Category Archives: Soups

A Midsummer Night’s Menu


Photo from Look local Oakville burlington

Chef Scott Bailey’s resumé must sport some pretty impressive credentials:

A year and a half spent furthering his management skills at Oakville’s busy and buzzworthy Compass restaurant;

Eight years of apprenticeship, working his way up to Chef de Cuisine in the kitchen of Ancaster’s Old Mill, under “farm to table”, seasonal food guru, Jeff Crump;

A stint at The Fat Duck, a Michelin-rated, three star restaurant outside of London, England, famed for its molecular gastronomy;

Being named one of the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s “Top 30 Under 30” best young talent in the food and beverage industry across Ontario, at the age of 24.

And now, Bailey, who is still under 30, has achieved an important goal.  About four months ago, he began to set up the kitchen for his very own catering business in Hamilton at the corner of King and Locke.  Called City Farm Catering, Bailey says that the business will plan and customize all sorts of parties or projects — from dinner parties for people in their own homes to weddings or baptisms or banquets.


Bailey says, “I want the company to work as a convenience for people.  They can pick up meals certain nights of the week so that it’s fast, but it will still be a healthy meal.  Right now it’s very much a one man show — I don’t want to keep a staff in the kitchen but will bring people in if I need them.  Of course, if it’s wildly successful and I become a millionaire …”

City Farm Catering is so new that it has not, as yet, set up its own website, so anyone wishing to contact Chef Scott may do so by phoning him at 905/512-1959 or emailing at

Customers can be assured that the food will reflect Bailey’s belief in local produce and seasonal menus.  Not surprisingly, for a protegé of Jeff Crump, Bailey insists upon “working with what we have.”  It’s just sensible, he says, when food is in season, it not only tastes better, it is also less expensive.  And his cooking philosophy embraces a precept of simplicity.

“I really have no specialties.  I’m more interested in the basics of cooking.  Doing simple things really well.  It’s not necessarily ‘fine dining.’  For example, I like to make basic fried chicken, with a perfect buttermilk soak and a perfect flour dredge.  Or, making a fillet of fish with a really crisp skin.”

Bailey has been working in kitchens since he was fourteen — by the time he was seventeen he was managing Attic Pizza in Stoney Creek — and that was before he went to Niagara College to get his chef’s diploma.  And he still likes to cook at home!

I ask him my standard interview question:  “What is the worst mistake that home cooks make?”  And he quips, “Cooking at home …”

But later, he suggests that time management is crucial — getting everything on the plate at the same time without overcooking or undercooking, is a really important skill — and, no doubt, one that he will be demonstrating in our Go Cooking session on Monday, July 20th.  He has had lots of teaching experience, conducting classes for the LCBO, and is looking forward to interacting with our Go Cooking audience.

His menu for that evening is like an ode to Ontario summer. The centrepiece is fresh pickerel, perfectly pan seared.  (From Lake Huron, he explains, betraying his attention to detail, because the pickerel from Port Dover will be out of season by then.)  It’s a substantial yet light meal, with a beautiful balance of sweet and sour — tangy lemon ricotta with honey-braised grapes;  the sweetness of local strawberries playing off against the tart flavour of Ontario rhubarb.

We hope you will be able to join us.

And since the chef is still fine-tuning his recipes, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ways to use those Ontario strawberries that are finally at the market.

Strawberry and Orange Soup

adapted from Lucy Waverman’s “Seasonal Canadian Cookbook” 


2 (500 mL) cups sliced strawberriescityfarmstrawb

juice of one orange

1 tsp (5 mL) icing sugar

3 tsp (45 mL) honey

1 (259 mL)cup plain yogurt

1/2 (125 mL)cup milk

1- 5 and a half can (156 mL) apricot nectar

1tbsp (15 mL) peach schnapps (optional)


1)  In a blender or food processor combine 1 and a half cups strawberries with the orange juice and icing sugar.  Purٞée until smooth.

2)  Add the honey, yogurt milk, apricot nectar and liqueur.  Combine together.

3)  Transfer to a large bowl and garnish with the remaining strawberries.  Serves 6.

My Notes:

This is not really sweet, in spite of the honey and sugar.  It’s very refreshing served ice cold as an appetizer for a summer lunch.


Stocking up


It may surprise you to know that there is an on-going debate on the Internet as to whether one should drink or eat one’s soup.  Well, I say, it matters naught whether you use a spoon and a bowl or two hands holding a cup, when you have the urge to ingest this divine, semi-liquid food — just go for it.

