Category Archives: Asian

Classic Miso Soup Recipe: Keep it Simple

Classic Restaurant Style Miso Soup
Japanese cuisine topic is broad and challenging, but quintessentially Japan’s food tradition rests on rice and Miso soup. The Miso soup is a beautiful ode to the Sea and the Earth. Almost 40 years ago, Avelin Tomoko Kushi, the legendary advocate for macrobiotic diet and the ‘moving force’ across the US behind the wave of the health food restaurants back in 70’s, published the book ‘How to Cook with Miso’. I found a copy of it few years ago in a thrift store and have embarked of a wonderful journey of experimenting with miso and myriads of interesting combinations with it.  Kushi poetically described Miso soup as ‘… soup, containing a sea vegetable, can be likened to the ancient sea we have evolved from. As that ancient sea nourished our first beginnings, miso nurtures us as the internal sea of our blood.

Visually, when you look at a bowl of Miso soup it somehow reminds of a cloud of sand suspended in the water under which the treasure of other ingredients is hidden…

Japanese Miso Soup & Kombu Seaweed

Although I’m quite sure no one remembers that great activist woman of a Japanese origin, we all know that as of today, Japanese cuisine has officially conquered the world with its food culture intangibles.  In a nutshell, to me it’s a story of the Japanese Chef Nobuki Matsuhisa, who came to the US via Peru, opened his first restaurant in Beverly Hills back in 1987 and was convinced by the rich admirer, Robert De Niro, to open one in NYC 7 years later (celebrity Hiroshima-born Iron Chef Morimoto used to be a head chef there as well). Today Chef and restaurateur Matsuhisa celebrates his 66th anniversary. ‘Nobu’ is all over the world, including US, UK, Italy, Greece, Russia, UAE, Hungary, Hong Kong and, of course, his native Japan…

Chef Matsuhisa and his Miso Soup Images from Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook by © Nobu Matsuhisa
What started as an exotic personal or professional travel to Japan few decades ago by selected chefs, food critics and writers has now turned into a massive food tourism pilgrimage to the land of samurai and cherry blossom.  It’s not just the exotic atmosphere, steamy bowls and sultry paper lanterns that lure foodie tourists from all over the world to this destination. With 267 Michelin starred restaurants under its belt Tokyo became the global gourmet capital where food is perceived as SUPER-HEALTHY and ATTRACTIVE; and Japanese chefs known for their stiff upper lip work ethics have become an example of a professional EXCELLENCE to be judged against.

Most of us however can’t afford to hop on a plane and fly to Japan to explore its rich culinary map and this is when the classic simple Japanese recipes come in handy. This post is my tribute to the humble Miso soup, a simple traditional Japanese concoction with exotic flavors of umami, sea and earthy and tangy taste of fermented soybeans. The mentioning of it instantly brings most of us to the sushi restaurants, where miso is a staple to begin the feast.

Unfortunately, the Internet is riddled with pseudo-classic miso soup recipes (missing kombu, using roasted nori instead of wakame, chicken stock or soya sauce for the stock base, firm tofu instead of soft, etc.) which can repulse you fast and make you forget about trying Miso soup DIY forever (this is how my first pack of miso paste ended up in garbage in a first place). But may be this fool-proof recipe will hook you on it without a problem.

The vegetarian version of Miso soup is made of primarily two basic ingredients: dried kombu seaweed-based stock called ‘dashi’ and ‘miso’, fermented paste from cooked salted and aged soybeans.

Kombu Vegetarian Dashi Stock
KOMBU VEGETARIAN STOCK (called KOMBU DASHI) + MISO make a powerful healing and detoxifying soup packed with fiber, probiotics, proteins, enzymes, rare vitamins (like K and B12), microelements and scientifically proven anti heart disease and breast cancer properties. Truly, this soup is a wonderful dish to kick-start a day, have a healthy lunch, break or a quick dinner. While the spring is trying to break through and the Lent has started back in February, this soup DIY recipe can’t be more timely in my point of view.
Miso Paste

The RESTAURANT STYLE, NON-VEGETARIAN classic version of dashi stock is called awase dashi and has an extra ingredient in it: dried fermented and shaved skipjack tuna flakes called KATSUOBUSHI, which you can buy at any major Asian grocery like Kim Phat:

Katsuobushi Flakes (Bonito)
Equally, and more on a budget, dashi stock can be made of dried baby anchovies and is called the iriko dashi:

