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chicken soup (a.k.a. flu season soup)

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When my mom was very, very sick from surgeries and chemo, my Aunt Johanna would make her this tummy-warming, cure-all soup. Most days it was the only thing my mom wanted, and the only thing she could keep down. Now that she is a stage 4 cancer survivor (!!!), we still make this soup when anyone is ailing. A cold, the flu, even the slightest sniffle is enough excuse for me to whip up a huge batch of this comforting soup.

In part, that’s where my belief in food as comfort came from (no, I’m not talking about emotional eating…though I have been known to make these cookies at the end of a bad day!) Watching my mom perk up when she ate something she liked (and at that point, eating anything at all) was a beautiful moment to witness. Food was just as healing as medicine. And nowadays, if someone is sick, or has had a new baby, or has suffered a loss, I firmly believe that bringing them a hot meal can make all the difference. If not the food itself, it’s the thought. A Pyrex full of warm soup says I’m thinking about you more than a card or a gift ever could.

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When my little girls have stuffy noses and don’t have much appetite, they’ll still inhale steaming bowls of this soup. But best of all, it takes very little time to make. When you’re caring for someone else, you don’t have time to make everything (or anything!) from scratch. But this soup begins with a store-bought mix, a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, and fresh veggies. All you need to do is throw everything in the pot and let it simmer. It’s not some secret brilliant recipe. But the results taste like it.

Another thing: it isn’t a brothy soup like something from a can. It’s thick and rich, chock-full of egg noodles, chunks of chicken, carrots and celery. If your patient needs nourishment, it’s all inside the bowl. You can tweak it as you like, adding different vegetables, more or less noodles, a bit of extra chicken stock. Make it the way your family likes it. And then sit back, turn on a movie, and settle in with your sick little patients and a warm bowl of homemade chicken soup.

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Chicken Soup (a.k.a. flu season soup)                                   Printable Chicken Soup

This soup is a creation of my Aunt Johanna. She’s a wonderful cook, and is quick to whip up a batch whenever someone is sick. To double the batch, use 2 packages of soup mix and more stock as needed. Freezes beautifully in Ziploc bags!  

Serves 8-12

  • 1 package Mrs. Grass Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup mix (available at Kroger stores or online at Amazon)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 package (6 oz.) egg noodles (add the full package if you like thicker soup with lots of noodles…I do!)
  • 1 pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, skin discarded, shredded or chopped
  • 1 package baby carrots
  • 6 stalks celery, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Bring soup mix, water (Mrs. Grass mix calls for 8 cups), and chicken broth to a boil in a large pot. Add noodles and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until noodles are cooked, 10-12 minutes or according to the time instructed on your package of noodles.

2. Add chicken, celery, carrots, salts and pepper. Stir and let simmer (covered) an additional 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve with a hunk of crusty bread for dipping.

kalua pork sliders

I was having one of those days where I wanted to buy a whole pig, dig a pit in my backyard, and just roast the crap out of the damn thing Luau-style. But a couple of things stood in my way: 1) I don’t actually know where to get an entire pig at the drop of a hat. Head? Sure. Feet? No problem. But the whole beast? I think I’d have to order it. Or drive outside the city. Which I don’t like to do on the weekends (Seattle traffic is a bitch).

2) If I came home with a pig carcass my animal-loving 3 year-old would name it, put a leash on it, and try to walk it around the yard. Mommy, why are you burying Puffaluff? Over a bed of hot coals? Oh, Mommy whyyyyyy????!!!!!! I can’t afford the therapy. 3) I live adjacent to the fire department. Quite literally. And with my luck, the boys (and girl–there is one) would be lured over the fence by the smell of roasting swine and write me some sort of citation for, I don’t know, an illegal animal roast.

So I nixed the whole pig idea and settled for a 4-pound roast and this lovely recipe from La Fuji Mama. It has all the flavor of that slow-roasted Hawaiian pork, but you don’t have to locate a whole swine, scar your daughter for life, or burn your house down to get it.

