Split Pea Soup

IMG_0775Some find the color off-putting. In fact, I almost posted this split pea soup recipe sans photo, as it isn’t likely to win any beauty contests (unless it could really nail the talent competition). But those who can get past the unappealing color are rewarded with a healthy, hearty, full-flavored soup. We have a pot of this in the frig at least once a month, making for an easy lunch at home or work. It doesn’t magically appear in the refrigerator, lest you think we have a shoemaker-and-the-elves situation in our kitchen. No, it takes a couple hours to make, but it’s not hands-on labor. You get it simmering, and let it be.

I used to only make this soup when I could beg the ham bone off my mother after she’d hosted Christmas or Easter dinners. Then I discovered most grocery stores carry ham shanks just for making soup. Who knew? Now I make this high-fiber soup outside of holiday seasons. Making it yourself means you can control the sodium, a problem with the canned varieties. Making it yourself also means you’re saving big bucks—this is another soup that figures in at about a buck a bowl. Budget buster…BAM!

If a gallon of soup is more than you can handle, no worries. This soup freezes really well. You can have some now, and save some for later. I usually give a quart to my son Justin, who lives on his own, or my co-worker Annette, who loves it as much as we do. Just spreading the love. Oh, and where’d I find this recipe? In my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, copyright 1981. It’s the one where the homemakers are rockin’ really hot helmet hair-dos as they assemble Jell-O molds. 

Serves 8-10

1 pound bag dried green* split peas, rinsed and drained
8 cups water
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon marjoram or summer savory
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 ham shank (or ham bone)
4-6 carrots, peeled and chopped
3-4 stalks celery, washed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In Dutch oven, combine dried peas, water, onion, bouillon, marjoram, pepper, and ham shank. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Remove ham bone and let cool. Add carrots and celery. Bring to boiling again, then reduce to simmer for additional 30 minutes. Once bone is cool enough to handle, remove meat and coarsely chop. Return meat to soup and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

*NOTE: I once tried the yellow split peas, thinking it would be a fun change of pace. It was the most sickening shade of pale chartreuse I’ve ever seen. You practically had to close your eyes to eat it. Never again.

Cranberry Pecan Bars

IMG_1157A pop of rich red makes these cranberry bars look special enough for company, yet these sweet-tart treats are easy enough to make any old day. With cranberries showing up in grocery stores soon, I thought I’d share this delicious recipe I found on www.food.com, sent in by Wisconsinite and cranberry-lover Bonnie Young. They use mostly kitchen staples, and mix up in just a few minutes. I found they work better with frozen cranberries, as the fresh tend to mush and bleed into the batter and that makes them not so pretty. But the frozen berries make the batter very stiff, so you have to pat (or smash, if that’s more your mood) it into the pan with a spatula. Worth the effort though—the result is a deliciously chewy cake-like bar with just enough tang to keep you wanting more.

Makes 12-15 bars

½ cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
2 cups frozen cranberries
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add eggs and cream again. Add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat again. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Stir in nuts with large wooden spoon until combined. Fold in cranberries. Press batter into prepared baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until top of bars are light golden brown. (Bars may not appear to be cooked all the way through when removed from oven, but they will set up as they cool.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool to room temp before cutting with very sharp knife.

(Shout out to Monique Kleinhuizen, who brought me a huge bag of fresh cranberries—the size of grapes—from a cranberry festival her family attended in Wisconsin. Used them in the batch of bars pictures here. Awesome berries!!!)

Italian Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Spinach Soup

IMG_1058Cooler weather ushers in soup season, and nothing warms you better than a bowl of this hearty and savory butternut squash and sausage soup. I got the recipe from Café Latte on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota when the recipe was requested by one of my readers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Had to scale it down to make it fit for home use, and it was well worth the effort. BTW, this recipe tastes way better than it looks—the spinach adds flavor, texture, and nutrients, but takes away from its visual appeal. But I’ve brought this to several people in need of meals, and they’ve always raved about the flavor, after they’ve said, “It didn’t look like it would be good…” And since it makes a monstrous batch, it’s helpful that it freezes well!

