Savory Tomato Bisque Soup

FullSizeRenderGrilled cheese and tomato soup lovers will welcome this tomato bisque recipe—it’s leaps and bounds above a can of Campbell’s. I got this flavorful recipe from a restaurant in Stillwater, Minnesota called “Savories,” a delightful little place that has since closed. The soup recipe was requested by a reader of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and it was my job to get it for her. The owners were happy to share the recipe, as it was a wildly popular item, but said in a very world-weary voice, “Please tell your readers to try one of our other 200 soups that rotate on the menu now and then…” I’m glad they were in a sharing mood, because every time I’ve served this soup, it’s been a smash hit with the soup slurpers at our table. I guess it’s become MY most requested recipe, too!

Lately, I’ve been making it with half and half instead of the suggested heavy cream—but you decide how much fat you want in your soup. (Using a stick and a half of butter right off the bat, I think the fat-for-flavor category is covered…) I’ve also added in tomato paste to give it more tomatoey goodness. So what’s the perfect partner for this creamy soup? We like to make grilled cheese panini sandwiches with a stiff sourdough or rye bread, pile on deli ham or turkey, some spinach leaves, and add sharp Cheddar and Colby cheeses to the other fixings. To borrow Campbell’s slogan, Mmmmm, mmmmm, good.

Makes 12-15 servings*

Ease rating: medium (compared to opening a can of Campbell’s cream of tomato)

1½ cup chopped yellow onion
¾ cup butter
2 teaspoons dill seed
2-3 teaspoons dill weed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 cup flour
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, if you want to go vegetarian)
4 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 can tomato paste**
½ cup honey
2-3 cups half & half (or 2 cups heavy cream)

Sauté onions in butter until they are translucent. Add dill seed, dill weed, oregano, parsley, and salt, and cook over low heat to toast herbs. Sprinkle flour over onion mixture and stir until all flour is absorbed. Then continue to cook the flour mixture for 1-2 more minutes. Add chicken (or vegetable) stock, whisking while adding in liquid to avoid lumps. Add canned tomatoes, juice and all, and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Bring soup to a boil to allow to thicken. Just before serving, stir in honey and cream.

*NOTE:  As this recipe makes a gallon of soup, you could make it, stopping short of adding in the honey and cream, and freeze half of the tomato soup mixture. Then add in ¼ cup honey, and 1 cup cream, and enjoy a smaller batch now, and another batch later!

**If you don’t want to add the tomato paste, skip it, but reduce the honey to 1/3 cup.

Chicken Enchiladas

FullSizeRender-1Fresh cilantro and parsley take these easy enchiladas up a notch in flavor, so much so, that no one will know the main ingredients are store-bought salsa and tortillas. They’re a great make-ahead meal you can refrigerate, then pop in the oven for a simple weeknight dinner. Or dress them up with a side of fresh guacamole and corn chips, plus a green salad, and you’ve got a company meal that wasn’t a ton of work. I got this recipe years ago from a friend who said it came from a low-cal cookbook, but I’ve always used real cheese (not the recommended reduced-fat stuff), and upped the cheese amounts, so I make no claim that this is still a diet dinner.

FullSizeRender-2IMG_1055Make it even easier by grabbing a already-roasted rotisserie chicken, or grill your own chicken breasts or tenderloins for the meat. If neither of those options work for you, fry up your chicken in a pan. Fresh herbs too pricey? You can use dried herbs, but you’ll take a bit of a hit in end-product taste. Fortunately, the lime and garlic will still bring the zip to the recipe, so you’re safe. A blender or food processor is your secret weapon, making short work of the salsa sauce that is the base of this dish.

Not only is this a quick family dinner, it’s a perfect recipe to have in your arsenal for bringing to friends who need a meal post-baby or due to family crisis. Kids will eat it cause the “green stuff” is pulverized into the sauce and won’t offend their picky little eyeballs, and adults love it because it’s not lasagna or spaghetti, the usual drop-off meals. I’ve not yet tried it using corn tortillas instead of flour, but I’m thinking that would sub in nicely for a gluten-free alternative.

