Squid and Chinese Celery with Garlic Butter

Squid and Chinese Celery with Garlic Butter thumbnail

Everyone’s favorite vegetable as a little child mixed with a seafood ingredient most don’t eat unless deep-fried & dunked in marinara. Weird sounding, isn’t it? Variations of this combination – squid and celery – can be found on many authentic Chinese menus. The Japanese izakaya takes the dish one step closer towards Westernization, thanks to the inclusion of garlic butter.

What makes this dish for me is the use of Chinese celery and its vibrant leaves. You can substitute with regular celery, but you will forfeit much. Chinese celery’s texture is intoxicating. It is thinner, hollow, and crisper than regular celery. Additionally, its more delicate taste and the beautiful vegetal overtones from the leaves bring this dish into the realm of addictive, chopstick fare.

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Salmon roe (ikura) and fried egg rice tower

salmon roe (ikura), fried egg on rice

Bring on the adult pop rocks. Salmon roe is one of my favorite ingredients. It truly is a fishy version of the amazing pop rock candies. Salmon roe has texture on lock down. The way the salmon roe explodes and floods the mouth with intense yet enjoyable oceanic flavor is one of life’s great food pleasures. This is an easy Japanese inspired recipe to enjoy salmon roe. It is a traditional rice bowl meets a French ring mold.

Rice and salmon roe (or ikura in Japanese) are truly made for one another, but what elevates this dish are the additions of a fried egg, a simply soy & vinegar mixture, sake, and dried seaweed. Eggs on eggs, come on that’s genius. The fried egg introduces an even more velvety texture to the luscious salmon roe. And for those that find salmon roe too intense, a trick of “cleansing” the salmon roe in sake prior to serving helps remove some of its unwanted fishiness.

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Guacamole With Tobiko Shrimp Dip

Guacamole with tobiko-shrimp salad

Guacamole is one of the world’s most favorite foods, no doubt. When there’s guacamole, there’s a fiesta. This recipe takes the famous guacamole and Asianfy’s it up with a tobiko-shrimp salad. This Asian shrimp salad topping totally transforms the dip from something familiar to something so totally new and fun. Your party guests will love it, especially when paired with the perfect corn tortilla chips.

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Black truffle carbonara spaghetti

Grated black truffle on pasta - main or secondary image

Truffles are extravagant. These are not the balls of chocolate but the funghi that grow on the roots of trees and require a reverse mortgage to purchase. When truffles are shaved onto a dish, no matter what’s on it, the plate is transfigured from something ordinary to something celestial. Eggs and truffles are a naturally wonderful and luxurious pairing. The two ingredients are like white on rice, they are just made for one another. This recipe takes this tried and true combination, and steps it up one more notch by fusing grated (not shaved) black truffles with a creamy carbonara pasta. If you make this as your pasta course before a holiday meal or special gathering, you will be transformed from someone ordinary to someone that’s a cooking deity (which is a lovely feeling, even if short lived).

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Foie gras, kobe beef burgers

Foie gras kobe beef burger

Indulgent. Decadent. Magnificent. Royal.There are hamburgers, and then there are hamburgers that will change who you are and how you lust. Something divine happens when foie gras and kobe beef, two of the world’s most luxurious and contentious ingredients, come together under one bun. They become a hamburger so rich, so succulent, so powerful, so over the top, and so necessary. Good luck trying to eat more than one.

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Sautéed Geoduck, Italian Fra Diavolo style

Sauteed geoduck spicy Italian style

The geoduck is an astonishing two-for-one special! There’s a distinct clam trunk and body. Its trunk was created to be sashimi. This is the best way to experience the large clam’s remarkable crisp texture and salty yet sweet oceanic taste. The body, however, was not created to be eaten for one perfect purpose. I have heard the geoduck body is also great raw, but it is probably best cooked. Perhaps this is so because of the geoduck’s body large size and intimidating texture (more slimy & squishy). For me, it was simple, there was only one thing I really wanted to do with the geoduck body. That was to sauté it in olive oil, over high heat, with an egregious amount of garlic & red pepper flakes – southern Italian or fra diavalo style without the tomatoes. And if you are as fortunate as I was, your geoduck will be a male and come with a pair of large clam testicles to also include in the Italian stir-fry!

