Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup

A number of years ago my mother-in-law Ginny, who is a wonderful cook, gave me a copy of a soup recipe clipped from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The name of the soup was missing from the clipping, and on it, Ginny had written “Mushroom Soup.” With her recommendation, I knew it would be good.

A simple soup with uncomplicated ingredients, it surprises you with nuanced flavors and way above run-of-the-mill deliciousness. Each time I’m a bit taken aback by such great results from something this quick and easy—a perfect example of a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts!

As we’ve been teased with a tinge of fall weather, I decided it was time to share a good soup recipe. After a quick google search for the actual name and origin, I found it was featured in the Pioneer Press in 2011 and is called Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup. Apparently there was a popular downtown Minneapolis skyway restaurant back in the day called Café Metro and this came from their cookbook. With the large amount of paprika, no wonder it’s got Hungarian in the name!

The only tweaks I made to this super healthy soup were to decrease the broth from 10 to 8 cups, used fresh herbs instead of  dried, and included a combination of smoked and regular paprika. With the finishing touches of fresh lemon juice and dill, the depth of flavor will satisfy and I’ll bet it’ll be on your table more than once this soup season. Enjoy!


Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups green pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 3/4 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

2 3/4 teaspoons paprika (I used a mixture of smoked and regular)

4 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (either cremini or button work well)

1/4 cup tomato paste

8 cups vegetable broth

2/3 cup uncooked barley

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ½ tablespoons fresh dill or 3/4 teaspoon dried dill

In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft. Add green pepper, carrots, thyme and paprika. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their liquid. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add barley. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the barley is tender. Season with the salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice and dill. Ladle into soup bowls. Makes about 10 servings.

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Chive Mint Pesto


There’s a patch of chives in front of our cabin that grows like crazy; not sure why it’s so prolific—could be it’s just as happy to be there as we are. I try and remember to cut some to bring home every time we’re there, but it seems like half the time I forget.

This time I remembered, and I brought home a lot! It’s especially nice if the chives are flowering their light purple blooms, so pretty and edible too—a mild onion flavor that works beautifully as a garnish on whatever you’ve used the chives in.


With this volume of chives, the first thing that came to mind was making pesto. I’ve made a
rustic chive pesto in the past, but this time I decided to do the more conventional pesto method, in the food processor. And with my mint and basil plants needing a trim, I opted to include a good amount of mint and a little basil.

Following the basic pesto recipe I’ve used for years, but subbing in chives and mint in place of basil and throwing in a shallot for good measure, the result was wonderful! On pasta, as a marinade for grilled vegetables, on pizza, in mashed potatoes, eggs, sandwiches, the uses are endless.

As in other pesto recipes I’ve shared in the past, there’s no cheese, which is not typical for pesto, but with the olive oil, it seems rich enough in my mind already, so I do without. Feel free to include some parmesan if you’d like.

This recipe makes a big batch that would be hard to use between Pete and me in the week or so it lasts in the fridge, so I froze half. Pesto freezes well and it’s nice to have on hand for whipping up yummy recipes at a moment’s notice (a quick defrost in the microwave and your frozen pesto is ready to use).

The bonus is I have enough chives left over to make a couple loaves of buttermilk chive bread—I can’t wait!

Chive Mint Pesto

  • Servings: makes 3 cups
  • Print
2 cups firmly packed fresh chives

1 cup fresh mint leaves, or a combination of mint and basil, firmly packed

1 cup chopped walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or a combination, toasted

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients, except olive oil, in bowl of a food processor. Process until combined. Scrape down sides of food processor bowl.

With food processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until mixture is completely blended. Scrape down sides again and give it a final pulse or two. Taste, and add more salt or lemon juice if necessary.

Keeps in the fridge for a week or so, in the freezer for a couple months. Makes about 3 cups.

Cauliflower Taco Meat


The humble cauliflower. That funny looking vegetable I hated as a child, continues to surprise me. First there was cauliflower pizza crust, then Buffalo cauliflower, cauliflower steaks, and now, wait for it…cauliflower taco meat!

Replacing the spicy ground beef in traditional tacos, this mixture of cauliflower, mushrooms, walnuts and bold seasonings amps up the deliciousness and it’s a healthy mix of superfoods to boot! What’s not to love? And I swear, even if you think you don’t like cauliflower, mushrooms, or walnuts, if you like tacos, you will like this.

I stumbled upon the recipe at Pinch of Yum, one of my favorite food blogs (and their photography is amazing!). Intrigued, I knew what I was going to make with that head of cauliflower in the fridge. The only thing that made me hesitate was the two cups of walnuts the recipe called for. I know walnuts are super healthy, full of good fats, omega 3s, and loaded with antioxidants, but they also pack a wallop of calories, which I certainly don’t need. Since mushrooms are so meaty, especially cremini mushrooms, I decided to replace half the walnuts with them. The result wowed us!

