Grilled fig, peach, blue cheese bechamel flatbread

Grilled flatbread of grilled peaches, figs, and blue cheese sauce

Some fruits are just made for the grill. When kissed by the flame and smoke, the tapestries of sugars caramelize into flavors of decadence. Peaches and figs are two such fruits that undergo such a majestic transformation. One the pride of Georgia, and the other, the Mediterranean aphrodisiac enjoyed by the gods. Both come into season later in the summer. Both also pair deliciously with blue cheese.

This recipe is a perfect summertime appetizer. Luscious, radiant, and sensual, it will perk up any cookout gathering. And seriously, who does not love a quick grilled flatbread? Especially one that is complex in flavors and textures. The sweet tang of a reduced balsamic glaze, peppery notes from an arugula salad, the funky and velvety blue cheese bechamel, all are agents of deepness that ultimately help the grilled peaches and figs shine intently. There are many different steps and activities happening at the same time for this recipe. So I recommend making this with some friends. All the better.

Grilled fig, peach flatbread with blue cheese bechamel

 

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Salad of strawberry, blueberry, tofu and blue cheese

Strawberry, blueberry, tofu, blue cheese, balsamic glaze salad

Red, white, and blue. This salad is a patriot, as well as crisp and refreshing. A seasonal summertime salad that uses these fruits are at their juiciest and more fragrant. Seared tofu, the odd ball in this lot, brings to the dish its subtle flavor but more important, its silky texture. The rich, velvety texture of tofu seems to get overlooked by those that admonish its lack of taste.

The blue cheese and the syrupy sweet yet tangy reduced balsamic glaze tie this fruit salad together. They also drive such depth and umami. So whilst this may seem like a simple fruit-related salad from a distance, it is fully loaded in flavor that is satisfying, yet light. This is a great grill-out companion or a lovely lunch alternative.

Strawberry, blueberry, tofu, blue cheese, balsamic glaze salad

 

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Sweet and sour balsamic and red wine vinegar braised chicken

balsamic and red wine braised chicken

Chicken – bland, boring, dry, and pedestrian. That sounds like someone I used to know…Times, they are a-changing. Of course chicken sucks when it is cooked inappropriately. So we have to cook it appropriately and in ways that are exciting yet accentuating of its natural essence. This is one such recipe where braised chicken shines and is generously elevated in simple complexity.

Elements of Sicilian-Italian and Asian resonant in this braising liquid. All at once, the chicken’s braising liquid makes lips smack from sourness, sweetness, and spiciness. The balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar together may sound too intense, but in actuality, when braised they mellow out into a unique bath that will make anyone a fan of this chicken dish. Your taste buds will punch you right back in the face, in a good way.

sweet sour braised chicken

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Broccoli pesto crostini

Broccoli pesto crostini

I’m sorry to do this to you pesto. You are not only the pride and joy of Genoa, but you are the one of the world’s favorite sauces/pastes. Your versatility is legion and can make mustard jealous in some circles. You are many great things, but one such thing you are not is a super health food.

That is until now that is, and after some bastardization. I’m fascinated with pureeing different items to create different types of pesto beyond the originally famous basil variety. One variation I greatly enjoy, and is packed full of nutrients and benefits, is with broccoli. For this recipe, I recommend sautéing the broccoli with garlic before having it enter its vessel of sharp shredded death. This imparts an extra layer of broccoli flavor, which makes for a tantalizing pesto to gorgeously lather onto bread as crostini. An easy appetizer or starter for when you have company, or bootcamp pre-game.

broccoli pesto

 

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Old Bay crab pasta with creamy tomato sauce

Old Bay crab pasta with creamy tomato sauce

Crab cakes and football, that’s what Maryland does! Growing up close to the Chesapeake, we grew up enjoying live blue crabs and of course, covered them Old Bay Seasoning. The elixir of life of Baltimore and the delight of any finger licker. This crab pasta dish is an Italian homage to my blue crab plucking days.

A creamy tomato sauce is hijacked with cajun-like flavors: sweet bell peppers, fragrant shallots, vibrant white wine, and of course, plenty of Old Bay Seasoning. Yet, the lump crab meat is the real star and it maintains its essentialness when paired brilliantly with this lively and luscious tomato sauce. This is a splendid pasta to serve on a humid spring or summer evening. I’d also recommend eating this outdoors, all the better.

