Dec 29, 2013

Seared Salmon Fillet with Mustard Mayo Sauce

Salmon is one of the most versatile fish used in various cuisines. Its hearty texture can sustain different ways of cooking such as steaming, searing, and even barbecuing. Don't even mention salmon's high omega-3 fatty acid, which has been proven the effect on lowering the chances of stroke and blood pressure. In addition, there are mostly big bones in salmon, even an unskilled fish eater like me can feel sound and safe while enjoying the fish.

My mom always prepares simple seared salmon for me when I was little. Basically season the salmon with some salt, drizzle just a little bit of oil, toss in some garlic cloves along with the salmon in the pan. The fish is ready once the it is just about fully cooked and the skin turns crunchy. I'm taking the same concept and bringing it up a notch by serving the fish with mustard mayo sauce. 


  • 0.8 to 1 lb of salmon fillets
  • 3 tablespoons of Japanese mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard (preferably coarse grain mustard)
  • Some sea salt
  • Some freshly ground black pepper
  • Some olive oil
  • Some mixed salad greens (optional)


The sauce is fairly easy, just mix the Japanese mayonnaise with mustard till smooth. Use coarse grain mustard if a stronger kick is preferred.

Score the fillets to help the meat gets cooked through more easily. Season the fish fillets with just a small pinch of salt and regular amount of black pepper on both sides. 

Use a nonstick pan, drizzle just enough oil to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Turn to medium high heat and wait till the temperature rises, about 20 seconds. Add in the fish, skin side down first. Sear both sides for about 2 to 3 minutes depending on the thickness. 

If you're using very thick fillet, it might be better to adjust to medium heat and sear each side for a little bit longer. You can also cover the pan with a lid so the center of the meat can get cooked through faster and more evenly. 

Arrange the salad greens and transfer the fish over. Only very little amount of olive oil was used when searing the fish, so all the extra grease in the pan are in fact good fatty fish oil. Drizzle these goodies onto the salad greens. Also add some mustard mayo sauce over the seared salmon or serve on the side. 

It's good to have some oil to eat along with salad greens, this way the nutrition can be better absorbed in our digestive system. So don't be afraid to use the oil in the pan. After all, these omega-3 fatty acid is one of the main reasons why we love salmon so much right?

Dec 24, 2013

A True Edomae Sushi Experience Presented by Sushi Aoki in Ginza Japan

How can you miss a true traditional Edomae style sushi when visiting Japan? Reserving a spot at a popular sushi joint was quite a hassle for us newbies. Jiro, the one that got onto the big screen in the United States was one of our options. Unfortunately it's not a very tourist friendly place when I found out that they prefer someone local or someone that speaks fluent Japanese in the dinner party. Tourists with no connections might even have to pay for someone local to attend the dinner together..don't even mention the average price per person at Jiro can go up to $300 US or more.

That leads to our second option, Sushi Saito. Saito is especially well-known for its bargained lunch set at ¥5,500 yen. Dinner starts at about ¥15,000 yen, just like other one Michelin starred sushi restaurants. It was a hassle for our friend in Japan to call in for a reservation since the phone line is always busy. So our third option goes to Sushi Aoki. Happily, we got our spots at Sushi Aoki on a Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. 

If you ever want to book a high end sushi meal in Japan and there's no one that can help you to make the phone calls - ask your hotel. Generally speaking, these sushi places require a credit card number to hold the seats and a cancellation fee will be applied if the reservation needs to be cancelled. Only closer friends might do such a favor for you and that's why visitors can always seek help from their hotels. 

Most hotels provide restaurant booking service for their guests. However, since my entire budget went to food and hot spring hotel in Hakone, the hotel in Tokyo that I stayed at was not so glamorous, perhaps explains why they never replied my emails requesting for assistance in dinner reservation. Either way, you get the points: book early (preferable at least one month in advance), keep calling, and credit card number handy.

Sushi Aoki has been receiving the honor of one Michelin star for 4 consecutive years, but most importantly, they seem pretty nice to tourists. Located on the second floor of Takahashi Building, the chefs welcomed us and our hot towels followed shortly.

5:30 p.m. is pretty early for such formal dining experience. Other guests didn't show up until about an hour later, which gave me an opportunity to quickly snap a shot of the seating area.

