making do, kitchen edition

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Let’s talk about those days when you don’t have time to hunt down recipes, shop for and prep amazing ingredients, and spend an hour putting a meal on the table. In other words, most of our lives nearly all the … Continue reading

brussels sprouts and bourbon

From my teen years on, I’ve enjoyed veggies of all sorts. As soon as I figured out they could be eaten in almost endless quantities without contributing many calories, I became a big fan. Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower? Bring ’em on. Greens such as kale, chard, spinach? Yes, please. Onions? Eggplant? Bell peppers? Yep, yep, and yep.

As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate the colors and shapes of produce in general. They’re not cookie-cutter foods from a factory; they’re grown and harvested and brought to market. (Speaking of markets, buying produce at farmers’ markets brings on a high that can last for days.) Then there’s the fun-to-cook-with factor. Because veggies taste different roasted than steamed than grilled than sautéed, there are endless ways to keep variety in the mix.

Roasting is my favorite way to cook vegetables as the high temps caramelize and bring out an inherent sweetness. But when washing and trimming Brussels sprouts the other night, I decided to throw caution to the wind and sauté these babies. (I’m one crazy cook, yes?)

why ever not?

why ever not?

Because I genuinely enjoy the flavor of (most) veggies, a spritz of olive oil and sprinkle of coarse salt is as fancy as I usually get. That said, I had an itch to spice things up a bit with these sprouts. My soft spot for all things bourbon coupled with a glance at a nearby bourbon bottle put the figurative light bulb above my head. Bourbon and Brussels sprouts? Why ever not?

A good glug (3 tablespoons or so) went into the cast-iron skillet where the sprouts were cooking in olive oil. The immediate scent of bourbon rose from the pan and I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake. Perhaps these flavors weren’t meant for each other after all? They sure looked good, though: A few minutes later, the bourbon had evaporated and the Brussels sprouts were a rich and bright green, with shades of mahogany borrowed from the bourbon. They were gorgeous.

good for you? goes without saying. but these B sprouts are really really good!

good for you? goes without saying. but these B sprouts are really really good!

Even better, these sprouts were knock-outs in the flavor department. Even my husband, who eats what I cook because he’s a nice guy (but would really rather be eating veggies of the peas and corn variety), gobbled them down, noting that the bourbon actually mellowed the strong sprout flavor. Somehow the in-your-face bourbon and sprout flavors canceled each other out, resulting in an alchemy that was sweeter, softer, and more neutral. Because I hadn’t overcooked the sprouts (this time), the texture was right on–a slight chew, but stopping short of mush. They made a fine veggie side dish and got me thinking that I should try adding bourbon to other vegetables as well.

Cooking up these sprouts was loads of fun. The adult in me got to play with spirits in the kitchen and my inner 16-year-old is delighted that she can eat lots of veggies and still have room for dessert.

roasted guaca-chickpea-licious

A great deal on perfectly ripe avocados (69 cents each!) had me thinking guacamole. Knowing they were at that use-them-now stage of ripeness lent a sense of urgency to this project, but somehow it wasn’t urgent enough as days went by without any guac. A post from Sophie gave me the brilliant idea to combine avocados with chickpeas for a tasty spread. But again–in part because I had neither the smoked paprika nor the alternate suggestion of smoked sea sat on hand–this didn’t get made. (Sorry, Sophie!)

Tonight, though, I knew it was use it or lose it. Those bargain avocados would go to waste (and that’s no bargain) if I didn’t get my guac on. Or maybe my chickpea spread on? Then again, a friend had recently explained how she roasts peppers, onion, and tomatoes for her guac–maybe I should go that route? Things were getting mighty confusing.

So I did what home cooks have long done: I made it up as I went along. First the roasted veggies. I really wanted to try my friend Kathleen’s method of roasting veggies–garlic included–before mixing them into the avocado. I grabbed what I had in the fridge–half a tomato, two small sweet yellow chiles, an already diced and seeded jalapeno, one-fourth of a red onion–and laid it all on a baking stone. Spritzed generously with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt, they roasted at 450°F alongside a foil packet of an oil-rubbed garlic clove.

Before roasting

Meanwhile, I pureed two of the über-ripe avocado along with the half-can chickpeas I had on hand. Also tossed in the mix was another clove of garlic as I wanted its raw bite as well as the roasty sweetness that would come from the roasted clove. Just for kicks I added a few sprigs of leftover parsley along with a generous handful of cilantro leaves and stems. Next up was the juice of two small limes (2ish tablespoons, but just guessing) and a stick blender took care of the rest.