Dried Anchovies

The sushi restaurant-style version also usually includes:
– soft silken tofu (never firm tofu);
– shitake mushrooms;
– wakame seaweed;
– minced scallions

Other Miso Soup Ingredients
If you are a Miso Soup lover, its exotic ingredients will not cost a fortune and have a very flexible shelf life. Here is what you need to to stock on (requires one single trip to the big Asian supermarket like Kim Phat,Tai Food (smaller places would be more expensive) – don’t forget to bring this list with you:
– DRIED KOMBU SEAWEED (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) – the 100g/$3.99 pack lands me with around 20 batches of 4 cups dashi stock;  
– BONITO FLAKES (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) –  the 30g/$5.99 pack is enough for 4-5 batches of 4 cups dashi stock; 
– MISO PASTE  (can last in the fridge for up to 12 months) – the 500g/$9.99 pack of uber-healthy white non-pasterized miso paste by Hanamaruki brand (my preferred) makes 8 to 10 batches of 4 cups miso soup and can be used in tones of other recipes (NOTE: as a general guide, the darker is the miso, the longer fermentation it went through, so begin with white type of miso to gradually get used to the taste and proportions);
– SILKY/SOFT TOFU – the 200g/$1.99 pack is found in most major groceies, enough for 1-2 batches of 4 cups of soup;
– DRIED WAKAME SEAWEED (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) – the 100g/$2.99 pack lands me with around 40+ batches of 4 cups dashi stock; 
– DRIED SLICED SHITAKE MUSHROOMS (can last well-sealed in a pantry for up to 12 months) – the 100g/$4.99 pack lands me with around 20+ batches of 4 cups dashi stock;
Follow the recipe below for the few simple steps:

 And voila, your restaurant-style miso is ready!

Enjoy your first real miso! I will come back with more takes on it.


One Year Ago: 
Rosemary Oatcake Crackers
Candid Citrus Peel DIY

Two Years Ago:
Pear Yogurt Granola Muffins
Home-Made Granola


Yields: 3 to 4 portions
Ingredients for the dashi stock:
4 cups water, OR rainbow vegetable broth without beets
5-6 of 2-inch pieces of kombu (dried kelp)
4 tbsp (1/2 cup) loosely packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi), optional
Ingredients for the miso soup:
2 tbsp dried sliced shitake mushrooms (optional), soaked in cold water to reconstitute 
½ to 1 pound silken/soft tofu, cubed
2 tbsp wakame seaweed
4 tbsp white miso, OR mix of red and white miso paste
3 scallions, minced
To make the dashi stock combine water/broth and kombu in a saucepan and bring the mix to boil. Simmer for 10 to 40 minutes (depending on how strong you want the flavor of seaweed)* Remove kombu and add bonito flakes, if using. Bring the stock to simmer, remove from heat and let bonito flakes steep for 5-20 minutes. Strain the stock through the mesh and discard bonito flakes.  Add some boiled water or stock to bring the quantity back to 4 cups.
Bring the broth to simmer and add shitake mushrooms. Simmer for 1 minute. Add tofu – don’t boil, because it will ruin the distinct flavor of dashi.
Dissolve miso paste in a cup of hot broth separately. Pour the miso mix back into the stock, add wakame and scallion, warm through (don’t bring the stock to boil) for 1 minute. Ladle into bowls and serve hot.
*Please note that restaurant chefs prefer to cook kombu longer for more intense flavor.

Asian Style Chicken Soup I Make Over & Over Again

Ginseng Chicken Soup Version
This is my super bowl for Super Bowl: the total winner and ultimate energy booster. Each time I make this soup I can’t get enough of it (one hundred percent serious). The exact name of it is: Ginseng Chicken Soup (Samgyetang in Korean). There is also a Chinese variety of this soup called ‘medicinal’or ‘healing’ soup for cough. If you have cold or the flu, a bowl of this soup may be your best medicine. I first made it few years ago curious about the idea of the rice stuffing, clear broth and all the new ingredients (to me) in it like ginseng and jujubes (Chinese dried dates). 
Tosokchon Restaurant in Seoul via Kampungboycitygal

Traditionally this soup is served in Korea in summer to engineer spontaneous sweating and counter-balance the heat.  For me, there’s no season for it. I like it rain or shine and find it specifically intensely nourishing during our 6 months-long Canadian winter-cold weather. It’s also not just a soup, but a bowl of a wonderful complete meal: with remarkably different nuances in taste, highly aromatic clear stock, mouth-watering chicken and delicate congee-like mix of rice that would absorb the flavors of broth and chicken and the sweetness of dates and goji berries. The ginseng adds a subtle bitter taste (barely noticeable), while garlic and chestnuts complete this insanely tasty composition with zero of in-your-face bold flavor. Shortly, it tastes like the king of the chicken soup for soul to me (if there’s such thing) evoking warm and fuzzy feeling (that lasts for a few hours after) almost instantly and creating the memory of almost luxurious meal.