Hawaiian red and black sea salts (available at better grocers or spice markets; I bought mine in bulk for about $1.25 total) lend an earthy flavor, while liquid smoke (usually on the aisle near the BBQ sauce) substitues for the pit and charcoal. I downsized to a 4-pound roast (the recipe calls for 5-6), and it fed six of us with lots of leftovers.

Prick the roast all over with the tip of a sharp knife…

…and rub with the red and black sea salts. It will look super attractive.

Cook on low for 10 hours with a dash of liquid smoke, and that’s it!

Shred.

Take a picture of Charlie, because she spies the camera and is saying “cheeeeeeeese!”

Take a better picture of Charlie.

For a casual dinner party we piled the pork on soft slider buns with good coleslaw. Everyone went back for seconds. And thirds. And the best part? The pork took no time at all to make, so I could sit back, relax, and plot where to dig my pig-roasting hole.

-RDG

 

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Kalua Pork Sliders quantities and times adjusted from La Fuji Mama’s fabulous recipe 

Serves 8

  •  4 lb pork shoulder (butt) roast
  • 1 tbsp red hawaiian sea salt
  • 1 tbsp black hawaiian sea salt
  • 1 tbsp liquid smoke
  • slider buns (I like King’s Hawaiian)
  • good slaw, for topping
1. Rinse pork roast and pat dry. Prick all over with the tip of a sharp knife. Rub with salts.
2. Place roast in slow cooker , pour liquid smoke over the meat, cover and cook on low for 10 hours (you may be able to cook it longer, depending on how “low” your lowest setting is on your slow cooker).
3. Discard 1/3 to 1/2 the juices and shred the meat with two forks, tossing with the rest of the juices (if you later chill the shredded meat without discarding some of the fat, you’ll find the solidified fat hard to pick around).
4. Pile slider buns high with pork and top with slaw. Enjoy!

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cookie dough truffles, and a giveaway!

One of my favorite bloggers, Lindsay Landis of Love and Olive Oil, has come out with a gorgeous cookbook.

It’s entirely about cookie dough! No more sneaking naughty tastes of raw egg dough straight from the bowl: Lindsay’s recipes are egg-free, so there’s no guilt.

You can make dreamy concoctions like cookie dough cheesecake…

Mexican chocolate cookie dough tartlets…

Cookie dough ice cream sandwiches…

And cookie dough layer cake, for a special someone’s birthday.

I was most intrigued by her recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, so I gave them a go. All you do is mix up a quick, egg-free chocolate chip cookie dough…

Form into balls and dip in chocolate (I decided to make them into pops–it made them easier to dip and fun to eat)…

And swoon. Cookie dough wrapped in chocolate? Dude. This lady is genius.

The best part about her new cookbook? You can win it. Right here, right now.

To enter, just leave me a confession in the comments: do you eat raw cookie dough? Me: yes. Always. With a spoon. Or a finger. Or a spoon and a finger. And the winner is: MeganM . Congrats, Megan! I’ll be emailing you for your address soon.

The fine print: U.S. Addresses only. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner a week from today (monday, June 11). Good luck! 

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles from The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook by Lindsay Landis

Makes: 30 to 40 truffles  Active Time: 1 hour   Total Time: 2 hours

For Cookie Dough:

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

For Chocolate Coating:

  • 8 ounces dark-chocolate candy coating

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in milk and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt and mix on low speed (or by hand) until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and chill dough for 30 minutes or until firm enough to handle.

Form dough into 1-inch balls and arrange them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place sheets in freezer for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, melt chocolate candy coating in a double boiler or microwave according to package directions, being careful not to overheat it. Using a fork or dipping tool, dip truffles one at a time in candy coating to cover. Tap fork on the edge of the bowl to shake off excess coating, and return truffles to baking sheets to set. If you have any leftover coating, transfer it to a piping bag or squeeze bottle fitted with a small round tip and pipe decorative lines over top of truffles—or simply drizzle coating with a fork for an abstract finish.

Refrigerated in airtight container, truffles will keep for up to 1 week, though I dare you to make them last that long.

the organic dilemma

Probably like many of you, I shop according to sales. Buy one get one free? Sign me up. Grapes for $0.99/lb? Heck yes. 10 for $10? I just peed myself a little bit.

