Bitter Melon: Lowly Vegetable? May 29, 2009

bittermellon1 I don’t think many of us eat bitter melons regularly, the way we do spinach or lettuce.  Two possible reasons explain this lack of popularity:  it isn’t sold in supermarkets (you’d have to buy them from an ethnic store) and the sharp bitter taste can leave people gagging (that might be an exaggeration though; "scowling" might be more appropriate).

Let’s not, however, dismiss it just yet from our North American diet.  It is a vegetable that has promising health benefits; otherwise, why would the National Bitter Melon Council be formed to promote it (  The Council speaks of bitter melon as beneficial for diabetes and HIV patients. 

Regarding diabetes, the Council says "studies suggest that bitter melon may play a role in controlling the production of insulin by the body, thus promoting blood sugar control. The hypoglycemic effect is more pronounced in the fruit of Bitter Melon where these chemicals are found in the highest quantity. Some of the documented studies show this bitter gourd to enhance cells’ uptake of glucose, to promote insulin release, and to make the effect of insulin more potent. Some even document Bitter Melon’s effect on total cholesterol reduction." 

It didn’t say what studies these were, but they’re not the only ones who say so.  People I meet in Asian stores who fill their carts with this vegetable say "I have diabetes so I try to eat this often."

Studies of bitter melon and HIV appear to have more evidence.   "In one study done in Los Angeles in 1992, as many as 100 persons with AIDS or HIV tried using Bitter Melon as a possible herbal AIDS treatment. Interest in Bitter Melon for HIV began when academic researchers found two proteins in Bitter Melon which inhibited HIV in lab tests: MAP 30 and momorcharain."

The National Bitter Melon Council does a good job of promoting bitter melon because the web site holds credibility.  I believe it is run by four people who are active in social and community development, sharing their ideas on healthy neighborhoods.  Many Asians don’t need to be persuaded to eat it, but I’m delighted that this lowly vegetable has the potential of going from lowly to "spotlight."

There are many recipes for bitter melon.  I cook it the way I learned it back home.  It’s a very easy recipe needing only garlic, onions, tomatoes, a beef or chicken bullion cube, and an egg which is added into the pan a few minutes before serving.  The egg is scrambled into the mixture.

A few tips for you:

1.  When you’re ready to cook it, slice it lengthwise as in the picture below.


2.  When sliced, this is what the inside looks like:


3.  Scoop out the seeds and flesh, using either a melon scooper or a knife.


4.  When the seeds and flesh have been removed, slice them thinly (about 2-3 cm) beginning at the tip.


5.  When you’re done slicing, rub them with salt (this is to remove some of the bitter taste – note I said "some").  Set aside for 10-15 minutes.  Rinse thoroughly with cold running water.


At this point, your bitter melon is ready to cook.  For my recipe, I’d be happy to send it to you if you leave me your name and email.  If you want to search for recipes on your own, please do – you’ll find a few versions on youtube and on other web sites.



Mussel Recipe # 2 May 27, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 9:13 am
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I’m feeling ambivalent about this mussel recipe which is called Mussels Provençal.  Where’s the white wine, I asked myself, when I went through the ingredient list that Loblaws provided. 

I have a sneaky suspicion that Mussels Provençal is one of those recipes that have been tweaked many times by chefs the world over, and innovated upon by homemakers.  Hence no one can claim that there is one and only one way to make Mussels Provençal.

This Loblaws recipe is fairly easy, and judging from the ingredient list, you need not search far and wide, because the ingredients are probably in your cupboard anyway!


2 bags Blue Mussels

250 ml clam juice

4 cloves garlic, shopped

4 shallots (green onions or scallions)

2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced roughly

2 fennel seeds

2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped

1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

12 black olives, pitted and chopped

150 ml cooking cream, 15% m.f. (optional)


1.  Wash mussels thoroughly with cold, running water.  Place them in a large saucepan with the clam juice, garlic, shallots, tomatoes and fennel seeds (you can also use star anise).

2.  Cover and cook over high heat for about 3 minutes.  At midpoint, stir well to make sure mussels open well.  Continue to cook for 3 minutes longer.  Remove mussels from the pot.  Set aside.

