Cultural fusion: Quincy cook combines Filipino, American heritage

A Filipino family favorite like Pansit Bihon Guisado, similar to a stir fry with the addition of very thin noodles, usually is served at parties. “Americans eat this noodle dish. It’s not scary,” Quincy cook Rachel Peterson said.
H-W Photos/Deborah Gertz Husar
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 12, 2020 5:30 pm Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 5:37 pm

QUINCY — Rachel Peterson can trace the story of her cooking style to how her parents met.

"My mom and dad met in the Philippines when my mom was a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid ‘60s," the Quincy woman said. "My dad's Filipino. My mom's American. I'm just a mixture of two different cultures, and that's basically what my cooking is — a mixture."

The family lived in the Philippines until Peterson was nine, then moved to the Chicago area — a culture shock in terms of everything from weather conditions to food.

While her parents worked, Peterson and her sister were in charge of making dinner. They learned to make what they wanted to cook, which included pizza for Peterson and the Filipino food of her childhood.

"We just learned from trial and error basically," Peterson said.

Peterson's just as comfortable making Adobong Manok, or Chicken Adobo, a salty and sour Filipino chicken dish served over white rice that her late father could eat any time of day, as she is baking Grammie JoJo's Banana Bread, a recipe shared by her mother-in-law, Mary Peterson, who got it from her mother-in-law Grammie Josephine Peterson.

The recipe for Ma's Coffeecake came from a Chicagoland neighbor who got it from her Italian mother and can be served with coffee. "The flavor reminds me of a snickerdoodle," Peterson said. "It's like a cinnamon roll in a pastry form."

Peterson came to Quincy to attend Quincy College and met her husband, Mike. They have two grown daughters, Naomi and Maria, both living in Texas, and all of them share a love of the salty, sour, slightly sweet but not spicy Filipino dishes drawn from that nation's Spanish, Chinese and American heritage.

Main dishes feature fish and vegetables, little meat and "lots of rice. We eat lots and lots of rice. When I buy rice, I usually buy 25 pounds at a time," Peterson said.

Rice accompanies main dishes, and it also stars in sweet treats like Bibingkan Malagkit, or Sticky Rice Cake, what Peterson describes as a Southeast Asian version of Rice Krispie treats where the rice is cooked and the marshmallows are replaced with a coconut milk and brown sugar reduction.

Peterson's husband Mike enjoys making and sharing another rice-based dessert, Putong Puti, which is steamed instead of baked.

Filipino ingredients are more commonplace in area stores, making it easier to cook some of the family favorites like Pansit Bihon Guisado, which is usually served at a party and is similar to a stir fry with the addition of very thin noodles.

"Americans eat this noodle dish. It's not scary," Peterson said. "It's noodles and vegetables."

But Peterson also adapted to American foods -- "It becomes easier to cook the food you have the ingredients for," she said -- and especially enjoys the precision of baking bread and making pizza from scratch.

Another Italian favorite, Zuppa Toscana, "is a hit during the winter months since it is a comforting and tasty soup," she said.

Exploring new foods only adds to the fun in the kitchen for Peterson.

"Cooking is more by touch, feel, taste and see. Filipino cooking is very much that way. You do everything by instinct," she said. "Don't be afraid to try anything new. Be open to new flavors and textures and smells. It's a very sensory experience."

SClBAdobong Manok (Chicken Adobo)

1 large onion, chopped

1 head garlic, separated into cloves and chopped

3 pounds chicken, cut up

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 cup water

2 dried bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorn

1/4 cup white vinegar

Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Once heated, add 1 tablespoon cooking soil, then saute onion and garlic until fragrant. Add chicken pieces, and continue to saute. Add salt and ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly, continue to saute over high heat and let the fat render. When you see fat coming out from the meat, add the soy sauce. Keep sauteing until the liquid reduces and thickens. As the soy sauce reduces, you will start to see more fat coming out from the meat. Add 1/2 cup water, and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan while lowering the heat to medium. Continue to mix the chicken until the liquid comes back to a boil. Add bay leaves and peppercorns, then simmer for about 8 minutes.

Remove meat and all but 1 tablespoon liquid from pan, and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon cooking oil to pan and liquid over medium heat. Return the chicken meat to the pan without the liquid. Fry the chicken to lock in the flavors for 3 to 5 minutes. Add liquid back into the pan, and turn heat down to low. Add remaining 1/2 cup water and vinegar. Simmer on low for about 5 to 8 minutes to reduce the sauce.

Serve over white rice.

