Tag Archives: Island life

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

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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Apricot Strudel-Rugelach – A Rich Old-World Treat: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 10

On Jessie's wedding china, the apricot strudel awaits....

I had some trepidation about the “strudel” part of this week’s recipe.  When I found my grandmother Jessie’s lost files, I noticed the “apricot strudel” recipe but did not pay close attention, which turned out to be par for the course for me with this recipe.

The rolling of this strudel into a log is very easy.

The reason for my fear-of-strudel dates back to a cruise we had taken a few years back with my mother, from San Francisco to various Pacific ports in Mexico.  On this sailing, an Austrian chef demonstrated making apple strudel.  A traditional strudel includes stretching, more stretching, and, when you think you have stretched the dough enough, stretching yet again.  So I thought I would have to do all this stretching and was a bit worried about this technique.

However, this recipe has no stretching.   The dough is very easy to make.  This pastry is more akin to a rugelach than a strudel, as the dough for the former usually features either sour cream (as does this) or cream cheese in addition to nuts and cinnamon in the filling.  Rugelach often has raisins, but I used dried apricots in this version.  Either way Jessie’s apricot strudel is very mittel-European and very Old World in its sour-cream-butter dough, with an apricot-nut-coconut filling.

I vaguely remember Jessie making a cookie similar to this.  Perhaps I do not recall it very well, given that it is not a terribly sweet cookie – and without chocolate.  Hence,  I would not have been too interested in it as child.  Though Jessie loved eating traditional flaky apple strudel, she also liked rugelach.  For Sacher torte or other rich desserts, Jessie always liked her café mit schlag (coffee with whipped cream), as she called it, to ensure the most extravagant dessert experience possible.

In 1923, Jessie is very stylish in an Old-World way, while on honeymoon at a resort in French Lick, Indiana.

My challenge with this recipe was that Jessie called for “Ma Brown apricot jam”.  I do not know if this exists any more, but I prefer to use my own preserves, whenever possible, regardless.  I had only one small jar of apricot butter left from the small batch I made last year, but this amount would not have sufficed.

For more on the strudel development and the recipe…

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No-Bake Icebox Whipped Cream Zebra Mocha Cake: Cool, Quick, No-Need-for-heat Summer Indulgence

Have you ever heard of zebra pie?  I am not sure what the name is for this fantastic fast dessert.  A close friend of mine, MHS, always referred to it as such back in university days.  MHS loved her mocha desserts, so I thought of the variation in today’s post while recalling her appreciation for cookies and coffee.  While MHS – who is very smart and knowledgeable about desserts – called it “zebra pie”, I really think it more appropriately falls into the icebox-cake category.  So I have renamed it.

At its most basic, there are just two ingredients:  store-bought chocolate wafers (for an unpaid plug, Mr. Christie in Canada or Nabisco in the US) and either non-dairy whipped topping – to which I say, “No, thank you” – or whipped cream – yes, please!   Usually, I whip heavy cream with vanilla extract and a bit of sugar.  However, I had just read about a mocha-whipped cream topping a molten chocolate cake in a recipe somewhere lately (who can recall? – so many blogs, so many cookbooks, so little time).

The “zebra” comes from the vertical stripes of the cake.  I guess one should not really have a tan-coloured whipped cream for a true zebra, but this cake is so delectable that one can overlook the zebra-who-has-been-running-around-grazing-on-the-dust-on-the-veldt look from the coffee-infused whipped cream.

Sometimes I have no idea what these cats are up to....

A fawn and doe are the attraction.

About as close to a zebra as one can get on this island....

So much for observing the zebra- substitute (Jinja's dirty paws almost make her a mocha zebra).

Besides some old horses on the island, the closest to a zebra around here is a young spotted fawn wandering around our property.  George and Jinja seemed to be monitoring it for suspicious behaviour, so I had to include the GKPs (“gratuitous kitty pictures”) in this post.