And don’t limit this yummy mixture to tacos; it would make a great filling for burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, frittatas, taco salad and on and on. My mind is now working on a way to make this, with different seasonings, into a mixture for Italian recipes, lasagna, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, and stuffed peppers. And sloppy joes! I bet that would be wonderful!

The taco “meat” ingredients involve just a quick series of pulses in the food processor and then a half hour of baking, followed by a couple minute broil, then a sprinkling of fresh lime juice. While it’s in the oven, you can prep your taco accompaniments, so this is very doable on a weeknight after work. Plus, it reheats really well, and leftovers will not go to waste. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Taco Meat

Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

3 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh squeezed lime juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Place all ingredients except lime juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse on and off until the texture of cooked ground beef. I found it easier to get the right texture by doing this in two batches, half of each ingredient in each batch. The first time I made it I did it all at once and half of it was almost like a paste—still tasted great, but just not the right texture. Transfer mixture to the baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once at the half-way point. After the 30 minutes, turn oven to broil and broil 8-12 inches from broiler for a minute or two. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of lime juice and toss to distribute it.

That’s it. The “meat” is ready to use in tacos, burritos, taco salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, or whatever your heart desires. Reheats well and keeps several days in the fridge. Makes about 4 servings.

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style


Recently Pete and I crossed a “must-try” restaurant off our list. Pajarito, a St. Paul Mexican eatery, has been open a little more than a year and what a shame it took us that long to get there—the food was phenomenal! Everything we ordered, we’d happily get again, but the Brussels sprouts elote-style were change-your-life good. For reals!

Elote is Mexican street corn, but when Pajarito opened last winter, corn wasn’t in season, so they decided to give the elote treatment to Brussels sprouts. The flavors were amazing and as soon as we got home, I started googling to see if I could find a similar recipe. Lucky me, the restaurant’s actual recipe was written up by two local media outlets (that’s how popular these little nuggets of wonder are!).

Pajarito starts by deep-frying the Brussels sprouts, and because I refuse to venture into the land of deep-frying in my kitchen, I used their suggestion of oven-roasting as an alternative. Also, their recipe uses a homemade aioli. Being a little leery of making things with raw egg yolks and not wanting to buy a dozen pasteurized eggs when only one was needed, I simply added their seasonings to already-on-hand mayonnaise (Earth Balance’s Mindful Mayo).

Tajín is the brand of seasoning the restaurant uses to finish off this dish, along with a sprinkling of cotija cheese. After checking one store and not finding Tajín, I just went ahead and ordered it from Amazon. This mixture of lime, chilies, and salt really elevates the dish, so definitely use it if you can find it locally or have Amazon Prime.

The finished product was absolutely delicious—I thought it was just as good as the restaurant’s deep-fried version, minus the extra fat and calories. And by using vegan mayonnaise, all that’s needed if you want it completely plant-based is to skip the cotija. Enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style

Adapted from a recipe by chefs Stephan Hesse and Tyge Nelson of Pajarito in St. Paul, MN

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/8 cup Elote Aioli (recipe follows)

About a 1/2 tsp. Tajín brand seasoning (can be found in the international section at well-stocked grocery stores and from Amazon)

1 lime, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil and salt & pepper. On a parchment lined baking sheet, place sprouts, cut side down. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.

Transfer cooked sprouts to a bowl and toss with 1/8 cup Elote Aioli. Place sprouts on a serving dish/plate, sprinkle with Tajín seasoning, cotija cheese, then garnish with lime wedges, and serve. Makes about 4 servings.

Elote Aioli

Note: This is basically a flavored mayonnaise. Crema is a more sour crème fraîche and is available in most supermarkets and Mexican specialty food stores. The recipe will make more Elote Aioli than needed for this Brussels sprouts recipe, but the leftovers are good on just about anything, including in place of plain mayonnaise in tuna salad—awesome! Refrigerate remaining aioli in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.

1 cup mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)

1/4 c. crema (which I didn’t have so used a couple splashes of buttermilk)

½ to 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together first 8 ingredients (through lime juice). Season to taste with salt. Transfer aioli into an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices


Temperatures here plummeted right after Christmas and have only crept above zero (Fahrenheit) a couple times briefly since. More of the same is forecast the next few days until a warm-up this weekend to the balmy teens and twenties. If ever there was a time for hearty soup, it’s now.