I’m thinking about soup because of the weather (Don’t you just crave a bowl of hot tasty food during these bone-chilling, icy-blue and white, February days?) but also because February is the month for Hamilton’s SoupFest!  one of our jolliest annual celebrations.  This year it’s “Soupfest!-13-“, taking place on Tuesday, February 24th from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Summers Lane.

At Soupfest you will be able to try four bowls of soup for $12 (advance ticket, $15 at door) which may sound inadequate, but I have attended this event a couple of times, and believe me, this will fill you up.  The soups are being made by 21 local restaurants — places such as Baci Ristorante, West Plains Bistro, My-Thai Restaurant, Cascata Bistro — for the complete list, check out the poster on the Living Rock website

— and there will be entertainment throughout the day.

One of the high points of the event is the contest.  Participants can vote on their favorite soups and the results are tallied under a great cloak of secrecy and announced the next day.  Last year’s winners were:

Best Display – Collins’ Brewhouse

Best Locally Grown — Detour Cafe

Most Creative – Baci Ristorante

Best Soup – 4th Course Bistro at Copetown Woods

Chef’s Choice — The Harbour Diner

Soupfest is sponsored by First Ontario Credit Union as a benefit for Living Rock Ministries.  Living Rock supports youth ages 13 – 25 who are at risk of falling through the cracks in our community from factors such as poverty, mental illness, addiction or disenfranchisement.  The organization provides everything from meal programs to a food bank, from safe and relevant social and recreational programming, to pre-employment and employment programs.  So you can feel good enjoying your soup and, at the same time, feel good about yourself for helping out your community.

I believe that every ethnic group has some favored type of soup and I am avid to try all of them from creamy to chunky, from chowder to bouillon.  And I love the process of making soup; you get to be as creative as you like using up leftovers in the refrigerator with abandon, or you can follow the recipe and just leave the results simmering on the stove for a few hours.  Making soup provides the perfect cooking situation for writers — drop a few things into the broth, go back to the computer for a few minutes, chop a few things, add them to the soup, taste for salt, and back to the keyboard.  All done to the accompaniment of that spicy humid vapour that is curling a finger to beckon you back into the kitchen.

Anyway, I like to challenge myself occasionally and this year decided that I was going to learn how to make proper consommé with crystal clear, transparent, sparkling stock.  I checked out Julia’s recipe (Julia Child) and decided that I needed a bit more simplicity so turned to the Internet where I found Daniel Boulud‘s method. (Boulud is that world famous chef from Lyon with award winning restaurants all over the world.)  Here is a video from Saveur of how Boulud makes chicken consommé and clarifies the stock:é


You may want to eat the delicious stock simply poured over a few julienned vegetables or cooked rice or fine noodles.  Or, if you are feeling more ambitious, here is a recipe that uses the stock for a soup that is light, yet has a real intensity of flavour.

Thai Fish Soup

from “The Soup Bible”, editor Deborah Mayhew 


12 oz large zipperback shrimpsoupfestthaifish

1 tbsp peanut oil

5 cups chicken (or fish) stock

1 lemon grass stalk, bruised and cut into 1 inch lengths

2 kaffir lime leaves torn into pieces

juice and finely grated rind of 1 lime

1/2 fresh green chili, seeded and finely sliced

4 scallops

24 mussels scrubbed

4 oz. firm white fish (monkfish?) cut into chunks

2 tsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)

Garnish:  1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded, 1/2 red chili, finely sliced


1) Peel the shrimps reserving the shells.

2) Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the shells until pink.  Add the stock, lemon grass, lime leaves, lime rind and chili.  Bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes, then strain through a sieve, reserving the liquid.

3)  Prepare the scallops by cutting them in half, leaving the corals attached to one half.

4)  Return the stock to a clean pan, add the shrimp, mussels, monkfish and scallops and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the lime juice and nam pla.

5)  Serve garnished with the shredded lime leaf and finely chopped red chili.

My Notes:

You should be able to find the nam pla (Thai fish sauce) and the kaffir lime leaves in the Thai section of your grocery store.  If you can’t find the kaffir leaves, use coriander (cilantro).  The fish sauce doesn’t taste terribly “fishy”, but it’s quite salty, so no extra salt is required.  The soup ends up looking like all of the bounty of the sea suspended in the very clear stock.