But that being said, I won’t buy just anything. I stay mostly away from pre-packaged stuff, unless it’s healthy-ish snacks for the kids to stash in my purse on the go. There are items where I go full-hippie: cage-free, hormone-free eggs, humanely-raised, organic meat and poultry, wild-caught seafood, milk, etc. There are foods where I’m willing to compromise and go non-organic when the price is right (strawberries, grapes, certain new-crop apples, and some other fruits and veggies, but not all).

At certain points in my life when I’ve insisted on walking to the grocery store and wearing crystal deodorant (which does in no way, shape or form deodorize anything, in case you were wondering. I’m sorry if you were in my company during that phase.), I’ve splurged and gone full organic on everything. And what I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, is that it’s not always worth it. I don’t know the science behind organic farming, but I’m fairly sure that the chemicals that could scare a Deadhead away from a reunion show are there partially for pest control and partially to preserve produce from farm to table. I can count on five hands the number of times I’ve spent double digits on organic fruits and vegetables only to find them spoiled the very next day in my crisper.

This blog post began seeding in my brain when I was out in the garden planting grape starts. Once I had them in the ground, surrounded by organic compost and ready to grow away on their hand built trellis, I needed a way to feed them. The only thing I had in the garage was scary-looking Miracle Grow crystalized all-purpose plant food, which is dyed a shocking electric blue. I use it to feed my potted flowers. Although the package insisted it could be used for fruits and vegetables, there was no way I was going to put that stuff on grapes I was eventually going to eat.

But the very same day I went to the market and purchased a package of non-organic strawberries (on a great sale), which had probably been fed with something akin to the electric-blue Miracle Grow.

Why am I a hypocrite?

It’s partially the distance; I don’t see the pesticides on the strawberry farm. I just know that the berries are sweet and pretty and two pounds for $5.99. Moreover, they won’t go bad in two days, giving my family more time to eat them. The organic ones are not as pretty and maybe as sweet, but twice (or three times) the price, and will go bad if I don’t use them in a very short window, wasting their expensive juiciness.

I suppose we all have choices to make when it comes to quality and budget. Sometimes our values of one override the other, and sometimes the two intermingle, as in my case. In an ideal word I’d shop for everything at the farmer’s market and not have to think twice about paying $15 for apples. But the reality is that our family goes through an enormous amount of food and we’re enormously busy. I make the best choices I can and try to keep the credit card in check.

Tell me in the comments: What do you absolutely buy organic? What do you compromise on?

cinco de leche {tres leches cake}

One of the reasons I seem to have fallen off the face of the food blogging planet is that I used to have a tiny assistant in the kitchen. Lucy would “help” me with everything from stirring flour and salt to icing cakes to tasting sauces. When her younger sister Charlie was tiny we still went on our merry way in the kitchen, Charlie napping in her swing or basking on a stack of blankets on the dining room floor. But now that my baby is not quite a baby anymore and demands my attention at all times (that fun but taxing “up!” “down!” “water!” “grapes!” “I crapped my pants!” “The car seat? What are you, insane?!” stage), my time in the kitchen (with or without Lucy) has grown slim.

But when some dear friends asked us over for fish tacos and margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, I knew we had to bring tres leches cake. I fall back to Pioneer Woman’s recipe for this one, because it’s easy and delicious and I knew that Lucy and I would have a blast making it together.

{Lucy grew tired of poking the cake with a fork and decided a chopstick would be more efficient.}

We carved out some time to bake, just the two of us. I hadn’t gotten down and dirty in the kitchen (read: flour flying into the corners of the ceiling, egg whites dripping down the countertops) with her for a long while, and as we went through the steps of making the cake I came to realize that my oldest baby was no longer a baby anymore, either. Instead of wanting to simply make messes for messes sake, she began asking questions about the process.

“What is that [baking powder] for, Mom?”

“Why do you spray that [cooking spray] into there [a 9x13 pan]?”

“What’s going to happen when we mix them together?”

“Why does it go in the oven?”

