Category Archives: Brunch

Almond-Butter Hummous: A New Twist on Tradition

Is hummous still hummous without the tahini?  I asked myself this question recently, when I had an urge for hummous but found that there was no tahini in sight (thank you, baba ganouj, for demanding all the tahini, a few days earlier).  What to do in the evening on a small island where food shops are closed by 5 or 6 pm typically?

I had a big jar of almond butter in the fridge, so I thought that this substitution could work.  As I always cook with sesame oil for various Asian dishes, I added a bit to impart that essential open-sesame flavour to this adaptation of hummous.

My hummous allegiance goes back to my vegetarian youth, yet it took me years – and a food processor – before I actually made it.  Hummous is so easy to make and versatile as a spread, filling, or a dip.  It works equally as an appetizer, condiment (instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich, for instance). or main course,

David Lebovitz, he of the Parisian-pastry-chocolate-sarcasm fame, has the best recipe for hummous.  It came from a restaurant, Cabbagetown Cafe, at which he worked in Ithaca, while at Cornell.  I use his version these days, after previously relying on Ina Garten’s recipe for some time before (in the original Barefoot Contessa); Ina’s is also very good.

The almond butter provides a satisfying nutty quality, yet there is still the sesame oil for a hint of tahini’s traditional sesame flavour.  In a pinch or for a variation on a great classic, this version fills the bill for any desperate hummous-cravings.

For the recipe….

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Cheese Pancakes – Delicate, Distinct, and Chewy: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 11

Who thinks much about cottage cheese these days?  I know that I do not.

This week’s recipe, from my grandmother Jessie’s recently rediscovered recipe files, features cottage cheese as the star ingredient.

Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, cottage cheese was a “diet food”, often combined with iceberg lettuce and flavourless tomato wedges as a standard main course salad in American restaurants.  I think gloppy Thousand Island dressing would have been the most popular accompaniment, hardly a low-calorie option. Another purported health food was a leaf of iceberg on a plate, supporting a perfect pineapple ring (canned), on which sat a neat ice cream scoop of cottage cheese, topped with a maraschino cherry.  Richard Nixon, President of the US until his resignation in disgrace in 1973, stated that he enjoyed ketchup and cottage cheese together – which seems more like a gore-ish prop for a horror film, rather than a favoured food combination.

Always fashionable, Jessie is hip (circa 1970) even while visiting at a state park - with my father, youngest cousin, yours truly (as a hippy), and my brother.

Around 1970, Jessie was recently widowed, and she seemed to enjoy shocking people a bit.  My uncle (Jessie’s son) had given the recording of the Broadway musical Two Gentleman of Verona to my youngest cousin, who was a teen at that time, shocking my  grandmother because of its strong language.  To prove that she was “with it” or just that she could shock our family even better, Jessie gave me the album from the Broadway musical  Hair,  lyrics of which I still can recall almost verbatim.  I cannot remember if I asked for it (it was my first record album, when they were long-playing black discs, with nothing compact about them).  The language, however, was a bit much for a child of seven or eight – even I have to admit.

More than Hair – with all its revivals – cottage cheese just is off the radar these days.  Perhaps ricotta and artisan curd cheese have eclipsed cottage cheese in the realm of culinary trends:  category curds and whey.

Jessie, however, always seemed to have cottage cheese in her fridge.  Perhaps it was for  salads or to make this cottage cheese pancake.  After making this dish, I finally remembered having these pancakes at her place, when I stayed over for the weekend.

The pancake is almost like a mélange of a Swedish pancake or a French crepe with a more fashionable lemon-ricotta pancake.  (I have recipes from different versions at one west coast and one east coast B & B at which I have stayed – perhaps these are future blog fodder?)

For the pancake analysis – and the recipe…

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Soufflé Sandwiches – a Simple, Quick, Retro Brunch: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 9

My first impression of the title on the 3” x 5” recipe card was bewilderment.  Soufflé sandwiches?  I could not recall my grandmother, Jessie, ever making such a thing or trucking with soufflés.   Among the recipes of hers, which I had come across, this one really stood out.