2 cups mild salsa (Pace thick and chunky salsa or picante is just fine!)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried cilantro)
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime zest
½-1 clove garlic, quartered
4 cooked chicken breasts, cubed, or 8 cooked chicken tenderloins, cubed, or 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1 cup shredded mozzarella or monterey jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

8 flour tortillas or 12 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine salsa, cilantro, parsley, lime juice and zest, and garlic in blender or food processor, and pulse until sauce is smooth. Mix half of salsa sauce with cut-up, cooked chicken, ½ cup mozzarella, and ½ cup cheddar cheeses in large bowl, and toss to combine. Place about ¼ cup of meat mixture down center of tortilla, roll up, and place seam side down in a 9″x13″ baking dish. Continue with remaining tortillas. Pour remaining salsa mixture over the tortillas in pan, and top with remaining grated cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes uncovered. (Can also cover with foil and refrigerate for 1-2 days before baking.)

Carrot Cake Cookies

FullSizeRenderI love carrot cake, but it seems like a special-occasion dessert, not a make-any-old-day deal. So when I ran across this recipe for carrot cake cookies that promised the same moist deliciousness without the cake fuss, I thought I’d give them a spin in the old KitchenAid. The recipe from the December 2014 issue of Real Simple said it made only 16 cookies, which is a snack for two at our house, so I doubled it. But then I ended up with 32 frosted cookies, which can’t be stacked in a container. So I brought them to my friend (and fellow blogger) Kathy’s house when she invited us for dinner, asking them to consume a few so I didn’t have to get creative with storage. No hardship on their part! We were barely home before she was texting to ask for the recipe, saying her husband was craving more of the tasty muffin-like morsels. Since you may have similar trouble with storage, the recipe here is for a single batch. Oh, and I added cloves to the spices, and used more confectioners sugar in the frosting than there was in the Real Simple version. They had also suggested these be made as sandwich cookies—two cookies with frosting between thembut my taste-testers decided that wasn’t nearly enough frosting-to-cookie ratio. And you gotta give the people what they want! And they want these perfect autumn spice cookies.

Makes 16 cookies

Ease rating: medium

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1-2 large eggs (1 makes them more cookie-like in texture, 2 makes them more cake-like. If doubling recipe, 3 eggs is perfect amount.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups coarsely grated carrots (2-3 medium)
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup raisins


8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk—whatever is needed to get frosting to spreading consistency

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves in a mixing bowl. Set aside. In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high. Add sugar and cream again until light and fluffy. Beat in egg (or eggs—one at a time if using two), then vanilla. Scrape down bowl occasionally. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add in flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in the carrots, pecans, and raisins. Cover and chill for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Drop 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, 12 per sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown around edges. Let cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting: Whip cream cheese in mixing bowl. Slowly add confectioners sugar until it’s all incorporated. Add vanilla, and milk, if necessary, to get frosting to spreading consistency. (You do not want this too runny, as this is not intended to be icing.) Frost cooled cookies. Store frosted cookies in airtight container. As this frosting recipe will frost a double batch of cookies, store any remaining frosting in frig for next time you make these cookies.

Three-Bean Turkey Chili Con Carne

FullSizeRender-1It’s safe to say soup season is officially upon us, and this staple chili recipe is perfect for a filling lunch or a hearty dinner when the weather turns nippy. This is such a fave, that frankly, I’m surprised I’ve not posted it yet! Although, I need to give a disclaimer here. It used to be a family favorite for for everyone in our household, but when I first went back to working full-time a dozen years ago, I was hard-pressed to come up with recipes to throw on the table in a hurry after 5 p.m. I had previously been freelancing from home, and could putz in the kitchen between projects. That luxury was lost when I had to be elsewhere from 8-5. Sooooooo… I would whip up a batch of this chili in the evening or weekends to have on hand for dinner. But apparently, I relied on this a little too much, and my sons started groaning, “Chili, AGAIN???”