Serves 10-12

Large butternut squash, approx. 3 pounds
1–1½ pounds Italian sausage
1½ cups diced yellow onions
3–4 red potatoes, diced
1½ cups peeled and sliced carrots
1½ tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1–1½ tablespoons dried basil
6–8 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable or chicken soup base
3 cups frozen chopped spinach (16 oz. package)
1½ teaspoons salt or to taste
1½ teaspoons pepper or to taste

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise. Lay cut side down in 9″x12″ glass baking dish. Add 1-inch water to pan. Bake in oven for 1 hour, or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, cook sausage in fry pan until no longer pink. Set aside. In large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onions until translucent. Add diced potatoes, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until carrots are tender to the fork. Add tomatoes and basil. With heat on high, add 6 cups water and soup base, stirring to combine base. Bring to a boil.

Scoop out cooked squash and add to pot along with cooked sausage. Stir to combine. Once mixture returns to a boil, add spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reduce to low and let soup simmer for 30 minutes or more. Add 1–2 cups more water if needed.

Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp

FullSizeRenderWhen sweet peaches and nectarines are in season, you just gotta gobble them up. This crisp or crumble recipe is one I’ve posted before using rhubarb and strawberries, but I just had to share this with you using the perfect combination of nectarines and blueberries.* Fresh fruits are great when available, but this works just as well using frozen fruit in the winter. How much fruit you put in is really up to you—basically, you want to fill your pan or dish about 3/4 full (as shown here). Fruit does shrink as it bakes, so don’t worry about it overflowing in the oven.

Craving apple crisp or crumble? This topping is also wonderful with apples, so I’ve given you that variation below as well. Top baked crisp with ice cream or serve in a bowl with heavy cream poured over it. Heavenly.








Serves 8-12

Fruit base

4-6 cups chopped fresh or frozen nectarines or peaches
2-4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries


2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ or other 3 quart baking dish. Spread fruit in pan. In medium mixing bowl, add oats, sugar, flour, and spices, and stir to combine. Pour melted butter over oats and toss until butter is incorporated. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 1 hour. Let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.

NOTE: You can also bake this dish at 375° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes if you’re in a rush, and it’ll be just as tasty.

For Apple Blueberry Crisp

Granny smith apples and blueberries make a nice tart-sweet combination. Peel, slice and chop 4-5 fresh Granny Smith apples, and mix with 2-4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries. Toss with a tablespoon of lemon juice, then add to pan, and add topping. Bake as directed above.

For Apple Crisp

Peel, slice and chop 6-8 of your choice of fresh baking apples. Add to pan, and then top with oats mixture. Bake as directed above.

See more at: http://forknifespoon.com/2015/05/17/strawberry-rhubarb-crisp/#sthash.lLYqimuI.dpuf

Tin Bins

IMG_0914Eating by the St. Croix River during a balmy summer or fall day in Stillwater, Minnesota makes any meal a tranquil experience. Savoring breakfasts, sandwiches, or salads as delicious as the fare offered by Tin Bins is an added bonus. Fresh bakery goods, coffees and espressos tempt from the moment you approach the counter to place your order. Regulars and first-time visitors line up for just a pastry and a cup of joe, or for a tasty breakfast, fresh lunch, or light dinner. If you’ve come for a meal and not just drinks and treats, there’s plenty of interesting options to choose from.

The basket pictured here housed a toasted ciabatta bun with Rondelé garlic cheese spread and honey toasted pecans, with sliced apples and provolone as well. My sandwich had ham added, a suggestion from our server. I had commented on the sandwich being vegetarian, and she’d said, “Oh, you can add some ham, and then get a side salad of greens and strawberries.” It sounded great, so I agreed. Then when my meal was delivered, there were huge chopped ham chunks plopped on top of the salad. Apparently I gave a colossal eye-roll at the error, which cracked up my cousin Vonnie as I marched back into the kitchen to ask for slices on my sandwich…instead of cubes smothering the greens. Once the situation was amended, I thoroughly enjoyed the salad that was loaded with tender greens, fresh berries, and drizzled with a zesty vinaigrette. The toasted bread warmed the herbed cheese and honey pecans, making for a wonderfully light and tasty sandwich. My other relatives enjoyed their meals as well—the fresh ingredients were perfect parings with the herbs and seasonings.

