2012!

Kelly Jo Zellmann, RD, LD *

Kelly Jo shared a recipe she uses for vegetarian chili. I did a little tweaking and came up with a meatless chili that is loaded with a variety of beans, deep, spicy flavor and good-for-you peppers. That recipe is in my newspaper column this week. Click here to get to that recipe.

After visiting with Kelly Jo Zellmann about beans, I remembered a black bean burger I made about five years ago. I found the recipe that is very quick and easy to prepare.

As I’ve been seeking out health-conscious people, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with some who have chosen a vegan lifestyle (eating no animal products). I learned a trick from them that I tried out in the burgers. Apparently, a tablespoon of ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water serves as a satisfactory replacement for an egg in cooking and in baking. Since my Black Bean Burgers incorporate 2 eggs into the mix, I experimented with the flax and water combination. The texture of the burgers became mushy inside, which was not as appealing to me as the nice firm texture that results when eggs are used. So, it’s up to you. I didn’t mind it, really. If you are a vegan, I think you’ll be quite satisfied.

Beans, beans — you’ll get plenty of them in these burgers.

Black Bean Burgers

  • 3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked quick oats
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (or to taste)
  • 1 or 2 dashes hot pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • oil for frying
  • 8 hamburger buns

Coarsely mash beans in a large bowl. A pastry blender or potato masher works well for this job. Add oats, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin, hot pepper sauce, salt and eggs. Mix well.

Shape mixture into 8 patties. Stir together flour and cornmeal in shallow bowl. Dredge patties in dry mixture. In a large skillet, pour just enough oil to cover bottom of the pan. Place pan on medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add patties and cook about 5 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels. Serve on buns. Makes 8 servings.

Some favorite toppings:

Lettuce, arugula, smoked cheddar cheese, sliced avocado, sliced tomato, sour cream, roasted red pepper, salsa.

Tips from the cook:

  • Mix and shape the patties early in the day and keep in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
  • Uncooked Black Bean Burgers freeze well. I wrap each  individually in plastic wrap, then slide them into a freezer-strength zip-top bag. I do thaw them before cooking.
  • Freeze leftover cooked burgers. To serve, heat in microwave on low power, turning burger over once.
  • Update: I’ve been reading through “The Vegan Table,” by Colleen Patrick- Goudreau and came upon her recipe for Matzoh Ball Soup where she uses “flax eggs” to mix into matzoh balls for soup. This is her method for making the “flax eggs:” To make a substitute for one egg, whip 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds with 2 tablespoons water in a food processor for 2 to 3 minutes, until a very thick, creamy, almost yogurt-like consistency develops. I’ll give these Black Bean Burgers one more try with “flax eggs.” Obviously, I used too much water when I made the substitute eggs in my first try.



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.



Hungarian Stuffed Peppers

It was always this time of year when my Hungarian grandmother would set her enormous enameled pots on the table in her farmhouse kitchen. She’d pile dark green bell peppers, just picked from her large garden, in the deep kitchen sink. After a good rinse, the peppers got cut in half from stem end to blossom end. It didn’t take much time for my experienced grandmother to pull out the white membrane and seeds from each half pepper with a swipe of her fingers. With her strong hands, she mixed ground beef and pork, chopped onions and lots of paprika in a huge bowl.

“Come, Susie. Help stuff the peppers.” As a little girl, I loved pulling the stool my grandpa made up to the table so that I could reach the proper height to help my grandmother stuff the peppers.

It was that kind of happy experience with my grandma that sparked and nurtured my love for cooking, baking and eating.

I carry on the stuffed pepper tradition that was imprinted in me by my Hungarian grandmother and my Hungarian mom. When I prepare a large batch, I mix some ground pork into the meat stuffing. But for just 3 peppers, I use only a pound of ground beef.

For some reason, the ones I make just never taste quite as good as the ones prepared by my grandma and my mom.

But, still, they are a delectable meal that bring comfort and sweet memories.

You’ll find my recipe for untraditional, unstuffed peppers in my column this week. Click here to get that recipe.