We took a much-needed break from chili, and I found other recipes I could make in a snap when we needed to eat and run to guitar lessons or hockey practice, etc. (Many of those fast favorites have been posted on this blog.) Were my offspring a little harsh on me regarding this dutiful recipe? I think so. Especially when my son Brandon made this for a church youth group chili cook-off fundraiser, and won the coveted first prize trophy—an ancient can of beans glued to a block of wood bearing a “First Prize” plaque. (Helped that he’s stinkin’ cute and there were lots of teen girls voting…) Who’s dissing my chili NOW, huh?

The original recipe came from my Mom’s friend Arlene, one of those women who always makes great food. I believe she got the recipe from the St. Paul Pioneer Press sometime in the 70’s, but I’m not sure. (Feel free to comment, Arlene!) I’ve altered to suit our changing tastes, and now use turkey instead of hamburger, and have added black beans (unheard of among suburbanites in the 70’s), butter beans, more vegetables, and some additional seasonings. Serve this with the Corn Bread recipe previously posted, and you’ve got a winning combination. Maybe even first place.

Serves 10-12 (But freezes well, if that’s more than you need!)

Rating: Easy

1-1¼ pounds ground turkey (or hamburger)
1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped (optional)
3 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 (14.5 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans with cumin and chili spices (do NOT drain)
2 cans corn
1 (15 ounce) can dark red kidney beans
1 (15-16 ounce) can butter beans
1-1½ tablespoons regular chili powder
1 tablespoon chili con carne seasoning (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½-2 teaspoons salt


Grated sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped scallions
Sour cream

In large fry pan, cook turkey until no pink remains. Put into large Dutch oven, or other large pot in which you will be simmering your chili. Using same fry pan, sauté onion for 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper, carrots, and zucchini (if using). Sauté until onions are translucent, and other vegetables are slightly softened.

Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and black beans to pot with cooked turkey. Stir in sautéed onion mixture. In colander, rinse and drain corn, kidney beans, and butter beans. Once drained, add to pot. Stir in chili powder, chili con carne seasoning (if using), cumin, and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to simmer, and cook on low for 30-60 minutes. Serve with toppings. Or store in frig to serve later.

Lime Bars

IMG_1078Feeling citrusy? Try these refreshingly zippy lime bars for a break from all the pumpkin-flavored offerings that take over the world in the fall. These are the same recipe as the lemon bars you’ve all tasted before (they often appear at potlucks or post-funeral lunches), just subbing in lime for the lemon in the same amounts. I won’t give credit to any one source, because it would be easier to tell you who doesn’t post this recipe on their blog or have it printed in their cookbook—that’s how popular it is. I did see one source that suggested the yield was 72 bars. Maybe if you’re feeding mice, you could cut them that small. But not on my watch, no sir! I like my sweets substantial. If your teeth don’t ache from the size of the bar and the concentration of sugar, I’ll hang up my apron for good.

Makes 18-24 bars

Rating: Easy

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners sugar
1 cup butter, cold
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
13  cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
Additional confectioners sugar for topping

Preheat oven to350° Fahrenheit. Combine flour and sugar; cut in butter. Press crust into 13″x9″ pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat eggs on high with whisk attachment until pale yellow. Gradually add sugar, salt, lime juice, and lime zest. Continue beating on high. Pour over hot crust.

Bake another 20-25 minutes until golden brown. May need to cover with foil to avoid over-browning towards end. Dust with confectioners sugar. Cool and cut into bars.