When the roasted veggies were done,

veggies after roasting--don't they smell good?

veggies after roasting–don’t they smell good?

I added them to the avocado-chickpea puree along with another 2 or so tablespoons lime juice and blended them into a smooth of a paste as possible. A fan of chunky guacamole, I rough-chopped the final two avocados and gently stirred/mashed the cubes into the other ingredients along with another 2 or 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro. Lots of freshly cracked pepper and coarse salt followed. A taste test suggested I needed a bit more bite and plenty more heat, so in went two additional cloves minced garlic and a generous pinch (just shy of 1/4 teaspoon?) cayenne.

The resulting mixture was hard to define. Guacamole, maybe, but what were chickpeas doing in there? Certainly not a hummus: the texture was more spread than dip. And the roasted veggies added an earthy sweetness not found in guacamole or hummus. The good news? Definition not required to enjoy this–or any other–dish. A savory and delicious combination of recipes, tips, and tricks, it’s proof that you don’t always have to know where you’re going when you cook.

defying definition, but it tastes so good!

defying definition, but tastes so good!

nothing exciting here, folks–just cauliflower

Fellow readers, I will warn you up front that the following post is quite average. I go on about a (healthy) side dish using a simple “recipe.” No fancy ingredients, no new and exciting cooking methods.

But in full disclosure, this is how I cook for my family. The marshmallows? Lava cakes? Crème fraîche and buttermilk ice creams? These are projects and making them is the equivalent of my playtime.

What happens, though, when lunchtime rolls around? I dig in my refrigerator for salad greens, a carrot, feta or blue cheese, Greek olives, and a vinaigrette and throw together a salad. Suppertime for the fam? I hunt down a protein (pork chops? scrambled eggs? steak? chicken? all contenders); carb–which I try to make a whole grain (brown rice, millet, quinoa, barley, etc) though sweet potatoes work, too; and one or two veggies–frozen or fresh. We dig into one of the aforementioned “projects” for dessert, but mealtime rarely allows the luxury of finding and following a recipe. I use what I have to whip up something that (usually) works.

Last night’s cauliflower side dish is a fine example and its simplicity made it a good candidate for a blog post. We’re running low on veggies, but I did have a nice-looking head of cauliflower in the crisper. My plan was to boil and mash it, just as you would potatoes. Mixed with sour cream or a bit of half-and-half and a handful of dried parsley, mashed cauliflower makes a fun veggie side. But as I cut the cauliflower into florets, roasting seemed a better option.

A quick chop into smallish florets and tossed with just a bit of olive oil, the cauliflower went onto a baking sheet. I gave it a generous sprinkle of cumin seed, smaller sprinkle of curry powder, and dusting of coarse salt. The cauliflower roasted at 425°F for 20 or so minutes, after which I tossed the roasted florets with a touch of chopped fresh basil–as much as for color as flavor.

The side went well with our oven-fried chicken drumsticks and reheated leftover rice pilaf. Gourmet it was not. (And I’ll note that my kids preferred cutting up their own carrot sticks to eating the fragrant and “exotic” curry-scented cauliflower.) But it took little time to pull together, was inexpensive as I’m using what’s already in my kitchen, and it’s as healthy a meal as they come. Maybe someday I’ll have the time (and energy) to pull off more ambitious mealtime menus. But this works well for now and leaves me time and energy for those playtime projects I love so much.

roasted curry cauliflower

roasted curry cauliflower

summer (and veggies) in a bowl

I’m a huge fan of the local paper’s food section. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has won awards for its weekly Taste section and I rely on it for updates on the local food scene as well as the occasional recipe I want to try. Even when out of town, I ask friends or family to pick me up a copy of the Thursday Taste as I’m obsessive enough that I don’t want to miss an issue. (Yes,  I could get it all online as well; but, it’s just not the same. I like my hard copy reads.)