A la mode


Have been scanning the “Top 10 food trends for 2014” from publications as disparate as Global News, Canadian Living, Huffington Post and others, while flipping through our Go Cooking year’s events.  I am properly chuffed to proclaim that Go Cooking has been right on the button.  Here is a very condensed overview, a sort of compilation of some of the lists:

1) The popularity of locally sourced food remains a top priority.

Well, this is not exactly “stop the presses” news.  I would say that almost all of our chefs have listed locally sourced foods in their menus, perhaps, most notably Chef Ken LeFebour (Nellie James Gourmet to Go).  In a celebration of locally sourced food from ManoRun Farms in Copetown, LeFebour cooked a sort of moveable feast of gourmet delights one evening last summer.  And the ever changing menus from his Dundas catering service are absolutely centered around what’s seasonal, what’s local.

2)  We all continued to love leafy greens.

Chef Shawn Rocchi (Ronald McDonald House) stepped up to the bat with a kale salad last April, I see.  You know how I feel about kale, but this salad was embellished with cured and smoked porchetta, shaved pecorino cheese and sweet and spicy croutons, then dressed with a lemony toasted garlic dressing and topped with “a devilish egg.”  Okay, I could manage that.  We also served up lots of spinach in various tempting guises and micro-greens from Chef Steve Rydtschenko (The Test Kitchen).

3)  We all agreed that “Food Trucks are fun and fabulous.”

Hamilton must be the urban hub for innovative food truck cookery, so we really had to pick and choose when we decided to try out a couple for our fine dining venue.  We made up our mind that Jonny Blonde (Jonny Blonde Food Truck) and Salar and Jeannie Madadi of MeatVentures Meat Wagon would fill the bill and you obviously agreed with us since both evenings sold out.

4)  Smokin’!

Smoked and cured meats and all sorts of charcuterie seem to be enjoying a foodie renaissance.  Salar Madadi (MeatVentures Meat Wagon) is the king of smoked bacon but Chef Lindsay Vandekamp of “This is the ChIT” hot sauce fame also served up some mighty good smoked sticky back ribs. And our other hot sauce hero, Chef Nathan Gard, creator of Uncle Nathan’s Hot Sauce, combined his slow smoked beef brisket with double stuffed garlic and chive potato.  And pancetta, a cured, but not smoked type of Italian bacon featured in many of our chefs’ menus.

5) We craved sweet, salty and/or savoury desserts.

For instance, Chef Nick Bhalesar’s (India Village) unique mushroom pakora served with jaggery (a sort of Asian or African cane sugar) tamarind sauce; or, perhaps, a very sophisticated meal, ending with rhubarb panna cotta complimented with weissbier sorbet, by Chef Fraser Macfarlane (Quatrefoil);  or, I can attest to the deliciousness of Salar Madadi’s (MeatVentures Meat Wagon) candied bacon crème brulée with a layer of cherry bacon jam.

Other 2014 trends which seemed to appear on many lists included the ever-present quinoa, heirloom fruits and vegetables and artisanal, craft or specialty beers. (See our up-coming session with Chef Fraser Macfarlane of Brux House.)  And I am bemused somewhat by the fact that “gluten free” remains high on all lists.  I have a feeling that this long standing trend could be attributed to the “wheat belly” diet of Dr. William Davis, more than to gluten sensitivity — but there are now lots of gluten free choices out there and wider choices are always a good thing.

2015 new years illustration with christmas balls

Anyway, looking forward, I then took a quick Internet stroll through the predictions for 2015, and here are a few of the suggestions that constantly re-occurred:

A new interest in fermented foods will be evidenced, most notably for their probiotic qualities and for how they benefit our digestive systems.  Look for vegetables such as sauerkraut or pickled cauliflower, or kim chi or pickles, but also yogurt, miso, kefir.

According to The Guardian’s food writer, now that we’ve all learned to pronounce quinoa, a new super grain has appeared on the horizon.  Called kaniwa (pronounced ka-nyi-wa), it is from South America and is both high in protein and gluten free.

Watch for seaweed, used not only in sushi, but moving over onto dinner plates, in salads, sauces and seasonings.

Smoking foods will become even more universal — it will become a process used not only in meats, but in cheeses and even in desserts.

Small plates and casual dining will continue to dominate restaurant trends.

And be prepared for something called “souping.”  “Souping” sounds both soulful and soothing, messy, but delicious.  Essentially, it means replacing a traditional three course meal, with a very highly nutritious broth or soup.

