If the name Lisa Patrin sounds familiar, it probably is associated with visions of beautiful burgers, cocktails and perfect pastries. She’s the woman behind the blog and Instagram account, Empty Nesters Kitchen, and though you might notice her globe-trotting adventures online, she calls Chanhassen home.
Patrin begins her story, like many food enthusiasts, with, “I essentially grew up in the kitchen.” She was raised in an Italian family, and her grandfather owned the Italian deli, Delmonico’s, in Minneapolis with his brothers. “I spent a lot of time there as a kid,” she says. But though surrounded by food growing up, she didn’t follow in her grandfather’s footsteps right away. “I actually am trained as a nurse,” she says, and after graduating from St. Catherine University with a nursing degree, she got married to her husband, John, had two boys, and the family moved out to California.
“At that point, I stopped working because I was staying home with the kids,” Patrin says. She found herself with more time, and started reading food magazines like Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. “It sparked a passion for food and wine and recipe creation,” she says. And though she always loved food, “that was kind of the start for me in terms of food writing and experiences as an adult,” Patrin says.
She remembers the first thing she made—a chocolate raspberry tart from Food & Wine Magazine. “I was so proud of it I took a picture of it, and you know back then you didn’t do a lot of that,” she says with a laugh. “It’s kind of prophetic now.”
As she kept cooking and started creating her own dishes, friends would ask for recipes and restaurant recommendations, laying the groundwork for her future. But at the time, she decided to take her recipe creations and put them to the test—and enter them in cooking contests. It was shortly after they moved back to Minnesota that she entered a chocolate challenge put out by Emeril Lagasse, and promptly forgot about it.
“Then I got a phone call from the fact checker saying, ‘He liked your recipe.’ And I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” Patrin says. But it was real. Producers of the Emeril Live cooking show came to her home and watched her make the recipe, and then they flew Patrin and her husband to New York to be on the show with two others chosen. “That was such a cool experience,” she says. But, of course, her luck didn’t end there. “In the same month, I won another contest, the Search for Sargento,” she says. She and two other finalists were flown to the culinary institute in Northern California to cook for a Bon Appetit editor, Chef Michael Chiarello, and the executive chef of Sargento at the time. “It gave me the confidence that the recipes I was creating had some merit,” she says.
That confidence gave her the push to continue to write, which sparked some ideas. “I created a puzzle for the Star Tribune called Eat Your Words,” she says. “I started thinking about it; there wasn’t really a unique way for people to learn about food.” So she sent Lee Dean, food editor at the Star Tribune, an email, and for over two years after that Patrin, created a weekly word puzzle that ran in the Taste section.
“I just have a creative bug,” she says, and the creating just kept going, next with her blog, The Empty Nesters Kitchen. “My husband and I were coming up on having both our kids going out and pursuing their own academic careers … but everyone would say, ‘Oh, you’re about to be empty nesters,’” she recalls. “Empty has that connotation that it’s lacking or not full, and our life is really full. I wanted to convey the message that, you might be empty nesters but that doesn’t mean your life is over.”
The Empty Nesters Kitchen isn’t just Patrin’s kitchen, she says. “When we go out, travel, there are so many things we do that revolve around food. I wanted to create something I could share.”
And share she does—but, Patrin says, she goes with the flow and lives in the moment. When she’s eating a great meal, she’ll snap a photo, but put her phone away and post later. “I really want to be present with the people I’m with,” she says. Same goes for travel—with a bit more research beforehand.
Step one when looking for a new travel destination? Instagram. “I have a lot of Instagrammers that I follow, so I’ll look at the different places they’re going,” she says. And she’ll watch her favorite food and travel shows, like Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. “And I loved Anthony Bourdain. All of his books and his programs and just what he stood for. Immersing himself [in a culture],” she says.
It’s about continuing to get out and experience life. “You don’t have to be an empty nester to [travel] or do these things,” she says. “John and I, before our kids moved out, always biked together, but now we do more of those things because we have time. I try to share those so that people will pick up on those ideas and connect in that way, too.”
A Blogger’s Thanksgiving
Patrin hosts Thanksgiving at her family’s house every year. “That’s a tradition that somebody will have to tear from me kicking and screaming,” she says with a laugh. It’s generally a party of 15 to 20 people, and the dishes stay the same, for the most part, year after year. “It’s funny,” she says, “when I try to veer off track and try something new, I can add something, but if I try to take something away,” people speak up.
