Life lessons

Top 10 Etiquette Rules for Business Meals


Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing some college students who were at an etiquette dinner. I had seen the posters around the UW-River Falls campus and I was curious to see for myself, if young people were interested or if proper etiquette was even on their radar.

Not only are students interested, some want to master etiquette and have attended multiple times, like Osceola resident Donald Carufel.

I’ve known Carufel for years. My oldest son played football with him in high school. When Carufel would come over for pre-game dinners, he was very polite and shy. Now he is a tall handsome well-dressed confident man, who proudly explained the importance of proper etiquette.

“This is the tenth dinner I’ve attended and I learn something new every time,” said Carufel. Not only is learning about how to eat at a social event important, but also the way you dress and if you should pay the bill or not. There are many things you need to learn. I want to get all the skills I can before I enter the work force, continued Carufel.

Carufel is graduating this spring and others like him will be ahead of their peer’s etiquette skills and may land their dream job by understanding what to do at a business meal.

Many companies conduct business meetings over a meal. They can be formal or even a casual lunch and knowing what to do can make or break a deal.

According to a survey conducted by an independent research firm, developed by Robert Half, one of the worlds largest staffing service firms, says almost 50 percent of chief financial officers said their most successful business meetings that occurred outside of the office, were held over lunch or dinner. Employers also said that a person’s table manners or the lack of can be a deciding factor in obtaining a signed contract.

Melissa Wilson, the director of Career Services at UW-River Falls, agrees with experts who say it is very important to not only have the right job skills, but also the right table manners.

Wilson is also a certified etiquette teacher. There are different etiquette teachers around the U.S., and they all seem to realize how important etiquette skills are becoming in a very competitive job market. It doesn’t matter whether you are old or young these skills are becoming more and more important.

One of the nations leading experts in etiquette, Jacqueline Whitmor, says don’t worry what your peers may think of you, they are not the ones making the decisions.

I’m sure some of you may be thinking no one notices “how” we eat, but people do.

There are some people I would prefer not to eat with. They talk with food in their mouth.  Others reach across the table, knocking filled glasses over. I have had people drag their shirt cuffs through my dinner plate or even their tie—very rude! You would think those were bad enough. Nope. I have been at business meals when someone has passed gas, picked their nose and used a tooth pick to clean their ears—thank goodness not all at the same time! There seems to be no limit to bad table manners. It is very easy to offend someone at the dinner table—many people have very strong food aversions and any association with something gross can give them a negative view of you.

This is my own proper Business Dinner Etiquette list, but it coincides with what other professionals have put together.

  1. When you arrive, greet your host with good eye contact and a firm hand shake. Do not sit down until your host is seated.
  1. If you are at a restaurant, order a menu item that costs less than what the host orders. If they have not ordered yet, ask for their recommendations. Also, order something easy to eat. Save the ribs for when you are out with the family.
  1. Remember to say please and thank you. Do not reach across the table for the salt and pepper—ask to have it passed.
  1. Do not order alcohol—for many reasons, even if the host does.
  1. Order something, it can come across rude if you don’t.
  1. Place your napkin on your lap when your food comes. Use the silverware from the outside in and YOUR bread will be on your left and YOUR drinks to the right of your plate—sometimes the table setting are so close, it’s hard to tell what is yours and the person sitting next to you.
  1. Do not touch your food with your fingers, share sauces (spoon some on your own plate), or butter your dinner roll and eat it like a sandwich (break off a small piece at a time).
  1. Only cut one piece of meat at a time. Don’t be tempted to cut your entire steak into bite size pieces. Pace your meal—don’t inhale your food!
  1. Don’t talk with food in your mouth, put your elbows on the table, or talk about controversial issues, like politics and religion.
  1. Remember to smile—when you don’t have a mouthful!


Things not to do at a formal dinner.
What pirates do at formal dinners

Lisa Erickson is a food writer who loves an adventure—especially when food is involved. You can find more recipes on her blog at or email her at with questions or comments.



Desserts · Traditional

Rømmegrøt: Room-a-what?

A couple of years ago we were celebrating Christmas with my husband’s family in Florida. We all brought our easiest recipes. My brother-in-law brought a recipe for Rømmegrøt (pronounced: room-a-grout) he got from his mother, Phyllis. I was concerned. One, I had never seen my brother-in-law cook anything besides warming a hot dog in the microwave. Two, my experience in the past with traditional Norwegian foods were…bad—very bad!! Plus, I hadn’t even heard of Rømmegrøt before. I figured I was in for another in-law holiday celebration of not eating much.