I love to slurp soup and, as a happy new year gift, here is my very favorite chicken soup recipe.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Dill

from Alice Water’s “The Art of Simple Food” trendychickensoup


olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 small celery stalk, diced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 leek, white part only, diced

1 parsnip, peeled and diced (optional)


4 cups of good chicken stock

1 chicken breast, skin removed

4 oz dried fettucine

2 tbsp chopped dill

1 squeeze of lemon juice


1) Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil.

2) Add the vegetables, season with salt and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes.

3) Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

4) Poach the chicken breast in the soup for 10 to 15 minutes until just cooked through.  Remove chicken, let cool, then shred into bite-sized pieces.

5) Break the fettuccine 2 or 3 times into shorter lengths and cook in a separate pot of boiling salted water until tender.  Drain and add to the soup just before serving along with the chicken and dill.  Taste for seasoning and add lemon juice to brighten the flavour.

My Notes:

Makes four servings, I usually double it and freeze half. You really should use homemade chicken stock for this recipe but I have made it with chicken cubes and it’s still good.  (shhhh …don’t tell anyone!)








Cézanne and those astonishing apples

Cezanne - Still Life with Basket (Kitchen Table) 1890-95

Paul Cézanne, Kitchen Still Life, c. 1890, Musée d’Orsay

Just returned from the Art Gallery of Hamilton‘s new exhibition “The World is an Apple:  the Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne” and can’t stop smiling at the fact that such an exciting show has been mounted in our very own art gallery in our very own city.  The exhibition is curated by the Art Gallery’s Dr. Benedict Leca and contains almost 20 works by the Post-Impressionist master as well as related works by other artists.  It is accompanied by a handsome exhibition catalogue and there are lots of tours and talks coming up.  For more information click on

Cézanne is a particular darling of artists and art historians and there are whole libraries of weighty, well-researched books written about him.  But for those with just a slightly-more-than passing interest in art and artists, here are a couple of things that you need to know to help you enjoy a visit to the gallery.

The apple, for instance, is probably the most heavily freighted symbolic fruit in western culture — beginning with the story of Adam and Eve, or course.  And then, there is also the Greek mythology of the three goddesses vying for the golden apple and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, and so on, etc., etc.  Fortunately you can forget all of the above when viewing this exhibition because Cézanne had no interest whatsoever in the symbolic aspects of the apple.  He chose that particular fruit because it was plentiful and cheap and because of its shape and for no other reason whatsoever. (I do remember reading somewhere that he didn’t even eat the apples, because he painted so slowly and thoughtfully that the fruit was always rotten before he got finished.)

Anyway, Cézanne painted extraordinary portraits and wonderful, scintillating landscapes as well as still lifes, but it is the still lifes that show us most clearly why he is mythologized as the progenitor of modern art.  (With the landscapes and portraits other, more complex considerations creep in.)  The simple, humble objects that make up the content of the still lifes make it easier to see how Cézanne was preoccupied with “formal” problems — that is painterly problems that have to do with line, colour, shapes and space.  Because his father was a banker, Cézanne inherited a huge amount of money and unlike other artists such as Monet and Renoir, he didn’t need to worry about selling his paintings.  He thus was able to retire to the Provençal countryside where he spent his time painting and worrying about problems of perception and illusion and the meaning of “art”.

For instance, one of the issues that painters had grappled with for hundreds of years was the fact that painting something that looked “real” actually involved learning a lot of tricks.  This is because when we see a three-dimensional object (such as an apple), our brain, not our eye, tells us that it has a front and back and occupies a sort of pocket of space.  When we paint that object on a flat two-dimensional canvas (or paper), the space disappears and the object becomes flat brushstrokes of varying colour.  Artists had long ago learned how to trick us into perceiving the painted object as being three-dimensional, by creating the illusion of light shining on it.  And they also knew how to fool us into seeing deep space by changing the sizes of the objects depicted. Cézanne decried this sort of trickery (you can’t really paint “light”, for instance) and tried to achieve the same effects by using more painterly tools such as colour and brushstrokes as sort of building blocks.  Light, he felt was a much too transient a quality to provide a firm foundation for a significant, long-lasting art.

