Family Dinner Night – Cooking with Your Kids

cooking with your kids

It’s tough, getting your kids to eat healthy, good food on a regular basis.  At least, that’s been my experience.  One of the things we’ve done in our family, in an effort to model good behavior and foster a sense of inclusion, is to institute a Family Dinner Night.  On Family Dinner Night the kids get to pick what we eat (we have a pretty large array of cookbooks, some of which are pretty kid friendly) and help us cook it.  There really is no better way to encourage children to eat than to make them part of the process.

Homemade Chicken Tenders

Much has been made recently about the ‘Tyranny of the Chicken Tender.’  There’s definitely a tendency to appeal to juvenile tastes on the part of the food industry.  Kid friendly foods like chicken tenders don’t have to be unhealthy or prefab, though.  Recently we cooked these delightful DIY homemade chicken tenders with our kids (Ginny got the idea from a really neat Disney kids cookbook, the Disney Princess Cookbook).


They enjoyed helping crack open the eggs.  Ginny started out the egg mixing process, and then my wife finished the process.

Dipping in the coating

Next we dipped the chicken breast strips into the egg wash, then shook them up in a bag filled with the coating (mostly crunched up crackers, flour, a little cornmeal, paprika, parmesan cheese, pepper and garlic powder).

Chicken on the baking sheet

One spray coated pan later and all of the chicken tenders were ready to bake (much healthier than frying them, and they still end up crispy).

Flipping the chicken tenders

Ten minutes later they were ready to flip and go back in the oven.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Ginny wanted a dipping sauce for the chicken tenders, so we made this easy Sweet and Sour Sauce recipe.

  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • a little grated ginger
  • a little bit of fresh cracked pepper

Cooking Sweet and Sour Sauce

Just add everything to a pot and mix.

Ginny's Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce

Heat up the sauce until it just starts to bubble, mixing the whole time.  Ginny loved helping with that part.  Then take it off the heat and let it cool down before serving.

Helping Mommy Cook

Ginny loved helping her mommy cook.

Jack's Salad Dressing

Jack wanted to help too, so he made his famous salad dressing.

What’s your experience?  Does instituting a Family Dinner Night where the kids help to cook help encourage them to eat?  What do they like to help cook?

(And yes, the prodigal has returned to blogging.  I apologize for my extended absence.  I’ll be blogging more again soon.)

pav bhaji streetfood

Pav Bhaji Recipe – A Vegetarian Mumbai Street Food

pav bhaji streetfood

There’s a strong tradition in countries with high population metropolitan areas (such as India) of street food.  This is economical food, using ingredients for their ease of availability and affordability.  While America doesn’t really have a huge tradition of ‘street food’ per se (unless you count the food truck craze of the last decade or so), there’s a lot to be learned from street food in other cultures, easily incorporated into a modern American kitchen.  Pav bhaji is a street food using the most ubiquitous of ingredients, white bread, specifically a type of roll.  This pav bhaji recipe is essentially an economical, tasty and spicy quick and easy vegetarian curry (I have other curry recipes too).

assembled ingredients

Pav bhaji (depending on how you feel about butter; you could omit it if you want) is fairly nutritious.  The basis of the sauce is freshly cooked vegetables, blended and simmered with Indian spices (there’s abundant evidence that spices have a number of health benefits, particularly for their anti-cancer properties).

cooking carrots onions

Saute the chopped onion, carrots and cauliflower in a little oil in a nonstick pan, until they begin to soften.

adding peas

At this point add chopped tomato and peas.  Continue to cook.

pav bhaji masala

Add the pav bhaji masala.  For mine I used equal proportions of cayenne pepper and garam masala (here’s my garam masala recipe).  You want the pav bhaji to be assertively spicy.

immersion blender

Next, add the vegetable mixture to a high sided glass or container and blend with an immersion blender (pretty much one of the most useful tools you could have in any kitchen).  Be careful not to splatter any hot sauce on yourself.  Blend until smooth.

adding the bread

Add the vegetable mixture back to your pan, add a little butter and the chopped bread (if you toast the bread just a bit before you add it then it won’t get so soggy).  Mix quickly and serve warm.  Easy!

If you like this pav bhaji recipe be sure and check out some of my other curry recipes.  I’m a self-admitted curry freak.