To help settle my fears, my brother-in-law, told me what the ingredients were. I smiled, thinking, yup, it’s typical weird-bland Norwegian food.

Have you ever eaten Lutefisk? If you have, you know what I’m talking about. The fish (can you even call it fish after all the processing that is done to it?) reminds me of firm fish flavored gelatin. I won’t even go into the details of what your house will smell like when you cook lutefisk. The first time I had traditional Norwegian foods was my first Christmas with my husband’s family 26 years ago. Here was the menu: For starters; we had oyster stew (they literally opened a can of oysters and dumped them into a pot of boiling milk); then, Lutefisk topped with white sauce and boiled potatoes for the side dish; and klub (pronounced Clue-ba) which is a potato dumpling; and for dessert, lefsa, which is made out of potatoes too and spread with butter and sugar. They didn’t serve anything else. No salads, veggies or anything with color—everything was white and bland!

I asked my brother-in-law how do you make Rømmegrøt? He replied, “In the microwave.” Now I was fully convinced this was going to be terrible. I thought of his hot dog.

I watched him make it. His kids all stood around waiting and watching too. I thought it must be some what good or they were born without taste buds. I know little bit about cooking and I thought, there is no way this is going to turn out. As I watched him, all kinds of things were going through my mind. He’s cooking it too long. The butter is going to separate. It won’t be cooked in the middle. Where’s the potatoes? Doesn’t every Norwegian food have potatoes in it??

I had already convinced myself that if its bad, I won’t say a word. I will smile and tell him I like it—I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

It was done. He scooped a tiny amount in my bowl and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. I tasted it. Wow! It was really good! I couldn’t believe it! I gobbled it up and asked for more. It was gone. I looked at him with pleading eyes and humbly, asked, “Will you please make some more?” He smiled.

I always know when a recipe it a big hit with me; I think about it and crave it from time to time. I dream about Rømmegrøte. Yes, it’s that good. Thank you Murray!

Microwave Rømmegrøt

½ cup butter

½ cup flour, unbleached, all-purpose

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup milk

cinnamon and additional sugar

In a large glass bowl, that will fit in your microwave, melt the butter in the microwave, about 30 seconds on high. Stir in flour and sugar. Add the cream and milk, stirring while pouring each in. Microwave for 2 more minutes on high, then Stir. Microwave again for 4 minutes. The butter will leach out of the batter to the sides of the bowl—it’s supposed to do that. Let cool for 2 minutes and scoop a 1/3 cup into 4 bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar to taste.


Sugar and spice makes every thing Nice

In the fall, when I was a little girl, I would race home from school every day to see what my mother had baked. I would run up the steps to our front door. I would stand there for a moment to see if I could smell whatever was baking from outside. When my mother baked with fall spices, I could smell them from outside. I would burst in the front door and stand in the entryway with my eyes closed. I would take in the wonderful scent and imagine I was in heaven.

In the fall my mother would start baking with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. The house would be filled with wonderful smells. My mother loved to surprise my sister and me with fresh-baked treats when we got home from school. Anything with these sweet spices was our favorite.

My favorite fall treat when I was a child, was my mother’s sugar and spice cookies. Now my favorites are fall quick breads. They are not as sweet. Plus, I can spread butter over a warm slice fresh from the oven. The butter melts into the bread and the bread tastes better than any cookie ever could!

Buttered Quick breads

Each fall brings back the sweetest memories for me. When I bake with fall spices, I am transported back to my childhood. I remember playing in the leaves. Wondering around the neighborhood playing tag with cold hands and a runny nose. My friends and I would take long walks through the park and afterwards we would head to my house for one of my mother’s fresh baked treats. My friends would tell me how lucky I was to have a mother who baked.

I now realize how lucky I am that my mother my mother baked. Not only did she bake wonderful treats, but she taught me about the power that food has in the form memories. I cherish those memories. I find myself baking often during fall, hoping to give my own children special “food” memories that will last for a very long time. A little taste or smell of heaven is always good for the soul!

Crumb topping
Crumb topping

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Bread with Walnuts

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. allspice

3 cups sugar

1 cup oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 (15-16 oz.) can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

½ cup walnuts

Streusel Topping

1 cup of flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ walnuts, chopped


Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin and sugar together. Add oil and stir until oil is mixed in.  Add eggs and stir. Set aside.

In another bowl; combine flour, salt, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the pumpkin mixture. Stir just until flour is incorporated. Do not over mix. Add walnuts and gently them fold into the batter.

In a separate bowl; mix the flour, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Add the butter, and mix with a hand mixer or a pie cutter until the topping resembles dry sand and no big pieces of butter remain. Add the vanilla and stir until combine. Add walnuts. With your hands squeeze the streusel into clumps.