 Hungarian Stuffed Peppers

  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/3 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 (46-ounce) bottle tomato juice
  • Flour for coating meat mixture in peppers
  • Shortening, paprika and flour to thicken gravy

Wash green peppers. Cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds and white membrane from each half. Set aside.

In large bowl, mix ground beef, rice, onion, egg, paprika and salt. Firmly pack meat mixture into pepper halves. Dip all exposed meat in flour. Place stuffed peppers in pot. Pour in tomato juice. Peppers should be completely immersed in juice. Cover pot and bring juice to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until rice is cooked. Can also form balls of meat mixture, roll in flour and immerse in juice. People who don’t care for green peppers will appreciate the meatballs.

To thicken gravy, melt 2 or 3 tablespoons of shortening in a small pan. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook until onion is soft. Add enough paprika (about 1 tablespoon) to make mixture in pan red. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour. Cook and stir. Don’t let mixture get too thick. Remove pepper pot from heat. Stir in flour-paprika mixture. Return pot to heat and simmer just until gravy thickens, stirring often. Makes 6 stuffed pepper halves.



Weekend Baking with Martha and the Boss

It took a trip to Dunn Bros for a triple shot of espresso and an in-and-out at the liquor store for a bottle of sweet Marsala. It took a search through all the supermarkets in Bemidji for ladyfingers, little finger-shaped sponge cakes. My friend, Kelly, went the extra mile — extra miles, really. She lives way out of town. She was determined to create tiramisu using a recipe from her idol, Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss. I was one of the lucky people who had that heavenly Italian dessert melting in my mouth last night.

Kelly never did find ladyfingers. She discovered the small round spongecakes designed to hold fresh berries worked well as a substitute. (Gosh, Kelly, you could have made ladyfingers from scratch. Just kidding :) I’ve actually used Twinkies in Tiramisu. Please don’t tell anyone.

Imagine layers of spongecake dipped in sweetened espresso and coffee liqueur, Marsala-spiked creamy mascarpone and whipped cream, dusted with cocoa powder. Not too wet, not too dry, not too strong of alcohol, this tiramisu is the best I’ve ever eaten — a balanced and harmonious blend of decadence. Thanks for your determination to get this recipe right, Kelly. It was soooooooooo worth your efforts.

The Italian word tiramisu means “pick-me-up.”  One serving will definitely make you happy. I was ecstatic — until I tried to get to sleep last night. It must have been the espresso and the cocoa that kept me tossing and turning. But, eventually, I was dreaming of tiramisu.

This Friday the 13th is your lucky day. I am directing you to this very uncomplicated recipe for tiramisu from the Cake Boss. Just click here.

Kelly’s tiramisu was only a small part of our monthly potluck with food-loving friends. Our hostess proclaimed it an evening of food prepared with recipes from our favorite Food Network star. Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, is a star on TLC.

Ellen prepared the other dessert you see in the photo at the top of the page, Martha Stewart’s Simple Lemon Cake. It doesn’t sound all that simple to make, but then, everything is simple for Martha, right? Making the Lemon Cake requires slicing very thin rounds of fresh lemons and boiling them, then pureeing the mixture, which apparently intensifies the bright lemon flavor. Ellen served each slice with fresh berries and whipped cream.

We also enjoyed Bobby Flay’s Queso Fundido with Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette. It’s an awesome combination of spice, heat and sweet with plenty of cheese thick and gooey enough to hold a tortilla chip in place.

Ina Garten’s Chunky Blue Cheese and Yogurt Dip is healthful and so nice with blanched asparagus spears. The Barefoot Contessa rarely disappoints.

Ina’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, prepared with zucchini rather than eggplant, is a winner. It’s a salad that will will be a perfect go-together with anything off the grill this summer.

We also enjoyed Paula Deen’s Black-Eyed Pea Dip and Sara Moulton’s Turkey Meatballs with Pesto and Orzo from her “Everyday Family Dinners” cookbook. Sorry, no photos of these two dishes.

Happy Friday the 13th. May your weekend hold spoonfuls of tiramisu!



