Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Battling the "Bug" with Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Like most children of baby boomer moms, I remember mine extolling the virtues of chicken soup whenever my sister or I were down with a "bug"~ no matter if it were of the cold or flu type. Every once in a while we would have the "Italian Penicillin" of my Grandma Pitalo's chicken soup, but having a working mom, we didn't get the homemade stuff too often.
This would generally mean getting out the familiar red and white can along with the can
opener and heating it up according to directions on the stovetop. This, of course, was made even easier when the first microwave oven came into our family's kitchen.

Even so, on the advent of my child's first "bug", I sought that familiar red and white can of my childhood. After using the dreaded canned soup for a few years, I came upon the idea- and a simple recipe- for homemade chicken noodle soup. Needless to say, this revelation opened up a culinary world of soup wonders. My family has been subjected~ or the "test subjects" as they like to quip~ to a virtual plethora of goodness in a soup bowl.

Now that they are either at young adulthood or on the cusp of it, we've been trying some new soups thanks, in part, to the variety of veggies we've been getting in our Gardenripe CSA box~ the last for the season- which I am sorry to say- was delivered last Thursday. It was with much sadness and yet expectation for what next season's boxes may include, that I have tried to think through how to use our remaining stash of farm fresh produce sitting in our fridge and on the counter.

This brings me to our Thai Coconut Chicken Soup. With three sickies in our house dealing with the flu going around, I knew chicken soup was needing to be made. Instead of doing my standard "Multi-Ethnic" Chicken Soup Penicillin, I decided to try something using the bok choy in our fridge. I came across the recipe and adapted it for what I had available. It was indeed a hit with the whole family as everyone liked it. I am not a medical person, but I do know everyone has been starting to feel better ever since they ate the soup last night. It could be just the timing, but who knows, it could be the soup...

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

3 tablespoons crushed garlic (Don't yell~I used jarred stuff we had- fresh would even be better)
3 tablespoons grated ginger (Again, I used jarred stuff we had- fresh would even be better)
1/4 cup sliced leeks, white and light green part only
1 yellow onion
1 teaspoon each cumin & coriander
1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) Sriracha Hot Sauce
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
4 cups shredded bok choy
4 cups water
2 cans coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce, if desired

Saute garlic, ginger, leeks, onion and spices in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in large soup pot over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Add hot sauce & chicken and cook for about 4 minutes to blend flavors. Add remaining ingredients; simmer at least 10 minutes~ it actually tastes better the longer it simmers!!
David likes to serve his with Thai sweet chili sauce~ it adds another dimension to this delicious dish!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grandma Pitalo's Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Bars~ the revised recipe

1/2 cup butter
1/2 peanut butter (smooth or chunky- you choose)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cup unsifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (Grandma used Nestle's, but I like Guittard)
1 1/2 cup Reece's Peanut Butter chips (I used Nestle's Chocolate & Peanut Butter Swirl Chips)

Cream butter, peanut butter, sugars, eggs & vanilla until light and fluffy. Combine flour, salt & baking soda; add to creamed mixture. Stir chips into batter. Spread mixture evenly into greased 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" x 1" jelly roll pan. Bake at 350F degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan. Cut into bars. Makes 48 cookies.

Grandma said, "I left mine in 20 minutes and the edges were a little too brown. I am sure it was my stove. Ovens vary. I put in 3/4 c. chopped walnuts. Very good. Watch oven."

Revisiting Grandma Pitalo's Cookie Bars

One of my most treasured possessions has to be the recipes from my grandparents handed down for future generations of cooks in our family. Included in this collection is a notebook my Grandma Pitalo gave me on my 21st birthday. Not only does this contain recipes the family and friends have enjoyed for close to 100 years, but it is a hand-written legacy passed on from one foodie to another~ we didn't even use that term during her lifetime, but I know she would chuckle and agree with being called a foodie. Grandma passed away in 1996, but her love of food lives on every time the big, green binder gets opened up. I am not the only one who has been the recipient of Grandma's legacy~ she also wrote out one for my mom as well as my sister. In turn, I have taken it upon myself to make sure all the great-grandkids~ whom she loved more than one can imagine~ receive a copy of these recipes at the appropriate time such as at my oldest niece, Jennifer's, wedding shower. It took me a while to decide how to do the cookbook- in the end I decided she had to have it in Grandma's hand just like the way it was given to her mom and me. Thankfully, all the work I put into getting a binder, copying the recipes & putting them into page protectors (to make it look as close to the originals as possible) was worth it as the expression on her face dawned from not being sure to tears when she realized what she was getting. I am looking forward to being able to do this for my nieces and my own children when the time comes!

I have so often made Grandma's recipes that some are put by the wayside as I open up my many other cookbooks or get out recipes cut out of cooking magazines that I have amassed. Thankfully, my kids will remind me of one recipe or another in the binder that they've got a taste for, so out it comes- stained pages and all (I know Grandma knew what she was doing with using page protectors)!! The latest recipe to get out was Grandma's Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Squares. We ended up using this recipe at the Salem Alliance Church High School retreat last weekend at the Oregon coast. My best friend, Shelly, who was there as one of my "sous chefs", worked her dessert-magic as we transformed Grandma's recipe just tweaking it a bit to add a bit more peanut butter. They were so good that I had to make a double batch yesterday just so the rest of my family who wasn't at the retreat could try them. They were, of course, a hit as is evidenced by the rapidly dwindling stack sitting in the container in the bread/snack drawer!