Pour into 2 greased loaf pans. Top each loaf half of the streusel mix by breaking the clumps into smaller pieces over the top of the batter. Bake on middle oven rack for 50-60 minutes. When loaves are done, the centers will crack or when a toothpick is inserted, it comes out dry. Cool for 20 minutes and serve warm with butter.

He loves fall too!
He loves fall too!


Recipes · Soups

Pumpkin soup is for real!


Pumpkin Time!
Love going to the pumpkin patch!

When my youngest son was in preschool, I made pumpkin soup for the first time. Inspired by a children’s book he had check out from the local library, called Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper, I decided to try to make my own version of the soup. The story is about three animals (a duck, a cat, and a squirrel) who have a fight over making pumpkin soup. The story is about friendship and working out problems. What resonated with me most, were the beautiful illustrations of fall and cooking together. I loved the book and so did my son. We checked it out many times over the years and made lots of pumpkin soup.

Even though my son is now in high school, I still think about that book when fall rolls around. Fall is a big deal at our house. As a family, we carve pumpkins, make homemade things with fresh pumpkin in them, and we decorate our home for fall with pumpkins proudly sitting at the front door.  So, when my son came home from school one afternoon and said that his teacher told him there is no such thing as pumpkin soup. Really? I was flabbergasted. The teacher told him, you don’t eat pumpkin other than in pumpkin pie. My son tried to convince him that we eat pumpkin soup, but the teacher thought he was mistaken.

This one will do!
My sweet pumpkins!

My son was determined to prove his teacher wrong.

Since that day, I have been making other things with pumpkin. I have made pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin chili, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin candy. I even put pumpkin in other things like stew, with beef roasts, and I roast pumpkin along with other root vegetables like squash.

What I like the most about pumpkin is it’s not so sweet like sweet potatoes, and it adds silky texture in soup or chili.


Pumpkins are very versatile. I will be experimenting with them more over the next few weeks, now that they are easy to find this time of year. I usually purchase the sweeter “sugar” pumpkins. They are the cute littler baking pumpkins you see at farmer’s markets, the grocery store, and road side stands.

Roasting the pumpkin flesh before you use it is the best way to bring out the mild flavor. I basically cut it up into large chunks or if the pumpkins are small, I cut them in half and place them on a baking sheet, then I spray the pieces with cooking oil and bake them until they are soft. If I am using it for chili or soup, I cool it, scoop out the roasted flesh from the skin, and put it in the blender with some water or broth to thin it out. Then I blend it until it’s very smooth. I add my other ingredients to it, heat it back up and dinner is ready. Or you can eat it as you would winter squash. Top it with a little butter and brown sugar.

Picking pumpkins
Family fun!

My son eventually proudly presented his teacher, with a cup of “real” pumpkin soup and the pumpkin soup book proving that not only is pumpkin soup real, its delicious too!

Pumpkin Soup

2 small sugar pumpkins, that weigh about 1 ½ lbs. each, roasted and puree or one can of pumpkin puree (2 ½ cups)

2 tablespoons of butter

¼ cup onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced fine

3 cups chicken stock, more if you like a thinner soup

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash of nutmeg


Garlic croutons, for topping


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.

Cut off the tops of two sugar pumpkins and cut them in half. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and strings, discard. Spray the flesh with cooking oil spray and place cut side down on baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes until soft. Cool for 15 minutes, then peel away skin and discard, set pumpkin aside.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add butter and onion, cooking until tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add remaining ingredients (except the croutons), including the pumpkin, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, reduce heat to low.

Cool soup slightly and transfer to a blender or use an emulsion blender to puree the soup. If using a blender, be careful, soup will be very hot! Pour mixture back into pot. Bring temperature back up and adjust thickness with more broth if necessary. Serve topped with croutons.

No fish for me?
No Soup for me?
Pheasant · Recipes · Soups

Sleepless in Wisconsin

Sometimes it’s the smallest things in life that can make us happy, but it’s the tiniest things that can make us really crabby. If you had stopped over to our house last week, you would have found a messy home, crabby kids, and no food—and no hospitality!

This fall has been painfully busy for our family; no one has had time to cook any kind of meal. We have been existing on peanut and butter jelly sandwiches, frozen pizzas and going out for dinner. One night last week I came home late, and I was really hungry. My family thought I was going to stop at a fast food joint on my way home and didn’t save me any frozen pizza. There is something worse than cold frozen pizza–no cold frozen pizza! I searched high and low for anything to eat. There was literally nothing. The fridge was empty except for some veggies past their prime and condiments. The pantry wasn’t any different, unless I wanted a can of kidney beans or stale, old saltines crackers. I ate an old limp carrot and thought—something has got to change.