In Korea this soup is a symbol of attainment. The recipe goes well into the depth of Korean history itself and, as usually for such case there are multiple varieties of this dish. A few known restaurants in Seoul are specialized in just serving this soup to celebrate and honor Korean food heritage (see above image). The strictly authentic version of this Koreans dish asks for exactly 49-days young old free range chicken and 4-years old Geumsan cultivated ginseng. Other players are:  glutinous rice, Jujubes (Chinese dates), chestnuts/pine nuts, wolf berries (goji), garlic and sometimes ginger, which might sound like a strange lineup of ingredients, but ultimately results in the better, more comforting chicken soup you ever tried.
Ginseng Chicken Soup Ingredients
The downside of this dish is that it requires a trip to the Asian supermarket, as you won’t find most of the ingredients in your local grocery. On the upside, any young free range chicken would be good for this recipe (I use Cornish hen most of the time). The Silkie black chicken however is considered to be the best for this dish in Korea (again, only available in Asian supermarkets).
Silky Chicken via Wikimedia Commons
Black Chicken Ginseng Soup
I kind of slightly cringe at the color of it and its other properties: black skin and bones, blue earlobes, five toes on each foot (all other chicken have just four), fluffy white plumage that feels like silk. No kidding, it reminds me of voodoo sacrifice I’ve seen in Havana or the Pompeii museum artifacts. I suggest you trip over the YUK thing in advance if you are ready to be a good chef: it’s sold with its feet and head still on.  I admit the color of the silkie chic is an acquired thing. But it tastes truly outstanding and decadent, like no other chicken I’ve tried.
Silky Black Chicken Ginseng Soup
For the best results, please apply the following tips:
Use free range chicken like Cornish hen or black Silkie. One chicken is plenty for two generous portions, although one super-hungry adult can eat it all by himself.
Thaw it in a fridge overnight if necessary, rinse and pat/dry well. Although it’s not necessary, I also scald the stuffed chicken with boiling water prior to covering it with boiled water to ensure the clean/clear stock.
I cooked this dish in pans and clay/ceramic pots, on the stove and in the oven. I find the tastiest version is coming for the oven cooked chicken in the clay/ceramic pot or Dutch oven.
Soak rice mixed with dried ingredients in cold water for 20 minutes; drain and mix with goji berries, few jujubes (I use them not  pitted, but you can remove pits if wish be) and garlic.
Don’t over-stuff the chicken cavity: rice will expand during the cooking process and might break the seal if it is overstuffed.
Stuffing Chicken with Rice, goji berries, jujubes and garlic for Ginseng Chicken Soup
Optionally, I add a few 2 inch pieces of dried kombu (Japanese kelp seaweed) in the stock for the boost of umami and extra layer of favor.
Dried Kombu Kelp Seaweed
Finally, I also add a small shallot (gives extra flavor and benefit) and a bunch of parsley at the end (for clear stock): discard both before serving.
Don’t overcook the chicken: it has to fall of the bone, but still keep the shape intact (the smaller is the hen the less it will take to cook).
When ready to serve, season chicken with minced scallions and a dash of Sriracha for some heat (optional).  Serve with quality salt on a side to dip the chicken. You can also add some fresh bok choy into the soup once is still out of the oven piping hot.  
Ginseng Chicken Soup Garden Style
This dish is very forgiving. One day I really craved it, but only had Cornish hen: no ginseng, jujubes, sweet rice or other exotic ingredients. I did have goji berries and chestnuts. I also had Arborio/jasmine rice and regular dried dates in my pantry; and some fresh parsley roots, green peas, scallions and chives from the garden, plus ginger. I decided to pull it off anyways with what I had at hand and it worked marvelously.  The soup still got a very special delicate aroma, tasted divine and was devoured in a snap even without added benefits of missing ginseng.