First, there is the question of American cheese.  I do admit to being a tiny bit of a food snob.  American cheese processed food product?!?  Are you crazy?  I could only recall having purchased this once, at the behest of my aunt who was going to be in Vancouver, when we still had our house there,  en route to a cruise to Alaska.  My aunt demanded that I stock the American cheese – for calcium, she claimed, to prevent osteoporosis – and a bag of frozen peas, the latter of which were to be applied to her bad knee.

However, I do embrace certain very artificial candies, as childhood favourites, generally seasonal ones:  Peeps at Easter time, candy corn at Halloween, spearmint leaves and cherry sour candies often in December – you get the idea.  Many people I know are appalled by my weakness for this stuff.   Hence, I am not a major food snob.  But do I feel guilty about these things?  Not really.

As for guilt, Jessie was very adept at its practice.  Jessie’s oldest granddaughter, my cousin, sent me a recipe she had received with a letter from our grandmother.  At the time, my cousin was living in Paris:

How can you beat that last line, “Yankee, enough already, COME HOME!” for guilt?  Good thing a decade later, I lived for only a year in Paris or else I might have gotten such strongly worded epistles, too.  In case you were wondering, Jessie lived nearly 19 years after she wrote the piece above.

Guilt works, as Jessie and I attended my cousin's wedding in Chicago three years after the letter.

A guilty pleasure could be the soufflé sandwiches, when made with white bread and American cheese.  My first inclination was to substitute fontina or provolone, or the wonderful Canadian Oka cheese; they would melt well with some aged cheddar.  This would have made a creamy yet full-flavoured sandwich.  I also thought about doing a whole-grain bread.  However, I wanted to remain true to the spirit of Jessie’s recipe and avoid guilt.  I could imagine the kind of remark she might have made, e.g., “What?  You’re too good for American cheese now, Mr. Fancy-Pants?” (Jessie might never have used “fancy-pants”, but you get the idea).  Here is a link I discovered for a tempting fancy-pants version of this, if you prefer, from the always reliable and charming Sara Moulton.

Jessie enjoying a cigarette, guilt-free, on Rome's Via Veneto, in the mid-1950s.

For the soufflé sandwich critique and the recipe…

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Fast Low-Fat French Toast with Fresh Strawberries: Necessity is the Mother of Invention with Stale Challah

Want a quick brunch dish when you have a bunch of leftovers?

I found myself with the ends of a nice sesame challah, an egg white (left from the yolk I needed for the chewy brown sugar cookies), local strawberries which needed to be used up, and some milk which had just gone sour – I know, you probably will utter “eeew yuck!” or something to that effect.  However, I find sour milk to be a great baking medium, especially when I do not have buttermilk on hand.  Its taste is not distinguishable at all in the French toast.

Challah is a wonderful base for French toast.   I love the actual French expression for French toast:  “pain perdu”, or “lost bread”.   (No, there is no “pain français,” just like there is no “Canadian bacon” in Canada – it is “pea-meal” or “back” bacon, here in the Great White North, eh?)   “Pain perdu” always makes me think of a lonely baguette wandering the streets of Paris, not knowing its way – but maybe that says more about me and how I often felt when I lived there.  This dish is known as,  in French, “pain doré” – or golden bread, ” which is quite evocative; perhaps that expression is more of a Québecois thing.  Anyone out there know more about this?

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What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays – Week 3: Banana Muffins

Of the Jessie recipe file, this week’s banana muffin recipe was fascinating – well, to me – for three reasons:

1.  The “recipe” just listed the ingredients, baking time, and oven temperature, so I had to create the steps, from my knowledge of baking techniques – especially muffins and quick breads.

2.   I do not remember my grandmother Jessie ever having made these, so I could not compare my version to my memory – unlike last week’s brownies.

3.  The recipe was hand-written on the reverse of a sympathy-note form card.

The last item makes me wonder if Jessie wrote this recipe down some time after the late 1960s, when my grandfather died (in his late sixties himself).  He was a very well-known sports writer – he never would have called himself a “sports journalist” in the style today – and publicity man.  Grandpa Lou (or “Gooey”, as we called him, as a childish contraction of “Grandpa Louie”, I think) was a quirky self-educated newspaperman and sports promoter In fact, a character in the play (made into a movie four times!) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur,  The Front Page was based on him, I learned just a few years ago from my mother.