Ever get to the end of your patience level? It’s a place where you get a little mad but channel it into productive energy? That’s exactly where I was at 3:32 am on Saturday morning when I couldn’t sleep because my tummy was growling loudly. I got up early that day and made a list of things I would cook later that day, so we would have good things to eat during the week when we were too to busy to cook.

I went to the store and bought enough food to make four different kinds of soups, two entrees, one apple pie, a loaf of homemade bread, and a batch of applesauce. I ended up cooking for 5 hours straight, but it was well worth it! The freezer is now full and everyone is happy again.

Honestly, there is nothing that will make teenage boys crazier, than having no food in the house. They were ecstatic on Saturday. They hovered around the kitchen all day tasting soups and helping me pour food into single serve containers. We sat down together for a warm family meal for the first time in days. Bliss.

We ate all the bread and the apple pie, but the freezer is full of good healthy food and our tummies were full. The only problem now is to find some time to clean the house! I can’t have it all. I’d rather have a full fridge full and a happy family, then a clean house any day!

He's not happy with his dog food or his hair cut!
He’s not happy with his dog food or his hair cut!

A friend gave me this recipe years ago. It has become fall favorite. Both the lentils and barley add some fun texture. The spices all meld nicely and balance well with the tomatoes. Some soups are not filling enough, but this one is perfect, it’s healthy and filling all at the same time.

Chicken Soup with Barely and Lentils

½ cup dry lentils

1 large onion, chopped

½ cup green pepper, chopped

1 clove minced garlic

2 tablespoons butter

5 cups chicken broth

½ cup quick cooking barley

1 ½ cups cooked shredded pheasant or chicken

1 ½ cups chopped carrots

1 -16oz. can chopped tomatoes

½ teaspoon dry basil

¼ teaspoon dry oregano

¼ teaspoon dry rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste


Rinse and drain lentils; set aside. In a large stockpot, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, green pepper, and garlic. Cook gently until tender. Add chicken broth, basil, oregano, rosemary, and lentils. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, simmer on low for 20 minutes with the cover. Add the carrots and the barley. Simmer for another 20 minutes, covered, until the barley is tender, but still chewy and the carrots are soft. Add the pheasant or chicken and the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Serve with fresh crusty bread and a side salad for a hearty fall meal.

Picking pumpkins
Next up: Visiting the pumpkin patch



Not so Foul Fowl

Duck is good. No, actually it’s very good! My husband hasn’t been much of a duck hunter since I’ve known him. A family friend convinced him to go hunting a couple of years ago early before work one day. I hoped he would bring home a duck. I had been thinking about some new recipes for duck for a long time.

Success! He harvested three lovely little ducks (this is good thing, chances are they were young, which means they might not taste as wild as older duck can) that year. Later that same day, I stopped by his work to pick up the ducks and I was greeted at the front door with “Did you hear what’s in the work fridge down stairs?” one of his coworkers, said with wild eyes. She continued on, “Your not going to eat them—are you?” I guess even in a small country town, where many people still hunt, people just aren’t used to men who show up to work in full camouflage with 3 dead ducks (still fully feathered) dangling at his side.

They don't look so intimidating?
They don’t look so intimidating?

Since then, my hubby has been duck hunting many times. Our whole family really likes duck. Last week, our youngest, son shot his first duck. Upon returning home that morning, he immediately asked for a spacific recipe.  If a young teenager asks for a recipe —you know its got to be good. Teenagers are picky!

I think duck is one of the easier “wild things” to cook. It tastes best when you only cook it for a short time. I know duck can be “ducky” tasting, but with some little careful planning, and using the right ingredients, it will not taste gamey.

A couple of years ago, I worked hard on creating recipes using duck for one of the sponsors on Minnesota Bound when I was their cooking host. They all were a huge hit. I played off the flavors of the duck instead of trying to mask them. I’ve found when I try to mask the game flavor; it usually ends up tasting more gamey, because the flavors compete and do not compliment each other. Apples were my inspiration for this recipe and how appropriate for fall!

If you don’t have wild duck, you can use duck purchased for the store and it will taste just as good.

Wild Duck & Apple Appetizers

2 wild duck breasts or one whole store bought duck

Coconut oil, optional

Seasoned salt and pepper to taste

2 small tart apples, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

¼ cup onion, chopped

¼ cup brown sugar, lightly packed

½ cup sour cream

1-2 teaspoons horseradish sauce

16 slices of crostini toasted, garlic bread toast or  baked mini pizza crusts.