Ginseng Chicken Soup Steps
The fresh ginseng is the most expensive ingredient in the recipe. Not to be discouraged: for $6.00-$8.00 you get enough of it for at least three batches. It can last in the fridge (in a closed plastic container) for up to 6 months (that’s how potent it is!).
Fresh American Ginseng
Once I didn’t have the fresh ginseng and used a package of dried one mixed in with other herbs designed to flavor this soup from the Asian supermarket (price is between $3.00 -$4.00) called Ginseng Soup Mix (FDA approved, HA!). It had some extra herbs like dried lotus seeds, astragalus and angelica roots, etc. – all adding to the healing powers of the dish. It worked very well too.
Ginseng Soup Dried Mix from Kim Phat Asian Supermarket
A few final words about the benefits of Samgyetang (Korean Chicken Ginger Soup. Due to its powerful ingredients, this dish (I compiled the nutritional data from different legit sources):
Promotes a sense of well-being;
Helps prevent and fight colds and flu;
Has a powerful diuretic action supporting healthy kidney function;
Helps detox, alkalize the body;
Promotes efficient metabolism, tissue growth and repair (it is believed to strengthen stomach lining and digestive track);
Helps lower blood cholesterol, improve blood circulation and calm the nerves;
Helps strengthen and boost the immune system;
Helps maintain energy levels and increases potency (considered to be a sex booster in Korea, it’s often served to the newlyweds).
Did I just honor myself with a Gangham merit badge for this recipe? Yes, please.
Psy, Gangham Style, New Year’s Eve 2013
Although, I feel more like Ashley MacIsaac’s fiddle in the Last Girl on Earth when/upon eating this soup. I hope this article will inspire you for a little thrill of discovery and the new energy booster you will find with this dish. FYI, the Silkie black chicken often goes on special between Western and Chinese New Year – don’t miss the chance to try it. Turn it on, you won’t regret it!
Ginseng Chicken Korean Soup
1 Cornish or Silky black hen (about 1.5 pounds)
1 fresh American ginseng root, washed
½ cup sweet (glutinous) rice
2 tbsp goji berries (dried wolf berries)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 chestnuts, shelled
8 jujubes (Chinese dried dates, pitted if necessary)
1 knob (1-2 inch) of ginger
3 scallions, white part OR 1 shallot
2 dried kombu (kelp seaweed) pieces (optional)
5-6 cups of boiling spring water
1 bunch of fresh parsley (optional)
Garnish & Serving:
2 green scallions, minced
2-3 baby bok choy or other Asian green
Sea salt and pepper served on a side for dipping
Preheat the oven to 400F.*
Rub the chicken generously with sea salt inside out. Pat dry with paper towels and let air dry for 30 minutes. In the meantime, soak the rice in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain the rice and mix with 1 tablespoon of goji berries, two garlic cloves, 4 jujubes and 4 chestnuts. Stuff the chicken cavity with the rice mix. Use the toothpick to secure/stitch the cavity, OR, if not enough skin close the cavity with chicken feet. Optionally, place the chicken on the heat-proof plate in the clean sink and scald with boiling water (make sure to direct the water away from the cavity seal). Place it carefully into a clay/ceramic pot or Dutch oven. Place the ginseng root and remaining garlic, goji and jujubes around the chicken. Add ginger, scallions/shallot and kombu. Bring 5-6 cups of water to boil and pour over the chicken carefully. Cover with foil+lid and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350F and cook for 1 ½ hour. Remove from the oven and add the parsley bouquet. Return to the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let the soup sit for 10 minutes before serving. Discard the parsley and the toothpick. Cut the chicken in half with paring knife without removing it from the pot. Place the chicken halves in serving bowls, ladle the broth with rice over. Add bok choy.  Garnish with green scallions. Serve immediately with sea salt on a side to dip the chicken pieces.
*For the stove method, bring the soup to boil upon assembling, turn the heat to simmer and cook covered for 1hour and 45 minutes.

