Category Archives: grains

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.

No-Bake Maple Power Bites

Viva Maple Syrup! Let me present to you this incredibly simple and nutritious whole food trail mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and citrus peel bonded by maple syrup. They make a universal ticket to: have a wholesome breakfast, snack, travel companion or dessert; throw a quick party or picnic; boost your energy or use an instant pick me up; help the sweet tooth craving with nutrient-rich ingredients and much less guilt; trick your kids into eating healthy foods; store with or without the fridge for a long time; and, finally, ignore the store-bought granola once and forever.  
When the Sugar Shack (Cabane a sucre) time arrived this year I had an impulse to partake of some gluttonous a la Picard-esque staples with tons of fat wrapped in additional fat and then rolled in syrup … then after, if still alive, try that famous ostrich egg with the yolk size of a baby’s head at one and only Martin Picard’s Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon… Then it hit me in the face that I’m currently on a ban wagon trying to become a better looking person by Easter and that’s a no-go for all that lard. This is to tell you that the decision to make a healthy snack with wholesome ingredients bonded by maple syrup came naturally upon eliminating 1001 maple recipe ideas from my mind while I was driving back home with a few freshly procured cans of the Canadian liquid gold. 
I wanted to use this syrup in the recipe instead of sugar not only to pay a tribute to our national pride. 
Maple syrup (I’m talking about the natural one of course) is a unique natural sweetener that comes with a whole bunch of added perks. Declared a new superfood few years ago, it has 54 compounds with anticancer and anti-inflammatory benefits, including recently discovered Quebecol (yes, named in honor of the province of Quebec) – an antioxidant polyphenol created during boiling sap into syrup.  Sweetener that can lower your cholesterol and give you a boost of iron? Precisely. That’s something unheard of… yet, totally true and therefore – awesome! So how about I use it as a sweetener along with pressed dates and molasses in my new granola power bar?
I took neutral gluten free oats as a background for the mix. Then I added my favorite nuts, seeds and berries to make it nutty-fruity and fun including:  pecan nuts, shredded coconut, pumpkin and hemp seeds, dried goji berries, cranberries and raisins. The tangy chewy candied citrus peel also went in as my latest favorite (and much more than a one-trick pony). The maple syrup, black-strap molasses and pressed dates served as sweetener and bonding agents. Finally, I used the nut oil/butter (coconut/almond) and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla) for savory touch. Here are the visual steps:
You don’t need to be a nutritionist or a dietitian to see that all these ingredients classify as healthy (gluten-free) superfoods in one way or another.  Mixed together, they make a healthier version of whatever you crave most remaining as close to their original whole food form as possible.
Gluten-free, highly nutritional, plus no-bake morsels  requiring only 15 minutes prep time. Do I have to convince you any longer? Now that our 6-months winter is coming to an end there can’t be a better timing for these little treats. Our bodies are deprived from nutrients, vitamins and micro-elements at this point not less than those of almost surreal pack of starving deer I caught on a camera today. 
April 2014: Starving deer are looking for food in the melting snow over the corn field along the highway.
Keep the formula, experiment with ingredients, try to add some other stuff – ultimately, these bites will help you eating your way to a healthier life. Best high-protein treats with no more midday crashes (just don’t eat them during the staff meeting or in front of your boss). Easy, sweet and more than worthy!

Yields: 50 to 60 bites depending on a size
1 cup pure Maple Syrup
½ cup virgin coconut oil, OR canola oil
1/3 cup Black-strap Molasses
1/3 cup pressed dates (optional)
½ cup unsweetened almond butter, OR peanut, OR other nut butter
4 cups rolled oats, regular or gluten-free
½ cup Goji berries, OR dried cranberries, OR tart cherries
½ cup dried currants, OR raisins, OR dried blueberries
1 cup pecan nuts (raw and chopped) OR walnuts, almonds or cashews
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup pumpkin seeds (raw), OR sunflower seeds
1/3 cup hemp seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp Himalayan salt
Add maple syrup, molasses, dates, oil, and vanilla to saucepan and warm over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes while you mix other ingredients.
Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, berries, candied citrus peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.
Add nut butter to the syrup mixture and mix well. Remove from the heat and mix into dry ingredients in a large bowl. The mix will be sticky, but after it cools down, you can continue mixing the ingredients with your hands.
Line a 13 by 9 inches pan with a waxed paper. Spread the mixture into a pan evenly. Cover with another piece of wax paper and continue pressing until even across the top. Use a small cutting board that fits in to press the mix into the pan. Refrigerate until firm overnight or up to 24-48 hours. Cut into the bars or bites (rolled between hands) and keep in the airtight container in the fridge until ready to use. If necessary, wrap the bars into a wax paper and secure with twine. The bars/bites will keep in the fridge up to one month.

Homemade Rosemary Oatcakes for Cheese & Wine Party

My recent cheese degustation at ‘La Fête des fromages d’ici’ event during 2014 Montreal en Lumiere  prompted me to throw my own wine and cheese party for ‘the Oscars’.  It would be like any other cheese and wine gathering, except this time it wasn’t. It was much more than that due to the two new players in the setting, namely, the Rosemary Oatcakes and three- fillings Eccles cakes (will follow shortly). The salty-sweet combo really wowed my guests who were seriously hooked on them urging me to eventually write this post. This column is about the oatcakes, a wonderful day or night snack or tapas base with full, nutty and robust flavor that I can personally munch on all day long.