Pansit Bihon Guisado (Filipino Rice Noodle Dish)

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, sliced

3-4 stalks celery (julienne cut (sliced sideways, thinly)

1 large pork steak and/or 1 large chicken quarter, boiled and shredded (depends on how much meat you want)

2-3 carrots, cut into matchsticks

1 cup sugar snap peas

1/2 head cabbage, shredded

1 (32-ounce) box chicken broth

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 package thin rice noodles (bihon)

1/2 package yellow flour noodles (pancit Canton)

1 cup water

salt and pepper

Boil meat and half the sliced onion with fish sauce and water for 10 to 15 minutes. Once cooked, shred chicken and slice pork into thin, bite-size strips. Saute half the garlic, onion and celery. Add the meat once the vegetables start to release moisture. (This happens quickly, around 3 minutes; you do not want limp vegetables.)

Add all the carrots, cabbage, peas and half the soy sauce. Cook for a minute, and set mixture aside.

In another pan, saute the remaining garlic, onion and celery. Add broth when vegetables are halfway cooked, but still crunchy. Add pepper to broth. Add white noodles to broth mixture, then add yellow flour noodles. Mix the noodles until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the noodles. If noodles stick to the pan, add a bit more hot broth, but not too much. You do not want mushy noodles. Do not overcook.

Turn off heat. Add the vegetables to the noodles, and mix. Squeeze a bit of lime over the noodles before eating, if desired.

Bibingkamg Malagkit (Sticky Rice Cake)

2 cups sweet or glutinous rice, washed once

3 cans coconut milk

1 1/2 cups water

2 cups dark brown sugar, divided

pinch of salt

Wash rice with cold water before cooking. Place rice in a large saucepan with water and 2 cups coconut milk with a pinch of salt. Mix well, and turn heat to medium high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook while stirring. This process of cooking can range from 15 to 20 minutes and will make your arm tire. (Alternately, cook rice in a rice cooker using just the rice and water. Add the brown sugar and coconut milk after it cooks.) Let the mixture thicken and become sticky. Add 1 cup brown sugar. Mix continuously for 10 minutes more over low heat. At this stage, mixture will be really sticky. Turn off heat, and place the partially cooked rice mixture in an 8x8- inch or 9x9-inch baking pan and pat down firmly until all the rice is level (kind of like Rice Krispie treats).

For topping, mix remaining coconut milk with 1 cup dark brown sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, and reduce liquid until it coats the back of a spoon. Stir the mixture to make sure it doesn't burn; this will take around 25 minutes. Pour the topping over the rice mixture, and spread evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Topping will become firm. Increase temperature to 375 degrees, and cook another 20 minutes. To caramelize the topping, broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Cut rice cake into squares to serve.

Refrigerate rice cake if not eaten soon; microwave the refrigerated pieces for serving if desired.

Putong Puti

2 cups Jasmine rice

2 cups water

3/4 cup sugar

5 teaspoons baking powder

Combine rice and water, and blend in blender until smooth. Add sugar and baking powder; blend again until smooth. Pour into silicone cupcake molds until about 3/4 full. Cook in a steamer for 30 minutes.

Zuppa Toscano (Olive Garden Italian sausage soup)

1 1/2 pounds spicy Italian sausage (5 links)

2 to 3 bacon strips, cut into fine dice

6 to 8 small russet potatoes, halved, then sliced

1 medium onion, diced

4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups kale, rapini, broccoli rabe or Swiss chard, chopped

2 (32-ounce) boxes (2 quarts) chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

red pepper flakes, to taste

Place sausage links onto a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Once done, cut links in half, then cut at an angle into 1/2-inch thick slices.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute bacon and onions, stirring constantly until onions become almost translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute until fragrant. Add chicken broth and potatoes. Lower heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add sausage, greens and cream. Heat for another 4 minutes, then serve. Add red pepper flakes, if desired, for more heat.

Grammie JoJo's Banana Bread

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 or 4 bananas)

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup walnuts, baked in the oven for 10 minutes and chopped (optional)

Combine sugar and oil in a mixing bowl. Add eggs, mixing after each addition. Add bananas, water and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

Incorporate flour mixture into banana mixture until just mixed. Do not overmix, or the loaf will turn out flat and dense.

Pour batter into 1 large or 2 medium greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Ma's Coffeecake

2 sticks butter, softened

1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

2 eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups flour


1 cup dark brown sugar

1 stick butter, softened

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 cup chopped pecans and/or raisins (optional)

In a mixing bowl, combine water, sugar and yeast. Wait 5 minutes for yeast to activate. Add remaining ingredients and mix, using a paddle attachment. The dough should resemble pie pastry (no need to mix thoroughly), and this should take around 2 minutes. Take dough out, and knead by hand for a minute or two.

Divide dough in half. While rolling out the first half, cover remaining dough with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. Roll dough into a rectangle about 20 by 16 inches. Divide butter, and spread one half over the rolled-out dough. Combine cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Spread half of the sugar mixture over the dough. Add nuts and/or raisins. Roll up dough, and place on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the logs are lightly browned. Remove from oven, and cool or 10 minutes. Do not cool completely because you will be slicing the logs while they are still warm. Using a bread knife, slice logs into 2-inch diagonal pieces.