With a counter-top full of garden tomatoes (some ours, some gifts from friends), a gazpacho recipe found in a recent Taste was a must-make. Besides the tomatoes, the recipe also contained garlic (which I doubled), onion (though I used red instead of sweet), bell pepper, and cucumber–all veggies I had on hand. The soup was pureed, which also appealed as I love to use my immersion blender. The article, by food writer Meredith Deeds, hailed the recipe as one she uses to convince her kids to eat veggies. I was not so successful as neither girl (ages 10 and 6) had any interest in eating pureed tomatoes, even after their obligatory taste. And while my husband had a bowl, he wasn’t a big fan.

But I loved it. A quick garnish of a small pile of chilled smoked salmon and a sprinkle of roasted kale nudged my bowl of red into the “this is heaven” category. With all of the raw veggies in my bowl (as well as a touch of olive oil, which make the antioxidants in the tomatoes more easily absorbed), it couldn’t be any more good-for-you. I hope to eventually get my family on board as well, but even if no, I’ll continue to make this gorgeous soup whenever I have an abundance of fresh summer veggies. It’s a keeper.

lovely gazpacho topped with smoked salmon and served alongside roasted summer veggies

Lovely Summer Gazpacho

Adapted from a recipe by Meredith Deeds, veteran cookbook author who co-wrote 300 Sensational Soups.

  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces smoked salmon, flaked

In large bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic, vinegar and oil. Puree with immersion blender. (Or combine and puree in traditional blender.)  Refrigerate, covered, until chilled. Season with salt and pepper. Divide evenly among serving bowls. Top each serving with salmon. Makes 4 servings.

one zucchini, two directions

We’ve never been able to grow zucchini, which is ironic as zukes are vegetables that grow in abundance. I’m sure there’s some sort of soil fix we could do, but I’m just as happy to receive zucchini from family and friends or buy it at the farmers’ market. My mother-in-law recently handed over a monster zuke. While I love to slice and roast or chop and sauté, these preps are best suited for the younger, sweeter, more tender zucchini. The zucchini giants of this world are best shredded and used in baking or pancakes. Which meant I had some shredding to do.

shredded zucchini–so pretty with the green flecks

My food processor made quick work of it and I soon had eight cups shredded zucchini. I wanted to use as much of it fresh as possible (though frozen shredded zucchini is fine for baked goods) and zucchini bread seemed the obvious choice. My hunt turned up a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread (thanks, Mac!) that looked simple enough, so I baked up a batch. Short on granulated sugar, I made up the 1/2 cup difference with muscovado sugar, a deeper, darker, richer brown sugar. I wanted to stir in something yummy and though mini chocolate chips were tempting, I reached instead for cacao nibs thinking they’d add a hint of darkness to an otherwise sweet bread. I enjoyed the final zucchini bread very much, even more so with a light topping of crème fraîche.

chocolate zucchini bread with cacao nibs

Two cups shredded zucchini down, six to go. We needed a veggie side for supper and I remembered a simple gratin recipe I’d once enjoyed from a local paper. Having lost the clipped recipe, I guessed on amounts and came up with a pretty, savory, and flavorful side dish.

gratin before baking

gratin after baking

gratin after serving

The final two cups shredded zucchini are in the refrigerator and I’ll throw part of it in a scramble or omelet for breakfast tomorrow. The rest? Who knows? It’s true what they say about zucchini, even if you don’t grow it yourself: It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans.

In bowl, mix flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. In separate bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just to mix. Add zucchini and cacao nibs; mix gently. Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake 1 hour or until knife inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Zucchini Gratin


  • 4 cups shredded zucchini, pressed to dry
  • 1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt, to taste


  • 2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Heat oven to 425°F. Coat pie plate with cooking spray.

In bowl, stir together gratin ingredients. Spread into pie plate. In small bowl, stir together topping ingredients. Sprinkle over gratin. Bake 20 minutes or until topping is browned. Makes 8 servings.

sweet and skinny fries

There’s something sexy about sweet potato fries. They have more flavor than their white brethren and they’re more colorful, too. I also love that they’re more nutritious than traditional French fries. (loads more vitamin A and a bit more fiber)

A stint as home economist at a neighborhood grocery store introduced me to Alexia Sweet Potato Julienne Fries–one of the store’s most popular items. Sweet potato fries can also be amazing when done right at a restaurant (i.e. not soggy or too thick). But they’re so easy to make that it’s a shame not to toss up a batch at home.

