Esther Halverson, pictured with her husband Don, loves being creative while cooking.
Esther Halverson, pictured with her husband Don, loves being creative while cooking.
Monday, October 10, 2011

If it’s Sunday after church, you may find Esther Halverson of Carroll preparing brunch for a small crowd.

Esther says brunch is an easy way to entertain. The options are limitless, ranging from a casserole to customized omelets. She likes to add special touches to the meal such as her pink grapefruit sorbet (recipe below) and mimosas.

Esther has been a resident of Carroll since 1965 and enjoys it very much. She says, “The people of Carroll are wonderful, it’s very progressive, and I would promote it anywhere.” Esther loves having friends over for good food and plenty of conversation.

Esther has one daughter, Ann Chambers, of Denver, Colorado. Ann, her husband, Kent, and their two children, John Davin, 16, and Calli, 13, enjoy having Esther cook when she visits. According to Esther, Ann wasn’t interested in learning how to cook as a teenager, but as an adult has learned to be a bit of a gourmet cook, all on her own.

Esther and her husband, Don, spend their winters in Arizona. While there, Esther spends a good amount of time at the swimming pool with friends. She says she and her friend, Amy Wood, spend more time exchanging recipes than swimming.

Don and Esther make a good combination, because according to Esther, she likes to cook and he likes to eat. The couple has been married for seventeen years. One of the first meals she made for him included his family’s recipe for stewed tomatoes. Esther had never had them before but learned to make them just for Don and now enjoys them herself.

Esther describes herself as a self-taught cook. Growing up in Akron, she says her mother, Emma Stryzewski, was a good cook, but she didn’t want Esther’s help in the kitchen. During Esther’s first marriage to her late husband, Jack Rogers, she took it upon herself to learn to cook. Before going to bed each night, she read from cookbooks including Better Homes & Gardens and Betty Crocker. Still today her shelves are filled with cookbooks and she has files of recipes she’s collected over the years. Esther says, “I like to try new recipes. I think you have to be a little adventuresome to cook and the best part is entertaining.”

Holidays are the perfect time for Esther to showcase her skills for family. She usually hosts Thanksgiving at her home and she and Don have Christmas with his family in Coon Rapids. Dirk Halverson, and his wife, Barb, host dinner at their house. Everyone brings something to share and Esther is most often asked to bring her deviled eggs.

Pink Grapefruit Ice (Sorbet)

This sorbet is a lovely addition to any brunch. Grenadine gives it a pretty pink hue.
Combine ½ c sugar and ½ c water and boil for 5 minutes.
Mix together and combine with sugar mixture:
2 ½ c chilled fresh grapefruit juice
2 T grenadine syrup (can substitute maraschino cherry juice)
Freeze until firm. Remove from tray and beat well with a mixer. Freeze solid again.

Hot Seafood Casserole

Esther especially enjoys this casserole when entertaining guests for a luncheon and has passed along the recipe several times. It is made ahead of time and bakes in the oven, allowing time to mingle with guests before dinner.

1 green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 c celery, chopped
1 (6oz) can real or artificial crab meat (flaked)
1 lb shrimp, cleaned, cooked, cut into small pieces
½ t salt
1/8 t pepper
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 c mayonnaise
1 c buttered, Ritz-style cracker crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine green pepper, onion, celery, crab meat, shrimp, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise in a medium sized bowl. Mix gently. Spoon into an 8” square baking dish or individual ramekins. Sprinkle with buttered cracker crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes.

Instant Omelets

Esther describes these omelets as “just kinda fun.” She thinks involving brunch guests in the food preparation is a great way to strike up conversation with other guests. She serves the omelets alongside homemade coffee cake and fruit.

First have each guest write their name on a 2 qt resealable freezer bag (use baggies with zipper on top, not with slider). Next crack two eggs into bag (make sure to remove air from bag).

Then each guest adds omelet fillings of choice including onion, green or red pepper, tomato, mushrooms, cheese, ham, bacon, sausage, hash browns, salsa, etc. and shakes bag until well mixed. All at once, drop all baggies (6-8) into a large pot of rolling, boiling water and cook for exactly 13 minutes. Use tongs to remove baggies, cut open, and slide instant omelets onto plates.