The ingredients:

  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • a few knobs of cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 2 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups chopped white bread rolls
homefried potatoes with gravy

Southern Comfort – a Southern Poutine Recipe

homefried potatoes with gravy

My Grandma kept a jar of bacon grease on the counter.  It’s a very Southern thing to do.  There’s something about the distillation of flavor aligning with the practical economics of the act.  You make do with what you have.  That’s also a very Southern thing to do.  So I do the same thing, more out of habit than anything else.   This Southern Poutine recipe is a recipe that I’ve developed that uses said bacon grease in two ways (not that I cook with it all the time).  Of course, you CAN use other fats.  You could use olive oil, maybe coconut oil.  But it WILL taste different.

The technique:

Peel and dice two potatoes into small irregular chunks, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length.  You want them small so they’ll cook quicker, and brown faster.  The brown crust is the goal (that’s the taking the express train to flavor town).

Fry the diced potatoes in a mixture of bacon grease and olive oil in a nonstick pan until browned on all sides.   Be sure and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper (just don’t use that horrid pre-ground stuff; seriously).  Set the potatoes aside.

Frying Potatoes

Next, make the gravy.  Add 4 tablespoons bacon grease and 2 tablespoons butter and bring to a medium heat.  When the butter is completely melted add 2 tablespoons flour and mix to make a roux.  Stir for about a minute.  You don’t want it to get too dark, you just want to cook out the raw flour taste.

Next, add 1/2 cup of milk slowly, stirring as you add it.  You may not need to add all of the milk.  Reduce the heat and keep stirring.  The goal is a thick biscuit gravy.  Add a little salt and pepper.

Once the gravy is done, pour over the potatoes, and add shredded cheddar cheese.

The ingredients:

  • 2 potatoes
  • 6 tablespoons bacon grease
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup milk (approximate)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

It’s not authentic poutine, but this Southern Poutine Recipe is delicious.  Definitely comfort food for a lazy Sunday morning.


Sweet Potato Gnocchi


I confess, dear readers, that I’ve been in something of a funk lately.  It happens to lots of people this time of year.  The slow descent of the year into torpor, the trees losing their glorious leaves, the ever shortening days.  The air grows crisp, the nights begin to dominate over the day after the Solstice.  When this happens I feed the soul, taking solace in the sure comfort that I can make something delicious out of humble ingredients (and you can too).  With this in mind, I made this almost decadent Sweet Potato Gnocchi.

As much as pumpkin screams ‘Autumnal’ to many people, I find that the humble sweet potato is just as representative of the season.  The sweetness of things hidden, the small miracle that something so delicious can come out of dirtIt’s nothing short of amazing, when you stop to think about it.

The technique:

First, bake a sweet potato wrapped in aluminum foil.  350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

sweet potato oven baked

Unwrap the sweet potato, slice it in half and let it cool down for a while.  Then scoop out the insides and place into a bowl.  Mash the sweet potato until it has a soft texture.

mashed sweet potato

Add flour, salt, a dash of pepper, olive oil and an egg.

Adding egg, olive oil and flour

Mix well, then knead for about five minutes until it forms a soft dough.

gnocchi dough

Roll the dough out into long ropes, a little larger than a finger.  Using a knife, cut off knobs of dough about half an inch wide.

cutting the gnocchi

Cook the sweet potato gnocchi in boiling water for about 5 minutes, just long enough for them to lose the taste of the raw flour.  While doing this, add butter and olive oil to a pan.

adding the sage

Add fresh sage leaves (or rosemary, or any other fresh herb, if sage is too ‘sagey’ for your tastes) and cook in the oil.  Add two tablespoons of flour and cook over a medium heat for several minutes.

cooking the sage

If you’re feeling REALLY decadent (or need to comfort your soul that much) add a splash of heavy whipping cream.  Pour over the cooked sweet potato gnocchi, and serve quickly.  This dish is best served warm and fresh.

The ingredients:

  • 1 baked sweet potato, mashed
  • 4 tablespoons flour (for the gnocchi)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • dash of pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter (for the sauce)
  • several fresh sage leaves (or other fresh herb)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for the sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • splash of heavy whipping cream (optional)

What do you make when you’re feeling down, in a funk, and just need to reconnect with your soul?