A recent purchase of beautiful baby sweet potatoes from Trader Joe’s meant it was time to do just that. I cut the potatoes into small strips and didn’t peel. (I never peel–too much work.) The potatoes were tossed with just enough olive oil to coat and a touch of salt, then roasted in a 425°F oven until soft and tender. The full coating of oil ensured crispy outsides and the high heat meant pillow-soft insides. And the skinny cut helped them cook up in only about 20 minutes. Perfect–tasty and simple. A sexy way to eat well.

homespun sweet potato fries

how to eat garden lettuce

We’re visiting my in-laws again and, just like last time, my mother-in-law cooked up an amazing meal. Grilled pork chops, cooked carrots and broccoli, garden lettuce, baked potatoes, and strawberry shortcake. Yum yum yum.

For me, the best part was the lettuce. (Not saying I didn’t go back for seconds on that strawberry shortcake and lick my plate clean both times.) Freshly picked garden lettuce is pretty, full of good-for-you nutrients, and tasty. But what I like most about it is that it brings me back to childhood.

We didn’t have a huge garden when I was young, but come summertime, there was always plenty of tomatoes, zucchini, and lettuce. I wanted nothing to do with the zucchini, but my mom taught me a way to eat the tomatoes and lettuce that very much appealed–sprinkled with sugar. I’ve since seen many folks sprinkle sugar over sliced tomatoes, but I don’t see much sugar-topped lettuce. Which is a shame. The slight bitterness in baby lettuce leaves pairs well with a (very) light coating of sugar. Rolled up, the lettuce makes fun finger food. And the sugar’s graininess provides texture contrast to the soft, tender lettuce leaves.

If you have freshly picked garden lettuce or young lettuce from a farmers’ market, give this a try. Then share the “recipe” with the children in your life. When they one day have gardens of their own, they’ll have fond memories of how you first taught them to enjoy garden greens.

garden fresh lettuce–it glistens!

spoonful of sugar and all rolled up

tofu on the table

Before kids, I ate an über-healthy diet. No meat, lots of veggies, regular intake of fatty fish, legumes, and whole grains. I still had the sweet tooth I do now, but figured that my overall low-calorie and nutrient-rich diet more than balanced any high-fat, high-sugar indiscretions.

Then came kids. Pregnancy threw my body for a loop as I was completely turned off all vegetables. Bizarre. I also developed ravenous protein cravings and anything whole-grain had WAY too much flavor. Having food issues when pregnant isn’t uncommon and it’s temporary, but each pregnancy still threw off my healthy-eating groove and it takes work to go back. I’m glad to love fresh produce and whole grains again, but returning to occasional meatless meals has yet to happen.

Which is why tonight’s supper was so much fun. I bought tofu a week or so ago, thinking it would be good to cook with again. I found a recipe in my collection I had clipped from an old Vegetarian Times and set about to make Barbecued Tofu. I was trying to use up an overabundance of zucchini, summer squash, and bell peppers, so subbed those in for the veggies called for in the recipe. I made a few other tweaks and this is what I came up with.

barbecued tofu and sweet brown rice

The flavors were good, though a homemade barbecue sauce would have made it even tastier. My husband dutifully ate a serving, though his preference would have been something more meat-and-potatoes. And while I would love to report that my girls gobbled it down, they weren’t thrilled with tonight’s meal.

It’s on me to finish the leftovers (of which there are plenty–this recipe makes a lot), but I don’t mind as this dish is versatile. It’ll be tasty stuffed into pitas, wrapped in tortillas, tossed with pasta, or served over mixed greens. But tonight, alongside brown rice, it made a warm, comforting, and über-healthy meal.

Barbecued Tofu

  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package firm tofu
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 each red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 each zucchini and yellow summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F. Coat large baking sheet lightly with olive oil.

Drain tofu; pat dry on clean kitchen towel. Cut tofu into bite-size pieces.

On baking sheet, toss together vegetables. Drizzle with some of barbecue sauce. Toss to coat, adding sauce as needed. Add tofu to baking sheet; drizzle with sauce as needed. Roast, stirring gently once or twice, 20 minutes or until vegetables are desired doneness. Season with salt and black pepper. Makes 8 servings.

chow mein circa 1980s

I’m sure there are other children of the ’80s who have this memory: A hole-in-the-wall (no sit-down dining, only take-out) Chinese restaurant where my parents occasionally picked up an order of chow mein and rice for supper. We transferred the food from its white take-out containers to our dinner plates and I remember thinking it was fun eating directly from take-out containers. Such rebellion. Our spot was named Wong’s and of course it’s long gone.