My grandfather "Gooey" is just 17 years old here.

My grandfather worked closely with Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey (I have a pocket watch from Mr. Dempsey engraved with an inscription to my grandfather on Xmas Day 1929, the day of the gift), and other high-profile boxers as well as horse-racers and many other sports figures and teams.

For instance, Joe Louis, who was one of the greatest boxers in history, received considerable yet discrete financial help from my grandfather, after Mr. Louis’s agent misappropriated or mismanaged his money.

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What Would Jessie Dish? A New Wednesday Feature: Introduction to the Project and the German Pancake

My grandmother is just 16, at her high school graduation in 1920.

She could dish it up, but can I make it?

In helping my mother get ready to move into an assisted living apartment recently, I came across my mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking.  She no longer wanted it, had not used it in many years, and said I should take it.  However, it was not it until I had returned home, when I discovered that the book had a 5” x  7” Manilla envelope containing a number of recipes from my late grandmother, Jessie.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  I cannot imagine that anyone knew whatever happened to these recipes.  So I was excited to have stumbled on this treasure trove.

There were nearly 20 recipes, half typed on 3″ x 5″ cards, with the others were written in her careful handwriting on various pieces of scrap paper (“Waste not, want not!” Jessie would implore, having lived through the Great Depression).  Most of the recipes are for baked goods (hooray!), and I do remember having eaten most of these dishes.  There are a few I am sure she did not make for me, so re-creating other recipes my grandmother made intrigues me as well.

I decided that it would be a fun feature on IslandEAT to prepare each and every one of the recipes, expanding or clarifying the directions, and assessing the results.   Many are in the short-hand of an experienced baker – and cook – who knew her technique well, so the steps are implicit – that is fine if you know the technique, of course, and, fortunately, I have developed a sense for baking over the years and am familiar with many similar recipes.

However, some recipes, especially the handwritten ones,  are completely vague and lacking directions – and even titles.   I will have to experiment to see if I can re-create what I think she had intended. What they all have in common is a no-nonsense, non-fussy simple approach with relatively few ingredients.  The recipes are primarily American or, in a few cases, European.  Some are still current and even in vogue, while others do seem rather vintage, e.g., “apricot mold”, which uses apricot jello and evaporated milk — not the kind of thing I generally make, but I am ready to try it.

From now until I have prepared all 18, I will feature a Wednesday recipe from the past, with a scan of the original recipe (and sometimes, the odd bits I have found on the reverse side), aiming to do this every week until the end of summer.  I expect to include some recollections of her, as she was a bit of a character, with a very good sense of humour, unusual turns of phrases, and quite the sharp tongue; Jessie was not afraid to ask – or ask repeatedly – for what she wanted or to let people know exactly what she thought.  I hope this summer project helps IslandEAT’s readers get a glimpse into her personality.

For more on the German Pancake and the What Would Jessie Dish? Recipe Roster

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Easy Yet Superb Brunch Dish: David Eyre’s Pancake

Ready to eat D Eyre Pancake

The pancake is perfect with lingonberries on top.

To borrow the punch line from a popular joke, my mother’s favourite thing to make for dinner was reservations. While she did make a number of dishes well, she never enjoyed cooking or baking. However, we always looked forward to her fluffy golden pancake, which we called a “German pancake”. The main reasons my mother made it were its easy preparation and its simplicity: five basic ingredients – eggs, milk, flour, sugar, and butter – with nutmeg, confectioner’s sugar, and lemon juice as optional enhancements.

Just a few basic ingredients make a great pancake.

In fact, I think this pancake – which puffs up remarkably then deflates just as dramatically – was the only brunch dish we had at home on Sunday. We always ate it with bacon and lingonberry preserves (if you have no Scandinavian specialty stores nearby, IKEA generally carries it, at a very reasonable price). Both are fine accompaniments for such an impressive yet simple brunch dish. The tangy lingonberries complement the eggy-yet-crisp pancake; by now, we should all know that everything is better with bacon.

Craig Claiborne’s David Eyre’s Pancake recipe  Continue reading