Category Archives: Brunch

Avocado Sandwiches: Possibilities & Permutations

Are you looking for an avocado sandwich recipe? I was not really until I came across a recipe in Australia’s glorious gastro-porn, delicious.

In fact, I have hesitated to post about sandwiches, as they seem, um, well, so easy and straightforward.  So why bother?  Then this month’s Saveur arrived: The Sandwich Issue.  I happened to note that this excellent, wide-ranging, and thorough overview of (mostly American) sandwiches did not have many of the avocado varieties I often eat.

Avocado is one of the best sandwich ingredients I have come to realize over the years.  In fact, I myself have developed a number of avocado sandwiches varieties – more or less variations and permutations of other classics.

For instance, instead of a classic bacon-lettuce-and-tomato, I use prosciutto, a bit of mayonnaise, avocado, and tomato – faster, easier, and less messy than cooking bacon. This is one of my favourite sandwiches.  I serve it on sourdough, wholegrain, or even challah, for real decadence.  In my feeble attempt to mitigate the sandwich’s fat content, I remove the white lardy edges of the prosciutto and offer it to Jinja and George (who, BTW, might continue their April Fools Day food blog, I Can Haz Food Blog, due to interest from readers of IslandEAT).  These two cats sure love their prosciutto!

One sandwich I have developed of late is kind of a French tartine, with slow-roasted garlic spread over Dijon mustard on a multigrain flatbread or crackers, topped with a sliced avocado fanned out in wedges.  Sea salt (fleur de sel works especially well) and scads of freshly cracked black pepper are all you need for a great snack, brunch option, or lunch.  The tangy mustard and and nutty sweetness of the roasted garlic are superb complements for the rich creaminess of the avocado and the crunchy counterpoint of the flatbread – and vegan, vegetarian, and very healthful, too!

For the recipe – and the review…

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Triple Mushroom Barley Soup: Hot, Hearty, Healthful Fare

Looking for an easy flavourful yet wholesome soup for the winter doldrums? This triple-mushroom recipe is the perfect antidote to snow, cold, rain, wind, or whatever weather is making you crave a sturdy soup.  Even if you live in more temperate climes, this soup should cure any longing for mushrooms in a full-flavoured yet exceedingly nutritious meal.

I had been looking to use up a gift of a handful of dried porcini from Poland and had some organic cremini on hand, making me think mushroom soup would be in order.  This recipe recently appeared on Smitten Kitchen, from which I adapted it slightly (it originally was in the New York Times).  As Smitten Kitchen was the first food blog I followed, I thought this recipe would be appropriate for my first visit from a food blog-buddy I had never met before  – in person, that is – Jackie of I Am A Feeder.

Jackie’s site never fails to entertain or educate me. I find it very unusual to discover consistently humourous food blogs.  There are those blogs, which have to use “LOL”, “LMAO”, or such to let me know they are supposed to be funny; hers is not one of them.  I first came across Jackie’s site it while waiting for a flight at YVR (the Vancouver airport, where there is free WiFi!) last May, and it made me chuckle out loud (“COL”?), in the U.S.-departures lounge.  Since then, we have been following each other’s sites.  While we missed getting together in the UK during our visit last October, Jackie made it out to our little island in the Pacific.

I went into Vancouver first to meet Jackie, and the two of us visited some Vancouver food and culinary hot-spots and not-so-hot-spots, as Jackie mentioned on her site.  It was fun to get to know each other in town and back on the island, via very different experiences.  I thought it would be good to introduce Jackie to slow-cooker Italian beef sandwiches, a distinctive Chicago specialty, to prepare for her upcoming visit there.  But the mushroom soup seemed to be a good starter for the meal, if not a traditional one.

I had just about everything on hand for the soup.  We popped out to the local market for some more mushrooms and barley, spelt, or faro (“far-what?” was the clerk’s response, when I asked), but fortunately the shop across the road had “pot” barley – I wonder if they stock this variety for its cheeky reference to British Columbia’s major economic driver).

As it is not quite spring in B.C., it is time for a gratuitous floral interlude, amidst all this brown soup:

For the review and recipe…

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Spinach-Celery-Turmeric-Lemon Soup: A Wee Taste of Scotland?

Is it possible to be excited over spinach-celery-turmeric-lemon soup? For me, the answer is a resounding yes.   This soup is a revelation for its simplicity, satisfying texture, and profound flavour.   When combined with store-bought stock and onion, these four ingredients transform into a deep, rich, and ultra-wholesome soup.