Kimchi DIY: Make Your Gut Happy

My kimchi story started about a year ago with an inspiration from my favorite Korean restaurant in Montreal. The first batch I made at home was successful and now kimchi is all the rage in our house taken with almost anything in copious amounts.  It is so umami-rich in flavor, that I firmly believe it can bring any carnivore one step closer to a vegetarian heaven. Which is why, I am so anxious to share the recipe with you! 

Korean Chili Pepper Drying
Kimchi red chili pepper & storing barrels in Korean village via Wikimedia
Kimchi is a Korean version of sauerkraut: a spicy blend of fermented cabbage, radish, Korean red chili pepper, ginger, garlic, salt and few other things. In Korea, it is traditionally served at every meal, either alone, or with rice or noodles.  A stinky mix of high-fiber, low fat, inexpensive fermented ingredients, kimchi is praised for its unique addictive flavor and its digestive health benefits. It is known to help the body fend off bacterial and viral infections and to have a strengthening effect on the circulation and digestion. The recipe is as old as Korea itself.
The major ingredient, Napa cabbage, is a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, but when fermented it brings its power to the next level, adding probiotics and even more vitamin C.
There are endless applications of kimchi at the table. Serve it as an appetizer on its own sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds and laced with some aromatic oil, like hazelnut or walnut.
Use it as a side dish with rice, noodles, meat, fish, vegetables, etc. – my recent favorite is to put some on top of the steamy mashed potatoes. Use it as a flavor booster in soups, stews, even dumplings!
Or, use it as a better condiment in salads, sandwiches, tacos, tortillas or, our favorite street grub – HOT DOGS!
I wanted to write this post back in 2013 already, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I recently run into this amazing Kimchi Chronicles documentary made by celebrity chefs Marja and Jean-Gorges Vongerichten and featuring a whole bunch of some inspiring takes on kimchi and other Korean food. Watch Hugh Jackman and his wife Debora Lee Furness devouring hot dogs with kimchi relish in this episode:

According to Marja, every Korean house has a different recipe of kimchi, but since kimchi is more of a pickling technique, you can go way beyond just Napa cabbage. I like to add sliced daikon and carrots and sometimes cucumbers. As for the fermenting mix booster, I stay with fish sauce, Asian pear and Korean red chili pepper (you can find it in Asian stores) mix with ginger and garlic.  Please use these images to help you go through the simple steps of kimchi preparation in the recipe below.

As for the fermentation stage, I personally prefer well-fermented kimchi (after a least few weeks in a fridge, I find it tastes best within three-four weeks). FYI, one study about fermentation has shown that people who ate fermented kimchi for one month lost more weight and demonstrated improvements in total cholesterol and blood pressure, compared to those who ate fresh kimchi.
That’s it for now and Gun Bai to all, which means Cheers in Korean!

One Year Ago: Veal Shoulder Blade Roast with Porcini;
                         Veal Canapes Appetizer;
                         Cuban Ropa Vieja Pulled Veal or Beef

Kimchi ingredients:
2 medium head Napa (Chinese cabbage), chopped in chunks
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium daikon, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
180 g coarse salt
Water for soaking
Kimchi sauce:
6 tbsp. fish sauce
4 tbsp. Korean red pepper powder
1 small onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 oriental pear, chopped
½ apple chopped
1 tbsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
2 (2 cm) slices of ginger
2 tbsp. sesame oil
4 spring onions, chopped
3 wide mouth glass jars (1.7 liters+)
Chop the Napa cabbage into chunks; slice the daikon, carrots and cucumbers. Soak them covered with water with about 180 g of salt added to it for 5-6 hours or overnight.
Make Kimchi sauce: blend the ingredients; add spring onions to the paste mixture upon blending. Keep it in the fridge until ready to use.
Drain the cabbage mix and rinse with cold running water to remove excess salt, transfer to a tray and mix by hand with the Kimchi sauce until all covered in sauce.
Pack the glass jars with the mix up to ¾ of each jar pressing well. Add any liquid that accumulated during the mixing process – it will help the brine to develop faster. Close tightly with the lid and let stand at room temperature for 12-24 hours to marinate. 
Transfer to the fridge for a storage. The flavors will continue to develop.  You can start eating kimchi within 2-3 days, but it is best when fermented for at least few weeks. Store kimchi jars in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Use clean utensils to take out a little each time.

Red Lanterns & Labrador Tea Roasted Duck

If you like duck and are open to kitchen science experiments, I’m sure this dish will make your taste buds sing. Labrador tea is an exquisite drink with a distinct woodsy-spicy taste. Combined with the cooking juice of a roasted duck in a sauce it helps to tweak the traditional roasted duck dish into an upscale dining experience you and your guests won’t soon forget. Always on the lookout for tasty tricks, I made this combination presuming that Labrador tea flavor will enhance the gamey taste of a duck in an interesting way. OMG, it was a culinary BINGO! 100 percent worth a try weather you are a chef at home or by professional definition. Although the recipe is not Asian, it was inspired by our recent visit to Chinatown.

