Monthly Archives: January 2014

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.

Grandma’s Whole Pea Soup on Cold Wintry Night

It’s been cold, really cold in the last few days. A sudden strike of an obsession with grandma’s soup is not unusual during such times. Along with a distant memory of a grand granny cooking a pea soup in a giant cauldron for the family of 60+… so warm and comforting.
What else can be on your mind while driving home with a growling belly in this biting frost and with more than 50 shades of gray around? Perhaps a stew or a bowl of steamy mashed potatoes? Chances are though this rustic soup is not only among my infinite ramblings this evening…
I bought a $1.50 pack (1lb or 454 gr) of organic whole peas on our last visit to the farm because I knew the time for this soup was coming.  There was a recipe of Soupe aux pois de grand-mère labeled to it, which I am presenting to you, although, hugely modified. The recipe asks to add 341 grams of canned corn at the end, which I’m not so sure about, but it might be an idea to thicken some liquid vegetarian version.  For the vegetarian version I suggest you use a good vegetarian stock and give the chopped veggies a quick fry-stir with a tablespoon of ghee or vegetable oil before adding them to the pot. You can find the whole peas in most of the supermarkets in Quebec, or order them on-line. The farm-bought, of course would always be cheaper and fool-proof organic.
NOTE: Just like beans, whole peas require soaking in the water for 8 hours or overnight before cooking. But if you are not very legume-sensitive (or, in other word, reactive), feel free to use a rapid method of boiling peas for 2 minutes, letting them sit for an hour and then cook as instructed … which still requires a bit of time, so I suggest you do your math when ready to cook this soup.
Peas are usually coming into the recipes in a split form, but this French Canadian classic is made with whole peas and is traditionally a part of Cabaneà sucre (sugar shack) menu Québecois are so famous for.  Which brings me to the question of the non-vegetarian version based on beef or veal stock, with the addition of some ham or pork sausage and, of course, the salted pork lard (LOTS OF IT)… The recipe stipulated ½ pound of lard, but I did not use any because I had something better – a home-smoked and braised hock… 
So if you will excuse me, my dear fellow-vegetarians, I have to include this part to keep the lyrics. I really wanted to step my game up in the carnivore version of this soup, so what was supposed to be a simple salted lard and/or ham in an old-fashioned version (don’t worry, I keep the classics in the recipe below) of the whole pea soup, became a real German-style state of the art smoked pig knuckle slowly braised in the oven. The richness of it combined with slow-cooked peas is truly a heavenly combination.

Using braised knuckle requires some extra prep. Last week-end we had a bit of sun, which felt almost like an approaching Cabane à sucre time (or perhaps the Imbolc celebration would be closer). We made a fire outside for a little alfresco break from our 6-months long winter strong conditions. I decided to use this occasion to smoke whatever I could for the future culinary applications, including a few pork knuckles. It’s really no-brainer: you just smoke the knuckle over the fire on all sides (torch is OK in your own kitchen on a day like today). Then cool it and clean it with the brush under the cold running water and it’s ready to be braised for 2 hours with a few cloves of garlic, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and a bit of liquid (such as water, broth, wine, or, my favorite, mix of water and apple cider vinegar).

Ta-dah, few hours later you have a great addition to a soup or stew, or can start eating it as schweinshaxe Bavarian style. Add sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and beer and you will be in a German heaven. In my case though it makes a great addition to the rustic pea soup when de-boned and minced. Please do not discard the skin from the cooked hock, because it actually is a great swap for salted lard and a major flavor booster. Add it to the soup 15 minutes into the end of cooking.

You can prepare the whole pea soup up to three days ahead and might notice that it will taste better with time. Next day it will be much thicker and velvety: the flavours will be married, the smokiness will shine through more prominently.  Serve it with baguette crostini, garlic croutons and aged cheese on a side garnished with a bit of fresh parsley if you wish.

It’s not for no reason that this soup is one of the homiest and most comforting dishes in the French Canadian menu: it’s a humble delight to come home to on an Arctic winter night.