Another thing that artists had learned to do was how to make a pleasant, balanced composition by arranging objects in harmonious groupings across the plane of the canvas.  Cézanne took this compositional approach further by attempting harmonious arrangements not only across the flat plane of the canvas, but also from back to front, from depth to frontal plane.  So you might want to notice how shapes and forms are re-iterated, how colours are matched in the foreground and the background and how some edges are outlined in black while others seem to bleed or blend into each other.  The subjects of the painting are knitted or woven together across the plane of the canvas so that the whole image is a beautifully arranged, complex tapestry of background and foreground, colours and shapes.  It’s Cézanne’s concentration on pictorial problems, on form, structure and stability, that led later artists to 20th century experiments such as cubism and geometric abstraction. (To see where Cézanne’s experiments led, for instance, check out the McMaster Museum of Art‘s small, beautiful still life by Émile Bernard which is also on view.)


Émile Bernard, Still Life with Cup and Bowl of Fruit, 1887, McMaster Museum of Art

But I know you!!  Looking at all of this fruit will be making you hungry.  Fortunately it is the beginning of apple season and there is bounty available so that you can feast more than your eyes.  Here’s a delicious and very rich soup to enjoy after seeing the exhibition.  Make it ahead of time and all you need is some crusty bread to accompany it for a late supper.

Chicken Soup with Apples and Leeks

from Gourmet magazine, October, 1993


1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 lb chicken, quartered

3 leeks, trimmed, leaving 1 inch of the green part, split lengthwise, washed well and sliced thin

2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith applescezannecalvados

1 cup apple juice

1/2 cup vinegar

3 cups chicken both

3 tablespoons Calvados, if desired

1/2 cup heavy cream


1)  Melt 2 tbsp. of the butter over moderate heat, add the chicken, patted dry and seasoned with salt and pepper, cook it skin side down for 8 minutes.  Turn the chicken, cook it for 5 minutes more and transfer it to a bowl.

2)  Discard the butter, add the rest of the butter and cook the leeks over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.

3)  Return the chicken to the kettle, add the apples, peeled and cut into half inch pieces, the apple juice, the vinegar and the broth.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, skimming off any fat or froth and gently simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

4)  Transfer the chicken to a bowl and let it cool.  Discard the skin and the bones and cut into bite-size pieces.

5)  Skim the fat from the broth mixture, stir in the Calvados, the cream, the chicken and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for two minutes and serve.

My Notes:

The Calvados, LCB0 #296228, is hideously expensive and 40 percent alcohol.  You don’t really need it, but you may want to buy it as an “investment.”  Suit yourself.



Spring things


I know, I know, it’s still minus 15 or some ridiculous number out there. But I honestly do believe that there is some evidence that the weariness of winter is sliding into the slush of spring.

Spring has got to win the pools as the most exciting season in Hamilton. There’s the impossibly skittish weather – wind, rain, snow, sunshine?; there’s the frost or the mud on the sneakers; there’s the on-going mastery required for the pot hole slalom. There’s the breathless feeling of freedom that accompanies relinquishing the down coat, the salt stained boots, the wool scarf, the lined gloves. And — whoo hoo — it’s time to buy a new handbag! Moreover, unlike the young man whose fancy turns to thoughts of love in the spring, I’ve reached the age when my springtime fancy starts to envision new, fresh things to eat.

There are all sorts of foods that may say spring to Canadians — from maple syrup to minestrone. So here are a few of my favorites:


Spring is the time of new beginnings. Of creation and pro-creation. So what could be a more perfect icon of the season than the humble egg.  I’ve always loved to eat eggs in all their many guises, although I do remember, many years ago when we were told by nutritionist gurus that they were unhealthy and would raise our bad cholesterol to devastating heights. I think we were only supposed to eat two a week. (I actually remember doctors — yes, physicians — telling me that they certainly weren’t eating any eggs anymore, at all.) Fortunately I paid no heed, went on eating eggs whenever I felt like it, and now find out that they not only do not have any effect on my cholesterol count, but are considered one of the most nutritious foods of all time. So go ahead and stuff some for Easter, enjoy your favorite omelette or nosh an egg salad sandwich. All will be well.

For others, perhaps, spring is all about green. Green food that’s either been missing from the supermarket for a while or been missing in flavour for a few months. I’m thinking asparagus, leeks, chives (with actual chive flavour), spring onions, peas and snow peas that don’t look like wilted teardrops and – oh, boy — fiddleheads are just around the corner. Here’s a recipe that will put a spring in your step and will make good use of all that flashy chlorophyll:

Ham Hock with Pea and Herb Soup

lifted shamelessly from Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Guardian 

Ham hock with pea and herb soup

Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Observer Food Monthly



ham hock 650 g

peas 200 g shelled

1 large clove of garlic

small bunch of parsley

handful of chive and basil leaves

Method: Put a ham hock in a deep pan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, skim off the froth that rises to the surface, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers. Cover the pan with a lid and leave, with the occasional turn, for 45-50 minutes or so, till the ham is cooked through to the bone.