Even without Wong’s and spots like it, Asian food is easier to find now more than ever and its scope is so much broader (stir-fries, spring rolls, noodle dishes, rice bowls, pho, and then some). But back in the day, in suburban middle America at least, chow mein was plenty ethnic and exotic.

Because I enjoyed that chow mein as a child, it’s still something I seek out. I love the fall-apart-in-your-mouth celery, the savory chunks of meat, the tiny flecks of onion, and, most of all, the thickened and savory gravy that binds it all together. Served on a pile of steamy rice, it’s comfort food that brings me back.

I’ve never found a chow mein recipe that creates what I remember this dish to be, so I tend to make it up as I go along when the craving hits. Chow mein was on tonight’s menu as it seemed a good vehicle for the leftover chicken in our fridge. I managed to get proportions right (doesn’t always happen) and was pleased with the final dish. It’s a healthier version of the chow mein of my childhood as it’s loaded with veggies, leaving meat as accent. I also tossed in baby corn as it was in my pantry and I’m a huge Chinese 5-spice fan so had to use it. It’s not exotic and it’s not fancy. But it is hearty, healthy, and full of flavor. And for me, it’s comfort.

chow mein cooked up in cast-iron

on the plate

Chicken Chow Mein

Amounts for all ingredients are approximate.

  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 4 cups chopped celery
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chopped baby corn, drained (sliced water chestnuts would also work well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated gingerroot
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • 1/4 cup stir-fry sauce (I used a tasty black stir-fry sauce which is bottled and sold by a local chef)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed into 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • Sliced almonds
  • Soy sauce

In large skillet, heat oil over medium (or so) heat. Add onion and garlic; stir-fry 3 minutes or until fragrant and onion starts to soften, adding stock as needed to keep pan from drying out.  Add celery, baby corn, gingerroot, and 5-spice. Stir-fry 5 minutes, continuing to add stock as needed, until celery starts to soften. Stir in stir-fry sauce; cook until vegetables are coated and celery is tender. Add cornstarch slurry; cook, stirring frequently, until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Serve sprinkled with almonds. Season with soy sauce as desired. Makes 4 servings.

cauliflower mashup

As a teen, it occurred to me that I enjoyed food very much. I also realized that eating large amounts of food would lead to weight gain–exactly what a teenage girl wants to avoid. Thus began my love affair with vegetables. I found I could eat lots and lots and lots of veggies and still stay thin. The fact that carrots and broccoli don’t really have the same appeal as ice cream and cake didn’t seem to bother me. I ate veggies with gusto. (Admittedly, I also enjoyed and still enjoy my share of ice cream and cake. It’s all about balance, right?)

To this day, I love to cook with and eat vegetables. Green bell peppers fell off my “like” list after my first pregnancy, but other than that, there’s no vegetable I don’t enjoy.

Enter today’s “recipe.” Cauliflower, a cruciferous veg related to broccoli and cabbage, is beautiful, savory, and delicious whether steamed, roasted, or stir-fried. But it’s also fun to mash. Just steam the florets until tender (in water or broth), then mash along with a touch of sour cream, yogurt, or half-and-half for a silky smooth “puree.” I added a small amount of cooked broccoli left over from the night before to this batch, then whirred it with an immersion blender. The final dish had pretty green flecks throughout. A touch of butter stirred in at the end gives it a hint of salty richness. Or stir in freshly shredded Parmesan. My kids will even eat it.

lovely cauliflower

a pretty little mash

A note about cauliflower prep: Never one to waste food, I’ve found you can also eat cauliflower stems. (This goes for broccoli as well.) After cutting off the florets, use a small knife to trim the tough outer layer of the stem. You end up with the tender, inner core which is just as edible as the florets.

all broken up – see the stems?

bowl of red part deux

Spring is here–yay! Fresh seasonal produce has started appearing in the store–slowly at first, but the collection will grow as we move forward into summer and then fall. For now, I’m more than content with the beautifully young and tender bunches of asparagus, bright red and juicy strawberries, and fragrant bunches of slender green onions that fill produce bins.