One year ago: Perfect Green Salad Vinaigrette


Yields 6-8 servings
1 lb or 454 gr dried yellow whole peas
½ lb salted lard (optional)
1 ham hock (or 1 smoked and braised pig knuckle)
9 cups of water (or 10 cups of vegetarian broth for vegetarian version)
3 cups of veal or beef brown stock (or 2 cups cream of corn for vegetarian version)
1 large onion, chopped
2 small carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried savory
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
* 1 can (341 gr) cream of corn (optional for vegetarian version)
Cover the peas with water and soak overnight or for 8 hours. Drain. Alternatively, you can skip soaking by rinsing whole peas in cold water, then placing them with the rest of the ingredients (except for the cream of corn in the vegetarian version) in a pot, bringing to boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for 1 hour.
Bring the soup back to the boiling point, lower the heat and let it simmer covered for 1 hour or until the peas become tender.  Remove the hock, let it cool, then de-bone, mince the meat and return into the pot for the final 15 minutes of simmering. For vegetarian version, add cream of corn 15 minutes before the end of cooking.
Check the seasoning. Remove the pot from heat. Discard the bay leaves. Optionally, you can now puree the soup in a blender to the consistency you like. Taste again for salt and pepper and serve garnished with fresh parsley, chives, or garlic croutons.

Waste Not Cranberry Banana Bread Pudding

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.’ This quote from witty Calvin Trillin is very ‘dear’ to me because leftovers of the unknown origin were what my Mom served the family as well. Which partly explains why I am so keen on food and cooking today… 
This reminiscence however, has nothing to do with the delicious sweet-and-savory Cranberry Banana bread pudding I made last weekend.  Except for the word leftover and the fact that almost half of the food we buy goes wasted. Let’s improve this statistics a little with a worthy and no-waste recipe.  This one is full of flavor and good things (fruits, seeds, allergy-friendly ingredients) and can be used in different menu applications: breakfast, brunch, dessert, side dish or coffee/tea break. And it’s actually made of the LEFTOVERS: stale bread/brioche/challah, very ripe banana, cranberry sauce left from holidays, etc. 
It is also fun thing to make with kids. Last week-end one of my friends, a busy mom with two little kids, popped around for a cup of tea after her ski trip and, pudding was the first thing that came to my mind as a quick and uncomplicated treat.  
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Give your kids some easy tasks like peeling and slicing banana, breaking eggs, distributing crumbs and fruit in the baking dish. Crushing candy cane with the roll (to sprinkle on top of the pudding if the wish be) is another kitchen chore kids adore to do. They would really appreciate the result and their own participation. And of course, a nice cartoon while the pudding is in the oven…
I didn’t have to invent it or look for a recipe – I just used my favorite summer cherry pudding recipe  (the best thing ever to happen to a fresh or frozen tart berry: I’ve tried other recipes, but the acquired taste wins every time) with a few new touches.  I added 1/3 cup of roasted hemp seeds for a slightly nutty taste to upgrade the amount of protein, B vitamins and fatty acids. Feel free to skip this ingredient, or replace it with seeds or nuts of your choice (poppy seeds make also a very good option). 
I spiked the pudding with a bit of Meyer lemon juice and zest and replaced whipped cream dressing with a savory yogurt cream, mixing Greek yogurt with some cranberry sauce and a spoon of maple syrup. Finally, I made a quick cranberry coulis with an old cranberry sauce and some frozen cranberries.
The wonderful thing about this dish apart from being tasty and made of the recycled ingredients (and so comforting during winter cold), is that you can’t have too much of it. If you have any leftovers, please don’t throw them away, just portion them out if necessary and freeze.
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Although the leftover fatigue is in my blood, I am urging you, please give them a second chance with some further dishes.  Put a slice in a lunch bag, have a piece for a tea break, with your morning café au lait (with grilled cheese on top – why not?), or freeze some and try later as a side dish to grab some of that juicy gravy from a roasted bird.
However you decide to re-purpose this pudding, it will be better, healthier and cheaper than any store bought stuff. Enjoy!
One year ago: Easy Eggless Tiramisu
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar, or mix of sugar and maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups of milk (or almond milk)
4 cups gluten-free white rice flour bread (or challah, or brioche), cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (up to 1 ½ cups of berries)
1 large ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1/3 cup of roasted hemp seeds (optional)
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 1 orange)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make 4 cups. Peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Reserve the cranberries.
Using a wire whisk, stir well beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (or use a blender).
Place 2/3 of the bread cubes in on 9 x 13-inch buttered baking dish (or two smaller ones to make the equivalent volume); distribute cranberries, banana slices and hemp seeds and top with remaining bread cubes. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
Bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly (or completely, if you would like it to set so you can remove it from the baking dish to the plate) and serve with a dash of yogurt cream and a splash of cranberry coulis or a topping of your choice.
Yogurt Cream for dressing – mix three following ingredients:
1 ½ cups of plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 to 2 tbsp cranberry coulis
Cranberry Coulis (yields 2 cups):
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tbsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar or maple syrup (or more if you like it very sweet as opposed to sour-sweet)
1/3 cup water
1 cup cranberry sauce leftovers
Mix the first 5 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil over the medium high heat. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cranberry sauce and mix well helping to dissolve faster.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Healthy (Re)solutions: Pick-Me-Up Lassi