Pumpkin Spice Blondies

The Busvlogger’s Pumpkin Spice Blondies Recipe

Pumpkin Spice Blondies

The following is a guest post by my friend James, aka, the Busvlogger on YouTube, wherein he shares his delicious Pumpkin Spice Blondies recipe.  But it’s not just a recipe!  He’s also posted a how-to video on his channel (and one for the Maple Glaze), so check it out-  Peter

So Peter and I got our two families together a few weeks ago; we are quickly becoming dear friends and our wives and kids are going to have to follow suit, those are the facts. We assembled, as you might expect, around food. We were at Wood Stone Craft Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas, were they do more than put toppings on flat bread, they make art. I digress.

Peter and I were discussing what we might do to bring my You Tube world and his blog world together. We wanted to do an Autumnal collaboration that would bring people together under sweet, joyful and, let’s be honest, highly google-able conditions.


What brings people joy in the Fall? The smell of damp leaves and wood smoke on a crisp, cool night does it for me. Ultimately, we came up with the Pumpkin Spice Blondie that you see before you! Combined with the savory and sweet of my maple glaze, studded with a crisp smokey bacon, this cookie/bar has it all!

Disclaimer: No pumpkins were harmed in the making of this dessert but the amount of butter required would make even Paula Dean blush, bless her heart. These are decadent and taste like a mother’s love but they are an indulgence, so consume accordingly!

With that said, I hope you enjoy this recipe. Peter and I both agree that great food has a way of connecting people. Please use these blondies to touch base with someone in your life; whether you share a bite or pass on the recipe. We would both love to hear your feed back on our respective social media homes and we’d be flattered if you’d “Pin It”!

pump spic 2
Pumpkin Spice Blondies

2 Cups all-purpose flour
¼ t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 T. pumpkin spice or ¼ T. ground ginger, ¼ T. allspice and ½ T. cinnamon
¼ t. salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees f.
Coat a 9×9 or 9×12 baking pan with butter, line with parchment.
Coat inside of parchment with butter.
Combine dry ingredients.
In mixer, cream remaining ingredients.
Stir in dry mixture by hand.
Spread batter evenly in pan.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool 30 minutes.
Cut the Pumpkin Spice Blondies into squares or bars.

pump spic 4

Maple Glaze (perfect for doughnuts too)

4 T. butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
8 T. pure maple syrup
1 to 2 T milk

Whisk thoroughly.
Drizzle, spread or dunk onto completely cooled baked goods!
Let sit until glaze sets.

Tip: sprinkle accompaniments (bacon pieces, nuts, etc.) before glaze sets.

pumpkin spice dessert

My lifestyle brand, Busvlogger, focuses on intentional living with a comedic, casual tone. I teach viewers that quality of life can be elevated by taking simple actions.

I love being a champion of causes and brands that fit within my key platform of ‘intentional living’ namely my 5 focus areas: food, sustainable farming/gardening, home improvement, travel and parenting.

Father of two boys, two girls and a VW Bus. 

@busvlogger ·

Life is what you make it, let’s get our hands dirty!

Proud partner at Deca TV


I was lucky enough to sample some of the Pumpkin Spice Blondies.  Ginny had one and a half!

Ginny eating blondies

If you dig his Pumpkin Spice Blondies Recipe be sure and go let James know over on his YouTube channel.   Pin it!  Share it!  Subscribe to his channel!  All that good stuff – Peter

roasted acorn squash

Roasted Acorn Squash Bisque

roasted acorn squash

Pumpkin isn’t the only gourd that’s in season this time of year.  Roasted acorn squash has a wonderful, sweet Autumn flavor.  This Roasted Acorn Squash Bisque recipe is sweet, savory, and slightly spicy, cooked with Indian spices that wouldn’t be out of place in a good curry.  Although it’s creamy and rich, it’s also vegan and vegetarian friendly (I’ll show you the trick to getting that creaminess without dairy ).

roasting the veggies

First, roast the acorn squash, onion, carrot and tomato on a cookie sheet.  450 degrees for about 20 minutes should do the trick.  I like to drizzle my vegetables with a little olive oil and sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper before roasting them.


Next, assemble the spices.  I used bay leaf, allspice, cinnamon stick, black pepper, cloves, cumin seed and a little curry powder.

frying the spices

Fry the whole spices in olive oil, then set aside once they’ve become toasty and aromatic.

spices, broth and coconut milk

You can see how toasted they get.  Let the fried spices cool off.

roasted veggies

Cut the peel off of the acorn squash, then throw all of the veggies into the pot.

cooking with ginger

Add garlic and grated ginger.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring every now and then.  Just make sure not to burn anything.

adding coconut milk

Next, add a little salt,  the curry powder, vegetable broth and a can of coconut milk (that’s trick number one for that creamy taste). Bring just to a simmer and let it cook for about 15 minutes.