Remove the ham from the liquor, add the peas and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes or so, till the peas are tender. Add a handful each of parsley, chives and basil leaves to the peas, cook a minute or so longer, then blitz in a blender to give a thick, green sauce. Add pepper if necessary.

Tear the ham into large pieces. Roughly chop a few more of the herbs, then roll the ham in them. Spoon the sauce into bowls and add the ham.


springrhubarAnd as an addendum: If there is one fruit that heralds the advent of spring, it must those slim, tender stalks of hot house rhubarb. This early stuff is paler in colour and not as tough or stringy as our own outdoor Ontario rhubarb which is not available until June. Each type is good, but I actually prefer the hot house variety for desserts. It’s not quite as tart as the later rhubarb, so that you don’t need the huge amounts of sugar to make it palatable.

springcleeseI also know that you will enjoy this You Tube video: The Rhubarb Tart Song by John Cleese. (“rhubarb tart” rhyming with “Descartes” and “abstract art” –well, of course!)




Here’s a recipe for a dessert that makes the most of the early rhubarb. It’s a “Fool” instead of a “Tart” and is much simpler to make.

Rhubarb Fool

adapted from Lucy Waverman’s Seasonal Canadian Cookbook


4 cups sliced, tender rhubarb

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp water

1 tbsp grated orange rind

1 cup whipping cream


1) In a medium pot combine the rhubarb, sugar, water and grated orange rind. On low heat, cook together until the rhubarb softens, about 10 minutes. Cool and drain the liquid, reserving 1/4 cup.

2) Place the rhubarb and reserved juice in a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.

3) Whip the cream until it hold its shape. Fold into the rhubarb purée. Spoon into glass dishes and chill before serving.

Serves 4.


soon, soon …








soupfest 004


It was minus 24 degrees outside and the wind was whipping the snow across the parking lot.  But inside the Convention Centre it’s warm and almost too cosy.  Yes, there were crowds.  But that’s a good thing because Soupfest is a sociable, community-centered affair and the proceeds contribute to a very worthy cause, Living Rock Ministries.

Living Rock supports youth aged 13 – 25 who are at risk from a variety of factors — poverty, mental illness, addiction, disenfranchisement.  A few of their programs include meal programs, a food bank, safe and relevant social/recreational programming, pre-natal and post-natal care, housing and one to one crisis support.  The idea for Soupfest which started 12 years ago came from Gary Kristiansen as his Millenium project, “S.O.U.P. – serving our underprivileged people.”

There were 25 restaurants participating in Soupfest this year — mainly from Hamilton — but also from Burlington, Brantford, Paris and parts in between.  Tickets were available at the door — $15 ($12 in advance) which buys you small bowls of four different kinds of soup.  Not surprisingly, many of the restaurants involved in this project are our Go Cooking partners:  My-Thai Restaurant, the Red Canoe Bistro, The West Plains Bistro and “best soup” winner for the last two years, the 4th Course Bistro at Copetown Woods.

Well, I knew that all of their samples would be good.  My instructions were to try some new ones and see if I could find a winner.

And I did.  Actually I found two winners; soups that I wished they would give me the recipes for. (No dice, alas.)

soupfest 001My first stop, right inside the door was at the Detour Cafe and Restaurant station where I started out with a “Potato and Caramelized Onion Purée with Aged Cheddar and Fried Sage.” (Maybe I didn’t really need a recipe, the title says it all?)  Now potato soup can be bland and starchy, unless it has a lot of salt and spice.  But here, the caramelized onion added the perfect tasty top note.  Cheddar gave the broth richness. And the fried sage was a crispy accent on top.  One of the best soups that I’ve ever eaten.

Detour is in Dundas, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve never visited the restaurant.  It started out, apparently, as a coffee and lunch venue, but now seems to have a dinner menu.  I definitely will be giving it a try.