Paper Bag Leaves

IMG_1070Here’s a way to use up extra paper grocery bags AND decorate for fall at the same time. This might even be considered “up-cycling”—the new trend in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” movement. How hip is that? Since most of us have cupboards or closets brimming over with used paper bags, you’ve got most of the supplies you need for this craft already! You might need to pop out to Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s for the paint and brushes, and maybe for some Aleene’s tacky glue or a hot glue gun as well. But these supplies are pretty cheap, so this isn’t a break-the-bank project, even if you didn’t have everything on hand already. Here’s the supply list:

  • Craft paper bags, preferably with twisted raffia handles
  • Twisted raffia cord in natural, if your bags don’t have raffia handles*
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Sponge paint brush
  • 2-ounce bottles of metallic acrylic craft paint (in fall colors)
  • Fall leaves to trace—maple, oak, birch, aspen
  • Hot glue gun or Aleene’s tacky glue (not pictured)



First step: Take a walk and look for good leaves to use as your patterns. If you want to use these as a grouping on your table, mantle, or whatever surface needs a touch of fall whimsy, try grabbing leaves from a variety of trees. Heck, you could even offer to rake your neighbor’s yard to find some choice specimens!

Once you have your leaves in hand, you’re ready to begin. Cut the paper bag down one side, and cut off bottom. Discard bottom of bag, as the folds and double-thickness make it not usable for this project. (If you think of another use for the bottoms of the bags, please let me know! If I think of a project using bag-bottoms, I’ll be sure to let YOU know.)

IMG_1101Remove handles from bag. (I’ve got a Chipotle bag pictured here, but a lot of places use bags with the twisted raffia cord handles. I suppose this would work with white bags as well as the brown. Would need more paint to cover, probably…) Cut each handle into 4 pieces, for a total of 8. If you’re using purchased twisted raffia, cut pieces 3-4 inches long for leaf stems. (*NOTE: I could not find the twisted raffia cord at Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, or Walmart, places where I’ve found it in the past. But I did find it online at Set aside.


Trace leaf shapes onto printed side of bag with a pencil. Trace as many as you want! The bag pictured here would yield you about 8 leaves, perfect for the number of leaf stems you get from cutting up the handles. Making a bunch at a time is easy, and then you’ll have more to work with when decorating later on.



Next, tear out the leaves along the pencil line. This works best if you use both hands, and keep your thumbs and index fingers tight to the pencil line—that way you will be able to control the tear best, and keep your leaf shape in tact. The leaves look the most natural if you squiggle as you tear. So don’t aim for perfection.


Glue your stem to the printed side of the leaf, which will be the back side. If you use a hot glue gun to adhere, you can continue on with the project right away, perfect for the impatient crafter. If you use Aleene’s tacky glue, let stems dry for 30-60 minutes before continuing. Aleene’s tacky glue is MUCH preferred over Elmer’s school glue, which takes forever to dry, and makes paper soggy.

FullSizeRender-2Here comes the fun part. Fold your leaf along where the main veins of a leaf would be, and then crumple it. Doesn’t that make it look like a real leaf? Well, you’re getting there. Some paint will help…




Paint front side of leaf with metallic acrylic craft paint, let dry a bit, and then flip and paint back side and stem. Once dry, flip and give front a second coat, if needed. I’m using purple paint in this tutorial so it shows up against the craft paper, but for my leaf grouping, I used gold, bronze, copper, rust, burgundy, and dark green. (See final picture.)


Once, your leaves are dry, you will need to crease at veins and crumple again.

Place all your leaves in a grouping in your fall display, and enjoy! And when it’s time to put these away and pull out the Christmas decorations, throw these in a Ziplock bag or a box, and they will be ready for service next fall. I’ve had the leaves you see (pictured last) for about 15 years now. I came up with this project when we needed a cheap fall craft for kids ages 6-12 at my kid’s school one year, and it was a hit. But there’s no reason to let the elementary crowd have all the fun! Make your own batch and enjoy fall colors indefinitely.

Black Bean Brownies

IMG_1093If it wasn’t in the title, you wouldn’t believe the secret ingredient in these moist and chocolatey gluten-free brownies was a can of black beans! I found this recipe on, and it  had been raved about by many-a reader. I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet, and have been going crazy for some baked goods, preferably something that didn’t taste like ground chalk had been used in lieu of flour. (Those of you who’ve had to avoid gluten for a while know what I’m talking about…) This looked intriguing, and as it only makes a 9″x9″ pan, I figured I didn’t have much to loose if they were nasty. But surprise, surprise! They weren’t a waste of ingredients or time—they went together in just minutes, and tasted pretty good.