3.  Bring cooking broth to a boil then add the herbs, olives, cream (if using) and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes.  Mix well and drizzle mussels with prepared sauce.  Serve on warm plates.

Note:  to add an extra touch of Provençal flavor, add 1 tbsp of black olive tapenade to broth in step 3.

Now, I happen to stumble upon this youtube video about how to cook Mussel Provençal by Jean-Pierre, a French chef.  He uses white wine, and mentions nothing about olives.  He says don’t buy cheap wine to make this recipe.  Invest in a good bottle of wine so that when the mussels absorb the wine, you get that added bonus of taste.

I strongly encourage you to watch the video.  Jean-Pierre is not only a chef, he’s a real entertainer!

If you’ll notice, his recipe does not have many ingredients either and there’s nothing complicated with his method.  His only requirement is that you don’t skimp on that wine.



Mussel Recipe # 1 May 25, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 9:52 am
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mussels6 Rich in selenium, zinc, folic acid and B12 vitamins, mussels are a personal favorite.  Last Saturday, I went to the supermarket’s seafood section and saw a huge crowd milling about.  “Don’t tell me they’ve raided the mussel bin already,” I mused. 

Upon closer look, I was relieved.  They were stuffing their plastic bags with live lobsters, plucking the creatures from six or seven large crates filled to the brim.

I approached the counter and asked if they had any mussels left.  “Lobsters?”  The young man asked.

I shook my head, “No, mussels.”  He gave me a funny look.  Here was an unruly crowd getting excited over lobsters and I’m asking for mussels.

“Over here.” The sales clerk pointed to an area behind him.  I spotted two lonely bags and I almost changed my mind.  I was worried that they had been there for some time, but the tag had an expiry date of about 3-4 days more so I grabbed one bag and headed for the cash.  I could almost taste the mussel broth that I enjoyed as a child back home.

Mulling Mussels

Fact # 1:  Mussels must be cooked upon purchase.  They will hold in the fridge for up to a week, but I would not wait that long.  I cook them the next day, at the very latest.

Fact # 2:  Most of the mussels we buy from seafood places are usually farmed, as opposed to wild but they will still smell “like the ocean”, as some writers put it.

Fact # 3:  Mussels have a “beard” sticking out of the shell.  This should be pulled out.  They must be rinsed in cold water, at least three or four times.  A good brushing is also recommended.

Fact # 4:  People steam their mussels to open them.  After that, they add their wine or make a sauce.

My favorite mussel recipe follows.  It’s a very basic recipe.  I don’t steam them; instead I add about 6 cups of water to make broth.  The taste is tangy and gingery.


1 bag of mussels -about 2-3 pounds – (make sure they are tightly closed when you buy them).

4 tbsp onions, chopped  

2-3 tbsp ginger, cut into thin julienne stripsmussels(a)

1-1/2 tbsp crushed garlic

5 tbsp oil (canola or vegetable)

6 cups of water

salt and pepper to taste



  1. Wash mussels thoroughly with cold water.  Remove the “beard.”  Give mussels a good brushing.
  2. Chop your onions, crush your garlic and cut ginger into thin strips.
  3. Heat oil for 2 minutes.  Put ginger, onions and garlic and sauté for about 3-4 minutes.  Lower heat if garlic begins to burn.
  4. Pour 6 cups water.  Allow to boil.  second set
  5. Add your mussels and cover pot.  Lower heat and let the mussels simmer (about 15-20 minutes).
  6. Open pot and inspect mussels.  They should be open by now.  Orange-colored flesh indicates mussel is female; a whiter tinge, male.
  7. Serve in a soup bowl.  You can garnish with parsley, but this isn’t necessary.

In my next blog, I’ll post mussel recipe # 2 –  Mussels Provencal.


Recipe Software May 23, 2009

Filed under: Tip of the Day — sotsil @ 10:53 am
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For those who write or create recipes regularly, it could be a laborious and cumbersome task. I wondered if people with food and beverage blogs who need to post recipes have an efficient way of doing it – like using a recipe template.

I googled “recipe software” and was amazed to discover that there are at least 10 different programs. What I was looking for in particular was  software that had a built-in memory so that if I wrote say “2 tablespoons”, it would pick it up, saving me precious seconds to write out the rest of the measurements and procedure.