The other really excellent soup that I tried came from a restaurant in Paris, Ontario.  The soup, a “Flamed Tomato with Whisky Brisket Ravioli garnished with Three Cheese Whisky Chantilly” sounds a bit like “an embarrassment of riches.”  But it had a smokey, rich tomato-y flavour and the brisket in the ravioli was also smoked, just to underline the earthy base flavour.  The ravioli floated on top to add a bit of texture .  All in all, an exceptional combination of flavours.

soupfest 003This soup came from a restaurant called Stillwater’s Plate and Pour which bills itself as “casual dining with a breath-taking view of the Grand River …”.  The chef, Will Thompson, has competed on the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada, and if the soup is any indication of the quality of the restaurant, it would be worth the drive to Paris.

The other two soups that I tried shall remain nameless because the Soupfest restaurants are all kind and wonderful volunteers.  One was what I might call a brave and worthy experiment that really didn’t quite work out.  The other soup I tried was bland — a rather ghastly epithet to cast on a soup.  Anyway, their names are cloaked in silence.

I should mention that entertainment was provided throughout the day, if noshing wasn’t enough and it was possible to add different kinds of bread, or rolls, or crackers, to your repast.  I would have loved to try a lot of other soups, but the four bowls which looked small at first, were really very filling.

The climax of the event was a contest.  Visitors got to vote for their favorites in various categories.  Here is a list of the winners:

Best Soup

1st Place: – 4th Course Bistro – Lobster Bisque Soup (ONCE AGAIN!!)

2nd Place: – West Plains Bistro – Curried Cauliflower Soup

3rd Place: – Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder

Most Creative Soup

1st Place: – Baci Ristorante – Expresso & Chilli Chocolate Covered Bacon

2nd Place:  Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder

3rd Place:  Stillwaters – Flamed Tomato with Whisky Brisket Ravioli

Best Display

1st Place: – Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder

2nd Place:  4th Course Bistro – Lobster Bisque Soup

3rd Place:  Mustang’s big ol’Grille – Chicken Quesadilla Soup

Best Grown Local

1st Place:  – Detour Cafe and Restaurant – Potato & Caramelized Onion Purée

2nd Place: – Collins Brewhouse – Grilled Sweet Corn & Wild Boar Chowder

3rd Place: – Taylor’s Tea Room – Potato Leek Soup with Mickey McGuire’s aged Cheddar

The crowning achievement for the day, however, goes to the winner of the Chefs’ Choice Award.  This soup has been chosen by three well-known superstar chefs:  Chef Dan Megna from the Twisted Lemon, Chef Mark Farrugia from La Piazza Allegra and Chef Pamela Foster from Downton Abbey Cooks.  Presumably, these chefs tried all of the soups — a rather formidable task in itself.  Anyway, the winners are:

Chefs’ Choice Awards

HD_table_03_leftFirst Place:  Harbour Diner – Bacon, Leek & Tomato Soup

2nd Place:  Milestones – Milestones Roasted Mushroom Soup

3rd Place:  West Plains Bistro — Curried Cauliflower Soup





The chefs’ recipes are understandably secret.  So I’ll leave you a recipe for one of my favorite chowders:

Creamy Fish Chowder

from The Soup Bible


3 thick-cut slices of baconfish chowder

1 large onion, chopped

1 1/2 potatoes cut into cubes

1 litre (4 cups) fish stock

1 lb. skinless haddock, cut into 1 inch cubes

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

1 tbsp. snipped fresh chives

1 1/4 cups whole milk (or whipping cream, if you dare)

salt and white pepper


1)  Cut the bacon into small pieces.  Fry until fat is rendered.

2)  Add the chopped onion and potatoes and cook over low hear, without browning for about 10 minutes.  Season to taste.

3)  Pour off excess bacon fat.  Add the fish stock to the pan and bring to a boil.  Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 – 20 minutes.

4) Stir in the fish, the parsley and chives.  Simmer until the fish is just cooked (3-4 minutes.)

5)  Stir the milk or cream into the soup and re-heat gently.  Season to taste.

My Notes:

If you like a stronger fishy taste, use cod instead of haddock.  I find this quite rich enough without the cream, but try it and see how you like it.  Bon appetit!



Kilts not required


Robbie Burns’ Night is on January 25th and this year the festivities have a special significance, since this is the year that Scotland gets to vote for independence in a September 18th referendum.