Chinese New Year is around the corner, it’s high time to stroll down the streets of Chinatown for a festive spirit, great Asian produce and exotic sampling. If you don’t have time for that, let me give you a quick tour (along with the beautiful sound of the winter wind chimes). I’m sure any well-traveled Montrealer knows that there is more than one Chinatown in our city (Central, West and South). I’m talking about the oldest one in downtown Montreal, famous for its historic buildings and Chinese businesses and squared by St. Urbain, Rene Levesque, St. Laurent and Viger. It is not difficult to find: check for the roof-top Chinese pavilions of the Holiday Inn Select Centreville and you got it.
Montreal’s Chinatown is bustling with tourists and all kind of goods at this time of the year. Red lanterns and couplets with good luck sayings emblematic of the approaching renewal are everywhere. Why red and yellow? According to Chinese mythology, Nian, a sea monster, who comes to destroy crops and homes around the time of the Chinese New Year, is afraid of noise, sunshine and the color red.  Hence, the lucky red couplets and lanterns coupled with yellow symbols are placed beside the doors to keep the monster away and welcome good fortune, fame and riches.
The temperature is still in chilly minus twenty, which puts us in the mood to make hugs or have some comfort food.  We make our first stop at Pho Vietnam soup place located next to the famous Foo Dogs entrance into Montreal’s Chinatown. This little hole in the wall has been our favorite spot for a bowl of great piping hot noodle soup for ages (although I do also like more recent Pho Saigon Viet-Nam and Pho X.O.). I can never get enough of their fresh and crisp salad rolls, and their pho itself is simply PHO-NTASTIC!  I’ve heard people complain about how crowded this place is most of the time, but, hey, you are in Chinatown, not in a sleeping quarter. 
Speaking of the sleeping quarters, the spot is surrounded by buildings with some interesting graffiti murals, but the most impressive one is the giant mural on the Old Brewery Mission for homeless people across the street depicting 23 by 24 meters large train. My mind always wonders what was it the artist was trying to say with this mural. Although the official city’s version was ‘to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Expo 67’ (weird), to me it looks like a message saying: ‘You have just arrived to your final destination’… which is ironic considering the designation of the edifice. Is it just me or anyone else had the same association?  
We continue exploring Chinatown strolling through colorful food stalls and checking what’s up and cooking. There’ve been quite a few places newly opened recently and many that I’ve been always curious about, but never visited, like Mongolian Hot Pot, for example. Critic reviews in general are saying that on average, food spots in Montreal’s Chinatown are not as advanced as in Vancouver or Toronto and remind of a good food of the 90’ies, but see, that’s exactly why I like it: the time traveling side of it. 
We watch some people meditating next to the temple. Anyone is welcome to join, but for some reason, the daredevil spirit of adventure or Vipassana yogi is not coming upon us right now.
At some point we take a side street, get lost and talk about Woody Allen’s ‘I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.’ We wonder if we should try these stairs for a mysterious fortune telling session like his ‘Alice’ character. Well, may be some other time…
We know that the main street (rue Saint Urbain) is just a few strides away from us and the aroma of freshly roasted lacquered ducks helps us to find it back  where we get some freshly baked egg tarts, shitake mushrooms and tangerines.

Here is a good Feng shui tip for the Chinese New Year from experts: place five oranges or tangerines around your living space: one in the center and one in each direction (North, South, East and West) for good luck.

Here are some other great Feng shui tips for the 2014 year of the Wooden Horse if you like.

We dive in to sample some wontons and Peking duck specialties and finish our trip in the Chinese supermarket shopping for young duck, sticky rice cakes and red envelopes to prepare for an authentic-like Chinese-style Spring festival.
 Happy 2014 Chinese New Year of the Horse to All!

Few days later, I cook the duck for the family gathering. I know many people are reluctant to roast a duck thinking that it is much more complicated than roasting a chicken, but it is truly as simple. Believe me, the hardest part is to remove it from the packaging.

I’ve selected this particular roasting method long time ago (rummaging around many different roasted duck recipes) because it’s the least complicated and delivers tender, juicy flesh and a crisp thin skin while rendering the fat gradually without excessive smoking or a complicated cleanup later on.