It’s like fried rice, but it’s made with pasta

As a young girl growing up in a northern suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, I had little exposure to ethnic foods other than the Hungarian and German foods prepared by my grandma, my mom and my aunts. But, there was a Chinese restaurant not far from our house that we sometimes went to for supper when my mom was too tired to make a meal after a long day of work as a business manager at a small manufacturing company.

It was the fried rice that was always my choice. It was brought to the table hidden under a bowl. When the bowl was lifted, there was the rice, a mound the shape of an upside-down bowl. The rice was brown with soy sauce and speckled with bits of scrambled eggs, onions and peas, maybe some sprouts, and small bits of either chicken or pork.

Years later, married with two young children and living in Fargo, North Dakota, I took a Chinese cooking class from Andrea Halgrimson. And, that is when I learned to make a mean bowl of fried rice that was pretty close to the rice I use to get at the Roseville restaurant.

After a recent meal of Baked Orzo with Vegetables (in my last blog post) and grilled Marinated Sesame Chicken Kabobs, there was some of each leftover. A couple of days later I turned it into Fried Orzo with Chicken. It was a quick and easy meal that was full of flavor. I used the Fried Rice recipe that I still have from Andrea’s class back in 1984. With a couple of embellishments, it was a wonderful way to turn leftovers into a brand new meal. It’s like fried rice, but it’s made with pasta.

Fried Orzo with Chicken

  • 3 to 4 cups Baked Orzo with Vegetables or plain cooked orzo
  • Leftover cooked chicken, onions and peppers from Marinated Sesame Chicken Kabobs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • soy sauce
  • pinch of sugar
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Heat canola and sesame oils in wok or large saute pan over medium heat. Add beaten eggs and stir-fry until partially set. Turn out of pan onto a plate. Add a little more oil to pan and heat. Add chopped chicken, onion, pepper and peas to pan. Stir-fry until heated through. Add Baked Orzo with Vegetables and partially-cooked eggs and continue to stir-fry until hot. Add soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Tip from the cook

To serve Fried Orzo molded, lightly spray a glass custard cup with non-stick vegetable spray. Pack Fried Orzo into the bowl. Invert bowl onto plate and remove bowl, leaving a perfectly molded serving of orzo on the plate.



Baked Orzo with Vegetables

Last weekend my son and daughter-in-law prepared a delicious meal of grilled chicken and vegetable kabobs with sides of fresh fruit and a rice and vegetable dish. They used a rice recipe that I’ve been making for years. It’s a baked dish that takes all the guess-work out of how long to cook the rice. You don’t want it to turn to mush and crunchy rice is surely not appealing. Baked in broth and a bit of butter, the rice turns out perfectly every time. Last weekend, my son and daughter-in-law used fragrant jasmine rice and it was wonderful.

After spending a couple of weeks working on perfecting an orzo salad for my column, my mind started turning with thoughts of trying to use the small, flat, rice-shaped pasta as a replacement for rice in the baked side-dish that’s been a family favorite over the years.

Silly me — I thought for sure this weekend that brings us the month of May would definitely bring warm sunshine that would demand a meal from the grilling. I was so wrong.

The Grill Master in my house was a good sport as he went out in the rain to light the grill. During a short break in the rain, chicken kabobs cooked to perfection over the hot coals. With an outside temperature of 45 degrees, a little heat coming from the oven as the orzo baked was appreciated.

I used a little less broth for the orzo dish than I do when I make the dish with rice. It took less time to bake, too. The orzo absorbed the broth as it baked. It’s texture was creamy. It was the perfect go-along for chicken kabobs.

Since the vegetables are added raw and bake with the orzo for only 10 minutes, it’s important to mince them. The carrots will have an al dente texture.

When I’ve made this dish early in the day to serve with supper, I bake it for the required time, then take it out of the oven and stir in the vegetables. The vegetables will cook a bit as they sit in the hot pot with the orzo. At serving time, just transfer the baked orzo with vegetables to a microwave-safe bowl and heat it up for a few minutes in the microwave oven.