She enjoys cooking most everything herself, but will have family bring appetizers, and “My mom always brings rolls from Sarah Jane’s Bakery in Minneapolis.” Like any organized recipe creator, Patrin has a folder for Thanksgiving, with recipes and proportions—everything she needs for a successful meal.
Her personal favorite side dish is a nontraditional one. “It’s a savory mushroom bread pudding I added a few years ago, and I love it,” she says. It’s similar to a dressing or stuffing, but is made with challah bread, several cheeses and wild mushrooms.
And for dessert, Patrin’s stepped away from having six different pies. She’ll make a couple desserts, but portion them into smaller bites, “so you’re getting a taste of things,” she says. “I’m really big on food waste. There are so many people that are hungry. I hate to see food thrown in the garbage, so it’s nice to offer people tiny bites, so they cannot waste or feel like they have to eat something that will make them uncomfortably full.”
Her non-food traditions include a classic: “I like everybody to go around and say something they’re thankful for,” she says. “That’s something that, as I’ve gotten older, I try to think about every day.” And she even sends her guests home with a small gift to help them do the same. “I send everyone home with a miniature pumpkin bread and a little note,” she says. “I always tell them I want them to think about the meal, and family, after they leave the table. A little carryover.”
Pumpkin Bread Pudding Parfaits – Lisa Patrin
* 1 loaf of Challah bread (16 ounce), cut into 1 /2-inch cubes (preferable dried on a sheet pan for several hours or overnight)
* ½ cup light brown sugar
* ½ cup granulated sugar
* 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree
* 1/2 cup whole milk
* 1 ½ cups heavy cream
* 4 large eggs
* Pinch of salt
* 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
* ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
* ½ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
* 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
Spiced Rum Whipped Cream Topping
* 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream
* 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar (more to adjust to desired sweetness level)
* 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
* 2 Tbsp. spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan)
Toasted, chopped pecans or store bought sweetened pecans. (I buy the Trader Joes brand.)
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and lightly butter a two quart baking dish. Place dried challah bread in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, whole milk, heavy cream, eggs, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves until mixture is well combined. Pour custard over the bread. Stir gently, and let rest for 15-20 minutes. This allows time for the bread time to soak up some of the custard. Transfer the bread pudding into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the bread pudding is just set and golden on the top. Let Cool. While bread pudding is cooling, prepare the whipped cream topping. Beat heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract to desired thickness. Gently fold in spiced rum. To assemble: Place 12 small or six medium parfait cups on a tray. Place a generous scoop of cooled bread pudding into each cup. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and chopped or sweetened pecans. Serve immediately.
Entertaining Tip: You can also create some other wonderful semi-homemade desserts based on this recipe. Buy a whole pecan or pumpkin pie and scoop dessert decoratively into beautiful dessert bowls or cups, top with whipped cream & pecans and serve.
Skillet Apple Crisp with Caramel Sauce – Lisa Patrin
* 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
* 6 Granny Smith Apples, cored and sliced
* 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
* 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
* 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
* Pinch of cloves
* Juice of ½ lemon
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 cup quick cooking oats
* ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
* ¼ cup granulated sugar
* ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
* ½ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
Small jar of caramel sauce
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Apple filling: Add 2 tablespoons butter to an 8 inch cast iron skillet, melt over medium heat. Add sliced apples and brown sugar to the prepared skillet. Saute for approx. 5 minutes or until apples start to soften. While apples are cooking, stir together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a medium bowl. Add the flour mixture to the prepared apples, stir until well combined. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice.
- The topping: In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, oats, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add butter in pieces, cut into the mixture with a fork or pastry cutter.
- Crumble topping mixture evenly over the apples. Sprinkle the fresh grated nutmeg over the top.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden in color and the apples are bubbly.
- Drizzle with caramel sauce* and serve warm with a generous scoop of ice cream or cool and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
Reserve any leftover caramel sauce for later use.
J.Carver Sevilla Spiked Cider from J.Carver distillery in Waconia
2 ounces of J.Carver Sevilla Liqueur
4 ounces of Hot Cider
Serve in a glass mug
Garnish with an orange slice
Stir with a cinnamon stick