This soup, full of red lentils, carrots, and a little potato for heft, along with warming spices, is the epitome of hearty. And healthy too. Just what I needed after the last couple weeks of holiday foods—the too rich, too sweet, or just too much—foods I don’t normally eat. Setting the food reset button in the right direction is a pleasure when it tastes this good!

Don’t skip the lemon juice or the paprika oil, they really take this to the “Did I really just make something so out-of-this-world delicious?” level. Enjoy!


Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, along with a couple aspects of this New York Times recipe

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock or broth

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium Yukon gold potato, diced

1 ½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for extra seasoning

1 teaspoon dried mint, tarragon, or basil, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika (I used ½ teaspoon smoked hot and ½ teaspoon sweet)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until onion has softened. Stir in coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, water, carrots, potato, and lentils and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a lively simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and carrots and potato tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you’d like a few chunks of carrot and potato, stop before completely puréed. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice if needed. Cover stockpot to keep soup warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the paprika oil and chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.

Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts


Need a new recipe to include in your rotation of holiday munchies? I’ve got just the one for you! Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts are warm, healthy, addictive, and best of all, quick & easy to make. You will definitely impress your guests.

The Union Square Café is a long-running New York City restaurant and the nuts they serve in their bar are famous. Google them and you’ll find the recipe on many different sites from Epicurious to Saveur, but only one, The Smitten Kitchen, has you return the nuts to the oven for a final bake after tossing with the butter-rosemary mixture. This makes all the difference!

Because I’m not a big rosemary fan, I was skeptical of this recipe at first, but Deb at the Smitten Kitchen assures that even the rosemary-averse will love it here and I wholeheartedly agree.

I’ve made these twice, the first time with all cashews and the second with cashews and almonds. I liked both equally well when they were warm, but when eating at room temperature, I prefer the cashew only version.

If you use mixed nuts, keep in mind some of the nut varieties will get over-toasted before other nuts are just right. That’s the reason I stuck to cashews and almonds, which take the same amount of time.

Stock up on nuts, you’ll be making these several times over the holidays for all your gatherings and you can also package them in small jars for gift-giving. Enjoy!



Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts

Slightly adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe

1 pound unsalted cashews or almonds or a combination (either raw or roasted)

1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending how much heat you’d like

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts on a sheet pan and toast for 7-15 minutes (raw nuts will require the longer cooking time, already roasted will take less). Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt.

Once the nuts are toasted, dump them in the bowl and stir to evenly coat. Return the nuts to the sheet pan and spread in an even layer. Bake another 5-10 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes and serve warm. The nuts are also good at room temperature or reheated for 5 minutes at 350 degrees F. Store leftovers in an airtight jar. Makes about 3 ½ cups.

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Zucchini noodles (zoodles) were one of the first things I planned to make when I got my spiralizer a couple years ago. And then I proceeded to spiralize potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets many times for a number of recipes, but not zucchini. As much as I wanted to replace my pasta with zucchini noodles, I just couldn’t—it was a cooked zucchini texture thing.

Even with the suggestion of doing half pasta and half zoodles, I still resisted. It wasn’t until I came across a few recipes where you—wait for it—leave the zucchini raw, that I saw the zoodle light. They wouldn’t be mushy, they wouldn’t be soggy. It would be an al dente experience and I was on board!

Making just a few tweaks to this Pinch of Yum recipe, we’ve got a new summer favorite that’s quick enough to pull together on a weeknight and there are always leftovers for brown-bagging the next day. When packing your leftovers, keep the sauce separate and mix it in just before eating, otherwise the zoodles will absorb the sauce and you’ll lose the creamy sauciness that makes for a truly special dish. Enjoy!

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

One 15 oz. block of extra-firm tofu (I like Trader Joe’s organic)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3-4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed (a combination of green and yellow zucchini looks especially nice)

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish (I like the look of black sesame seeds, but white are just fine)

Spicy peanut sauce:
½ cup smooth peanut butter, preferably natural (or make your own, recipe here)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (then add water to measure 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup tamari (wheat free) or soy sauce, reduced sodium if you have it

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spiralize your zucchini and set it aside.

To make the spicy peanut sauce, place all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined.

Cut pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add tofu to pan and cook one side of tofu pieces until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn pieces and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the spicy peanut sauce to the tofu and let simmer for a few minutes. Using a spatula, turn tofu pieces, scraping sauce and any brown saucy bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat the simmer, turning, and scraping a couple more times until tofu is crispy brown.

To serve, place zucchini noodles in individual bowls and top each with a ¼ cup of spicy peanut sauce, stirring to coat the zoodles. Top with some tofu pieces, sliced scallions, and sesame seeds. Makes 4-6 servings.