Tin Bins doesn’t just offer interesting food—the history of the place is intriguing as well. The grain elevator structure tells you of it’s humble beginnings. Then the place had a stint as a climbing gym and outdoor clothing store called Otterfitters. Next Mike McGuire, one of the owners of the neighboring Dock Cafe bought the building to provide a venue a little different than the Dock, a place with a European coffee shop vibe. To further the Euro flare, the Tin Bins offers poetry readings on Thursday nights, and bands or acoustic guitar on Friday and Saturday evenings. Even with all that evening entertainment available, they say breakfast is their most popular meal. Whether you go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, patrons settle in at the outdoor patio or trendy tables indoors, and are in no hurry to leave their serene surroundings.

Tin Bins

413 Nelson Street East, Stillwater, MN 55082
(651) 342-0799
Parking available next to building.

Current Hours

Monday–Wednesday: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday schedule varies due to poetry readings: usually 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., bands or acoustic guitar
Sunday: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Visit tinbinscafe.com for current entertainment schedule and menu.

Turkey Burgers

IMG_0989Turkey burgers don’t need to taste like sawdust on a bun. Through trial and error, I’ve come up with this recipe to make moist and savory turkey burgers, and most members of my family prefer these to hamburgers now. (My husband is the hamburger holdout.) So if you’re tired of brats and burgers, surprise your palate with a little poultry. The turkey burger pictured here is topped with melted Swiss cheese, spinach, sliced avocados, and pesto aioli (a mixture of half pesto, and half mayonnaise—that’s the blob that looks like a mutant green caterpillar, BTW).

Makes 4-5 burgers

1 pound ground turkey, thawed
¼–½ cup Panko bread crumbs
1 egg
1–2 teaspoons Penzy’s Fox Point seasoning, or garlic salt
1 teaspoon Smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon pepper
Vegetable oil
Hamburger buns

Preheat gas grill or start coals. Drizzle a plate with vegetable oil and set aside. Combine ground turkey, Panko bread crumbs, egg, and seasonings, and mix with hands just until combined. Form into large, flat patties, making them a third larger than the buns to allow for shrinkage on grill. Place patties on oiled plate and drizzle will more vegetable oil to coat. (Because turkey is lean, it doesn’t have fat to keep it from sticking to grill. Adding the oil really helps burgers hold together while cooking.) Place a large piece of parchment paper on top of burgers on plate. Flip prepared burgers over onto piece of parchment paper, then onto hot grill. Cook until done on one side, flip and cook until burgers are done all the way through. Serve with condiments and toppings of choice.

Blueberry Breakfast Bars

IMG_0979Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime snack—these bars are a hit any time. This was a recipe request when I wrote a food column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was wildly popular with subscribers.  It had been circulated by WIC as a healthy (or healthier than sugary cereals) and kid-friendly recipe at one time. Fresh or frozen fruit work equally well in these bars, and I’ve made them with either blueberries or raspberries, too. Strawberries do NOT work well in this recipe, so save yourself the hassle (and waste) and don’t bother with those berries. Because these are deliciously soft, they fall apart when I’ve tried to send them in a school lunch bag, so cut and serve the bars at home, or bring a pan to share with co-workers. Others will be glad you decided to share the love.

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or raspberries)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional – I’ve made it without and can’t taste the difference!)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, nuts, baking soda, and salt. Pour melted butter over top and stir until all ingredients are coated with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared dish. Bake for 10 minutes.

While base is baking, combine berries, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. In small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon water cornstarch, and lemon juice. Mix well. Gradually stir into blueberry mixture. Cook and stir for 30 seconds or until thickened.