Robbie Burns’ Night is an evening devoted to celebrating the life and work of Scotland’s national poet and it is a very big deal to Scots.  Burns (1759 – 1796) was born into rural poverty — the son of a tenant farmer — and became a prolific poet who wrote about everyday life using a Scottish vernacular in his poems, a dialect that was already under threat from English in his own lifetime.  Language forms an important part of national identity and, with a maiden name of Stewart, I do recall instances in my own childhood when the occasional relative from Scotland would arrive for a visit and I would struggle with the language barrier, the Scottish dialect almost totally incomprehensible to someone speaking the Canadian dialect.

Burns died at the age of 37 leaving behind a body of work that “recorded and celebrated aspects of farm life, regional experience, traditional culture, class culture and distinctions, and religious practice and belief, in such a way as to transcend the particularities of his inspiration”  according to the Poetry Foundation website.  Probably his best known work is Auld Lang Syne, the traditional New Year’s Eve anthem.  Other famous poems include Scots Wha Hae, Tam O’Shanter and (my favourite) Ode to a Mouse.  In 2009, Burns was voted the “greatest Scot” chosen by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV.

It’s not surprising that Burns’s birthday is celebrated widely in Hamilton, a city built from Scottish immigrants and surrounded with Scottish sounding towns such as Ancaster, Caledonia and Dundas.  The celebrations can include dancing, singing, music (oh yes, the bagpipes) and, of course a special dinner.  The evening unfolds with a certain pre-ordained program:

After welcoming the guests and seating them at the table, the hose usually says a special grace called the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,

Some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

The first course of the meal is usually a soup course, either Scotch broth, potato soup or Cock-a-Leekie.  This is followed by the entrance of the haggis, which is usually presented on a platter to the haggistradscreeching of bagpipes.  The haggis is a sort of sausage made from a sheep’s heart liver and lungs mixed with suet, spices and oatmeal, all tied into a sheep’s stomach.  (I’ve heard it called Scottish paté.)  A good haggis, apparently, is spicy, satisfying and cheap.  It can be eaten pretty well any which way, including fried for breakfast and at some fast food places in Scotland, deep fried with chips.  But traditionally, the haggis slashed with a dirk (or cut in two with a knife) and the innards are served on plates.  It is usually accompanied by “tattie and neeps”, that is, mashed potatoes and turnips.  The dinner continues with various poems, speeches and toasts (lots of Scotch whisky, of course) and dessert, cheese and coffee.  It often ends with a second “grace”:

We thank Thee for these mercies, Lord

Sae far beyond our merits.

Noo, waiter lads, clear aff the plates,

An’ fetch us in the spirits.

A Burns’ Night can be experienced in Hamilton at:

Michelangelo’s Banquet Centre, 155 Upper Ottawa St. on Wednesday, January 22nd at 6:30 p.m.  $25.  905/383-3422

MacNab Street Presbyterian Church, 116 MacNab S. S, on Friday, January 24th at 6:30 p.m.  Dinner, music and entertainment.  $20 per person advance sales.  905/529-6896.

The Church of the Resurrection (Anglican), 435 Mohawk Road West, on Friday, January 25th at 6 p.m.  $20 for music, dinner, beer and wine bar and Scotch tasting.  905/389-1942.

If you wish to make your own dinner, haggis is available from

Opie’s Quality Meats at Concession and East 24th, 905/383-3422 and McVicar’s Butchers and Baker, 184 Highway 8, Stoney Creek, 905/662-1550.

If you want to make your own haggis, I wish you the best of luck.  Here is a You Tube video with ramsayGordon Ramsay and Hardeep Singh Kohli to provide inspiration. (Sorry about the language — it is Gordon Ramsay.)

And here’s a recipe for Cock-a-Leekie soup, my favourite part of the feast:

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

from The Food Network 


1 chicken, about 1.4 kg/3 lb, cut into quarters, skin removedcockaleekiepic

7 cups chicken broth

2 bay leaves

2 cups chopped leeks (white parts only)

10 pitted prunes

2 tbsp pearl barley

salt and pepper

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

2 tbsp butter, softened

1 tbsp water


1)  Place the chicken in a stockpot, add the broth and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil.  cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.

2)  Season with salt and pepper.

3)  Remove the chicken from the broth and let it cool.

4)  Add the leeks, prunes and barley to the hot broth.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

5)  Meanwhile, bone the chicken and cut the meat into cubes.  Set aside.

6)  In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients until the texture resembles coarse sand.  Add the water and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.

7)  Shape about 10 ml/2 tbsp of the dough into  small balls.  Add the cubed chicken.  Drop the dumplings into the simmering broth  Cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.  You should have about 10 dumplings.  Adjust the seasoning.


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