I plan on continuing to revisit Grandma's recipes along with the other recipes I have from family members even amidst the ever-changing and new recipes I collect, if for no other other reason than to keep the foodie legacy of our family alive, and hopefully, well.

Pork & Veggie Stew with Creamy Polenta

  1. For Stew:
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch chunks
  4. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  5. 1 large fennel bulb, finely diced
  6. 1 small Walla Walla sweet onion, finely diced
  7. 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
  8. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  9. 2 teaspoons mild chile powder
  10. 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  11. Pinch of dried oregano
  12. 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  13. 1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
  14. Two 6-ounce red potatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  15. One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  16. 1 pound tomatillos—husked, rinsed and cut into 1-inch dice
  17. For Creamy Polenta:
  18. 1 3/4 cups dried polenta
  19. 1 1/2 quarts water
  20. 1 tablespoon sea salt
  21. 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  22. 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream
  23. For Garnish:
  24. Manchego cheese, thinly sliced


  1. In a medium casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat until browned on 2 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the diced chile, garlic, chile powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and tomatillos, cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, at least 25 minutes. This can be left on the stove for up to 1 hour before serving.*
  2. While stew is cooking, prepare polenta. Bring salted water to boil over high heat. Slowly stir in polenta. Lower heat to medium-low while stirring. Cook over medium-low for 15 minutes, stirring continuously. Add cream cheese and half & half or cream while still stirring. Adjust seasoning (salt & pepper, if desired) and bring heat down to low. Allow to cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Place about 1/2 cup polenta in bottom of bowl. Cover with stew. Garnish with Manchego. Find a cozy spot to curl up and eat~ or sit with the family at the dining room table :-) Enjoy! *This is even tastier when reheated the next day since the flavors have all been able to meld!! Just reheat and serve~ the stew can also be frozen for up to 2 months.

Reflections of a Caterpillar...and Some Stew Too

I don't know about anyone else, but the weather here in Salem has been so very autumny! As I am sitting in my somewhat cozy dining room watching the rain fall causing the oak leaves in our yard to tumble to the ground, I feel a bit like a caterpillar starting a little cocoon~ I can still see what's going on around me, but I am quite snuggly in my own little space. Okay, so enough of the caterpillar comparisons and on to what I really planned on writing...

With the season and weather change comes ones' need for warm and comforting food. A few things come to mind, but for me it's usually stew or soup~ served, of course, with some kind of tummy-warming carbohydrate like French bread, pasta, rice or, in this case, polenta. I was going to just make a beef stew, but I also have been trying to think outside the box lately. With this in mind~ and some funky veggies in the fridge~ I decided to make a stew with pork loin. I found a recipe for Pork & Tomatillo Stew on the Food & Wine website (one of my new favorite magazines). Not wanting to totally copy it, I made a few changes. We had it served with creamy polenta and some shavings of Manchego cheese (one of my new favorite hard cheeses).
The whole family sunk their spoons into the soft polenta and tender pork with veggies~ even David, who hasn't been feeling good, enjoyed it. It may not be chicken soup, but I think it definitely qualifies for a "mother's soup-recipe penicillin"!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Honey Bunches Muffins

These were supposed to be made with raisin bran and regular milk, but we didn't have any, so I improvised. The muffins got great reviews from everyone that ate them~ moist, not overly sweet and with just a bit of a crunch, they are perfect for going with morning coffee or as an afternoon snack!

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 cups Honey Bunches of Oats cereal
1-8 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup water
2 cups unbleached flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons raw sugar (also known as turbinado sugar)

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl combine sweetened milk, sour cream and water and stir in cereal; let stand until softened, about 8 minutes.

Stir oil and egg into cereal mixture. Add flour, b. powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Mix just until blended. Divide batter among cups. Bake, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack; serve either warm or cool. Makes 12 muffins

Thoughts from the Middle of the Week

Wednesdays are now one of my favorite days of the week which seems really strange since it usually gets a bad wrap as "hump day" or in the child's verse, "Wednesday's child is full of woe". This day is special to me for a few reasons~ I meet with a group of ladies for a terrific Bible study, it's my day off from my job as a fencing instructor, AND it's the day that Mary and I, along with my other kids sometimes, get to make and try new recipe ideas!

Today was no exception of any of the reasons~ Bible study was really great as I even brought some Honey Bunches Muffins to share. I mentioned to the gals that these were an experiment, and they were happy to be guinea pigs! Mary and I also made some delicious soup for dinner. Plus we bought some tofu and rice thread noodles that we plan on trying sometime in the next week or so when we ran by our local United Grocers to pick up a couple of things~ we always end up with a few more goodies than we plan when we stop by there.

This weekend should prove interesting as I am heading to Camp Winema on the Oregon coast to cook for about 80 people at Salem Alliance Churches' high school retreat. I've been doing it for the past 4 years, and it's one of the highlights of my year! The food is so much fun to make, and it's a blessing to be involved in such an amazing weekend!! I try to make stuff from scratch, and we always try new recipes every year. Look for photos and recipes next week!