Old Bay crab pasta with creamy tomato sauce

 

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Grilled portobello mushroom doenjang jjigae

Grilled portobello mushroom doenjang jjigae

Koreans know their stews, called jjigae. Its culinary foundation is stew, and quite a diversity of them. Jjigae is something that warms the belly and for me, comforts the heart. Even in the midst of a muggy summer, I’m enjoying my jjigaes.

Doenjang is the famous Korean fermented bean paste. Truly a unique flavor that’s rich, unctuous, and slightly off, but utterly addicting. Personally, this paste comprises the base flavoring for some of my favorite soups. This recipe is a spin on the most popular and well-eaten Doenjang Jjigae. This soup is always enjoyed with vegetables – typically zucchini, squash, potato – and tofu. My rendition pairs the strong doenjang with another boisterous, summertime taste – whole grilled portobello mushrooms with olive oil. The grill’s flame transforms the portobello and its fire-kissed funghi flavor brings this jjigae to a whole new world. And not to overlook, the subtle olive oil tastes also pairs phenomenally. Olive oil and Korean food, pretty nice.

You’ll enjoy this, no matter the season and your current views on Asian stews. Not to forget mentioning, it is fairly straight-forward to prepare and preparing a whole batch makes for many meals to follow.

Grilled portobello mushroom doenjang jjigae

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Sicilian inspired chicken meatballs in bell pepper tomato sauce

Sicilian chicken meatball

Chicken meatballs. I once thought these were sacrilegious.  Too healthy, lean and dry, and worst off, untraditional. My thinking of food, thankfully, continues to evolve. And if you’re a current believer that chicken meatballs are second-rate to beef/pork meatballs, I hope this recipe changes your mind.

This recipe for chicken meatballs makes sure the meatballs are full of flavor and moisture. Capers, sun-dried tomatoes, thyme, and more are stuffed into the meatball. These also introduce notes of Sicilian flavors. The bursts of brine from the capers adds spark whilst the texture and sweet radiance from the sun-dried tomato shines. The milk soaked bread and eggs make sure this meatball remains succulent and soft. Nobody likes a hard meatball. The bell pepper tomato sauce is a bit different. The bell peppers give it a slightly sweeter taste. And it helps counterbalance the anchovy filets (also Sicilian) that are in the tomato sauce to create a simple, yet sweet and savory tomato sauce. And of course, pecorino cheese is the only one that will do to top of this Sicilian-ness.

Chicken meatballs will receive their due with this plate. This will turn heads.

Sicilian chicken meatballs

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Summertime broccoli, ricotta, and cottage cheese lasagna

Broccoli summer lasagna

Lasagnas are all-year long food. This majestic layered pasta dish is usually associated in winter months, heavy béchamel sauce, and unctuous meaty bolognese. Truly, this is the traditional. But such a limitation does not have to exist.

Rather than using the proper but laborious homemade béchamel, this summertime rendition uses ricotta cheese and cottage cheese. Broccoli is quickly blanched, minced and folded into the ricotta cheese. The vegetal taste permeates and brings new life to the lasagna. And rather than a meaty bolognese, this summer remix uses two different tomato-based sauces for double the sunshine-ness. The first is the more traditional canned tomato sauce. The second is a gently simmered mix of cherry tomatoes.

But what kicks this over the top, and my favorite aspect, the cottage cheese. Its texture, mouth feel, and flavor is divine in a lasagna. This lasagna may be enjoyed hot or cold. And your family and friends will dig your relatively healthiness and creativity.

Broccoli, ricotta, cottage cheese lasagna

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Bone marrow, maple syrup glaze, and fresh Canadian strugeon caviar

Bone marrow, maple syrup, caviar

This is one of those dishes that make gods and mortals quiver in stunned reverence. A plate that Anthony Bourdain can write about for chapter upon chapter that could rival Herman Millville. A bite of food that electrifies all those tiny strands of body hair and cause them to brazenly stand erect on end. We can thank the demonish ingenuity and craft of those at Au Pied de Cochon in gorgeous Montreal.