A few of her questions were the simple “3 year old why’s” but many were so pointed that I began explaining what each ingredient was for, why we used it, and how it would make the cake taste. She was fascinated. I’d like to think that she’s so interested because I’ve been letting her cook with me since she could hold a spoon, but more than likely it’s simply because she’s a curious girl. Whatever the reason, I was in delighted awe as we mixed, poured and spread.

We baked the cake in the evening, and I told her that the next morning her job would be to pour the milk mixture over the top, help me whip the cream, stem the strawberries (for topping), and frost the cake. As I was putting her to bed she said, “Mom, I can’t wait for my special cake job tomorrow!” And then I melted into a puddle of tears onto the floor and cried because my baby girl is certainly not a baby, at all. When the old granny in the grocery store quips “they just grow up so fast!” she doesn’t say that their first word will be dada and seemingly the next will be “why do the egg whites get all puffy when you turn the mixer on really fast?”

{Pink on pink on pink. A mind and style of her own.}

But back to the cake. If you’ve never tried tres leches, come on over to the dark side. Essentially you bake a very dry, airy cake and soak it with a mixture of sweet milks. Each slice oozes with caramel-flavored cream. I make this several times a year for different occasions and everyone seems to think that it’s sent from a magical dessert deity. I’ve tried different versions, but I think Ree’s is the best. Plus, if you make it with your kids you will create 1) a giant, fun, magical mess, 2) a giant, fun, magical cake, and 3) memories in the kitchen with your wee ones. Just don’t collapse into the closet into a pile of tears like I did when you realize they’re old enough to crack an egg by themselves.

You can find my step-by-step instructions in an older post on tres leches here, or Ree’s prettier photos and recipe here.

 

panang curry soup

It was just sitting there, taunting me. “You can’t drink me, silly lady. I’m a sauce! Not a soup.” I don’t like to be told what to do. So I took one look at the remnants of the panang curry from our favorite thai place, told it to shut it’s stupid panang curry mouth, and drank it.

It was right. It was too rich to be drunk. But it’s flavors—oh, it’s flavors!—creamy coconut, salty chicken broth, spicy red curry; they were destined to be in sippable form. So I set out to make this classic thai dish into a soup that can be both eaten and slurped, both without judgment.

I began with the classic panang curry ingredients: carrots, scallions, lime, shallot, ginger, garlic, and mushroom. For body I added yam, two types of potato, and boneless, skinless chicken thighs to start the broth.

You’ll also need thai red curry paste (available in most grocery stores), chicken broth, and coconut milk. Not pictured but also needed: olive oil, butter, water and flour.

Begin by rinsing the chicken and patting it dry. Trim off any excess fat, check for stray bones, and then cut into 1″ pieces.

Brown the chicken in a bit of oil until no longer pink. It’s best to do this in a big pot so you can make the soup in it, too.

While the chicken is cooking, you can mince the garlic and shallot…

…peel and chop the carrot…

…and dice the potatoes (peel the yam first).

Remove the chicken from the pot, add a bit more oil, and brown the garlic and shallot.

Add the potatoes and carrot and cook until tender.

Meanwhile, chop the shallots…

…and quarter the mushrooms (I like to lop off the very end of the stems first, but it’s not completely necessary).

Remove the potatoes and carrots from the pot. Melt the butter and quickly stir in the flour to make a roux.

Whisk in the broth, coconut milk and red curry paste, scraping the bottom of the pan to release all of the browned bits.

Add the chicken, vegetables, mushrooms, and scallions. Zest and juice half of the lime into the soup.

Grate in the ginger (I like to use the microplane for this, but if you don’t have one, the thin side of a cheese grater works just fine). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it reaches the thickness you desire.

Serve with more chopped scallions and a slice of lime if desired, and a crusty bread, pita or naan on the side for dipping. Breathe it in. Savor. And slurp away.

Panang Curry Soup        printable recipe

Serve with a crusty bread, toasted pita or warmed naan for sopping up the fragrant, spicy broth.

Active time: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour. 