To explain my bizarre journey in finding the recipe, we need to return to its origins.  I was excited to have found a copy of Baroness Claire Macdonald’s Seasonal Cooking a small charity shop in Glasgow, Scotland, in October. A renowned author of many cookbooks, Baroness Macdonald is the Scottish Julia Child, if I dare take such a liberty – though, with her title, does she need anything more?  The Baroness is the chef-owner of the Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye – an inn so well-known that even the New York Times wrote about it as one of the top three dining options on Skye.

While we ate at another one of the three New York Times’ suggestions during our day-long visit to Skye, I later recalled Baroness Macdonald’s name.  Thus, I was able to spot her book on the shelves of a shop benefiting one of the UK’s health charities.  This particular shop was on the main drag of  Sauciehall Street in beautiful downtown Glasgow (like “beautiful downtown Burbank,” for those of you who remember the classic 1960s/1970s comedy show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In).  To borrow the catch-phrase from Laugh-In, Sock-It-To-ME!  It was such a deal for just one quid (slang for one pound sterling, or about $1.50 US) for a classic, which promised 12 months of Scottish cuisine at its finest.

For the soup review, ingredients, and the recipe…

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Real Home-Made Italian Beef Sandwiches: The Chicago Classic in Your Kitchen

I did not like eating meat as a child. So it was not hard for me to become vegetarian on my own at age 11 (nobody in my immediate family did so with me).  There were several reasons for this odd childhood decision in the 1970s.   

My mother did not like to cook, and she would admit that her skills were uninspired in this area, particularly with over-cooked meats.  While we ate meals out or had take-out frequently, I never cared for most meat in restaurants.

I also was a big animal-lover, with cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, and fish in our household.  Thus, I did not care for the idea of eating animals, when I was young.  I read extensively about animal rights (for example, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation), the horrors of the meat-packing industry (e.g., Upton Sinclair’s classic, The Jungle) and some of the more  kooky 1960s health food manifestos.

George indicates Italian beef to be chop-licking good.

For about 10 years, I ate no red meat or chicken.  During some of that time, I did not touch seafood, either.  However, I suddenly reverted to omnivorous ways at a dinner party while at the University of Chicago, where the hostess did not know I was vegetarian.  She served a wonderful medium-rare steak.  I decided it would have been rude to declare my vegetarianism and thought I would give it a try. My clean plate indicated a hasty farewell to my strict vegetarianism.  Today, however, I eat relatively little red meat or even chicken and try to be sure it is ethically raised, organic, free-range, or, at least, happy.

This is all a round-about way of explaining that, while I grew up near one of the very best purveyors of Italian beef sandwiches in suburban Chicago, I think I never ate one until I was an adult.  When I discovered this classic sandwich, I became a devoted admirer of this Chicago classic.  I have tried examples, which are supposed to be the best – all over  ”Chicagoland”.   

The Italian beef sandwich is one of two Chicago originals, specialties in the culinary world and best eaten there – the deep-dish Chicago-style pizza being the other.  In the nearly 20 years I have been away from Chicago, I make a point of having Italian beef on each trip back.  

For the Italian beef’s origins, review, food holidays – and the recipe… Continue reading

The Original Chicago-style Deep-Dish Pizza: Have Yourself a Merry Little Pizza Slice

Have you ever tried authentic Chicago pizza?  There are three varieties, in case you were wondering.  I spent my first three decades living within minutes (no more than a half-hour) of the very best pizza parlours in the Greater Metropolitan Chicagoland Area.  I sampled all the top-rated pizza places.  So I feel qualified to “splain” it all to you.

Chicago Pizza Categories

The first is a thin-crust pizza, which is often more chewy and thicker than the New York version (much more crisp and almost cracker-like in consistency); it is most similar to the original Neapolitan pizza crust but is really an American interpretation.  In my youth, I do not remember any authentic wood-burning oven pizzas, comparable to their ancestors in Naples, but today there are many restaurants offering this kind of “real” pizza.

