Category Archives: Main courses

Spicy Masala Tomato Soup: Classic North American Comfort Fare with an Indian Twist

What happens when you combine down-home tomato soup with Indian spices?  Spicy masala tomato soup is the inter-cultural result.

Every winter around January, I seem to have a hankerin’ for traditional cream of tomato soup.   I grew up with the canned Campbell’s variety.  Sometimes I like to think I had a Warholesque-childhood, but, in truth, it was far more suburban and prosaic than that.  I never really liked the thin tinny-tasting tinned soup.  However, I later developed an appreciation for the home-made version.  I had tried the “real” soup at dinner parties and home-cookin’ restaurants, where the tomato’s true identity shines through.

A few years ago, I came across Martha Stewart’s recipe for tomato soup.     Although I never use the cream option, this version makes a fine North American “cream” of tomato soup (NB:  I would double the ingredients to make a larger portion, as a matter of course).  It is the kind of tomato soup which would pair perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch on a rainy or snowy day.  The ingredients are generally in a well-stocked home pantry, so the soup can be ready in just over one-half hour.

I decided to adapt the recipe to incorporate “Madrasi Masala”, which my friend Kip had given us as part of an Xmas gift.  Commercial break:

Looking for unique jewelry or gorgeous photography?  Visit Kip’s Etsy site for her marvelous, distinctive handmade jewelry and stunning original photography. Some of Kip’s vibrant photographs are even food-related!

In case you did not know, “masala” means mixture and often is a blend of spices, varying from place to place.  It can also be a spicy tomato-base for curries (typical of the Punjab region, for instance).  Kip’s particular blend from the Madras region worked well in a Sri Lankan dal I had made a week earlier.  I wanted to make more use of the tantalizing spice blend.

For the review of the soup – and the 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

2010 – A Year in Food, Part Two

Following on the previous post, here are my favourite dishes which I made for the first time in 2010, followed some year-end musings.

Top Savoury Dishes

5. Yorkshire Pudding – from My Grandmother Jessie’s Recipes

4. Jewish Pork Tenderloin – from My Grandmother Jessie’s Recipes

3.  Linguine Umami – My original creation

2.  Deep-Dish Chicago-Style Pizza – from America’s Test Kitchen

For the top savoury dish, top sweet treats, and…

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2010 – A Year in Food & Food Trends for 2011

What are your favourite food-related items of 2010?

As I realized my blog is just over a year old (December 23, 2009 was my first post), I decided to jump on the bandwagon with my own year-in-review.  This post is on 2010’s top posts, photos, and favourites, plus trends for 2011.

IslandEAT‘s Most-read Posts

According to site stats, my most popular posts are unexpected – at least, by me.

5.  My adaptation of Peter Reinhart’s Multi-grain Bread.

4. No-bake Whipped Cream Mocha Ice-box Zebra “Pie”

3.  Thick and Chewy Brown-Sugar-Beurre-Noisette Cookies

2.  Thick Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies

For my most popular post in 2010, Five Food Trends, and Top Food Pictures…

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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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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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Jewish Pork Tenderloin: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 18

Pork tenderloin is not a classic Jewish dish, needless to say.  Last’s week’s recipe – from my grandmother Jessie’s lost files – was certainly more British than Yiddish.  However, this week’s easy yet delightful pork recipe is definitely not kosher.

This treatment of pork tenderloin is the penultimate recipe of the 19 of the series. (I would expect Jessie to say, “Penultimate?  We all know what that word means, but can’t you just say ‘next-to-last’?  Come on!”).  I am amused by Jessie’s pork recipe, following close on the heels of the Yorkshire pudding from last week, which was on the reverse of National Council for Jewish Women stationery.  This pair of recipes reveals a good deal about Jessie and her complex personality.

At my parents wedding, pork tenderloin was probably not on the menu (L-R: Jessie, her daughter, her new son-in-law, her step-father, her mother, and her husband, 1957).

For instance, Jessie was neither very religious nor even very observant.  This would have been a result of her family’s immigration to the US from Europe in the 1880s, when assimilation into American culture was the dominant force.  Jessie’s own mother, Faye, was even known to have fried pork chops on the Sabbath – so much for tradition (think of the song from Fiddler on the Roof here…).  The apple really does not fall far from the tree.

(When I think of Sabbath – or Shabbat, in Hebrew – I think of the time the group Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys played a gig in Texas on a Friday night. Someone from the audience screamed out, “Shabbat Shazzam!” to welcome them, rather than the correct, “Shabbat Shalom”.  My diversion is a bit off-track, but Jessie’s husband, Louie, had lived in McKinney, Texas, as a young boy, and Kinky Friedman was born in Chicago, as was Jessie, so this all comes back round to her.)

In fact, as an adult, she attended synagogue seldom.  Towards the end of her life,  she did find one she liked at Water Tower Place.  Water Tower Place is a vertical urban upscale shopping centre on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  It was the first of its kind in the U.S. to put better stores in a mall in a city’s high-rise building.  Jessie could walk to this “big-deal” of an urban shopping mall from her condo on the Gold Coast, and often did, given her propensity for shopping.  I do remember that she was intrigued by the small synagogue, just above the nine-stories of shops.  My theory was she wanted to rest her feet after shopping excursions as much as exploring her new-found faith, in her seventies and eighties.

My mother poses in front of their Xmas tree in 1933 - was pork tenderloin for dinner?

Besides her strudel-rugelach or mandelbrot, most of her recipes were decidedly New World, in origin, and American, in tone, as she was herself.  But she liked all things British and French, as well.

The pork tenderloin is noteworthy, in my view, as it was the only meat dish I found. I remember her having made very good pork as well as roast beef and other dishes, which I would have avoided during the vegetarian years of my adolescence .  Do I  have to tell you that Jessie really did not approve of this phase?

For the review of the pork tenderloin – and the recipe

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