Spread berry mixture over baked base to within 1-inch of edge, and sprinkle reserved oat mixture on top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered.

Confessions of a Food Blogger

Chester IMG_0993Question: Enjoy your blog posts! But tell me, what do you REALLY eat?

Answer: Thanks, Chester (pictured here sending in a question…)! I get that question a lot. All my posts are things I’ve made and eaten—on weeknights as well as weekends—and lived to blog about them. But not everything I make is blog-worthy. Gentle readers, rest assured, we do not sit around sipping rose-infused mineral water and nibbling on pâté made from baby rabbit livers. Well, once in a while we do, but most of the time we eat just like you. We have scrambled eggs for dinner. We scrounge for leftovers in the back of the refrigerator, hoping to score something that isn’t growing mold. I just found a sweet potato in my pantry that’s sprouted so many roots it looks like Ursala from The Little Mermaid. And there’s a mystery smell in the frig right now, and I canNOT identify the culprit! Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. I love food! I love coming up with new ideas for dinner or dessert, or reviving old favorites to freshen them up. And we do eat well most of the time. But sometimes I’m just too tired after work to make a meal, and enthusiastically welcome take-out. (How one can possibly tire of mousing and clicking all day? It’s not like I work in a coal mine…sheesh.) Once my neighbor Diane popped over around dinner time, apologizing for interrupting what she thought would be haute cuisine prep. She didn’t walk in on lemon frittata in the making, or anything even remotely “foodie” in nature. Time to show the flip side of the coin.

Sadly, there was no dinner preparation going on for Diane to interrupt. I was sitting in front of the TV watching Modern Family re-runs, while I snarfed down a couple pieces of pizza leftover from Papa Murphy’s 10 Dollar Tuesdays. (The Hawaiian, with added green peppers, in case you’re wondering.) At least I’d heated up my ‘za and wasn’t downing it cold, like some half-starved college student. But there was not a fork, knife, or spoon in sight. I’m not sure I even had a Brawny paper towel handy for a napkin. And I was drinking my Diet Coke straight from the can, ’cause I was too lazy to bother getting up to grab a glass and fill it with ice. Classy, huh?

So yes, food bloggers eat like real people. Yes, I eat pizza someone else has made. Leftover. Does that make anyone feel better? The glimpse of reality sure made Diane laugh. And I think she felt just a ping of relief, too.

DISCLAIMER: No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.

Guinea Pigs with Houses

IMG_0906Anyone have a kid beg them for a pet, and promise, promise, PROMISE they will take care of it all by themselves? Have them make their own pet guinea pig, and no one has to remember to feed and water, clean a cage, or pick up poop! This project has been a hit with both boys and girls, ages 4-12. The beauty of it is that you can whip it up with the kids in about an hour, or you can hand older kids a pile of construction paper and recycled materials and let their imaginations run wild as they build a little habitat for their hamster. (I can’t decide which rodent this creature resembles more…guinea pig or hamster?)

I came up with this project to help a group of 20 elementary kids aged 5-12 celebrate Earth Day. We had gathered toilet paper and wrapping paper tubes, berry crates, egg cartons, shoe boxes, and anything else we could think of to create an environment for their furry little friends. The guys tended to concentrate on crazy structures, while the girls often decorated the dens with stickers, markers, and glitter glue. But they ALL raved about how much fun they had doing this, and each student left the room with their new pet named and housed.

You can find the supplies to make these at Jo-Ann’s or Michael’s. I could not find pom poms at Walmart this summer when I went hunting for supplies to lead a kid’s project at a family reunion. Jo-Ann’s had variety packs with gray, white, tan, black, and brown pom pom’s in various sizes, which was fairly cheap. Michael’s had the packs sold in color and size groupings, so then you can buy exactly what you need for this. Aleene’s tacky glue is your secret weapon for this project! Do not attempt it with Elmer’s—you need the tacky glue to get fibers to stick together. Save the Elmer’s for back-to-school bags.