Oatcake is a traditional Scottish flatbread, an equivalent of what baguette is for French, although the oatcake it’s more of an acquired taste for non-Scottish. I’ve fallen in love with it the day I tried it first and have been baking the basic oatcakes since.  Oatcakes make a great substitute for bread or crackers and a flawless combo with cheese, which is my idea of a great breakfast, quick bite or travel companion. In this case, the herbs (you can use dried oregano, tarragon, sage instead of rosemary) and cracked pepper add some charmingly snooty touch to otherwise humble oatmeal snack.

I love to try local artisan cheeses. There are over 100 cheese producers in Quebec, the province that still remains the leader in Canadian artisan cheese-making. Each of them has his own unique variety of cheese worth trying. But here comes what I don’t like – the price of it. You step into any given grocery and see an impressive display of alluring artisan cheeses.  But you know that the way it looks is as good as this display is ever going to get. Once you turn a little cheese sliver wrapped by the hands of a concerned middleman, you put is back feeling like you just got beaten in a dark alley. This article would be more fluent on the subject of unaffordability of cheese all over Canada to the point that even policemen get caught trying to smuggle cheese from the US into Canada for the profit. 

But I won’t rock the boat any further since the good news is the newly signed Free Trade agreement with European Union will supposedly give us a break in 2015.   For now I’ve discovered my own way to procure local prize winning cheeses for less … by going directly to the cheese farm. The renown Fritz Kaiser inc for example has a great boutique at their manufacturing facility where they sell plethora of their own cheeses for at least 30% less. We have been going there regularly and each time it feels like a blast.

Assets on display at fromagerie Fritz Kaiser Inc.: FYI, you will notice the slight price change (from 2013 to 2014), but still this is nothing compared to the wallet abuse you will experience in a regular store.

Visiting farms on week-ends has many other perks – you have a gulp of fresh air, enjoy peaceful countryside winter stillness, take notes of the new destinations and share all of this with friends and family afterwards during cheese and wine impromptu. Marvelous!

It’s when cheese and wine usual hubbies step in: nuts, dried fruits, berries, honey and of course baguette. This time though (as I already revealed it to you) I decided to replace the traditional bread with Eccles (sweet)and oatcakes (salty) for a gorgeous mouthful.

The advantage of the oatcakes is that it’s easy and fast to make and you can make it gluten free applying gluten free flour.  In the meantime, set your cheese out to get to the room temperature (covered with a damp cheese cloth to prevent drying out) as it will taste best when ‘relaxed’ just by the time your oatcakes will be cooling on the rack. 

I’ve experimented with a few savory versions and this one is close to the real deal. Try it with your own added touch of sophistication (herbs & spices) and you might never want to buy crackers again. Cheers and Say Cheese!

A year ago: Homemade Granola 
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup all-purpose OR gluten free flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 tsp freshly ground pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp crushed rosemary leaves
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 stick (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put the oats into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add flour, salt, pepper, rosemary, baking powder and butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and pulse for about 15 seconds until a dough forms. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and cut out about 30 rectangular or 60 square oatcakes. Arrange the oatcakes on the baking sheets 1/2 inch apart and bake in the middle of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until brown on the bottom. Transfer oatcakes to a rack and cool completely.

Homemade Granola

Here is something to kick-start your day, week, week-end or just to have a great snack, whichever is applicable. This crunchy simple homemade granola is not only a great breakfast material, but a powerful snack for even gluten intolerant people. It quickly became a keeper for me, which I also happen to munch on to help those hunger attacks or to prevent staring at commercial granola bar thinking whether or not there is a corn syrup in it. What is beautiful, you can control the taste (adding different ingredients), or sweetness (more, or less, or not at all), fiber (add bran). Finally, you can play with grains and customize this granola to your taste with dry fruits, hemp or flax seed at the finishing point.
With only 10 minutes of hands-on work, you can enjoy these granola bars almost as soon as they come out of the oven. Cinnamon and vanilla add a nice flavor, while you can also venture for more exotic spice, such as cardamom or nutmeg. I really encourage you to try to make different varieties with your favorite or healthiest ingredients, because this recipe is really fool proof.
Today I am making this granola as first step towards Pear Yogurt Granola Muffins recipe which will follow right after. Yes, you can use this granola as an ingredient in many other creations as well.
Yields 3 cups (750ml)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup vegetable oil (corn, canola or any oil without much flavor)
1/4 cup liquid honey
1/4 cup brown sugar (or less)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line the roasting pan with parchment paper. Toss the oats and almonds in a big bowl and mix with pinch of salt and cinnamon. Whisk together the oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla extract and pour over the oat mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or your hands and spread onto the roasting pan around 2/3 inch thick or less. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until granola turns golden brown. Remove from the oven, let it cool, then, brake in pieces to store in hermetic containers for up to 3 weeks.
Tips: vary the grain or nut ingredient with your own choice keeping the proportion; once cooked, sprinkle your favorite dry fruits over, i.e. cherries, cranberries, currents, diced figs or apricots, etc. for immediate consumption. Do not add chopped fruit if you are storing granola for up to 3 weeks.

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