In addition to seasoning, the process takes three major cooking steps: browning the duck at 400 F; baking it at 350 F; roasting it at 350 F for the crisp skin. Voila! You may choose to stuff or not stuff the bird, it will be delicious anyways, although, I tend to put one chopped apple, celery stalk, small onion and a slice of ginger into the cavity to add a layer of taste and help produce more coking juice.  I don’t scald the young duck with boiling water, but suggest do it with the mature one for a crispier skin. I don’t blow up a duck either, but agree that it’s an important part of the cooking method for a Peking duck recipe.
Here are some great tips to roast the duck:

*  Seal the cavity with a toothpick/s weather you use the stuffing or not to prevent the breasts from overcooking.
*  Prick the duck’s skin in several places with a toothpick (and scald the mature duck with boiling water) for a crispy kin and to ensure a good fat rendering during the roasting process.
*  Air dry duck in the fridge to make sure the duck is very cold before roasting as it will help to avoid overcooking the breast meat (by rendering fat from under the skin longer).

Keeping the cooking juice and separating fat from it (see in the below recipe) are important. As a result you will have a flavorful liquid to use in a sauce/gravy; and at least 100 g of pure duck fat which makes a wonderful swap for cooking oil or baking grease. The price of the store bought duck fat is around $8 to $10 per 100 g, so BAM! you got yourself a rebate of almost $10 off your duck purchase. That’s cool, no?
As usually, the devil is in detail, which is the Labrador tea mixed with the duck cooking juice (separated from fat). The result is simply unbelievable: rustic, yet sophisticated. This sauce is simple and fast to make: strain the duck cooking liquid upon roasting, cool it in a fridge to easily scoop the fat in about 15 minutes – that’s it. I am giving the detailed instructions in the recipe below.
For many Labrador tea is a drink still to be discovered. A pure boreal delight, it is aromatic and soothing with ‘rather agreeable fragrance, between turpentine and strawberries’ (according to Henry David Thoreau). Once I first tried it I could not stop brewing it. I got over my initial excitement though after I learned that Labrador tea should be handled with care (not more than a few cups per day). You can learn more about Labrador tea here.

Tips for Brewing Labrador Tea:

Crash a small handful of Labrador tea leaves in mortar or with your fingers. Add the leaves to two cups of boiling water, simmer for 1 minute and then steep for 10 minutes without the lid. Filter into cups and enjoy as is or with some honey.

Serve the roasted duck with some steamed rice, homemade kimchi and Labrador tea sauce on a side. Enjoy.
Have a great one!
Yields: 4 to 6 portions
Roasted Duck:
1 young duck
¾ cup mix of 1 apple, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 thin slice of ginger, chopped (for optional stuffing)
salt and pepper to taste
2 toothpicks to seal the cavity
Labrador Tea Sauce
1 handful of Labrador tea leaves, crushed for brewing
2 cups water
1 cup duck cooking juice, fat removed
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 20 ml of cold water (optional)
1 tbsp brandy (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
For the Roasted Duck
Thaw the duck in the refrigerator overnight if it’s frozen. Remove packaging and any giblets in the cavity of the duck. Wash the duck thoroughly under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel. Season the duck generously with salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff the cavity of the duck with the mix of apples, celery and onion if you wish. Seal the cavity with a toothpick/s weather you use the stuffing or not to prevent the breasts from overcooking. Prick the duck’s skin in several places with a toothpick for a crispy kin and to ensure a good fat rendering during the roasting process. Air dry duck in the fridge to make sure the duck is very cold before roasting as it will help to avoid overcooking the breast meat (by rendering fat from under the skin longer).
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the duck in a roasting pan and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes on each side (turning once, to finish with the breast side up). Remove the roasting pan, cover it with foil and/or lid. Lower the oven temperature to 350 F and return the covered duck to the oven for 1.5 hours (make it 2-2.5 hours in case of the mature/age-unknown duck). Remove the lid/foil and finish cooking uncovered for 30 minutes, basting with dripping juice every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil before carving. Serve with Labrador tea sauce and steamed rice & veggies on a side.
To Separate Fat from Cooking Juice
Remove the duck carefully to the cutting board and pour the cooking juices through a strainer into a small bowl to recuperate fat and juices. Cover and refrigerate until firm. The fat will separate to the top and solidify and the juices will jellify. Scoop the fat with a spoon into a container and reserve for further use in the fridge (confit, sauté, pancakes, French toast, veggies, etc.) Duck fat is very heat stable and makes a good alternative to cooking oil or lard. The separated cooking juice can be used right away or kept in a freezer for the future use to enhance sauces, soups and stews.
For the Labrador Tea Sauce
Add two cups of boiling water to a handful of crushed Labrador tea leaves, bring back to boil for 1 minute uncovered, turn of the heat and steep for 10 minutes. Filter and set aside to be mixed with the duck cooking juice.
Mix the duck cooking juice (separated from fat) with Labrador tea in a small pot, while bringing the mix to boil. Add brandy, mix and simmer for a few minutes (2-5) to slightly thicken and/or add the cornstarch dissolved in cold water to thicken the sauce more.