IMG_1080The first time I made these, I added both a teaspoon of baking soda and baking powder to the mix, as other reviewers suggested it would make them more cake-like. That was too much leavening, and they tasted metallic. (They also sunk in the middle, another sign of too much soda or powder.) I dusted them with powdered sugar instead of frosting them, and as my co-worker Darin said, they looked so rich and dark, you expected a little more chocolate taste than you got. (Darin is SUCH a whiner… Not!) So the next time I made them, I frosted them with half a recipe of buttercream frosting (from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container), and that gave me the rich chocolate flavor I was lusting after. Using only 1 teaspoon baking soda worked better, too. The next time I make them, I think I’ll try them without any soda, and see if they come out fudgey, or just gooey. 

Note that you will need a blender or food processor to have success with this batter, and you’ll want to puree until no grains of bean remain before baking. Other than that, this recipe is a piece of cake! Or more accurately, a chunk of brownie. 

1 (15½ ounce) can black beans (rinsed and drained)
3 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar

Buttercream frosting

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until completely pureed. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake pan or baking dish. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting or cutting.

For frosting, cream butter in medium mixing bowl, using wire whisk attachment for mixer. In separate medium-size bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa. Add about half of sugar and cocoa to creamed butter, then drizzle some milk into bowl and stir. Add the rest of sugar/cocoa, and the vanilla, and as much milk as needed to make frosting a good spreading consistency. Frost cooled brownies. Lick bowl, spatula, beaters, etc. Wipe face to remove evidence.

Cheesy Corn Chowder

FullSizeRenderMade from kitchen staples and some common vegetables, this soup goes together quick, and goes down the hatch even quicker. My son Mitchell says this is hands-down his favorite cold weather soup, and he’ll eat it for lunch every day until the whole batch is gone. Where did I find this winner of a recipe? I ripped a page out of a Woman’s Day magazine back in 1999 (hopefully it was my mag and not my dentist’s), and have been making it a dozen times a year ever since. It was listed as a budget-buster, and rang up at $1.08 per serving. Keep in mind, that was in ’99, but even with inflation or cost of living increase (or whatever means things costs more than they used to), you’ve still got a very affordable lunch or light supper. I like this recipe because it’s thick and creamy, and you get the results of a roux, without the trouble of making one. This is especially great paired with a toasted ham or turkey sandwich. OK, now I’m just making myself hungry…

3-4 strips bacon or 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cups chicken broth (from can or make with 2 bouillon cubes), or fresh chicken stock*
3 cups cubed potatoes, leaving skin on
1 cup diced carrots, peeling carrots first
1-2 cans (15 ounces) corn, drained (we like it extra corn-y, so I make it with 2 cans)
1 box (10 ounces) frozen, or 2 cups fresh chopped kale, optional
4 cups milk
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend (found at Costco)*
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Optional Garnish

1/4 cup sliced scallions

Fry bacon in Dutch oven until crispy. Drain on paper towels, then crumble and reserve for topping soup later. Drain all but 2-3 teaspoons bacon fat from pot. (If not using bacon, melt butter in bottom of Dutch oven and continue following directions.) Add onions to pot and sauté until tender. Add the chicken broth or stock, and potatoes, carrots, and kale (if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add corn to pot.

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, flour, and salt until blended and smooth. Add to pot and return mixture to a boil. Reduce to medium, and gently boil and stir until mixture is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add shredded cheddar and turn to low. Stir until cheese is melted. Serve with crumbled bacon, and scallions, if desired.

*NOTE: The last time I made this, I used the gluten-free flour blend and it worked perfectly. So while it’s not dairy-free, it can be gluten-free! If you want to skip the bacon and use vegetable stock instead of chicken, you’ve got yourself a vegetarian soup, too. But who wants to skip the bacon, for Pete’s sake?