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Cooking with Myra: Quick-and-easy soup recipe allows more time for family

April 26, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 26, 2010 at 11:27 p.m.

Florentine Chicken Soup

FLORENTINE CHICKEN SOUP1 cup uncooked penne pasta

1 (6-oz.) pkg. ready-to-use chicken breast cuts

4 cups chopped fresh spinach

1 (7-oz.) jar roasted sweet red peppers, drained and sliced

3 fresh rosemary sprigs, chopped

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. butter

11/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup Alfredo sauce

3 Tbsp. prepared pesto

2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted

1 Tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, sauté the chicken, spinach, red peppers, rosemary, garlic powder, pepper in butter until spinach is wilted. Stir in the broth, Alfredo sauce and pesto. Cook or 4-5 minutes or until heated through. Drain pasta and add to soup. Sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Yields 5 cups.

Source: "Taste of Home" cookbook

By Myra StarkeyLast Friday night, I participated in cooking contest. It was a fundraising event for the Vine School, which is a school for autistic children.

I was one third of the Myra, Myra and Me team. The other two members are friends of mine, one also named Myra, and her husband, Clayton.

Clayton loves to cook in these types of events and it is actually his team. So, he named the group accordingly. He is the "Me" and I am one of the "Myras."

Anyway, Myra and I are both Cajun's from Louisiana, so we have a spicy palate, which is manifested in the foods we prepare. I invited Clayton and Myra over for crawfish pistolettes one weekend, and Clayton decided that this dish, along with seafood gumbo, would be our signature entries for this second annual Vine School event.

I know I have covered this dish before in my column, but since it has been awhile, I thought I would refresh your memories. Pistolettes are palm-sized bread rolls, which have a cornmeal coating. They are deep fried (or baked) and then stuffed with crawfish etouffee.

Etouffee is a mixture of butter, onions and parsley in a spicy gravy base, which is usually served over rice, but in this situation, it is simply stuffed inside the pistolette.

I really cannot think of anything better than a piping hot pistolette, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, filled with spicy etouffee.

The problem with serving pistolettes is that the average Texan has no idea what a pistolette is, so you can't just go to a local grocery store and buy a bag of them. Grocery stores only carry what their customers buy.

One must cross the Louisiana state line to be able to find these. If you go into a grocery store there and ask where the pistolettes are, they will say something like "they are over in the aisle four where they always are."

I didn't have time to drive to Louisiana. My mom and dad, who still live in Lake Charles, decided that delivering pistolettes to me would be a good excuse for a visit to their eldest daughter who had long ago emigrated to Texas.

My parents are well into their 70s. My dad has just recently retired from practicing dentistry, and he has been spending his days fishing, pulling weeds and going on bus trips with my mom.

When he agreed to be the pistolette courier, he forgot that he and mom would be returning from a 10-day South Carolina trip the day before.

Mom and dad arrived on Thursday with 300 pistolettes in the truck. They called me at work when they arrived, and I put them immediately to work chopping onions and parsley for the etouffee.

My dad mentioned on the phone that I was a great delegator because I was the one at the office, and he was the person doing the chopping. I finally arrived and pitched in, not even stopping to put on an apron. This detail is significant since my mom always said I could get dirty in a white padded room.

Apparently, as a child, I was a slob. Mom would send my sisters and me out to play and my youngest sister Cindy would come in crying, my sister Susie would come in as clean as she was when she went outside, and I would arrive covered with dirt with a torn dress and filthy socks and shoes.

Mom said that even when I was cut and bleeding I would not stop playing unless it was dark outside or I heard her call my name.

I have not lost the art of getting dirty in all these years, and it wasn't long until my white long-sleeve shirt was spotted with red crawfish fat and butter. We prepared about 10 gallons of crawfish etouffee before we went to bed for the evening exhausted, but looking forward to a delicious Friday evening.

On Friday afternoon, we packed everything in the car for the trip to the Club Westerner for the big event. I had loaded the last pot of etouffee when I received a frantic call. John, the organizer of the event, said that Myra and Clayton had been called away for an emergency. Their teenage son, Daniel had been in a wreck, but he had no other details.

My heart sank because I know the fears all mothers have when their children are behind the wheel. I tried to call Myra on the phone, but could not reach her, and so I prayed that Daniel would be OK.

I drove to the Club Westerner with a heavy heart not knowing any details about the wreck. Myra called me soon after I arrived to explain that Daniel and two friends had been involved in a roll-over. His truck had landed on its side, and the kids had climbed out the driver's side window. All three had been wearing their seatbelts and escaped with only minor cuts and bruises.

I breathed a sigh of relief and memories of Daniel as a little boy floated through my mind as tears came to my eyes. "Praise God," I said aloud as I finished unloading the food.

Myra and Clayton explained that they could not leave the site of the accident until the tow truck came and the policemen had finished with the kids. My body went into overdrive as Dad and I realized we still needed to make the gumbo for Myra. She had assembled all the ingredients, but had been called away before she finished.

Myra instructed me by telephone what she wanted added to the gumbo, and Dad and I did our best. Tim, another volunteer recruited by Clayton, arrived and saved the day because Dad and I did not know how to work the burners on Clayton's cooking trailer.

The cooking began as we silently passed spoons among ourselves and adjusted the fire to heat the gumbo and etouffee.

The other contestants set up their mini-kitchens and began the final assembly of their food for the evening. I talked with the other chefs and had some pre-tasting opportunities. The food was wonderful and the competition fierce.

Myra and Clayton arrived before we began to serve and both were visibly shaken. They had taken pictures of the accident scene, and I shuttered as I viewed photos of the crunched truck hood and roof. The roof looked like crumpled foil and the windshield was shattered.

Accidents are unexpected and can drastically change lives in a moment.

The wreck changed my perspective for that evening. I was not stressed about making sure everything was perfect. I was only grateful that life as we knew it would go on for a time.

Robert Briggs and Tonja Patterson won the event.

It was a special evening for everyone who attended. The food was wonderful, but most importantly, the school for these special kids met its fundraising goal.

I let my parents take it easy for the rest of the weekend. I feared they might not come back to visit again so soon if I worked them too hard. I do appreciate their efforts to assist me, and they have always been there for me when I needed them.

They may be retired from their jobs, but they haven't retired from being my mom and dad.

Since we didn't want to spend much time in the kitchen, I found a quick-and-easy soup recipe. It was from a "Taste of Home" cookbook named "Most Requested Recipes." The soup is Florentine Chicken Soup.

The rich broth uses an alfredo sauce, which can be purchased at the grocery store. The remainder of the ingredients are simple, and only one pot is used.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail myra@vicad.com.

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