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A win and a delicious flop: Duluth Media Group journalists dive into Steger cookbook

Arctic explorer, dogsledder, educator and Ely resident Will Steger's cookbook is full of “living lightly on the earth” recipes. We test some out.

Steger Best Ever Turkey Burger with Burger Sauce
The Best Ever Turkey Burger with Burger Sauce from "The Steger Homestead Kitchen."
Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten / Duluth Media Group
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TWIN PORTS — Newsrooms see many story pitches for upcoming books. Ours is no different, but this one stood out.

“The Steger Homestead Kitchen: Simple Recipes for an Abundant Life” is penned by Ely's Arctic explorer, dogsledder and educator Will Steger and his niece, Rita Mae Steger, with Beth Dooley.

Cover of the Steger Homestead Kitchen cookbook
"The Steger Homestead Kitchen: Simple Recipes for an Abundant Life," by Will Steger, Beth Dooley and Rita Mae Steger.
University of Minnesota Press / TNS

Released this spring by the University of Minnesota Press, the cookbook features plenty of “living lightly on the earth” recipes, like Fire-Roasted Baba Ghanoush, Creamy Creamless Cauliflower Soup, Chia Pudding and Iced Melon, as well as hearty options, like Meatloaf Sandwiches and Sausage and Bean Stew.

Each includes a tidbit from Steger, with additions from his ex-wife, Patti; his mother, Margaret; sister-in-law, Kim Chi; and Rita Mae, who has since 2017 cooked summers at The Steger Homestead located outside Ely.

“The Steger Homestead Kitchen” is delightful and personal, easily prompting a reader to consider the recipes that make up their own life, and eliciting an all-access pass to Steger's personality and values.

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“The early Homestead was rough … with winters of numbing cold and deep snow and summers of merciless bugs — exactly what I had dreamed of,” Steger writes.

For more information on "The Steger Homestead Kitchen," go to the University of Minnesota Press website at bit.ly/3wEgHaN.

With a (digital) copy in tow, Duluth Media Group journalists tested a couple recipes.

Blueberries are scattered in a bowl of thick cut oats baked with brown sugar, maple syrup and touch of vanilla extract.
I turned my failed attempt at making Steger Wilderness Bars from the “The Steger Homestead Kitchen" into a delicious, light gluten-free cereal of thick-cut oats baked with brown sugar, maple syrup, chopped walnuts and touch of vanilla extract. And, in my book, it's not breakfast without blueberries.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth Media Group

I’ve got a road trip coming up, and I wanted to make something light that travels well. So, I opted for the Steger Wilderness Bars.

092320.F.DNT.20U40Judges_Lav
Melinda Lavine

Reading Will Steger’s excerpt about eating these during his guide days offered a pleasant and touching image. “We made these in huge batches and cut them into squares to fit into half-gallon-sized milk cartons, so they were easy to carry without getting crushed,” he wrote.

Wondering about milk-carton storage, I gathered the ingredients, all of which I had in the house.

Steger’s list is handily flexible — you can substitute maple sugar for brown sugar, and maple syrup for honey.

I preheated the oven, greased a 9-by-13-inch pan and chopped the walnuts.

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The directions say to “cream together” room-temperature butter with your choice of sweeteners. (I went with brown sugar and honey.) This consisted of (awkwardly) kneading the three together with a fork until it formed a soft, grainy paste.

I added a half-cup of chopped walnuts and five scoops of thick-cut oats (my fave for breakfast, but maybe not the best for this recipe). Then, I poured and pressed them into the pan.

Oats mixed with creamed butter, honey, brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and a splash of vanilla extract are pressed into a greased 9-by-13 inch pan, ready for the oven.
“The Steger Homestead Kitchen" features this recipe for Steger Wilderness Bars, which calls for pressing oats with butter, maple or brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, into a pan and baking until golden brown.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth Media Group

I baked at 325 degrees for 25 minutes, and a little longer, in order to get the golden-brown edges the recipe calls for. My partner hovered down the stairs, asking the origin of the yummy kitchen smells.

After a 10-plus-minute cooling period, I was unable to cut them into cohesive squares that held together. I refrigerated “the bars” overnight, and no improvement.

What remained were peanut-brittle-like shards and lots of loose, lightly sweetened oat clusters.

“I want to put this on yogurt,” my partner said.

From that, I scooped a bowl’s worth, soaked it in oat milk and dug in. The rest went in an airtight container. As directed.

— MELINDA LAVINE, Duluth News Tribune features reporter

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Steger Wilderness Bars

Makes 12-18 bars

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1⁄2 cup brown or maple sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 5 cups thick-cut oats

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or line with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the honey or maple syrup and vanilla. Stir in nuts and oats. Press the mixture into the pan. Bake until bars are golden brown around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before cutting into pieces to transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

***

Best Ever Turkey Burgers from 'The Steger Homestead Kitchen'
Best Ever Turkey Burgers from "The Steger Homestead Kitchen" before they chill in the refrigerator overnight.
Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten / Duluth Media Group

I tend to favor recipes that require ingredients I have on hand. The reasoning behind this is simple: If the recipe is a dud, I'm not stuck with a bunch of ingredients I won't use up quickly.

That's how I landed on the Best Ever Turkey Burgers with Burger Sauce, and they live up to the hype, at least in my book.

The burger and sauce recipes call for many ingredients I already had in my pantry or fridge: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, maple syrup, mayonnaise, spices. Really, the only items I went to the store for were an avocado and fresh chives.

I first made these about a month ago, and to be honest, I wasn't impressed. I gave them another whirl this week because I thought I figured out how to get the recipe back on track.

Here's what worked on a second attempt: I whipped up the meat mixture and let it chill in the fridge overnight.

Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten
Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The sauce recipe already calls for this, but I didn't do it with the burgers the first time around — I followed the recipe, which says to refrigerate the burger mixture for 30 minutes before patting the burgers and cooking them up.

On my first go-round, the burgers tasted better as leftovers, so I decided to put the meat on the same schedule as the sauce.

My hunch paid off. The extra time in the fridge allowed the flavors to settle into the meat, and the result was just as delicious as the leftovers I enjoyed, only fresher.

The true test of this recipe's mettle: My husband said he wouldn't mind me making them again. This is a big deal. My husband is not super adventurous when it comes to meals, so this is as close to a stamp of approval as it gets.

—JEN ZETTEL-VANDENHOUTEN, Superior Telegram and Pine Journal editor

Best Ever Turkey Burgers

Makes 4-6 burgers

  • 1 large avocado, halved
  • 2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • Vegetable oil for the griddle or skillet
  • Buns
  • Burger Sauce for serving (see recipe below)

In a large bowl, mash together half of the avocado, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, mayonnaise, garlic powder and salt until smooth. Work in the ground turkey. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (I refrigerated the mixture overnight).
Remove the turkey mixture from the refrigerator. Divide into four portions and shape the mixture into patties.

Film a griddle or skillet with oil and set over medium heat. Place the burgers in the pan to cook until browned on the bottom, about seven minutes. Then flip with a spatula, pressing the burgers down so the juices cook back into the burgers. Continue cooking until brown.

Serve on buns with slices of the remaining avocado and Burger Sauce.

Burger Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. The flavors will mellow after about a day. Keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

READ MORE ABOUT FOOD
Personality runs throughout — from a posted Leslie Knope quote to a bullseye in the toilet and stickers instead of napkin holders.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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