Butter Crumb Scalloped Onions

Esther really likes making this side dish for family and friends. It’s a bit unusual, but is a delicious addition to any dinner.
2 (16 oz) pkgs frozen small whole onions
¼ c butter or margarine
¼ c flour
½ t salt
¼ t pepper
2 c milk
¼ c snipped parsley
1 (2 oz) jar sliced pimiento, drained
1 c cheddar cheese, shredded
½ c soft bread crumbs
1 t butter or margarine, melted
In a large saucepan cook onions in boiling, lightly salted water for 15 minutes; drain. In same saucepan melt ¼ cup butter or margarine; stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once; cook and stir till thickened and bubbly. Add cheese, pimiento and parsley; cook and stir until cheese is melted. Remove from heat; stir in onions. Transfer to a 2-quart casserole. Combine bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon melted butter; sprinkle atop onions. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Makes 8 to l0 servings.

Baked Mac and Cheese

This macaroni and cheese is so good, it’s fit for company and can be served as a main dish. Esther says any cheese can be used, but she says pepper jack tastes the best.
Carefully mix together:
2 c elbow macaroni, cooked
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 c mayonnaise
1 small onion (optional)
4 c shredded cheese
black pepper to taste
1 c cracker crumbs (Ritz-style work well) and 3 T melted butter
Place macaroni mixture in casserole. Top with crumb topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Heart Attack on a Bun

This recipe with an amusing name is great for warm weather. Esther says this is a great idea for tailgating or a fun supper outside.

Take pre-cooked bratwurst and split down center, length- wise. Do not cut all the way through the bratwurst (you want to make a pocket). Stuff each bratwurst with dill pickle spear and cheese. Wrap stuffed bratwurst with bacon strip. Grill until warmed through and bacon is crisp. Baste with BBQ sauce and serve on a bun.


Esther was introduced to these Czechoslovakian pastries by a friend in Coon Rapids many years ago and they have been a family favorite ever since. Any type of fruit filling can be used, but Esther’s favorite is prune.

To 1 c scalded milk, add: ½ c margarine, 1 t salt, ½ c sugar. Cool. Add 2 eggs, beaten. Dissolve 2 pkgs yeast into ½ c warm water. Add 2 cups flour and beat until smooth. Knead in 1 more cup of flour. Add 1 or 1 ½ cups of flour to tighten the dough. Knead. Let rise. Punch down and form little balls, a bit bigger than a golf ball. Place onto greased cookie sheets and let rise again. Make a depression in center of each with fingers, leaving a rim around edge to hold in filling. Add filling (see fillings below). Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees until nicely browned. Remove from oven and brush edges with butter. Cool and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Filling Options:
1 can Solo brand apricot, prune, or poppy seed filling
1 can cherry pie filling (can add ½ t almond flavoring)


This recipe was given to Esther by a dear Danish friend from Coon Rapids in the 1950s. Esther describes aebleskivers as a cross between dumplings, doughnuts and fritters. They are cooked on top of the stove in a special skillet with wells, a lbit like muffin cups with rounded bottoms. The batter puffs up into round little balls. Aebleskivers pans are available in the houseware section of department stores or hardware stores. Aebleskivers are a family favorite in Esther’s family and they are eaten almost as soon as they are set out on the plate.
2 c buttermilk (or half & half)
1 t salt
2 c flour
4 egg yolks, beaten
2 t baking powder
4 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter
4 egg whites, beaten
Sift dry ingredients together and add egg yolks, melted butter and buttermilk; beat until smooth. Fold in beaten egg whites. Spray the special skillet with Pam. Heat on stove. Fill each hole half full of batter and cook over low heat. When light brown on under side, turn over with a fork (optional, you can now add apple sauce or small berries) tum over to brown other side. Test for doneness with a tooth pick. Remove from pan and roll in melted butter (or margarine) and cinnamon sugar. Makes approximately forty “skivers”.

Grandma’s Coffee Cake

Esther likes having friends over for coffee. She has a few variations of coffee cake she likes to make but this one has very special meaning to Esther. The recipe is from her grandmother, Emma Gillmann, who lived in Akron, and has been passed down five generations. Esther’s daughter, Ann, has taught her daughter, Calli, how to make this coffee cake.

