Sunday, March 21, 2010

a change of scene

Body baring weather is quickly upon us. My season changing ritual is to head to a day spa for some desperately needed rejuvenation. It seems that Koran spas specialize in body scrubs and that is what I am looking for when shedding the winter doldrums. My current favorite is Aura Wellness Spa on 33rd Street in Manhattan. The polished interior makes me feel pampered, it has never been crowded any time I go, AND they have these amazing igloo shaped saunas and steam rooms with crystal incrusted interiors. You have to see it to believe it. The decor says relax and indulge but once you get behind the treatment-room doors it is all business. The body scrubs are SERIOUS and I happily endured the aggressive handling in order to kiss my winter skin behind.

Skipping home post-scrub all smooth and silky I passed by countless Korean restaurants with very tempting menus and I had kimchee on my mind. But pressed for time I headed straight home to stir up some miso soup for myself.
Thinly sliced vegetables cook quickly in Miso soup and still retain a little crunch.

Miso is so versatile and is really easy to use. There are many traditional recipes for miso soup, but I allow myself to improvise for a quick light meal. This version started with some stock (vegetable or chicken), the miso, a handful of thinly sliced vegetables, a sheet of nori cut into thin strips and some rice noodles. Within 10 minutes I had a delicious and very satisfying soup. 

My new skin and I are going on a week long vacation with my husband to the Caribbean Island of Antigua. I have arranged to take a cooking class while I am there with cooking instructor Nicole Arthurton who runs the cooking school out of her beautiful home. I am SO EXCITED and can't wait to share with you what I learn from Nicole when I get back.

Simple Miso Soup
4 cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1 cup of thinly sliced Vegetables (scallions, zucchini, celery, carrot, cabbage, green bean, snow pea, etc.)
1 sheet of Nori cut into thin ribbons (I fold the sheet of nori up and use a scissor to cut it)
4 oz Rice Noodles soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
4 Tbs. Miso
1 Tbs. Soy Sauce
1 Tbs. Sesame Oil

Heat the stock in a sauce pan, when it comes to a simmer add the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Ladle from the pot about half a cup of the stock and put it into a small bowl. Mix the miso into the bowl to thin it out. Pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot. Add the noodles, soy sauce and sesame oil and simmer for one more minute. ENJOY!

Rice noodles come in lots of shapes and sizes. I have seen different instructions for cooking on various packages from adding cold water, to boiling water, to luke warm water. It seems to work fine if you soak the noodles in warm water for 5-8 minutes till noodles are tender and then use them in a soup or stir fry. 

I hope you are enjoying a relaxing, wonderful vacation, Deb! Sounds terrific. I cannot wait to hear about it - especially the cooking class!

I happened to be in Whole Foods this afternoon, and picked up the ingredients for this soup. I am a huge fan of Miso Soup and it is always a must when I go out for Japanese. This was my first attempt at the soup, and I was happy to see how incredibly easy and quick it was. But it didn't taste anything remotely akin to restaurant miso. It was good - just very different. Deb - isn't miso, well...miso? What could account for such a completely dissimilar flavor? Would it have to do with the brand of miso? Are there different qualities or blends?

I followed Deb's basic recipe, but added a twist here and there. I did not use noodles. And, instead of the nori seawood, I used Akame. It is actually more noodle-like, and I used quite a bit of it, along with onions, carrots and cabbage. I intentionally filled it up with veggies and seaweed to make it a little more substantial and hearty - so I could have it for lunch all week and it would satisfy me. (My appetite is on the bigger side). The soup came out light and delicious - and filling.

But - as for the wine - there really is no wine that I would pair with this. There is honestly not one that I could think of that I would want to sip alongside Miso Soup. However, whenever I dine on Japanese food, I love to sip Sake. Not the inexpensive, warm, not-so-great quality Sake. I love the higher-end, sublime Sakes that have a higher percent of the rice grain polished away (which makes a higher quality Sake). I find the varied flavors and styles of Sake so incredibly delicious, and interesting; and I would not hesitate to make it my drink of choice when it comes to Miso Soup.

While Sake is referred to as a "rice wine", it is actually brewed more in the style of beer, then fermented like wine. Futsu-shu is ordinary Sake, with the same status as table wine. Tokubetsu is special or premium Sake - the kind I enjoy. These Sakes are distinguished by the degree to which the rice is polished.

Recently, I participated in a sushi and Sake tasting at which I tasted a wonderful line-up of premium Sakes. One of my favorites was Ama No To Heaven's Door Tokubetsu Junmai. (at least 30% of the rice grain is polished away). With a slightly earthy, raisiny flavor and subtle elegance, this Sake would work perfectly next to Miso Soup. I love the idea of this combination! The Ama No To Heaven's Door can be found for around $34.

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