Category Archives: Main courses

Classic Basil Pesto: A Sauce for Summer’s End

What cookbook would you take to the hypothetical desert island?  I would have to lug my tome, New Best Recipes, from America’s Test Kitchen.  I consult this indispensable volume more than any other of my hundreds of cookbooks.  In fact, I just did their zucchini bread recipe in my last post.  Their pesto recipe is simply outstanding.

(To my consistent readers, I decided to put Wednesday’s What Would Jessie Dish? on hiatus until after summer, ongoing renovations at the moment, and a trip with my mother to Maine  for the upcoming week. The remaining recipes were all very autumnal, and I thought it best to wait and highlight seasonal summer dishes.  Sorry, but it will return in just a few weeks!)

ATK is so thorough and creative in testing the many permutations, techniques, and varieties of ingredients to create the ultimate recipes.  Sometimes they are a bit fussy, but this is based on their experimentation to produce the best taste, texture, and finished product.  One thing I do find is that their recipes tend towards the less hot (spicy) side, so I often will up the heat or add a bit, when I feel like it.

I had made a few recipes for pesto before trying ATK’s, and this one really is best.  Toasting garlic and nuts adds a bit of time, but it is worth it to highlight the flavours, creating depth, subtlety, and nuttiness – what more can you ask for in life?

On our island, we have a garlic growing cooperative, and I was able to participate in a couple of sessions (prepping, cultivation, planting, weeding, harvesting), which gave me 40 bulbs of organic Russian hard-neck porcelain garlic – if you really want to know the variety.  It was an interesting experience, and I now have quite a bit of garlic for the upcoming colder months.

The basil we have been growing on the deck (it is not deer-proof, though it is supposed to be) has been doing well the past few years, with our southern exposure.  Around this time of year, I have plenty of basil – and combined with a bounty of garlic – making pesto for the winter is a good idea.  So I tripled the ingredients, and the three batches went along much more quickly than doing each one separately, of course.

For more on storing the classic basil pesto and the recipe… Continue reading

“Karma Chameleon” Bucatini with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil – Red, Gold, and Green

At the risk of being sued by Boy George (as opposed to a-wannabe-lawyer-who-liked-to-bathe-in-apricot-Jell-o), I decided to call this treatment of bucatini with cherry tomatoes “Karma Chameleon” for obvious reasons.  The pure red cherry tomatoes with the vibrant “sungold” cherry tomatoes (from our deck-top garden) and fresh basil (right off the deck, too) made me think of the lyrics:

Loving would be easy if your colours were like my dream
Red, gold, and green, red, gold, and green.

Huh? What exactly does that mean?

This is from an era of many pop songs with memorable refrains but not much meaning:  the 1980s, of course.  The song was very catchy but did not really have the “deeper” meaning indicated by the references to “karma” and the changeability of the chameleon. There is good alliteration with “karma chameleon” together, while “red, gold, and green” make a nice vivid trio of colours.  But does the song really say anything, other than just being a fun tune?

Like the song, bucatini is a fun pasta. However, it is not always easy to find bucatini in your grocer’s shelves, nestled among its more popular cousins, spaghetti and linguine (do not even try to find “buca-what?” on a small island like this one).  Bucatini is like a drinking straw, with a hollow centre, a kind of tubular spaghetti, which provides, a nice al dente contrast to the warmed cherry tomatoes, and good textural counterpoint to the light olive oil-butter sauce.

My inspiration for combining bucatini with cherry tomatoes comes from a casual dinner a few years back, hosted by friend and fellow island blogger, Lynn, of Real Food from a Small Island.  Lynn’s sauce was delicious yet somewhat different from this recipe.

I like the classic Italian base of garlic-olive-oil-black-pepper-and-Parmigiano-Reggiano.  This base also can include parsley, bread crumbs, red chili flakes, anchovies, lemon juice, capers, or many other ingredients, depending on the region. time of day, and the chef.  I posted about a combination that I did a few months back, Umami Linguine.  A bit of butter, I find, in a sauce like this helps improve with the mouth feel and adds a bit of richness to the sauce without becoming heavy.

For the recipe…

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Halibut Cheeks Poached in White Wine and Shallots: A Fast, Enticing, and Unusual Summer Feast

Do you ever feel a bit odd eating animals’ various body parts?  Pork belly, “prairie oysters” (Google it or contact me, if you really want to know…), or halibut cheeks make me visualize those particular bits of the anatomy.

In the case of halibut cheeks, I can picture a big halibut swimming with its cheeks all puffed out, as if it were about to blow out candles on a birthday cake.  I am pretty sure that halibut usually do not have birthday cakes, with or without candles. The frosting would get all wet in the ocean…and how would the candles manage to stay lit?

Regardless of halibutian (halibutty? halibuttery? can there be no adjectival form of “halibut’?) birthday celebrations, I find fish cheeks most intriguing.  The consistency is not the firm, rich flake of a halibut fillet but rather is somewhere between a sea scallop and a chicken thigh – meatier, a bit roapy (not in a bad way, however), and much more substantial.

Gratuitous kitty and wildlife interlude:

What could Jinja be watching now?