One might not feel like running a mile in this Martian cold weather or going to the gym during the flu outbreak, but…  A glass of a nurturing shake and a bit of morning sun meditation make a great way to start a day on a positive note from my experience. 
I am not talking about classic frozen fruit +ice smoothies–they are quite predictable and, therefore, boring.  They also lack satiety. I am not a breakfast person, for example, so I like to add some extra dimension to my morning drink to wake up and boogie.  As a result, I switched my smoothie (fruit+ ice) to more of a lassi (fruit + yogurt+) style putting everything I wanted to be in there to catch me when I am falling from a sleep/other morning deprivation and help me tune into a productive mood, specifically during the times of the polar vortex. 
I’ve developed a few favorites and even gave my cocktails names depending on their color and taste, i.e. Go-Nuts; Lacoste; Tropical Sunshine, etc. Each of them has a certain nourishing purpose. This one is a particularly good-for-winter drink.  I called it Royal Velvet for its purple color, velvet-like feel, and the elegant taste.  
It’s packed with super-foods, including organic frozen berries (perfect antioxidant), yogurt, almond milk, nuts, seeds, even a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of clove (both anti-inflammatory) to make sure there is enough of everything in it to make a winning substitute for an over-the-counter supplements I wouldn’t want to reach for.  For the berries, I used frozen blackcurrant grown and picked in our garden (which I was happy to try for the first time this year in a smoothie and was shocked about how good they tasted – otherwise their destiny used to be a garbage can by spring for years – can you believe it?) If you can’t get a hold of blackcurrants, use any best quality frozen purple or red berries of your choice.
I used plain Greek yogurt, almond milk, almonds, hemp and flax seeds for my choice of the balance of caloric and nutritional values,  which you can of course swap for yogurt, milk, nuts and seeds of your choice as long as they tickle your fancy.

The combination of the ingredients is designed to work as a winter guard: support the immune system and combat colds and flu. For an additional strength, I included some brewed Echinacea and rose petal tea (both also collected from our garden last summer) tea in it. It is totally optional, but if you still wish to include it, you can find Echinacea tea or syrup at any organic food store these days. 

For the sweetness, I used an exotic raspberry honey jelly (which I bought at the nearest bee farm last fall  ), but just a pure honey (natural antibiotic) or a maple syrup (antioxidants + zinc) would also make a perfect option. Dates are also a great sweetener addition to this mix if you like. For the final touch, I added a bit of the rose water for a surprising fragrant twist.  Again, I used the one I made last summer, but you can buy rose water in most of the groceries (baking section) today.
Our bodies are xx-something-pounds live chemical labs in need of constant re-fueling, energy and vitality. If we think about them this way, I’m sure many of our New Year’s resolutions would be very much connected with what kind of fuel we charge ourselves with daily. So why not selecting the best ones today in the form of one of the feel-good drinks? The body will thank you immediately for this little gesture of thoughtfulness with a bit more energy. The mind will follow shaking off that frigid twister melancholia. Name it smoothie, lassi, or shake, my point is – give it a try. The payoff will be sweet: one glass and… suddenly…  tout va bien, or, ‘Everything is Fineaccording to this talented Scottish artist… The winter will pass, and then there will be spring and then summer, and fall, and another winter… And that one will go too.
Cheers to the healthy 2014 start and the eternal healing!

Yields: four standard or two generous servings.
1+ cup frozen purple (and/or red) berries (blackcurrant, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
½ cup almond milk
2 small ripe bananas (or equal quantity of papaya)
1/3 cup almonds
1 tbsp hemp seeds  
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 thin slice of ginger 
1 pinch of ground cloves
2 tbsp raspberry honey jelly (or honey, or maple syrup)
1/3 cup brewed and cooled Echinacea /Rose Hip tea (or 1 tbsp. Echinacea Elderberry herbal syrup)
1 tsp. rosewater
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend on a high speed until smooth. Taste and adjust thickness and flavors. Dilute with some extra almond milk if necessary. Enjoy!