In a small bowl, soften 1 c raisins in warm water. Drain and cool and set aside. Scald 1 cup (plus) milk with 1 T Crisco. Cool slightly and add 1 c sugar and ½ t salt. In a large bowl add 1 egg slightly beaten, 2 pkgs yeast (dissolved in ¼ c. warm water with 1 t sugar. Add the milk/sugar mix and the raisins. Add flour to make soft dough and knead. Put back in the large bowl and let rise twice. Place dough in 3 well-greased 8” pie tins. Let rise until doubled in size. Brush with melted shortening. Makes 3 coffee cakes.

¼ c brown sugar, ¼ c sugar, 1 T flour, ½ t cinnamon
Sprinkle with topping and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until done.

Pineapple Upside-Down French Toast

This is one of Esther’s favorite brunch recipes. She assembles it the night before so all she has to do when she gets home from church is bake it in the oven.
1/3 c butter
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 c milk
8 (1” thick) slices French bread
1 /3 c packed brown sugar
4 eggs
¼ t salt
1 t vanilla extract
Melt butter in 9x13 pan. Stir in brown sugar and pineapple until sugar is dissolved. Beat eggs, milk, salt, vanilla and a dash of nutmeg. Dip bread in egg mixture, lay on top of pineapple, cover and chill overnight. Arrange bread in pan (Pyrex works best). Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes (until golden brown). Serves eight.

Crock Pot Creme Brulee French Toast

Crème Brulee is a rich custard and it is one of the most decadent French desserts. Esther has a simple way to incorporate the flavors of crème brulee into an easy brunch.
10-12 pieces of bread torn/cubed into 1” pieces
4 c milk or half & half
½ c sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
¼ t salt
Place bread cubes in Crock Pot. Combine all other ingredients and pour over bread cubes. Press bread into egg mixture to moisten bread completely. Cover and chill in refrigerator 4-24 hours. Remove from refrigerator. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 7 - 8 hours or until a knife in center comes out clean. Turn off Crock Pot and let stand 30 minutes. Then serve topped with chopped pecans, sliced bananas and warm syrup.

Lemon Forsythia Pie

Esther found this recipe for this dessert in the Minneapolis Star and it is a perfect ending to a dinner party. Esther describes this pie as “refreshing” and likes to serve this pie thoroughly chilled or still slightly frozen.

1 c flour
½ c soft butter or margarine
2 T sugar
¼ t. salt
2 egg whites
2/3 c sugar
2 t. grated lemon peel
¼ C lemon juice
5 drops yellow food coloring
1 c whipping cream
Mix flour, butter, sugar and salt until crumbly - use hands to combine well. Place ½ cup of the mixture in a cake pan or on a cookie sheet and press remainder in greased and floured 9” pie tin. Bake both the crumbs and shell for 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool. Combine egg whites, sugar, lemon peel, lemon juice and food coloring and beat until stiff with an electric mixer (This will take quite awhile). Beat whipping cream separately until stiff and fold into lemon mixture. Turn into baked shell. Top with crumbs. Chill well or freeze.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Pie

This recipe is courtesy of Esther’s good friend, Amy Wood, and it will surely impress your guests. It looks fancy, but is relatively simple to prepare. The chocolate dipped strawberries on top add the wow factor.
1 graham cracker pie crust
1 c powdered sugar
1 (8 oz) pkg. cream cheese softened
2 t vanilla (or almond flavoring or amaretto)
1 (8 oz) carton Cool Whip
1 pint fresh strawberries
½ c semi-sweet chocolate chips, or chocolate almond bark
½ t cooking oil

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add sugar while beating. Blend in vanilla. Fold in Cool Whip and blend well. Spoon into crust. Cool at least one hour.

Wash and hull strawberries. Cut hulled end of each strawberry to make a flat surface, so strawberry will sit with tip pointing up. Melt semi-chocolate chips with cooking oil to make a dipping chocolate. Dip 3/4 of each strawberry in chocolate. Place each coated strawberry, tip pointing up on wax paper. Allow chocolate to set. Arrange chocolate covered strawberries on top of the cream pie filling. Return to fridge and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.