That is no flying halibut in the nasturtiums...

it is a ruffous hummingbird (no hummingbirds were harmed in creating this post, just one halibut).

For the inspiration and 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?

For the recipe… Continue reading

Salmon in a Soy-Maple-Ginger-Garlic Glaze: Tantalizing Molecular Destiny

Are you aware of the chemical aspects of the culinary world? I am not referring to the molecular gastronomy that is all is the rage, but rather the actual chemistry of cuisine.  Chemistry is essential to the molecular style of gastronomic palaces, such as Spain’s El Bulli, WD-50 in NYC, or Alinea in Chicago, but we can all benefit from learning which foods (and wines, too) pair well together, based on their chemical composition.

I was listening to a radio program on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for you non-Canucks out there), featuring a sommelier from Québec,  François Chartier.  M. Chartier has written a book called, Papilles et Molécules, which has come out now in English, Tastebuds and Molecules (http://www.francoischartier.ca/english).  The show was on molecular structures, which makes certain foods natural companions, based on their chemical composition.

As ginger is a must for this post, Jinja must check out a hebe in bloom on the deck.

One example M. Chartier gave was the pair of soy sauce and maple syrup.  As a Canadian, I hope you know that I mean only the pure stuff, and never would dare to consider the gloppy kind in a plastic squeeze bottle, such as the corn-syrup-artificially-flavoured-Mrs.-You-Probably-Know-Who brand.  Apparently,  maple and soy sauce are chemical cosmic twins!  Who knew?

The molecular twinning, of course, works for food with wine (mint and sauvignon blanc, for instance) as much as it does for expected food pairings (lamb and thyme) in addition to more unusual combinations  (raspberries are chemically counterparts of nori, or seaweed, which surprised me).  It is a fascinating chemical explanation why certain foods do go well together naturally, even those from places of origin, e.g., maple syrup tends to be from areas which did not traditionally grow soy beans and make soy sauce.  So the locavore argument does not get much of boost from this dish.

For the recipe… Continue reading

Halibut in Lime, Ginger, and Cayenne Cream Sauce: Super-fast and satisfying dish – just for the halibut

As I mentioned before, I was rather odd as a child.  One example that comes to mind – with halibut as a punch line – was an overnight field trip to a wilderness campground around age 11.

I had taken karate before this trip, yet I stopped upon reaching the first belt (the yellow belt, which is a cowardly far cry from the ultimate:  the famous black sash).  However, I was happy with that rank and to have achieved one higher level; I really did not care for the martial arts.  So I continued to wear my karate get-up – replete with the yellow belt – whenever possible.

During this particular trip, the fizzy candy which explodes in one’s mouth called, “Pop Rocks”, were all the rage.  I had a variety of packets with me, which I shared with my friends.  (This is the first of two-sort-of-but-not-really-directly-food-related references in this flashback).  The karate outfit fortunately had pockets for hiding “Pop Rocks” and other candy.

After the dinner in the “mess hall”, which I definitely do not remember, we participated in skits.  I was in a skit with another boy and it was a joke, the punchline of which was “I did it just for the halibut!” (if you were not paying attention, that is the second of the two food references, one which is supposed to be a play on words, albeit it childish).  What I remember is that I did not deliver this line but had to fall down as if struck down  by the painful pun – which I did during rehearsal.

However, during the skit when I was outfitted in my karate robe with yellow belt, I fell and knocked over the other boy.  My pratfall was not the most graceful of stage falls, nor the most pleasant experience for my fellow actor, given that I was chubby at the time, as I had yet to start with my tennis fixation which began soon after this trip.

Quick and simple mise-en-place just for the halibut.

For the halibut recipe and more….

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Qualicum Sea Scallops in Brown Butter & Hazelnuts: Coquilles St. Jacques au beurre noisette et aux noisettes

What theme would you choose for creating a meal?  I always liked the idea of using coffee, chocolate, or cherries (or other items which might not start with “c”) in every course for a fun dinner party.

Returning on the Saturday morning ferry from Vancouver, I had been “off-island”, as they say here, for about 11 days.  I had not expected to see the Fishery Afloat.  This seafood boat docks right near the ferry terminal on Saturdays from late May through September.  The Fishery Afloat is based on the much bigger, Salt Spring Island, and it features – almost exclusively – local seafood from the Pacific.  After a long and difficult trip, I was happy to see the boat for the first time, buy some halibut, and discover they had the large Qualicum Beach sea scallops (many of which are larger than a golf ball).  They are quite a treat.

So our proximity to Qualicum Beach, across the Strait along Vancouver Island, made me think of creating a sort of 100-mile-diet dish.  Having made scallops in butter with hazelnut, I thought it would be good to add the twist of brown butter.  The title I gave the dish is is also a bit of a play-on-words or jeux de mots, in French, “Coquilles St. Jacques au beurre noisette et aux noisettes.”  Just to clear up confusion wrought by a Canadian celebrity chef, who once stated incorrectly that brown butter originally was related to hazelnuts as an ingredient in making the butter.  It decidedly is not.  The colour is nut-brown and the flavour may be nutty, but beurre noisette has nothing to do with hazelnuts per se.  Just in case you were wondering….

For the dish and the recipe… Continue reading

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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