Bone marrow is cooked to its unctuous perfection. The ultra primitive and deep flesh carnivorous flavor is transformed with a sweet, but not overpoweringly sweet, maple syrup glaze. The restaurant’s owner does run a Sugar Shack on the other side of town and believes great maple syrup is as rare as truffles or caviar. This alone would have made any human being smile to perpetual delight. But we’re not done. Au Pied de Cochon then tops this off with fresh local Canadian sturgeon caviar. These nuggets do not pack the punch of Beluga caviar and that is why it worked. The salty and oceanic accents were subtle, yet present. And whether eaten simply with a spoon or smeared onto proper toast, this is one of those dishes you’ll never forgot and must share.

Bone marrow, maple syrup, caviar

 

Strawberry, cucumber, mozzarella, and dill salad

Strawberry, cucumber, mozzarella, and dill salad

Summer begs for food experimentation and easy to make side dishes/salads. Fresh ingredients are in abundance and cook-outs are scheduled left and right. Dining on potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, etc are fine, but does get repetitive. I view it has a challenge to think outside the box and construct side dishes and salads that are just outside the norm. This is my latest concoction: strawberry, cucumber, and mozzarella salad with dill and a simple Greek lemon-olive oil dressing.

Strawberries and cucumbers, what a fantastic pairing. The strawberries are succulent pulp and sweet, while the cucumbers are crisp and refreshing. Together, they companion well with the silky, subtle mozzarella. The fresh dill brings a unique taste, typically not served with strawberries and mozzarella. And the simple dressing of fresh lemon juice and olive oil brings a Greek Mediterranean warmth, thanks to its bright acidity.

Lots of different textures and tastes are found in each nook and cranny of this salad. You can eat this salad as is on its own side dish, which is how I prefer it. Yet, it also goes well on top of leafy greens as a proper salad. Try serving this with grilled chicken or scallops.

Strawberry, cucumber, mozzarella, and dill salad

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Currywurst Americanized, grilled bratwurst with homemade curry

Currywurst, grilled bratwurst, homemade curry, bun

Currywurst, the great German street food and culinary icon. It takes the best of two, totally different cuisines, and creates a smashing snack. In the proper German version, bratwurst is first steamed, then fried, and chopped into bite sized pieces. Then a fragrant mixture of ketchup and copious amounts of curry powder top the bratwurst. This, with fries, and beer; a legendary German snack for the people.

For the summertime, I have my own interpretation of this classic street fare. The first twist is serving the bratwurst in a hot dog bun with yellow mustard. This is my American spin. The second twist is grilling the bratwurst. I particularly love the char that an open flame imparts on bratwurst. And the final twist is crafting from scratch a homemade, sweet yet spicy, tomato curry sauce. This is the traditional ketchup plus curry powder kicked up a notch.

Save on the airfare to Germany, although you should visit, and grill these currywursts up for your guests. The exotic flavors will captivate and the grilled currywurst will definitely satisfy.

Currywurst with homemade tomato curry

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Homemade pimento cheeseburger with spicy pickles

Homemade pimento cheeseburger on english muffin

Grilled burgers and summer, a spectacular no-brainer. An American pastime that turns so many smiles. In my opinion, hamburgers are meant to be simple. I only season my ground meat with salt and pepper before forming them into patties. Using a mixture of fattier ground chuck and leaner ground beef creates the ideal meat-to-fat ratio. Serving dry, overcooked, and under-seasoned hamburgers should be a punishable crime.

This hamburger receives inspiration from down South. Pimento cheese is a Southern cultural icon, the Caviar of the South. A treat for the uninitiated . It is a spread of cheese, mayo, pimento peppers, and other delectable bits. I like to use fresh pimento peppers, rather than canned. This creamy and sweet flavored spread accompanies the fatty juicy and charred burgers. The inclusion of spicy pickles adds acid, heat, and more Southern charm ala Chick-fil-A. And I like to serve homemade burgers on toasted English muffins. Different yet so natural.

This unique hamburger recipe, borrowing some Southern ingenuity, will leave tastebuds satisfied and America proud.

