Good Grief Out of My Comfort Zone Hot & Sour Soup

Hot & Sour Soup

Hot & Sour Soup

If you have been following this blog from the beginning you already know it is about me stepping out of my comfort zone. Being such a private person exposing myself in a blog is a huge jump into a world I consider uncomfortable. Both my kids made stepping outside the comfort zone seem easy. They relished life off the beaten path venturing into worlds of unchartered territory. My goodness they both swam with sharks. William in the Pacific doing some night spear fishing (yikes) and Caitlin in the Caribbean collecting data for a coral reef project. Suffice to say their brave bones did not come from me.

Will & Cait inspire me to be brave

Will & Cait inspire me to be brave

They both have adventurous palates, too. While I easily forego dishes like balut (A balut or balot is a developing duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell. ), cow tongue and snails my children dive right in. They will try anything at least once. For the competitive cook in me these children are a blessing testing my experiments in the kitchen.

chicken broth

chicken broth

This week I stepped outside the comfort zone by playing with chicken feet. If you think the photo above is nasty just consider what they are like in the flesh. Icky is a good word! Apparently, it takes good bones to make good chicken broth, so I went all in with the chicken feet, neck bones and backs. I have to admit it is worth the time and effort. Way better than the canned stuff. Bet you already knew that.IMG_0830

This week begins the Chinese New Year. It’s snowing like nobody’s business in my neck of the woods and my husband has been working the snow blower. To warm him up I made his favorite hot & sour soup. We love Asian food and often judge a restaurant by how well the chef prepares this dish. It’s tricky business to get a balance of flavors and a good broth consistency.

Hot & Sour Soup

6 ounces thinly sliced pork , cut into slivers( boneless pork chop works)

3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, divided

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided

1 teaspoon corn starch, divided

1 ounce dried shitake mushrooms

1 ounce dried wood ear mushrooms

1 ounce dried lily buds, cut into 2-inch lengths

4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon Asian 5 spice powder

6 cups chicken broth, home made or store-bought

1 (12 oz) package extra-firm tofu, diced

¼ cup Chinkiang vinegar (black vinegar)

½ to 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 egg

chopped fresh cilantro, optional

In bowl, marinate pork in 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and ½ teaspoon cornstarch for 30 minutes. In large bowl, rehydrate mushrooms and lily buds in hot water (just enough to cover them) for 30 minutes. In saucepan, over medium high heat, cook pork, green onions, garlic and ginger, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in 5-spice. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Add tofu, mushrooms, lily buds, vinegar, sriracha, white pepper, remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Bring to a simmer and adjust seasoning to your taste with vinegar and sriracha. (if you find the vinegar to harsh you can balance out the flavor with 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar).  Beat the egg with the remaining ½ teaspoon of cornstarch. With the soup at a simmer slowly pour the egg in a thin steady stream. Let set 10 to 15 seconds to cook before stirring. Season with kosher salt, if necessary and serve topped with additional chopped scallions and cilantro.

Note: if you don’t have an Asian market where all these ingredients can be found substitute fresh mushrooms, canned bamboo shoots, and a mix of equal parts rice and red wine vinegar for the black vinegar

Faith & Chicken Soup

tortilla soup

People who have religion and a strong faith in God are to be admired. It seems they can weather any storm, any hardship and all tragic events that come into their lives. They believe in God’s plan and that God is in control. They trust in God. They understand this world is not paradise and pain and death and dying are inevitable. They believe suffering happens for a reason. Each crisis is looked upon as a learning experience and a reminder that following in the steps of Jesus Christ brings relief and hope.

Honestly, I hate God’s plan for me and every other mother who has lost a child. As spiritual as I am I am not particularly religious. Raised by a strict Catholic mother and a father who thought the Catholic church was nothing more than a big business my upbringing was filled with catechism questions and doubts. In fact, later in life, all I ever prayed was, “Please Lord keep my children safe”, so you can imagine my current dilemma. As much as I tried to get religion, I am my father’s daughter and can’t rely on faith to help me through this.  However, William believed in God and that has helped. In his final preparations for his Afghanistan deployment he carefully packed his favorite prayers. He relied on God to get him through a crisis. He was also prepared to die believing that we would all see each other again. The thought that I will see him again warms my heart and fills me with joy. Walking in his light and being more like him–maybe that is God’s plan.

found in his fatigue pocket

found in his fatigue pocket

well used in Afghanistan; found in his wallet

well used in Afghanistan; found in his wallet


The weather has turned cold. Time for a comforting soup. Quinoa Chicken Chowder warms the soul while nourishing the body. It’s important to take care of oneself before, during and after the storm and an easy one-pot meal that includes all the food groups helps. Enjoy this award winning recipe. It dates back to 1997 and took first place in the Gold Kist Farms Winning Taste Recipe Contest.

Quinoa Chicken Chowder

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces

¼ cup uncooked quinoa

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

1 large onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1 whole dried chipotle pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth

1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn, drained

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

crisp tortilla chips, optional

Melt butter in Dutch oven or large stockpot over medium heat. Add chicken, quinoa, potato, onion, peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until chicken is no longer pink. Add broth and corn; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa is cooked and potatoes are tender. Add milk, salt and pepper; cook until just heated through. Remove and discard chipotle pepper (or if you like it hot mince it up and add back to the soup). Stir in cilantro. Ladle soup into serving bowls and top with cheese and tortillas. Serves 4 to 6.