27 April 2011

The Holy Grail of Soups - Tomato-Cheese, Part 2

The plot thickens, my friends. More than a year ago, I posted about my ongoing quest to find the recipe for the tomato soup served in Eugene, Oregon's Glenwood Cafe.

The soup is tangy and perfectly seasoned, but its mystery lies in its shredded cheese - which never melts, no matter how hot the soup.

Just a few weeks ago, a new comment appeared on that post. Seems someone else was sleuthing for the recipe and found my blog. She had a hot tip to share. Had I tried soaking the cheese in vinegar first? It is known to change the structure (proteins, reportedly) of the cheese and keep it from melting.

And so, I tried. I grated some Tillamook cheddar, put it into a bowl and covered it with apple cider vinegar in the morning. And then I waited. After work, I tasted a few shreds. Bouncier - more like cheese curds. Hmm.

I also wanted to experiment with this recipe for tomato soup, which I'm sure is fabulous if done correctly, but which I proceeded to alter (no chicken stock, no cream) and burn (as I worked on laundry and talked to my friend on the phone. Not a good combo).

But the cheese - it held its shape! I stirred it in to the pot about 10 minutes before serving, cranked the heat to medium (Not for more char taste, but to test the vinegar-cheese theory). And it worked! Even today, after reheating in the microwave for 2 minutes, the shreds stay intact.

This may be the trick. However, the soup tasted very vinegary. I'm not sure if this was due to the vinegar-soaked cheese. Next time I will try sweeter balsamic, as the comment suggested. But I had also stirred a couple Tbsp of balsamic vinegar in to the soup pot to counteract the burned taste...could be the culprit.

But, we may be on to something, so stay tuned! And send recipes for tomato-basil soups you think I should try as my base, if you would...Thanks!

21 April 2011

Aloha spirit

Aloha! I've been meaning to document last month's trip to the Big Island of Hawaii for some time now. Seems work and school and life have gotten in the way. But I wanted to share a few images from the trip, and some treasures we brought back from Kona. On our last full day on the island, I posed the question aloud to myself: What will I bring home from this trip? I wasn't thinking about the sand in my suitcase or the tan that quickly faded. Rather, lasting, indelible memories - specifically in the form of tastes and smells.

Papaya is common on a Hawaiian tropical fruit plate. I've never cared for it much, unless a heavy squeeze of lime juice corrects the over-sweet flesh to tone it down. On this trip, though, we discovered a new way to eat, and use, papaya: as a vessel for tangy plain yogurt, covered with a healthy sprinkle of coconut granola. I've made this at home weekly since our return, inspired by the breakfasts at Island Lava Java in Kona.

Smoked mozzarella: Where have you been all my life? Specifically, why have you not been on pizza? For festive occasions, I've sometimes bought a braid of smoked mozz to slice alongside some crackers. Once or twice, I've even grated it atop smoky chili. But I never thought of the joy this smoky, rich flavor would bring to a wood fired pizza. We went back to Kona Brewing Co. twice for their Puna Pie - slices heaped with roasted garlic and smoked-mozzarella perfection.

I eat a salad nearly every day, and have for decades. I look forward to the cool, crisp crunch of greens to end my meal. This trip provided the best lettuce I've ever had on the islands - locally grown, both tender and crisp, and shockingly fresh. In some cases, like at the charming cafe up the hill from King Kamehameha's Royal Grounds, the lettuce was grown mere steps from my plate. In Kona, at Huggo's on the Rocks' outside beach-bar (where I dined with sand in between my toes), I had a Hawaiian version of one of my favorite concoctions: warm protein (preferably fish) atop crunchy greens. Huggo's version came topped with a macadamia-nut crusted whitefish and a side of white rice, which I quickly blended in to my greens. All was topped with a sweet, tangy, gingery dressing and served, delightfully, nestled inside a bamboo steaming basket.

Plumeria is my happy-place scent. Upon arrival to the islands, it is a welcoming custom to be given a lei. Here's mine - pink and white plumeria strung on a simple thread. The heady, sweet scent is intoxicating. The other picture is of the most beautiful plumeria trees I've ever seen - deep pink flowers resting in the foreground to the bright blue ocean. At a gas station. The most unlikely of spots to find beauty.

As our trip came to an end, I knew I couldn't leave without some tangible memories. At the postage stamp of an airport on Kona, I stocked up on all things plumeria: a sticker for my car, a couple of hair accessories, and a bottle of lotion. None are the real deal, but they'll help kickstart memories of a lovely trip. Much like Aloha can mean hello or goodbye, the scent of plumeria, to me, represents a welcome as well as a bon voyage (or, preferably, a "see you soon").