Asparagus gets me especially excited as it truly is seasonal. Green onions are sold year-round, should they be needed for topping tacos, chili, and the like. But asparagus is something I’ll only buy from late-March to maybe mid-June. It is sold at other times, but only because it is shipped in from far far away and at $6ish a pound, wouldn’t be worth it. I’ll enjoy my asparagus now. Check out this gorgeous bunch.

pencil-thin asparagus!

The success of the other day’s pureed bell pepper soup inspired me to take things a step further and do something similar with asparagus. Instead of making a proper soup, I simmered the asparagus (after trimming, washing, and breaking into smaller pieces) in a small amount of water until the asparagus was bright green. I then added about 1 1/2 cups water and heated through. The immersion blender worked it into a smooth puree, after which I stirred in a spoonful or two of low-fat sour cream. My daughter had just brought in a handful of chives from our front porch (another sure sign of spring), so I snipped a few of those into the “soup,” then seasoned with salt and thinned it with a bit more water.

The next step was to spoon the beautiful green puree into soup bowls. On top and on only one side went a ladleful of the reheated bowl of red. The pretty green/red contrast would have looked lovely at a Christmas meal, but asparagus and red bells are spring and summer veggies (at least they are here in Minnesota), so that won’t happen here. But my husband and I enjoyed this soup-on-a-soup for last night’s meal alongside leftover shredded roast pork and baked sweet potato chips.

The final bowl was pretty for sure, but it also made for a nice flavor combination. The red bell pepper soup had a strong and savory flavor while the pureed asparagus–salt and a hint of chives the only seasoning–was content to be in the background adding a lightly sweet note. As well, I had been a bit overzealous in pureeing and brought the asparagus to a froth–lots of air bubbles made for a lighter flavor and texture.

Can’t say that my kids ate the soup (though they each tried a spoonful), but the adults at the table spooned up our veggies with gusto. It was a fun and easy way to make something simple look elegant. You could combine any number of “creamy” vegetable soups and purees to come up with different color and flavor combos. Creamy potato and broccoli soups, carrot and tomato. Or do dessert and puree chilled fruit soups in contrasting colors–spoon a chilled honeydew soup alongside a cantaloupe soup for a Chilled Melon Mix-Up. If you enjoy shopping produce aisles and farmers’ markets, think pureed soups next time you shop for seasonal fruits and veggies.

pureed asparagus and bell pepper soups

dumplings, brownies, and bundt cake

We set out for my in-laws today and arrived just in time for supper. My mother-in-law (m-i-l), a retired home-ec teacher, is a whiz in the kitchen. We were served one of my husband’s favorite meals–potato dumplings. A nod to my in-laws’ Norwegian heritage, potato dumplings consist of a chunk of ham surrounded with a thick coating of flour and potato. The coating is shaped into a ball around the ham and the dumpling is then simmered in beef broth to cook through. The final dumpling is fluffy, though densely packed, and 3ish inches in diameter. One makes a meal. Seasoned with salt and pepper (and dipped in ketchup when on my plate), potato dumplings aren’t bad. But I’ll never be as fond of them as is my husband. I learned to make them once, as a new bride, but made my first batch when pregnant with my oldest. “Morning” sickness struck that night and I never again made a batch of potato dumplings. My very kind m-i-l knows this story and is good enough to make me a baked potato and slice or two of ham when she serves potato dumplings.

Tonight, the dumplings shared the table with old-school farm food: homemade oatmeal bread, tossed green salad, and cooked broccoli and carrots. We enjoyed a wonderful meal. The kicker, though, was dessert. My m-i-l brought out a pan of brownies, an entire Bundt cake, and scoops of ice cream. All for our family of four. We were thrilled with the home-baked goodies (though she confessed the cake came from a box) as well as with the extravagance and heartiness of the meal. We were welcomed with feasting. What more could you ask for? (Though tomorrow I’m going to need to walk this meal off.)

Potato Dumplings

  • Beef bouillon
  • 4 cups grated peeled potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 (1- to 1 1/2-inch) chunks lean ham

Bring stockpot two-thirds full of bouillon to a boil.

Meanwhile, in bowl, stir together potatoes, all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda, and salt until just combined. With damp hands, mound fistful of potato mixture around each chunk ham to make 8 dumplings.

Drop dumplings into simmering broth; simmer partially covered 30 to 45 minutes or until cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon to serve. Makes 8 dumplings.

the Potato Dumpling, veggies, and homemade oatmeal bread

brownies–a chocolate bonanza

vanilla Bundt cake