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Geoduck sashimi

Geoduck sashimi

Geoduck immediately grabbed my attention when I first saw it on No Reservations years ago. Its rarity, expensive price point, renown oceanic tastes, and unique texture made geoduck an item I had to try. It became legend to me. The funny looking clam, with its large shell and what looks like a tiny elephant trunk, is typically found in the Pacific Northwest and super popular in China. I never proactively searched for geoduck and deployed a sit-back and hope I come across it somewhere approach. This plan (or lack of plan) failed me a good 10+ years. I live on the east coast, and I never saw geoduck on a menu or behind a fishmonger counter. Then one day, the geoduck gods answered my non-proactive, beckoning calls.

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Poached salmon in jalapeño and lime green Southeast Asian curry

salmon in jalapeno and lime green curry

Sometimes, we need a good roundhouse kick of extraordinary taste and aroma. A presentation of flavors that are tangy, zesty, and spicy; breathing thunderous life throughout the crevices of one’s senses.  It makes us feel alive. It implants a wide-eyed smile on our faces. We crave it, demand it, must have it. The cuisines of Southeast Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore – are all famous for its incredible complexity and heat. This recipe is my interpretation of a Southeast Asian green curry. The key differences are using fresh jalapeños and habaneros to form the base of the homemade curry paste and incorporating copious lip-smacking lime zest and juice. Not many items can match with such strong flavors. The fattiness of salmon combines nicely with this intoxicating curry. The addition of vegetables, such as mushrooms, zucchinis, and bamboo shoots, add earthiness, crunch, and body. This will warm your senses and belly.

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Raw Kale Greek Salad

Kale Greek Salad

One of the salad staples receives a superfood makeover. Kale has become a popular movement radiating across restaurants, stores, and tables of all walks and ages. It’s firm and crisp texture makes it a wonderful foundation for a salad, especially a salad full of salty overtones. I’m addicted to feta cheese, which is why I drool over super feta infested Greek salads. But no Greek salad is truly complete without a tantalizing and mouth-watering Greek-inspired dressing loaded with herbaceous dried oregano, zippy garlic, and snappy vinegar. If you are looking for a super easy and healthy salad, that’s a bit on the wild side, swap out your traditional lettuce with raw kale for this updated classic.

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Big Mac Spaghetti

Big Mac spaghetti

It an American icon, the McDonald’s Big Mac. It has captivated imaginations, suspended our taste buds, and assured us of the American Dream. I love a good Big Mac. For me, it is all in the not-so-secret secret sauce, diced onions, cheap melted cheese and shredded lettuce. The burger is an after thought to the melody of flavors and textures layered within three squishy bread vessels. So why not take my favorite elements of the Big Mac, and convert it into a pasta dish? I’ve been asking myself that for too long, and finally brought it home to reality-land for the Superbowl. As if it is worth mentioning, the Big Mac spaghetti was a hit and everyone was in full carbo-loaded, food coma bliss. The keys to this creation is a super-beefy bolognese with caramelized/charred ground beef and topping the spaghetti with the Big Mac helpings such as homemade secret sauce, shredded lettuce, diced pickles, and diced onions. Sounds weird, lettuce on pasta? Yes, but also intoxicatingly & creamy dreamy delicious!