Immersion blender

Hit it with an immersion blender (trick number two for the creamy taste; it’s about texture as much as taste).  Be careful blending when it’s hot.

Cashew nuts

Transfer some of the soup to a cup or bowl, and blend cashews into the mixture (trick number three for the creamy taste).

Finished soup

Your finished Roasted Acorn Squash Bisque should look something like this.

garam masala

Remember the fried spices that you let cool down?  Not only did they lend their flavor to the oil, before cooking your roasted vegetables, but they also make a wonderful garam masala if you grind them.  Sprinkle the top of the bisque with the spice mixture.

You won’t believe how delicious this is, creamy yet a little spicy, savory and rich.

The ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • a few bay leaves
  • 1/8 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 tsp clove
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp curry powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

If you try making this recipe let me know.  I love hearing from readers!

meatloaf recipe

Easy Muffin Meatloaf

meatloaf recipe

Autumn, for me, means comfort food, quite often.  There are few things quite as comforting as meatloaf.  I’m sure it’s the overwhelming umami nature of the thing, the perfect oven roastedness that elevates it to more than the sum of its (quite often) humble parts.  My quibble with meatloaf is that many times the outside will become quite dry and overdone while the inside is almost raw, diminishing the ‘comfort food’ aspect of the whole thing.   But this Easy Muffin Meatloaf recipe takes care of that problem quite well.  They bake up with just the right amount of crispy exterior brownness relative to moist, delicious inside goodness.  They’re perfect.

ground beef and ground pork

For this meatloaf I started with a pound of ground beef and a pound of ground pork.  You could easily use ground turkey as well, although I’m not going to vouch for the outcome.  I find ground turkey to be a little dry compared to ground beef or pork.

cooking mushrooms

A flavor trick to up the umami factor, as well as enhance the moistness of the meatloaf, is to dice up mushrooms (the finer the better, really) and then saute them in some olive oil until they’re well browned.  Set them aside to let them cool a little bit, before adding them to your meatloaf.


Next, assemble your ingredients.  I used ground beef, ground pork, diced onion and garlic, the sauteed mushrooms, tomato paste, ketchup, Worchestershire sauce, fresh cracked pepper, bread crumbs, seasoning (I used paprika and Cavender’s seasoning) and an egg.

mixing the meatloaf

Mix everything quite well.  Use your hands.  They’re the best tools you have.

Meatloaf in muffin tins

Use an ice cream scoop to pop the meatloaf into the muffin tins.  You should have enough meatloaf for 18 mini meatloafs.


Add ketchup to the top of each, then bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

The other great thing about Easy Muffin Meatloaf is that once they cool down they save quite well in the fridge or freezer, making mealtime in the next few days incredibly easy.

The ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup diced and sauteed mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Cavender’s seasoning (or your favorite spice mix)
  • fresh cracked pepper to taste

And that’s it.  Easy.  Muffin Meatloaf.  What’s not to love?

stir fry

Okra Green Bean Stir Fry – The Last Taste of Summer

stir fry

Summer fades away far too fast.  Of course, I look forward to Autumn (crisp, cool air, warming soups, getting to wear sweaters, all the good stuff), but there’s something about that last little burst of garden exuberance at the end of Summer.  Another okra recipe might seem like overkill (after my last two) but I couldn’t resist making this easy Okra Green Bean Stir Fry.  I had all the ingredients, so I figured why not.

Chopped green beans and okra

One of the keys to this is to make sure that you slice the green beans and the okra super thin, on a bias.  You want to maximize the amount of flat vegetable surface area being exposed to the hot pan.  This will ensure that the stir fry process is quick.  Which is what you want.  This isn’t fast food, but it sure ain’t slow, either.

riceland oil

A few key ingredients.  First, this amazing white peach balsamic vinegar from Old World Imports.  It has a bright and sweet flavor, very summery, and of course a little of the vinegar tartness you associate with any balsamic.  Next, this wonderful rice bran oil from Riceland Foods. It’s not commercially available as of yet (although maybe you can persuade them) in the individual bottles like this, but it is available in larger volumes.  Finally, this new spice mixture from Penzey’s Spices called Tsardust Memories.  It’s a wonderful blend of sweet and savory spices, including cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and marjarom.