The second is the stuffed pizza.  It has two crusts, akin to a double-crust pie, with all the filling in between. A thin layer of tomato sauce, however, usually adorns the top crust.  This pizza is less common than the one for which Chicago is best known, the deep-dish.  The stuffed pizza can be a delicacy, often made with spinach and mushrooms, or it can be leaden and off-putting disappointment, depending on its maker

I believe the stuffed pizza became popular in the 1970s, a decade not known for its restraint.  After all, wretched excess was in vogue.  Think disco! Think glittery body-clinging polyester fashion!  Think ultra-rich high-fat desserts! It was the era of chocolate decadence cake and appetizer buffets showcasing nothing but cream-cheese dips.  I remember sampling all the varieties at Arnie’s Restaurant in Chicago – chocolate-chip, cinnamon-raisin, honey-walnut, and some savoury counterparts – all cream-cheese extravaganzas.  I assure you I am not hallucinating, due to other 1970s excesses.

In Chicago, the deep-dish pizza is a World-War-II-era invention of Ike Sewell.  Mr. Sewell started Pizzeria Uno around 1943 at Rush and Ohio Streets, on the city’s near north side.  The pizza was an immediate hit.  He opened a second location, named strangely enough, Pizzeria Due, just a block away in 1955.   Both are still vibrant pizzerias.  (Mr. Sewell also introduced upscale Tex-Mex cuisine to the Midwest of the US, where it had been unknown, through his restaurant Su Casa in 1963).

For the deep-dish pizza profile and the recipe

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Leek and Potato Hotpot: Classic Comfort Food from Jolly Olde England

Staffordshire dogs guard the leek and potato hotpot , originating in nearby Lancashire.

What is a hotpot?  I knew hotpots from Vancouver restaurants as specialties of several Chinese cuisines, e.g., Cantonese and Sichuan.  Diners cook their own meat, seafood, and vegetables in a central cauldron of broth – an Asian cousin of Swiss fondue.  At least, this is all I knew about hotpots before learning about the British dish by the same name.  I certainly never have seen the British version here in beautiful British Columbia where I live – the only British specialty widely available in restaurants is fish-and-chips, guv’nor.

On our recent trip to England (you can see the trip pictures in previous posts), the most common soup available was leek and potato.  It was fun to sample variants on this wholesome and oh-so-stiff-upper-lip classic British dish.

Seeking a traditional leek and potato soup recipe for a chilly Friday night, I turned the National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book, by Susan Edington.   I had bought this cookbook at the Dunster Castle National Trust gift shop in England.  The book was on sale for just 12 quid – or pounds (I am trying to master British English in addition to Canadian and American to be trilingual, in national-English dialects).  Sorry, I just cannot stop myself with one more photo from our trip – the lofty castle above downtown Dunster in Somerset:

I promise, this is the last photo – the bridge leading to a path to  Dunster Castle:

This cookbook surprisingly had no recipe for leek and potato soup.  However, there was one for a leek and potato hotpot.  If you have read some of my other posts, you might have noticed that I am into food lore and history, so I was intrigued by this Lancashire specialty.  It is a “fatherless pie”, which are less expensive vegetarian one-pot meals – without the traditional lamb – made when times are tough.  Leeks and potatoes abound in Lancashire fields.

For the history and the recipe….

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Salmon Chowder: Whether Pacific or Atlantic, Luxury Soup for all Seasons

Pacific sockeye salmon is perfect for a hearty chowder

Soup can be a tricky dish to prepare.  I enjoy experimenting with various stews, bisques, broths, and soups for one-bowl meals, but I learned recently that one can judge a restaurant’s mettle based on its soups, due to timing (the delicate texture of many vegetables, meats, or fish) as well as the intricate balance of correct seasonings in a liquid base.

Before I delve into the Pacific salmon chowder I made recently, I have a few more pictures from my recent holiday in England and Scotland, to follow up on my last post.

No salmon on the menu, but the chicken-ham-leek pie was tasty at a 13-century thatched roof tavern in Honeybourne, England.

Also in the Cotswolds, the village of Snowshill is picture-pefect:

Nearby in Bath, the Sally Lunn House dates back to 1452 and  features a restaurant (home of the famous Sally Lunn Bun) and a kitchen museum.  One can only guess what this mannequin is cooking up:

Exmoor National Park has rolling hills and sweeping vistas, such as this view from the town of Selworthy:

Up in Scotland, salmon would have been a meal fit for a king at Caerlaverock Castle, south of Dumfries:

Up in the Highlands, these deer sculptures could very well be seeking salmon:

To end this travelogue with a food-related picture from Dumfries, Scotland, I say Crabbie’s adult ginger beer would be a fitting companion to salmon chowder:

For the recipe….

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