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Cherry tomato and ricotta salata crostini

cherry tomato and ricotta salata crostini

Fluffy, powdered peaks of snow, perched on rolling red hillsides, with the taste of pure sunshine. The simplest of recipes, with much care, can result in the profound. This is one of my favorite crostini’s (sliced toast with toppings, Italian style). While it is best served outdoors on a cloudless, warm afternoon, it is also a nice reminder of those coming better days in the middle of a polar vortex. The secret to this crostini is cooking with patience and over low heat. By slowly, and gingerly sauting the whole cherry tomatoes for a long time, it gently breaks down and naturally sweetens as it cooks. Covering the red orbs of light, is one of the most underrated cheeses, ricotta salata. It is a firm cheese, unlike its cousin ricotta, and is saltier with a more barnyard flavor. But its texture, particularly when grated, is like eating pure air and a treat.

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Lobster bisque soup (using lobster heads)


“No thing ever goes to waste.” You cannot disappoint your immigrant grandmother. These words are more than a catch phrase, it is a philosophy on life, and more importantly, a philosophy on food.

This recipe makes flavorful use of any leftover lobster heads and bodies. Don’t toss out these protective skeletons after the lobster meat has already been removed and enjoyed in a sloppy lobster roll or a volcanic fra diavolo pasta. Deep, unchartered tastes lay within each lobster shell crater. Extracting these luscious and rich flavors make for a seductive bisque. Inside the head is a whitish, fatty substance called “lobster butter”, made for crafting broths. Shots of sherry/cognac, sprinkles of spices, and a dash of heavy cream heighten the sensations. And needless to write, this lobster bisque is wonderful solo or paired with other items, like a crab cake.

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Quick lobster fra diavolo, stir-fry style

Lobster fra diablo, stir-fry

The devil made me do it, and it was glorious. Lobster fra diavolo, a messiah of a recipe. Lobster, the prodigal ingredient that in the last 100 years gone from prisoner food to haute cuisine. More often than not, I find lobster bland and boring. Unless accompanied with enough butter to make Paula Dean blush, lobster tend to be overcooked, chewy and under-seasoned. Thankfully, the Italians know damn well how to make anything tasty and in this case, smothering lobster with chilies and garlic. Perfect for the holidays – typically a staple in the Feast of Seven Fishes – or special occasions.

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Black Perigord truffle pasta, simple and elegant

black truffle and butter pasta

The black Perigord truffle was made funghi flesh, and it dwelt among us. Ding dong. Make way and open the door, as royalty does not deserve to wait. Truffles, particularly the famous black Perigord and white Alba, personify luxury. They are rare and primarily found only in the wild, tucked underneath European species of oak and hazelnut trees, deep in the tree roots like a submarine. If it were not for pigs and dogs, with the nose like a heat seeking missile, the precious and glorious truffles would remain hidden, and deprive the culinary landscape.

Truffles are best served simply, letting its natural tastes sit on a pedestal. The best vessels to serve any truffle, which should be thinly shaved, is with pasta, rice, potatoes or eggs. The French also take this luxurious item to further heighten, with its deep earthiness, rich sauces to serve over only the best of meats. Experiencing truffles is uniquely personal, as the smells and tastes of a truffle differ greatly from one person to the next. For one, it may resemble the bottom of a sweaty shoe and to another it may resemble the moss found on a rock next to a running creek. Serving the freshly shaved truffle, simply yet elegantly over pasta with butter, is one of the best (and easiest) dishes to deeply experience a personal connection with the black Perigord. This is holiday eating, for sure.

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Broccoli pesto farfalle (bow-tie pasta)

Farfalle with broccoli pesto, anchovies, and walnuts

Pounded and blended herbs, sharp hard cheese, garlic, and olive oil – a tapestry of flavors and a foundation for a fountain of imagination, if you are liberal enough to break away from Italian culinary tradition. Pesto. Part sauce, part spread, part “I can put this on anything and it’d be rocking”, it is the tasty elixir shared to the world by those in Genoa, Italy. Traditionally, pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil, manually pulverized into a green pulp, by hand, by means of a mortar and pestle.