Once you slice all of the okra and green beans, add your oil to a nonstick pan, and heat to a medium high heat.  Then add the okra and green beans.

Adding Balsamic

Cook over the medium high heat, being sure to stir every few minutes so as not to burn the vegetables.  Add a light dusting of the spice mixture once the okra begins to brown a little.  Then add a little salt and pepper.  Finally, deglaze with the peach balsamic vinegar.  The interplay of sweet notes from the perfectly browned vegetables, the spices and the balsamic with the summer fresh taste of the vegetables in this Okra Green Bean Stir Fry is breathtaking.

The ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup okra, sliced thin, on a bias
  • 1/2 cup green beans, sliced thin on a bias
  • 1/8 teaspoon Tsardust Memories spice mixture
  • 1 tablespoon rice bran oil (or any other high smoke point oil)
  • 1/2 tablespoon peach balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

And that’s it.  The last fleeting taste of Summer, gone before you know it.  But there’s a lot to look forward to, now that Autumn is finally here.

AWBU – Finding My Tribe


It’s a funny thing, when you think about it, being a guy and being invited into the world of Arkansas Women Bloggers.  But I am, and I did get the invitation.  I recently went to AWBU, Arkansas Women Bloggers University, their annual conference.  It was a humbling and (dare I say it) enchanting experience.  I’m going to wax philosophical about it for a bit, if you’ll bear with me, my dear readers.  It’s utterly bewildering and revelatory, to find my tribe.  It might sound odd that they’re a bunch of women bloggers, but it’s really not when you think about it.  They’re remarkable.  So smart.  So open-hearted and warm.  Accepting of me, despite the fact that I’m not a sister.  If you’re getting the idea that I admire this tribe of women a great deal then you’re paying attention.

Writing can be lonely.  Even if you’re writing about something as universal as the love of food, how it connects us, turns us into friends, family.  Food builds community.  But writing about food from the comfort of my living room can be lonely.  I’ve been so thankful that other bloggers have reached out to me, let me know that I’m not alone.  Loneliness can be a curse, especially for people like me.  Meeting friends who show that they really care, finding your tribe, well that has soothed my soul more than you can know.

If you look at the photo above you’ll see, in addition to a large number of Arkansas Women Bloggers, Stephanie Buckley, aka The Park Wife giving the opening remarks of the conference.  What she and others have built, this community of support and friendship, has frankly blown me away.

Food Photography

There’s really too much for me to adequately explain about everything that I learned, all the amazing people I met (or got to see again after far too long apart).  I won’t go over everything at the conference (other bloggers have done a much better job at that than I can, so I’ll leave that to them; if you’re interested in their experiences just google AWBU).  One of the really cool things I learned about on Foodie Friday, though, was a tutorial on more effective food photography from Heather Dissaro of Heather’s Dish.  The shot above was inspired by an experimental collaborative tutorial session that she let us all engage in.  The beauty of having someone share some of their tips, trying to help everyone there be a better blogger and a better food photographer is just another example of how awesome these women are.

Jacqueline Wolven

The photo above is from Jacqueline Wolven‘s session on branding yourself as a blogger.  The thing that blew me away about her session is the advice to really rock your brand, to represent your authentic self.  She’s kind of a rock star.  Seriously.  Have you read her article on Huffington Post?  No?  You should.  Speaking as a dude, she speaks to me too.

Dining with Debbie

This is Debbie Horton Arnold (yes, she’s originally a Horton, so I’m claiming her as family) of Dining with Debbie.  She is made of awesome.  Go and read her blog.  Every day.  Just do it.  It’ll be good for your soul.  Trust me.  (And if you’re ever lucky enough to get some of her homemade jelly you’ll be a very lucky person indeed)

Acorn Influence

It’s also the first time I ever got chocolate kisses from a social media influence marketing company.  Acorn Influence gave me chocolate!  Squee!  (Acorn was founded by Stephanie McCratic, of Evolved Mommy).  I’ll admit that my kids ate most of the chocolate.