Southern burger with pimento cheese

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Shrimp and corn summertime cold salad, Southern and Greek inspired

Grilled corn and shrimp cold salad

Natural sweetness that cometh from the land and sea. Corn and shrimp are innate culinary partners. The sweetness of the sun and the buttery saltiness of the sea are captured in these essential summertime ingredients. The combination of shrimp and corn is one fully appreciated in Southern cooking, and in my own. Together, corn and shrimp shine brighter than individually on their own. They create one of my favorite foundations for a variety of summertime cold salads.

This particular recipe further accentuates the radiant sweet flavors with – totally underutilized Mediterranean herbs – dill and majoram. The shrimp are prepared Southern style in a rapid blanche of lemony, flavored water. The corn are roasted and caramelized over the grill, then knifed off the cob. The inclusion of jalapenos turn on the flavor jet engines. The briny and creamy feta cheese and plenty of lemon tie this summertime together and brings us more Greek-like infusion.

You and your friends will dig this simple and stunning salad at your next outdoor grilling session.

Summertime cold salad of shrimp and grilled corn

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NY strip steak au poivre with mushrooms and bourbon

NY Strip steak au poirve with mushrooms

Steak au poirve was born for romance. A classic French dish that transcends time and culture. Steak, encrusted in crushed peppercorns, seared, and served with a creamy and alcoholic sauce. On paper, it does not sound like a Disney fairytale. Yet, the tapestry these ingredients and techniques weave is like a silent promise you never need to speak of with someone.

Typically, this recipe is cooked with filet mignon. This cut of meat is too delicate and flavorless. I prefer NY Strip Steak. It is also the best cut of meat for ultra rare (black and blue) steaks. The classic recipe calls for cognac. Use it if you have it, but bourbon substitutes fabulously. The addition of cremini mushrooms is also not traditional, but their earthiness pairs with the sweet, creamy sauce and fragrant encrusted steak.

Peppercorn crusted steak

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Habanero cheddar grilled cheese sandwich with tomato chutney

Habanero cheddar grilled cheese, tomato chutney

Grilled cheese sandwiches are God-sends. A comforting and always appreciated go-to dish that is easy to make. This is my kicked-up version. I’m addicted to habanero cheddar cheese. The heat in this cheese is intoxicating, somewhat blistering but totally enjoyable. The heat from habanero cheddar have the gorgeous ability of starting out softly and gradually build into something spicy but tolerable. This is unlike if you just eat a habanero straight up. This grilled cheese variation uses a mix of the habanero cheddar and regular cheddar cheeses. The spice from the habanero is diluted a bit, but still shines.

I like to serve this hotter style of grilled cheese with an Indian-inspired, flavorful tomato chutney. The cool, aromatic, and acidic yet sweet tomato chutney brings balance and depth to the dish. The tamarind pulp is the secret and key to making the tomato chutney different and memory. This, combined with the habanero grilled cheese is the bomb. This ain’t your normal grilled cheese!

Grilled cheese with habanero and tomato chutney

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Penne pasta with salmon, fiddlehead ferns, creamy tomato sauce

Penne salmon fiddleheads creamy tomato sauce

This has become one of my favorite pastas to eat. It is different and seasonal, making it a primetime dish to serve for friends. Gently baked salmon brings oceanic silkiness and fattiness. Sautéed fiddlehead ferns bring a forest-like asparagus taste and a uniquely firm yet soft texture. Both of these work gorgeously with pasta.

These two ingredients transform the traditional penne ala vodka to something irresistibly satisfying. This recipe also swaps out the vodka for the sweetness of dry white wine. Trust me, you won’t miss the vodka one bit. I dare you to eat less than two bowls of this.

Fiddleheads

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Chorizo and mushroom tacos, with scallion salsa

Chorizo and Crimini Mushroom Taco

Chorizo sausage is one of those guilty pleasures. Fatty chunks of tubular pork generously spiced with rich smoked paprika and chilies. This is a perfect ingredient to buttress a fun to prepare taco bar.

This recipe’s main ingredient is definitely the mild and smokey chorizo. Yet, not to be overlooked are the roasted crimini mushrooms with scallions. Crimini mushrooms are one of my favorites. They have such great flush texture and a subtly strong funghi flavor. When roasted with plenty of spring onions/scallions, they make for a great pairing with chorizo. However, a taco is only as good as its orchestration of all the parts.

