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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Cocoa Angel Food Cake with Marshmallow-Meringue Icing: No-Fat But Loads of Flavour

Can a home-made cake be fat-free and flavourful? The cocoa angel food cake proves it is possible, capped off with a fluffy seven-minute-style icing (I used the same frosting as on the chocolate-malt-buttercream cupcakes).

I enjoy a challenge when it comes to baking.  As with the oaty-almond crisps (dairy- and gluten-free), I like to find recipes which suit the dietary requirements without resorting to “fake” baked goods.  Thus, I decided to try my hand at baking an appropriately significant cake for a friend’s landmark birthday, one which required a low-fat dessert.

On my island, we have a “free store”, called the “redirectory”. Essentially, the “redirectory” – sounds much more high fallutin’ than “free store –  is like a thrift shop or second-hand store without any costs.  The Gulf Islands do not have municipal garbage pick-up, so people try to recycle, compost, and donate useful items as much as possible, more than in places where there is weekly or daily garbage (and it provides income to the entrepreneurs who haul garbage, off-island, at $5 a large sack).  The theory is that people will donate items in good condition, other than clothes (the one church-run thrift store does that), and those who need something will take it, saving used goods from garbage dumps.

So I found an angel food cake pan more than a year ago at the “redirectory”.  I put off making angel food cake, with all the other cakes vying for attention – not to mention the sheer number of eggs and care needed for making angel food cakes.  However, I have made sponge cakes and génoise cakes before, and I decided that I should give it a try.

I also had found an antique angel-food-cake slicer, at a vintage shop on a trip to Vachon Island, Washington, last September.  It is an elegant implement, used for angel food or chiffon cakes exclusively, though it is somewhat reminiscent of afro-picks from the 1970s, as a guest pointed out.  What other implement can have such disparate associations and represent fundamentally oppositional eras?  There is the prim-and-proper ladies’ tea – think of the 1920s-1950s heydey of angel food cakes and the newcomer, the chiffon cake. In the 1920s, the angel food’s richer sister, the chiffon cake, had its official coming out as a sassy debutante.  For these two desserts, I picture:  white gloves, white bread sandwiches, white cake, and white ladies, on the one hand.  On the other,  the Afro-pick connotes, for me, big-curly hair, free-love, sex, and drugs and rock-and-roll – from the Summer of Love through the disco era of the 1970s.

For the cake review – and the recipe… Continue reading

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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Flat and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies: Sophisticated, Elegant, and Perfect for its Genre

Do you need another chocolate chip cookie recipe for your arsenal?  I really was not looking for one – beyond the America’s Test Kitchen recipe, about which I already have written here. However, sometimes I am compelled to try a variant or new recipe just for fun.

The October issue of Saveur featured Amanda Hesser’s Flat and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie, excerpted from her latest publication, The Essential New York Times Cookbook.  This is a wonderful cookbook, I must tell you, even though I have yet to make anything else from it after receiving it at Xmas – the recipes span the more than 150 years the NYT has been publishing on food.

Also in that edition of Saveur, my favourite food writers Jane and Michael Stern wrote about some of the glories of central Ohio cuisine.  There are many varied and delightful specialties in that area of the Buckeye State, some of which I have sampled on road trips.  I liked the Stern’s description of a tantalizing chicken noodle soup recipe from a Polish restaurant, Babuska’s Kitchen.  The recipe included directions for home-made noodles – something I had never done before – and seasonings for the soup such as fennel seed and garlic, neither of which I typically use.  It was a super-soup recipe, which I recently made for dinner on a blustery rainy Friday night – to be capped off with more comfort food:  chocolate-chip cookies.

For the major CC cookie genres, the review – 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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