1½-inch pom pom (head)
2-inch pom pom (body)
½-inch pom pom (tail)
Mini pom pom (nose)
2 small black pony beads (eyes)
1 sheet pink or tan felt
Aleene’s tacky glue

Shoe box for house, jewelry box for bed, egg cartons for food dishes, construction paper, etc. Use whatever materials—recycled or otherwise—that would make a happy “home” for your new pet!

Cut a disk with little feet sticking out of it from the felt, and 2 tiny triangles for ears. Set aside. Working on a paper plate (to keep glue from your tables and counters), fluff up the 2-inch ball and the 1½-inch ball, and separate each one to get a sort of flat place to glue the two pom poms together. Use about a quarter-size glob of Aleene’s tacky glue, and set on plate to dry. (Convince your charges not to touch this while it dries for 10-15 minutes! Or else you have to keep starting all over again and will have more glue than pom pom, and a big, sticky mess.) Glue on ½-inch ball for tail.

Using toothpick, separate fibers on a head pom pom, back near the neck of the critter, and dip bottom edge of triangle pieces in Aleene’s tacky glue, and place ears in crevasse. (If you fold the triangle in half before placing in pom pom, it will look more like an ear.) Use toothpick to fluff some fur around and into the center of the ear. Use the toothpick again to dig out a spot in the pom pom for the eyes. Pick up a small pony bead with the toothpick and dip in glue. Place eye on pom pom, trying to get eyes towards side of head, as that’s where real guinea pig and hamster eyes are. Add mini nose pom pom with glue. Glue felt feet disk on bottom of 2-inch pom pom, towards head pom pom, but not onto head pom pom. Let critter dry while kids build out house.




Fabulous Fajitas

IMG_1020Fajitas can be quick and easy weekday fare, and are a great way to use any meat you may have leftover from grilling. My husband loves to grill or smoke a pork roast or large pork chops for dinner one night, and then we can use the leftovers to make fajitas or stir fry another time. Grilled beef roast or flanks are also awesome in fajitas. Or sometimes he sears the meat on the grill just for flavor but doesn’t cook it all the way, and then we finish it up on the stove top with the peppers and onions. If you don’t have time or space for grilling, chicken can be sautéed in a pan with the veggies.

I can assure you the recipe I’ve come up with below is easy (Judy easy!) and perfect for a couple or small family. The trick with fajitas, is to cut everything—meat, onions, and peppers—in strips so you can grab the meat and veggies with tongs when loading up your tortillas. And the secret flavor booster is the sesame oil, a wonderfully nutty and earthy addition. It’s found in the Asian food or oil aisle of your grocery store.

Serves 4-6

1 pound pork roast, beef roast (or 8 chicken tenderloins)
2-4 tablespoons soy sauce
Drizzle of olive oil
Garlic salt
1-2 large yellow onions, halved then sliced
2 green peppers, or 1 green and 1 sweet red pepper, sliced in strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds


One recipe Spicy Hummus, or purchased hummus
Crumbled feta cheese

One recipe tortillas, or store-bought tortillas

Put meat in bowl and drizzle with soy sauce. Turn to coat. (Use 4 tablespoons soy sauce for the pork or beef, and 2 tablespoons for the chicken tenderloins.) Grill meat until just pink in center, sprinkling with garlic salt while grilling. Or use chicken if making your whole meal indoors. If using chicken, drizzle olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat on high. Add chicken to pan and sear on each side about 2 minutes, sprinkling with garlic salt while cooking. Remove to plate to cool.

Drizzle olive oil in pan and heat to high. Add onions and saute for 1-2 minutes. Turn down to medium-high heat and continue to cook until onions are translucent. Add peppers and cook until pepper are tender-crisp. Add garlic, stir and cook 1 minute more. Turn heat back up to high. Slice meat into long, thin strips and add to pan. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Stir to combine, and then let ingredients sauté about 1-2 minutes more.

Heat tortillas on hot skillet for a few seconds on each side. Add fajita mixture to tortilla. Add hummus and feta cheese. Roll up and eat!