Make sure your duck is very clean (okay, not that clean—no soap, please!) and free of feathers. I like to leave the breast skin on to help keep it moist while it cooks, if possible. But if not, I like to use coconut oil and rub it all over the duck breasts. Lightly sprinkle the greased duck with seasoned salt and pepper.

Raw duck ready for the oven.
Raw duck ready for the oven.

Wrapped the breasts in foil and place on a cooking sheet. Baked for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees, just until done. If your ducks are cold, they may need to cook a little longer. DO NOT OVER COOK! The goal is to cook them long enough, until they are fully cooked. Check them often, if need be. When the duck is finished cooking, remove the meat from the bones. Shred the meat using two forks pulling in opposite directions. Remember you will be cooking the meat briefly again, so if it’s not fully cooked that’s okay.

Ready to shred.
Ready to shred.

While the duck is cooking, Sauté the apples and onion with 1-2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of water; cover and cook for 4-5 minutes, until apples are soft. Add 2 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce, 1/4-cup brown sugar. Stir until the apples start to caramelize. Add the shredded duck and heat until duck is hot again, stir into the sauce. Set aside.


Top with the sour cream mixed with a dash of horseradish sauce and pepper. I like to place a small slice of apple on top for garnish. I’ve use chopped chives too. Both are pretty.

Wow your guests!
Wow your guests!


Desserts · Recipes

First Kiss

For me, fall, apples, and first kisses, are synonymous with each other. I remember as a little girl, coming home one perfect fall afternoon from tromping around in the woods super hungry. I had been busy making a leaf house out of mounds of fallen leaves with my favorite neighborhood friend, Peter. We ran back to my house to get a snack. I left Peter on the front steps and went in to quickly grab some apples that my dad had just bought. When I walked into the kitchen, my mother had most of the apples on the kitchen table. They were sitting on this white paper that I had never seen before. Next to the apples, sat a big pile of dinner forks. She was stirring some huge pot of sticky brown stuff.  I figured we were going to have apples for supper or my mother was experimenting again. I quickly asked my mom for a snack so I could get back to my leaf house. She told me to wait for one minute and I could have the best snack ever.

As promised, one minute later, my mother presented me with two big apples dripping with warm homemade caramel. The only stipulation she had was that I bring back the forks she had used to stab the apples with for a handle. Elated, Peter and I ran back to the woods. We stood looking at each other as if we had won the lottery. With such a wonderful prize as a caramel apple we decide we better climb up a tree and eat them, lest my sister or Peter’s brothers came along and asked for a bite.

Peter and I sat up on a high limb of a tree eating our caramel apples. We had caramel all over our faces and sticky apple juice running down wrists and into our shirtsleeves. Out of the blue Peter asked me if he could give me a kiss. I was surprised, but figured it was because I gave him a caramel apple, so I said yes. He leaned over and gave me a big sticky kiss on the cheek (only because I was a chicken and turned my head at the last second). We finished our caramel apples and I took the forks back to my mother.

When I came in the house and my mother saw my face she told me to go and wash up. In the bathroom, I looked in the mirror. I had caramel on my nose, chin, and from the kiss spot on my cheek. I washed all the caramel off except for the kiss spot. I proudly wore my caramel kiss for the rest of the night despite protests from my mother to wash the caramel off my face—if she had only known it was a kiss!

Every fall I remember that day. Caramel apples still have a special spot in my heart. As for Peter, we continued to build woodland forts, climb trees and explore the woods until we grew up and went our separate ways, but I never forgot my first caramel apple kiss.

Share a caramel apple with someone—who knows, maybe you’ll get a kiss?

Caramel Apples

8 tart apples

8 wooden sticks

1 cup, plus 1 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, divided

¾ cup corn syrup

½ cup butter

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt


Lay a piece of parchment paper on a heatproof counter or cookie sheet and coat with cooking spray, set aside. Wash apples and insert sticks where the stem is and set on parchment.

In a large saucepan with a candy thermometer, over medium heat, stir ½ cup of the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and salt, until melted and bubbling. Stop stirring, let caramel reach about 235 degrees then add the rest of the cream. Only stir a couple of times and slowly bring the temperature up to 245 degrees. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Carefully stir in the vanilla it may splatter. Cool until thick enough to coat the apples, but the caramel is still hot. Dip each apple and place on parchment to cool.

Lisa Erickson is a food columnist who loves adventures and food. You can find more recipes on line at or email her at