Thai-Style Chicken Burger

Gwyneth Paltrow is much talked about these days. But it ain’t her Hollywood rah-rah, or the World’s Most Beautiful Woman’s status that has a glam gang all abuzz about the Oscar winner – it’s her latest cookbook which arguably (according to the current issue of Star magazine) ”inspired wide-spread negative reviews and even outrage”. In ”It’s All Good” (title of the book) Gwyneth shares 185 recipes which make her and her family feel healthier. Giving up dairy, sugar and gluten (Elimination diet) in favor for other ingredients made her the dart board of criticism. And while Joanna Blythmanand other investigative food journalists and experts on causes of obesity say that ”Paltrow’s low-carb diet makes perfect sense”, majority of the reviews have been cynical, petty, snarky and everything else but … honest? Well, I guess there is no such thing as a bad press!

As a passionate cook, I am a big fan of many of her recipes as well as of those from the reality show ”Spain on the Road Again” with her and Mario Batali. Ultimately, ”we are what we eat”, and whatever are Mrs. Paltrow’s cooking, writing skills or her ability to be ”out of touch or mean”, the proper nutrition is written all over her face. Not to mention the fortune she must have paid to doctors, nutritionists, trainers and cooks to keep that stay-young body of hers. If I can benefit from all that at a fraction of cost by buying her ”It’s All Good” for $17.50 + tax (bookstore member’s price), this book is definitely a keeper for me.
So please indulge me, while I showcase the good-for-you Gwyneth Paltrow’s Chicken Burger – Thai Style recipe from her new cookbook. It is very basic, healthy, delicious and good for the whole family. It is also surprisingly versatile: once you begin preparing this Asian-inspired burger mix, it might strike you that it’s very close to the wonton stuffing mix (as it happened to me). As a result, I made two dishes instead of one, turning the leftovers into a flavorful wonton soup, which my gluten-tolerant family members devoured with pleasure.
The burgers can be grilled or pan-fried. I tried both versions and discovered it was important to add some binding ingredient into the grilling version (unless you freeze the burgers for about 15 minutes before grilling). So I added some crumbs to the burger recipe (please feel free to use gluten-free crumbs to keep the recipe dietetically intact). Otherwise, there were no other modifications to the recipe.
We had these burgers with roasted/grilled bok choy, ratatouille, cucumber & radish salad, and quickly improvised avocado salsa. Excellent way to lighten up your BBQ fest, while still enjoying your meal big time!
As for the wonton stuffing, I added a few drops of sesame oil and some soya sauce into the leftovers of the mix; and used commercially bought wonton skins and my homemade chicken stock. Place a teaspoon of chicken burger mix in the center of each wonton skin. Moisten all 4 edges of wonton wrapper with water , then pull the top corner down to the bottom, folding the wrapper over the filling to make a triangle. Press edges firmly to make a seal. Bring left and right corners together, overlap the tips of these corners moisten with water and press together. Continue until all wrappers are used. Bring the chicken stock to boil. Drop wontons in for 5 minutes. Garnish with minced green onions and other greens of your choice (parsley, coriander, basil) and serve with some soya sauce and lime wedges on the side.
1 lb (454g) ground chicken (preferably dark meat)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely minced
1 tsp. red chilli flakes (or more or less, however hot you like it)
2 tsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp canola, grapeseed or safflower oil
In a large bowl, mix ground chicken with garlic, cilantro, shallots, red chilli flakes, fish sauce, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into 4 burgers, each about 3/4-inch thick. Heat a grill or frying pan over medium heat. Rub each burger on both sides with a bit of oil and grill for about 8 minutes on the first side and another 5 minutes on the second, or until nicely marked and firm to touch.
Adapted from: ”It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow with Julia Turschen, Grand Central Life & Style Hachette Book Group, April 2013.