Find of the month: Zen Asia

Goi cuon or Spring Rolls, with Shrimp, Daikon, Mint, and Cucumber.

Having heard a lot of good things about this nearby Vietnamese restaurant, Danny and I decided to check it out last Friday. I was cautious because ever since I spent 6 weeks backpacking through South East Asia, dining in these types of restaurants usually ends up being a disappointment and dishes that are recreated over here are merely distant relatives to the mother dish.

I didn’t set my hopes too high for Zen Asia, for fear of having them dashed, but I did manage to enjoy myself more than I expected. This is an excellent, ‘happening’ place that I am proud to have here on Montreal’s South Shore. Believe me, while downtown is a cornucopia of fine dining, the pickings are very slim around here!

However there was one flaw in our dining experience: and the restaurant was not responsible…

I should have clued in when I saw the address on the business card, but I didn’t, and as we pulled up in from of Zen Asia, I realized that I had once worked there long ago when it was called ‘Bistro 21”. Those were not good times for me, to put it mildly, as I had often found myself in situations comparable to Tony’s in Kitchen Confidential. As we entered, I had a feeling of déjà vu and memories of my mental, tyrannical, crazed chef-boss yelling at me and throwing pans and cuss words at me.
When I quit, I had vowed never to darken the door again, and now here I was, seven years later, with my hubby and plans for a romantic evening away from the baby. Oh, life is cruel sometimes! If I could only go back, be my 20 year-old self again, and face Gary (O how I loath the name) with the strength and confidence that I have now, as a chef and as an individual, things would be VERY different! Ah well, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, so they say.

Back to Zen Asia.

Goi du du, Green Papaya Salad with Grilled Beef and Thai Basil

The place was packed, which is always a good sign. The service was friendly and professional in this family run establishment. The food was excellent, and familiar flavours such as the unforgettable Thai basil, brought back a few memories from South East Asia. I would have liked the food to have a bit more heat, but I understand that they have to tone it down to please us picky North Americans!

We chatted with the owner’s son, Duy, who works the floor on Friday’s, and he invited us back some night after 10 pm when they hang the ‘Closed’ sign and his mama heats up the kitchen and feeds the family. It sounded like a lot of fun and that’s probably my chance to taste some really authentic Vietnamese food. Can’t wait! Now that will be something to report.

Eat your heart out Gary and Bistro 21, I’ve moved on.(and remember, you can never

have too much Dijon)

Zen Asia (450)672-6805
21 Prince Arthur, St Lambert, Quebec, J4P 1X1

Top 10 Useless Kitchen Gadgets

Some of the following material contains adult subject matter. Reader discretion is advised.
First off let me just say that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, I am a firm believer of that. So before you go and get your shirt in a knot, remember that this is just my (experienced professional) opinion and if you happen to have one of these gadgets and use it and love it, that’s just fine too. Whatever makes you happy! Granted this is a bit of a rant on my part, but I also want to point out that sometimes, no matter what some commercial is telling you, you DON’T need a gadget for every job. You would never see any of these item in a professional kitchen, that’s how useless they are.
Today, consumerism is rampant and we could learn a lesson or two from the Chinese. Do you thinkthat in the average kitchen in China they have a tool for every little job? No, there’s a good wok, a cleaver, a steamer for rice and a few odds and ends. Watch the movie Eat Drink Man Woman; the father can practically peel a grape with a cleaver.
Remember: never underestimate a good sharp knife! It gets the job done. Even for an Octodog (see below)
On more thing. I chose these from hundreds of similar gadgets, utensils and contraptions that I have seen and heard of over the years. Maybe they aren’t the most useless of them all, but I find them the most common and the most annoying. That said, here they are!