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Chicken pho

Chicken Pho

Rightfully or not so rightfully, one dish can represent an entire nation’s culinary characteristics. Stereotypical and close-minded a bit, yes, but ultimately with a degree of hidden truth, also a yes. Koreans and kimchi, Italians and spaghetti, Japanese and sushi, Mexico and burritos, England and spotted dick. For Vietnam, the one dish that sums it up is, unanimously, Pho. Quite easily, one of the best bowls of food in the world, pho is worthy of the alter it is lifted upon. Explaining in words pho’s flavorful majesty is challenging to say the least. I dare you to try. But one thing is abundantly certain. When the craving for a scrumptiously satisfying pho scratches you, the hold is all conquering and there is nothing, and I repeat, nothing, that can suppress nor redirect that desire. Food addiction in its most powerful format.

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Kale and butternut squash fried brown rice

kale and butternut squash fried brown rice

Balance, a crucial requirement in all things worthwhile and great, and essential in much more than its principle application to cooking and flavors. Health, for instance, requires balance, because without it, it is just too hard to maintain healthiness. Cheats are always one way to make it through the way. This dish is one such cheat, to get all that your body demands – vitamins, leafy dark greens, variety – in a homey one pan meal that is satisfying and leaves your taste buds dancing.

Kale is all the rage, it is everywhere. Its versatility makes it accessible in many manners, and oh yes, it is a member of the League of Superfoods. I particularly enjoy it sautéed over high heat, with plenty of garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. This fried rice recipe takes that foundation and adds to it Asian and Winter flavors, such as zippy nutmeg, chipotle chili powder, smokey bacon, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil. In keeping with the theme of balance, we pair the superfood kale with other healthy natives, such as brown rice, butternut squash, and egg, with more comforting non-healthy agents, such as smokey bacon, bacon fat, and butter, to create a Super Fried Rice!

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Leftover cranberry sauce and goat cheese crostini

Cranberry relish and goat cheese crostini

Thanksgiving without a refrigerator full of leftovers is like watching a movie only to miss the ending. It is not right, invalidating, and misses the entire point. Preparing for the Thanksgiving meal is an epic event, either destroying families and their kitchens or bringing them closer together. Mountains of thought and execution are poured into an array of dishes, which are exciting for eager individuals who enjoy slicing vegetables or wielding a pan over an open flame. Yet, that’s not where the real challenge lays. What the heck do we do with all these already cooked, stuffed into containers leftovers residing in the refrigerator? Now, that’s where the creativity is meant to shine. Let it flow, let it flow. There are countless recipes that bridge this creativity into plausible and tasty dishes that salvages and transforms the left-overs into something new and remarkable.

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Gopchang, cow intestines in Seoul’s Obaltan Restaurant

Gopchang, grilled cow intestines

Like eating beef flavored sweet butter. A texture that is silky and velvety, but with pleasant chewy teeth. Unctuously carnivorous yet purely pristine presence.

These are words typically reserved for such fan favorites as bone marrow or dry-aged rib-eye. Well, clearly you know then, I’m about to take this another direction. But I’ll give you a moment, before your mind is transformed…what if I told you that these are how I would describe Korean charcoal-grilled cow intestines? Not tripe. Not stomach. But the actual poop-shoot of the beast? O yes. Now, we are enjoying the genuine flavor of cow. My gopchang, Korean intestines, eating experience in Seoul is one that I’ll remember for a long time, and just had to share.

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Eating live baby octopus in Seoul, Korea

Live baby Korean octopus

Live baby octopus. Tentacles separated from the head. Promptly and aggressively hack the legs into more manageable pieces. Sesame oil. Side of white rice. Pair of chopsticks. Breakfast of champions.

Everyone has a checklist. Mine happens to be food-related. There are dishes I’ve been wanting to try my entire life. But, only at the right time, and the right place. For instance, eating an ortolan in Mexico would be an utter disappointment. Everyone knows that must be done in the French countryside. Eating live baby octopus, Korean style, in Seoul, was up in my list. And totally did it live up to my joyous expectations. [click to continue…]