I’m optimistic that warm weather will soon arrive and stay for a while. Baked Orzo with Vegetables will stay on my list of sides to serve with anything grilled all through the sunny spring and summer season.

Baked Orzo with Vegetables

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 tablespoons minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 tablespoons minced carrots
  • 6 tablespoons minced celery
  • 6 tablespoons minced green onions
  • 6 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange slivered almonds in a single layer on a small baking sheet. Place in oven as it preheats. Watch the almonds closely and remove from oven when they begin to turn light brown.

Melt butter in a 2-quart oven-safe pot over medium heat. Add uncooked orzo. Stir the orzo as it toasts in the butter for about 5 minutes. Carefully pour in the boiling chicken broth. Stir. Place top on pot. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 35 minutes.

Remove pot from oven. Stir orzo. Add vegetables. Place top on pot and return to oven. Bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven. Add toasted slivered almonds and parsley. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.


Creamy Scalloped Potatoes made easy with a blender

In many homes on Easter Sunday, a succulent ham shank, crusted with brown sugar and mustard, is brought to the dinner table glazed and bubbling, surrounded by creamy scalloped potatoes. This will happen again in just a few days in many homes, but not mine.

Ham has never been part of the Easter meal tradition at my house. Growing up with a German-Czechoslovakian father meant every holiday dinner involved a roasted loin of pork, crusted with flavorful caraway seeds and softball-sized dumplings to soak up the drippings from the pork and lots of creamy sauerkraut.

After I got married, though, I discovered ham and scalloped potatoes. I tried to learn to prepare a moist ham and creamy scalloped potatoes. But, I almost always wound up with dry ham and curdled potatoes. I gave up and went back to the familiar pork dinner that I was more comfortable with in the kitchen. My favorite guy missed the cheesy scalloped potatoes, but adapted well to the more German-style Easter meal.

Early in my marriage, I clipped a recipe for Blender Scalloped Potatoes from a newsletter from somewhere and glued it onto one of the pages of the 3-ring binder that served as my personal recipe collection. I wrote a short comment beside the recipe after making it for the first time back in the 1970’s — “So good and so easy.”

No pre-cooking the potatoes and not a single can of cream-of-anything soup in sight. The recipe makes enough to fill a 1-quart casserole dish, which was just enough for my family over the years. If you’re serving a crowd, make two or three batches to create a large pan full of scalloped potatoes, or make several individual servings by using ramekins.

I don’t believe there could be an easier way to prepare creamy, cheesy potatoes. Whole milk (I’ve experimented with reduced-fat and no-fat milk. They don’t give the rich, creamy results that whole milk delivers) goes into the blender for a whirl with an onion and a tiny bit of flour. The liquid mixture gets poured over raw, cubed potatoes in a baking dish. A few dots of butter and a hefty handful of grated Cheddar finish the preparation before the potato dish goes into the oven for about 90 minutes. That’s it.

Any leftover scalloped potatoes reheat nicely in the microwave oven. Add some chopped leftover ham to the potatoes before reheating. That’s a meal in a dish.

I must admit that I’ve never served these potatoes with ham. Try them with pork chops or meat loaf or steak — the best!

Blender Scalloped Potatoes (So good and so easy)

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 35o degrees. Lightly butter 1-quart glass baking dish or 4 (6- to 8-ounce) ramekins.

Put potato cubes into prepared dish(es).

Pour milk into blender. Add onion chunks and flour. Process until mixture is smooth. Pour mixture over potato cubes. Dot with butter. Spread cheese over all.

Bake, uncovered, in preheated 350-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the potatoes are tender.

Tips from the cook:

  • I find the cheese gets very dark brown after 1 1/2 hours in the oven. I often bake the dish without the cheese for 60 minutes, then add the cheese for the last 30 minutes or so. I like the cheese to get golden, but not so dark that it looks burned.
  • For more depth of flavor, I sometimes skewer a chubby clove garlic and a bay leaf on a toothpick and dunk it into the potatoes, just along the side of the dish, before baking. At serving time, I pull out the pick that is still holding the garlic and bay leaf.
  • I like using white sharp cheddar cheese for these scalloped potatoes.