Top Ten Useless Kitchen Gadgets ( in random order)

  1. Mushroom Brush. I always see these sitting on the edge of people’s sinks, looking filthy, and I can’t help wondering if they double as nail brushes, pot scrubbers, etc. Disgusting. Are the mushrooms really so dirty that we need to have these brushes on hand at all times? Guess what? I never clean my button mushrooms. Ok, if there’s a huge clump of dirt clinging on, I’ll get it with my knife.
  2. Turkey Baster. I’ve never met anyone who actually uses theirs, but I have heard of people who have used them to assist in getting pregnant. They look so dumb, are usually in old 70’s colors and take up space in a drawer 364 days out of the year. Have a dry bird? Use your gravy ladle. I know you have one of those if you’re cooking a turkey.
  3. Corn Holders. People collect these like they are going out of style. Would it actually be so wrong to hold the corn with your hands? Too hot? Who’s going to bite into an ear of corn if it’s too hot to even handle? Again, I know people who have service for 20, but have never used them.
  4. Garlic Presses. More like garlic juicers. None of which have ever successfully pressed a peeled garlic clove. You end up loosing half of the garlic in the press, plus, have you ever cleaned one of these??? I’d rather rince a knife blade under water than spend ten minutes picking garlic out of the little holes. People are always shocked and dismayed that I don’t have a garlic press. Listen up, I don’t care. It’s against my unspoken culinary code of conduct. Same goes for garlic peelers: it’s so much easier to whack a clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Gets rid of frustration too. (Also, from a gourmet’s perspective, size matters. Crushed, pulverized garlic emits the most intense flavor. Sometimes you need a more subtle hint of garlic in a dish and thinly sliced would work best here. See what I mean?)
  5. Melon Ball Scooper. Didn’t know that melons had balls? Suprise! Apparently they need a lot of scooping. This technique is so 80’s, you’re dating yourself if you serve these in a fruit salad. Don’t want to get rid of it? Use it to scoop cookie dough to make perfectly shaped little balls of goodness.
  6. Apple Peeler, corer, slicer, etc. When did it become so much work to peel an apple?? These things are so ridiculous. First of all, look at the size of this contraption. Compare the valuable cupboard space it takes up to a slender vegetable peeler. Now haul it out of that box, mount that apple, blab blah blah. Clean it and put it back in the cupboard, way in the back with all the other stuff you use once a year. Oh look, I’ve already peeled a bushel of apples with my little peeler.
  7. Egg Separator. This is a device that is supposed to hold the yolk while allowing the white to drop into a dish. These are getting more and more elaborate by the year. (see above photo.) It’s easier – much easier – to use the broken eggshell, and much, much sexier to strain it through your fingers. Yea so you have to wash your hands after. Well, you should always wash your hands after handling eggs anyway.
  8. Electric Carving Knife. Don’t get me started. If I ever have one of these, just shoot me. Enough said.
  9. Measuring Spoons with a ‘pinch’, ‘smidgeon’, ‘dash’, etc. PulEEZe. You know you’ve seen these. If you happen to own then I hope they were a gag gift.
  10. Bagel Slicer. Now these are downright dangerous no matter what the add says. This one is actually called the Bagel Guillotine Biter. Need I say more? Bagel Guillotine Biter. Oops, there goes a finger. (I also have no use for hardboiled egg slicers, avocado slicers, etc) Apparently there are a lot of people out there who are having trouble slicing their bagels. Now you can buy them pre-sliced, people. Whew. Solving the worlds problems, one at a time. Note: the Bagel Guillotine website would like us to know that their product has been clocked at slicing 20 bagels per minute. Who are these people who are eating 20 bagels in the morning?? I’ll tell you what. You have 20 -or 40, or 400- bagels to slice and I’ll come over and slice them personally. Just don’t ask me to use an electric knife.

And as a bonus, I present the all-time worst kitchen gadget I have ever seen: The OCTODOG. This is from, but I’m afraid of posting the picture on my blog, so you’ll have to link to their site if you want to see this monstrosity. But if you’ve read this far, I bet you do.

Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme

Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme

I couldn’t

resist picking up a pumpkin from the market the other day, even though I find them bland and much prefer cooking with a more toothsome squash such as a Butternut, Acorn or Hubbard. The marché had an absolute mountain of them –all for $4- and Noah, pointing excitedly and kicked his legs, informed me:

“Bal! Bal!” .

“No, those aren’t

balls, their pumpkins, Sweetheart”. I educated him, to no effect.

“Bal. Bal.”

Ok, we’ll get one.

He had lots of fun rolling around on the floor at home with it and I though, well, why not? It’s round and he can play with it, so it is a ball of sorts, now how am I going to cook this ball?

Pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie seem to be the only two ways people know how to cook pumpkin .Most people I know don’t even like pumpkin pie ( I do, but do I want to eat a whole pie? No thanks) and although a nice pumpkin coconut curry soup sounds like it would hit the spot, I remember an old recipe of mine for Maple Pumpkin Pots de Crème.

Traditionally made with chocolate, these are small baked custards are similar to crème caramel, but even easier to make. This recipe is simple as well, but tastes wonderfully intricate. A party in your mouth!

Maple Pumpkin Pots de Crème

Ingredients :

1 cup heavy cream

¾ cup whole milk

¾ cup pure maple syrup

½ cup pureed pumpkin

7 large egg yolks

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325F.

Whisk together cream, milk, syrup, and pumpkin in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Whisk together yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl.

Add hot pumpkin mixture to yolks in a slow stream, whisking constantly.

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup, then diving among ramekins. Bake custards in a hot water bath, pan covered tightly with foil, in the middle of the oven until set. 30-35 minutes.

Cool at room temperature. Chill until cold. Serve.

I halved the recipe and it made four ramekins. So a whole recipe would make 8-10 depending on the size of your custard cups and how full you fill them.

A Gingerbread House. The Story.

I haven’t made a gingerbread house in years and the other day I decided that I wouldn’t let another holiday season go by without having some fun with one.
I grabbed some grid paper and sketched out something I though would be fun and challenging (not to mention totally yummy). Yes, Christmas is two months away, but these things take time and planning; besides, the time to buy the candy is after Halloween! I’m looking forward to my little project and thinking about it got me remembering back to long, long ago when Danny and I put our dating relationship to a serious test…. We were young and in love and blissfully unaware of how we were about to butt heads and learn a little bit about how stubborn the other was. We constructed a massive, two-story house with real sugar glass windows, beautiful frost trees, and a gabled roof.
I was the cook and the artist who fully believed that those skills combine was all it took to make a beautiful gingerbread house. Danny was the architect/engineer who believed that I was on a downhill slope without his protractor, grid paper and calculator. We argued over most details. Most of my problem solving Danny found appalling. Have a crooked wall? Add more icing! Chimny too short? Stack some more candies on there. There’s no building code here, honey. It’s OK if the house is not level.
Well Danny is not one to back down easily and even though we were in the kitchen (my domaine) he gave me a lot of trouble!
It was a real eye opener into our relationship and a good lesson on working together. Probably the hero in the situation was Danny’s mother, who let us take over her kitchen for three days and cover every surface in sugar and dough. The place was a mess. You could almost skate on the sugar that crusted the floor when we were finished. Aye! But most importantly, the house was very impressive. Such fun. I wish I could find a picture….someday. All that said, I wish to invite you and challenge you to make a gingerbread house this year! Get inspired! Start small, so it’s not too overwhelming, and have lots of fun. There’s lots of great ‘How-to’ sites online for the beginner or the expert complete with recipes and photos. Here’s a site for ‘mini houses’ made with graham crackers.

They used these as place cards at the dinner table. Too cute!

Send me a photo of your complete house and I’ll post them all on here to share. HAVE FUN!!!

Brew yourself a Chai

“Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.”
Henry Fielding, 18th century novelist

With the colder weather coming on, I like to curl up in the afternoon with a cup of spiced chai. In our house the morning is for coffee without question, but tea has it’s place in the afternoon. Noah is napping and I have some catch-up time to myself to call a friend, read the paper or browse the latest Gourmet. My friendAmber in Guatemala brought me some green cardamom on her last visit to Montreal and this is her recipe for homemade chai. I like to make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for a few days. Then I just heat and foam up a cup whenever I feel the urge, which is fairly often! INGREDIENTS: 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin rounds 2 cinnamon sticks 1 tsp black peppercorn 10 whole cloves 6 cardamom pods 6 cups cold water 6 bags black tea 2 cups whole milk ½ cup brown sugar
Combine the first five ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Using a mallet or back of a large spoon, lightly crush or bruise the spices. Add 6 cups water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pan and simmer gently 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Add milk and sugar. Bring tea just to simmer over high heat, whisking until sugar dissolves. Strain chai into teapot and serve hot. Enjoy! You deserve it! (Check out Amber’s blog at