Serves 8

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small yam
  • 1 large yukon gold potato
  • 1 large red potato
  • 1 small bunch scallions
  • 1/2 lb crimini or white mushrooms
  • 1 piece ginger root, roughly the size of your finger
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth or chicken stock
  • 2 cans coconut milk (not light)
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste (more if your like more spice)
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1 lime
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pan (preferably one you can create the whole pot of soup in) over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown the chicken with the salt until no longer pink, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot.
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2. Mince the garlic and shallot. Peel the carrots and cut into 1/2″ coins. Peel the yam and dice (I find a 3/4″ dice works well for soups) along with the potatoes.  Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot and add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Add the shallot and saute for 1 minute more. Add the carrots, yam and potatoes; reduce heat to medium and cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Remove from pot.
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3. While the vegetables are cooking, chop the scallions and quarter the mushrooms. Peel the ginger root. Set aside.
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4. In the same pot, melt the butter and quickly stir in the flour, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth, coconut milk, red curry paste and water, scraping the bottom of the pan as you stir to release the browned bits. Add the chicken, carrot and potato mixture, mushrooms, and scallions (reserving a few tablespoons of scallions for serving, if desired). Zest and juice half of the lime into the soup, reserving the other half of the lime for serving. Grate the ginger into the soup. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, curry paste or lime if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until soup reaches the thickness you desire. Taste once again for seasoning and serve.

 

 

 

creative kid snacks

The other day Dave and I were wrangling Lucy at the drug store.

Daddy, look at THIS! I want it!” 

“Mommy, it’s pink! It’s CINDERELLA SHAMPOO! Can I drink it?” 

“I NEED THIS TOW MATER BALL! NO I DON’T WANT TOW MATER I WANT LIGHTENING McQUEEN!” 

Dave looks at me. “Why is marketing so damn effective for kids? They are the biggest suckers for advertising EVER.”

It’s true. If you want to see a toddler meltdown, tell them they can’t have that Thomas the Train frisbee. As parents, it’s incredibly frustrating. Sometimes I feel like the companies responsible are suckering me out of my money because they know a pink princess potty will work for toilet training. They know a Dora water bottle will get Little Miss Picky to drink more liquids. They know a Hello Kitty Band Aid will calm the crying after a scraped knee. And even if your kid has never watched television, they somehow know who all these cartoon characters are. Gah!

But what I’ve come to realize is that gimmicks work because kids just don’t want things to be boring. They want something they can identify with, something that’s fun. So as parents, we can totally use this to our advantage.

Take snacking, for example. I have a heck of a time getting Lucy to snack healthy. I’ve tried every trick in the book and she still whines for granola bars and goldfish. But if I make snacks fun—give her an activity within the snack—it works like a charm.

I give you the Peanut Butter Fishin’ Hole. Stick pretzels in a lake of peanut butter (hippie peanut butter—natural with no added sugar), surrounded by dried blueberries.

The sticky peanut butter allows your little one to “fish” for blueberries. I guarantee you’ll hear “Mom! I got one!” over and over. Lucy even asks for this one for breakfast.

Her other favorite? The Hummus Hut. Get architectural with some thick hummus, a few baby carrots and some snap peas.

If your kid’s imagination is anything like Lucy’s, they’ll be making up stories about who lives in the house (for her, it’s a monkey and a sock), how they water the garden, where they park the car, what they eat for dinner…and then their humble abode will be munched to pieces. Poor little hut dwellers.

It’s also fun to make hummus cars using olives or grape tomatoes as wheels. Zoom, zoom.

And the last member of my creative snack arsenal is Nutella Builders. Cut up fruit into different shapes and sizes, add a dollop of Nutella and break apart a few graham crackers.

Give your tiny snacker a child-safe knife for spreading the Nutella (or let them use their fingers if you like) and then watch them get creative with the fruit. Clearly I’m not as inspired as my toddler because I made a happy face. Lucy has been known to create puppies, hospitals and motorcycles. If you don’t have Nutella it’s easy to substitute cream cheese, peanut butter, or even hummus with crackers and chopped veggies.

Your little one doesn’t want anything to be dull, so let them use a little creative energy during snack time. You might even be able to steer them toward healthier, whole foods. Steering them away from that Disney Princess Halloween costume, however? Sorry. Can’t help you there.

What are your tricks to get kids to snack healthy?