My online research about recipe software revealed interesting features that are now standard and built into many software programs:

* recipe search

* recipe editing

* recipe categorization

* adjustable serving portions

* detailed ingredients analysis

* printing shopping lists and recipe cards

A few recipe software programs have additional features like the capability to add new recipes, photographs and videos, spell checker, recipe drag and drop, menu planners (weekly, monthly), package size conversion, nutritional data, tutorials and a few more features.

The web site Ten Top Reviews ( looked at 10 recipe software programs and did a side-by-side comparison.  The criteria they used were extensive and included customer ratings. 

Fortunately the price range for these recipe software programs is not out of reach, they sell between $20.00 and $45.00.  That’s a steal, given that most of them contain thousands of recipes because they’ve partnered up with the big cooking/baking names like Betty Crocker and Homes and Garden.

recipe software If you’re looking for a recipe software program that will make your work easier, visit the link I provided above and read the reviews. 

I might try Oven Bake.  It had the highest ratings.  I’ll have to find out though if it offers a trial period.  It looks promising and if it performs   as it claims, food bloggers will find it a useful tool. 

Oh, one last thing:  a few programs have the “mobile” feature.  This means if you’re in the grocery store, you can just log on using your phone to find out what ingredients you need to buy.  This way, you don’t need to call home and ask your house mate to dig up the recipe and read out the ingredients to you – assuming of course someone’s home!


Short Cut Shish Taouk Chicken May 21, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 7:08 pm
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A week ago, I had to rush to the supermarket to buy some whipped cream for a panna cotta dessert to serve for brunch.  On my way to the dairy aisle, I was stopped by a food demonstrator. “Ma’am, would you like to try some shish taouk?”  He handed me a generous slice that matched his generous smile.

My taste buds woke up with a jolt.  “Do you have a recipe?” I asked.  He pointed to the shelf behind him where packaged trays of marinated chicken were lined up.  “Here they are,”  he said.

“You mean, that’s it – just put them on the grill?”  He grinned sheepishly.  “I actually put dollops of this.”  He showed me a Classico sauce bottle called Alfredo and Roasted Garlic.  “Anyway, it’s my own version,” he said with a hint of embarrassment.

I loved it.

Supermarkets in large cities like Montreal now sell chicken parts (mostly breasts, thighs and legs) marinated in shish taouk sauce which people throw into their barbecue grill.

Shish taouk is actually Turkish in origin, according to Wikipedia, which means “skewers”, but is also popular in Syria, Lebanon and Israel.  I have a weakness for Middle Eastern food, which is why I like to shop often in  stores that sell Arabic cuisine.  They seem to have the best nuts as well.

We’re lucky to have Adonis in Montreal.  Adonis is a large supermarket chain that specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine.  They have the best shish taouk chicken I’ve ever tasted.  They sell them fresh or already grilled.  They throw in two large-size pitas and two extra cups of garlic sauce when you buy them already grilled.  They’re opening a branch nearer my place so I’m looking forward to opening day.  In the branch I used to shop,  parking was atrocious (Montrealers come in droves, at all times of the day). They have specialty ice cream, the freshest fruits and vegetables imaginable, and a nut counter that you can’t resist.  Their cold cuts and pastry counters carry an impressive array of goodies that you won’t find anywhere else.  If you should ever visit Montreal, make it a point to drop by Adonis; that is, if you’re a full-fledged foodie.

If you like Shish taouk like I do, here’s a quick way to make it:


  • 1 packaged tray of Shish Taouk chicken (if your supermarket does not sell them, you can buy your favorite chicken part and marinate them overnight with garlic paste)
  • 1 bottle Classico sauce, Alfredo and Roasted Garlic (your local supermarket will have its own product line of sauces, I don’t know if they carry Classico, but I’m 99.99% sure they’ll have a brand that has a similar Alfredo and Roasted Garlic flavor)
  • 1/2 cup green onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced


  • Pre-heat your grill for five minutes, after spraying.
  • Put your chicken and grill for 5 minutes on each side.  If your parts are thick, you may want to increase grilling time by another 5 minutes.  The idea is to cook the chicken so it is no longer pink, but don’t overcook it.
  • Pre-heat your oven 350 degrees.  When the chicken parts are grilled, put them in a rectangular dish and pour the sauce generously over them.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.   shisk taouk