Busvlogger and Me

So one of the other Arkansas dudes to be let into the fold is my brother from another mother, James, aka the Busvlogger on YouTube.  He’s a video blogger (vlogger to the rest of the world) rather than a blogger.  He gave an amazing presentation on video and YouTube and what it could mean for bloggers in the future (I also got to be a human tripod and hold his camera, much to the amusement of the audience, I’m sure).  Very inspiring.  If you’re not watching him go subscribe.  Now.  Do it.  I’ll wait.  Seriously.

Dinner at Tavola Trattoria

These are the amazing women myself and James got to eat dinner with one night.  It’s astounding, to find yourself sitting with these fearless storytellers, these vibrant and amazing women, so full of humor and acceptance and intelligence, and to feel a sense of recognition.  Identity.  Perhaps that’s aspirational, that feeling.  The main thing AWBU did for me was to make me want to be a better blogger.  A better friend.  A better person.  I looked around this table and for a while I kind of wanted to pinch myself (yes, I got to sit by Shannon Magsam of nwaMotherlode, and I sat across from Alison Chino!).  Was this real?  Did I get to do this?

I confess, I was worried.  I was worried that I’d feel out of place.  Or that I would experience rejection, or maybe some women would resent a man coming into what they’ve built for themselves.  But I got none of that.  At all.  Everywhere I turned all weekend I got acceptance and warmth and friendship.  And smiles.  And hugs.  It was awesome.

chicken coconut soup

Tom Kha Gai – A Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

chicken coconut soup

Dear readers, I confess that I’ve been feeling rather down lately.   What at first appeared to be perhaps allergies or a cold turned into a rather nasty sinus infection.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling run down and ragged, there’s absolutely nothing that will make me feel better than some Tom Kha Gai, a lovely, spicy and creamy Thai coconut chicken soup.

I’ve been exploring the idea of ‘umami’ lately (there’s going to be a future post about the subject).  One of the things that I love about umami flavors, such as chicken soup, is that it’s really the flavor of life.  Umami works really well in soups, because it’s essentially the amino acids dissolving into the liquid, giving that wonderful and delicious flavor and mouth feel.  There’s a richness on the tongue, and a nourishment of the body that you can feel with every spoonful swallowed.


So, to begin, you’ll need an array of slightly exotic ingredients, but most are not that altogether out of reach if you have access to a grocery store, or an Asian grocery store, or the internet (you ARE using the internet, aren’t you?).

For my tom kha gai I use coconut milk, ginger (frozen so it grates easier), galangal (a relative of ginger; I get mine from Penzeys Spices), that wonderful Chimayo chili powder (I used it in my grilled Tandoori chicken recipe), kaffir lime leaves, limes, mushrooms, red bell pepper, chicken stock, black pepper, sherry, garlic, vegetable oil and sesame oil.

Cook mushrooms and red pepper

First I saute some mushrooms and red bell peppers in vegetable oil and a little fresh cracked pepper.  This wakes up the flavor of the mushrooms and peppers, making them sweeter, and boosting that umami flavor from the mushrooms.

Adding kaffir lime leaves

Then I add kaffir lime leaves, grated ginger and garlic, and then stir for a bit.

Adding chile pepper

Then I add the zest of a lime (or two if you want that flavor stronger) the galangal and the chili powder.  Cook for a bit, then deglaze with a bit of sherry, scraping up the bits at the bottom.  More umami flavor.  The bottom of the pot is where the flavor lives anyway.  Remember that.

Adding coconut milk

Add the coconut milk and bring it to a rolling boil.  Once the coconut milk begins to ‘break’ you can add the chicken stock, a little at a time, along with the sesame oil  This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.


Finally it’s ready to serve.  Add a little cilantro or basil for garnish and brighter fresh flavors.  Add the lime juice at this point.  The herbaceous flavors of the kaffir lime leaves will perfume the tom kha gai soup, while the creaminess of the coconut milk will temper the fire of the chili powder.

So why no chicken?  Simple answer is I was out.  If I’d had it I would have sliced some thin and added it to simmer in the coconut milk.

The ingredients:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • approximately 2 cups chicken stock
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 to 2 limes (juice and zest)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (or whatever mixture of paprika and cayenne that you’re comfortable with)
  • 1/8 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried galangal
  • 1/2 tablespoon sherry
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Next time you’re feeling under the weather, try this.  Next to Vietnamese pho there are few things that will make me feel better than Tom Kha Gai.

exploring global food and food culture