For the simple directions and the recipe…

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Pink and Puffy and Perfect Strawberry Chiffon Pie: Your Summertime Treat for Special Occasions

What do you think about when you hear “chiffon pie”?   I think of it as rather retro – a dessert not as popular as, say, in the 1950s.  However, my recent experience making one convinced me that there should be a chiffon revival (pie, not the fabric, though I guess they could go together…).

For Canada Day, I wanted to incorporate red and white as well as use the strawberries, which had just started to ripen locally (late after a rainy spring).  For reasons totally unrelated to these objectives, I was paging through intriguing cookbook, Kathy Casey’s Northwest Table.   In this fine transnational cookbook, I stumbled upon the subject of this post and decided I had to make it.

While I collect cookbooks from all over and featuring a wide variety of cuisines, I am particularly interested in the region spanning what in the US is called the “northwest” and in Canada, it is called “coastal BC” or the “wet coast” or the “left coast”, depending on the seriousness of the speaker.  (One time I actually had to explain to someone in the US why Canadians do not refer to Vancouver as being in the “northwest”; given that it is in the southwestern-most part of the country; the frame of reference simply does not work.  I did point out that we should call Metro Vancouver the “southwest” and that would just confuse everybody, making them think about Georgia O’Keefe and Fritos Pie, rather than Emily Carr and Japa Dog.)

About a decade ago or so, there was a movement of people across the border, in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and maybe Alaska  – although I do not believe that Sarah Palin was ever part of this effort – to create a region called “Cascadia” as a geo-eco-political realm.  Of course, there is no such Cascadian entity, but I can just imagine its Nu-agey anthem, with Enya chanting “Cascadia” repeatedly, in her wispy way, in a heavily acoustic hypnotizing song.

However, there is one cookbook which unites much of the territory of Cascadia.  Ms. Casey’s book features extraordinary photographs of the landscape as well as the dishes.  She really is big on the local-locavore-field-to-table-sustainable thing, which works well out here, with the abundance of seafood, berries, fine wines, green pastures, and lush fields, made possible by all the rain.

There was too much rain and cool weather in British Columbia this spring, so the strawberries ripened later than usual.  The strawberry season here is usually quite short, so I try to do something significant to mark the occasion of our smaller, more intense sweet berries – nowhere near the immense size of the California imports available year round (and generally with little flavour).

Folding strawberry mixture with cream, then with egg whites, can be time consuming.

My comments about this recipe – and the other chiffon pie I had made once (a blood orange one) is that they are a bit time-consuming, both in preparation and chilling.  Nonetheless, they are good for hot weather, as they have very minimal baking time just for a cookie crust, highlight seasonal fruit very well, and tend to be lighter than many cream pies (egg whites and gelatin help provide the body in the pie filling, in addition to a modest amount of whipped cream).

For a description of strawberry chiffon perfection – and the recipe… Continue reading

Retro Rice Pudding: What Would Jessie Dish? Week Seven

Is rice pudding part of the comfort-food craze?  I have not noticed rice pudding nearly as often on menus, in cookbooks, or in the blogosphere as bread pudding.  Perhaps it is the snob appeal of using brioche, quality challah, or other artisan breads  in bread pudding.  The rice pudding from my late grandmother’s recently discovered files, however, is a classic dish of comfort fare.

I distinctly remember my grandmother’s rice pudding, so I was looking forward to making this recipe.  Rice pudding is a dessert I enjoy and will make, depending on leftover rice, mood,  and other competing dessert priorities.

In 1931 Jessie (with my mother Nat) might have made rice pudding as a Depression-era dessert.

Last time I had made rice pudding, I followed Rick Bayless’s recipe for his Mexican version with cinnamon and lime, Arroz Con Leche, for my Olympic kick-off party (my theme was dishes from Olympic hosts of the past 50 years – Mexico had hosted the 1968 summer  Olympics, and I needed to do something with the four egg yolks leftover from my lemon meringue cookies – a nod to Grenoble, host of the 1968 Winter Olympics).  The Bayless recipe is worth a try for a softer, very cinnamony, lime-zesty pudding.

For the detailed recipe and a critique… Continue reading