(The words below the picture say “short cut shish taouk before going into the oven.”  I had started to pour the sauce but realized I did not take a picture, so you’ll notice that the sauce is covering only a few pieces of chicken.  You’ll need to pour the sauce over all the chicken)

  • When you take out your chicken from the oven, sprinkle your diced green onions and red peppers on top.  Serve over a plate of wild or white rice.  A green salad like “tabouleh” would complement this dish beautifully.

shisk taouk 2

Again, the words below simply say, “short cut shish taouk before serving.” 

Tip:  if your chicken breasts are too thick, you may want to slice them into two just to make sure that they get cooked well.  Also, I noticed that the sauce tends to be on the thick side.  You could add a tablespoon or two of skimmed milk to make it less thick.  You can throw in your own garnish like sesame seeds or parsley.

This one’s definitely a keeper.  When friends say they’re dropping by, this dish is something you can prepare in about 45 minutes.  Plus you can’t beat four ingredients!



Chocolate Discovery May 19, 2009

Filed under: Desserts,Tip of the Day — sotsil @ 11:01 am
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My friend Chantal and her daughter Maryse joined me for brunch last Mother’s Day weekend and I got the chance to show off the breads that I made especially for them:  a raisin one with the usual cinnamon swirl and a round challah with finely diced red pepper and green onions stuffed inside.  But I’ll leave my recipes for those breads for a later blog.

What I wanted to share with you today was the box of chocolates that Chantal and Maryse gave me – sheer delight!  They had the perfect combination of a very subtle hint of sugar and a smooth texture – the kind that does not stay lodged in your throat.  Some chocolates seem to linger heavily in your throat probably because of the amount or type of sugar used.  These chocolates by Christophe Morel did not have that effect.   

Curious, I read the small piece of paper that was tucked neatly inside the box.  Their web site is and they are based in Boucherville, in Montreal’s south shore.  I had not heard of Christophe Morel chocolates before so this was a pleasant discovery.

About Christophe Morel:  he makes artisan chocolates and won first prize in the Coupe de Monde de la Pâtisserie in Lyon and ranks fourth among the World Chocolate Masters in Paris.  His chocolates are a collection of pralines, ganaches, caramels and what he calls “les doubles textures.”  The ones I received from Chantal and Maryse were  caramels in a lovely and solid black box; inside were glazed half balls made with roses, raspberries, lime and maple.

The way a box of chocolates should look and feel:  classic, solid

The way a box of chocolates should look and feel: classic, solid

9 colorful half balls of rose, raspberry, lime and maple blended with fine chocolate!

9 colorful half balls of rose, raspberry, lime and maple blended with fine chocolate!

The web site shows that most of their stores are in the province of Quebec, Canada, although they have branched out to Toronto.  With Morel’s credentials and his chocolate formulas, it’s only a question of time before he conquers chocolate lovers in the United States, Europe and Asia.


Exciting Puff Pastry Video Lesson May 17, 2009

Filed under: Tip of the Day — sotsil @ 5:22 pm
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Making puff pastry is one of those culinary activities that makes our heart go rub-a-dub-dub.  When it doesn’t come out the way it should, it erodes our confidence in our baking skills.  Let’s admit it, a perfect puff pastry takes practice – tons of practice.  Several things to consider:

  • the butter must never be allowed to melt; the dough must not absorb the moisture from the butter
  • you need to fold it about 6 times and let it sit in the fridge for about 10 minutes each time
  • the result must be light and flaky without that heavy butter taste
  • total working time:  an hour and a half – for a small quantity (6 hours for larger batches)

I was enchanted with this YouTube video lesson because the chef – Vah-Reh-Vah was so engaging.  He goes into detail and entertains viewers with his step-by-step procedure.  You can tell he loves what he does.  He said that in India it’s a bit more difficult to produce puff pastry because of the weather.  The chefs don’t use butter; instead they use chilled margarine.

Watch this video.  I guarantee you’ll learn, you’ll smile, and you’ll be inspired to start making puff pastry.