What transforms this chorizo and mushroom taco from ordinary to memorable are the raw scallion salsa, sour cream with lime juice, and queso fresco. The raw scallion salsa – which is flavored heavily with balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, jalapeño, and honey – fortifes the already roasted scallions with the mushrooms. Scallions scream springtime and brings much wanted freshness to the chorizo. And everybody knows, no “Americanized” taco is ever complete with sour cream (watered down with lime juice) and cheese.

Mixed mushrooms and chorizo

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Korean spicy roasted pork neck soup

Korean spicy pork neck stew

Koreans are culinary masters in crafting richly flavored and comforting stews. One of the foundations of true Korean cuisine are its soups and stews, known as jjigae’s and tang’s. There are varieties of all kind and they are meals in themselves. Loaded with ingredients and flavors, Korean stews satisfy any appetite and culinary curiosity.

The following recipe is one of my favorite Korean soups. It has a little bit of everything. An intensely spicy and umami rich pork-flavored broth, created from braising unctuous and succulent roasted pork neck bones, is the background for a tapestry of tastes and ingredients. Napa cabbage soaks up the spicy hot broth, the two kinds of mushrooms present chewy textural contrast, the bean sprouts offer a pleasant snap, and the tofu brings its silky smooth mouthfeel. And no Korean stew is ever complete without the holy trinity: Korean red pepper flakes, Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) and Korean fermented soy bean paste (doenjang).

This Korean stew requires some prep time, but is easy to make. And the results will warm up any soul (and make them sweat).

Korean spicy pork neck soup

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Grape tomato cacio e pepe, a Roman pasta classic twist

Grape tomato cacio e pepe

Classics, with a twist. This statement certainly turns heads. Either you embrace the idea of modifying a tried and true dish or you proclaim heresy and admonish those individuals that go tempering with tradition. I straddle both sides of the coin.

Cacio e pepe is one of Rome’s greatest pastas. Roman food is simplicity at its finest. Homemade fresh noodle pasta, olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper, and cheese. That is it. And that is all that is ever needed in this comforting yet transcendent pasta. The exotic tastiness from an abundance of freshly cracked black pepper, paired with salty yet tangy hard grated hard Italian cheeses, like Pecorino, is divine. So why go messing with perfection?

Well, because sometimes your taste buds go rouge. I love to gently saute and simmer fresh grape tomatoes with garlic over low heat, in olive oil, for 30 minutes. With this technique, the grape tomatoes gently break down, exude their juices and flavors, turn slightly sweet, and taste of pure radiance. Combining this profound, yet simple way to cook grape tomatoes and garlic, with cacio e pepe and butter creates a pasta plate worthy of dinner parties and family outings. The freshness of the grape tomatoes and the nuttiness from the butter transform the cacio e pepe, and makes it more spring-summer-like. Your family and friends will love you for serving them this elegant, yet easy to make, pasta classic with a twist.

Sautéing the grape tomatoes with garlic

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Red wine braised oxtail on parmesan couscous

Red wine braised oxtail on couscous

Turn on an Alizee song, light up your fireplace, and grab your current favorite reading piece, because classical and comforting food is coming your way.

Braised dishes are grand and homey, perfect for an intimate dinner or group gathering. They are the Swiss Army knife of the culinary world. Just about anything – meat, fish, vegetable – cooked low and slow in a flavorful bath will be remarkable. This is all the more true when braising one of the most unctuous, royal, and yet misunderstood of ingredients – oxtails. Of course, they are one of my favorites.

Oxtails are the reason why French onion soups and rich demi-glazes exist. They are one of the tastiest parts of the cow and most importantly, so full of marrow and gelatinous fats/tendons that just naturally melt into any soup, stock, or braise when asked to. I have friends that turn up their nose when they hear “oxtails”, but I guarantee this recipe will turn heads and change oxtail affiliations at your next dinner party.

The red wine braise is a classic French style of cooking. The acid from the wine helps further tenderize the oxtail. And throughout the braising process, the oxtail flavors meld into the wine and other aromatics (such as tomato paste, garlic and thyme to name a few) to craft a delectable and deeply satisfying braising liquid, which doubles as our sauce. A simple couscous, polenta or rice underneath the oxtail help soap up all the euphoric marrow-laced and beefy fatty braising liquid. Your family and friends will think of you as a hero.

Two red wine braised oxtails on couscous

 

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