I did asked the chef before I bust out my iPhone 5S to take pictures. Flash light and silent mode course. In addition, I didn't even bring my huge Canon thinking it might look too intruding to other customers. Consideration is key and I'd rather be safe than sorry.  

Edomae 江戶前 sushi (edomae-zushi) typically can be seen as a more traditional styled sushi. You won't find other ingredients such as caviar or even a gold leaf being used. The true flavors of the ingredients are the key emphasis here with occasionally light seasonings from homemade soy sauce based dressing and salt. Keeping it fresh and simple, in other words, let the seafood speaks for themselves. 

The opening, little crab box -

Lightly seasoned with miso, perhaps a little bit of sake and mirin too. Underneath the neat looking crab legs are even more crab meat mixed with crab roes. 

Sake arrived - 

We asked the chef to pick the one he likes the most. It was crisp and clean, ideal for our light seafood feast coming ahead.

Sashimi, but I think what interests me the most is the use of thinly sliced shiso leaves mixed with radish strips -

The aroma from the shiso leaves is not overpowering, but in the other hand bright enough to showcase the crisp and light characteristics of the sashimi selection. 

One of the clam selections of the night -

At least half of our meal consists of some type of clams/shellfish, mainly because they're in season now. If I get to choose, I would love to have more fish than shellfish. However, this dining experience sort of changed my perception on shellfish. I never realized they can be so buttery and some even melts in my mouth just like a very fatty fish.

This one was crisp and crunchy with a slightly sweet taste in the end. 

Saba/mackerel - 

My sake is almost gone, switching gear to water in order to stay fully awake throughout this dining experience.

Oysters - 

They literally just glided down my throat. Slightly chilled with a wee bit buttery taste. The flavor remains clean even when I tried to bite into the oysters. For such high quality oysters, making them into dishes like the common oyster shooter back in the states would be such a waste. 

Taco/octopus -

Chef brought the octopus in front of me and asked if I would like to take a picture first. Yes, of course, thank you!

Prep work - 

Chef brushed the octopus with Aoki's homemade soy sauce based seasoning - 

Tender but not mushy since it still has a biting little resistance in the end. This dish might seem easy, but in fact, the octopus requires hours of massage by hands in order for the tentacles to reach a perfect texture.

Shellfish skewer - 

Lightly barbecued so the sweetness is even more intense here. There's also a hint of smokiness, which makes a good contrast with the light and crisp shellfish.

New hot hand towel -

Pickled ginger - 

To die for. A little bit crunchy and not fibrous at all. All you get is a touch of sourness and a juicy bite bursting in your mouth. Hands down my favorite pickled ginger ever had. How much I wish I can bring a big jar home and enjoy it with all other Asian dishes. It'll be awesome with curry and pork chop rice, it's just that versatile!

Nigiri time - 

Chutoro and Otoro maguro/tuna nigiri - 

Despite their difference in fat content, both of them just melt in my mouth. Especially the otoro, the fat literally starts melting the moment it touches my tongue.

Kohada/gizzard shad nigiri - 

Sayori/needle fish nigiri -

Kampachi nigiri -

Ika/squid nigiri - 

I put up a nigiri-making video on my Instagram (foodmakesmehappy). You can click on the image below, which should take you directly to the link that showcases how the nigiri was created - 

Mirugai/geoduck nigiri - 

Usually you would expect mirugai to be on a chewier side. In fact, it was more on the crunchy texture. I'm glad I gave my first mirugai sushi experience to Aoki especially I was never too fond of how it looks like.

Hokkaido uni/sea urchin nigiri - 

Uni on top of uni on top of uni! The gooey texture and intense miso-like sweet aroma overflowed in my mouth, even all the way to my throat. Unbelievable. 

Kuruma ebi/prawn nigiri -

Anago/salt water eel nigiri -

Don't get confused between anago and unagi. They might both translated into eels in English but the texture of anago is far more delicate and refined compared to the more common fresh water unagi. 

Tamago/eggs nigiri -

Always nice to end a sushi meal with elegantly seasoned tamago. Its light sweetness taste serves just like dessert for my palate. 

Thank you chef for such an amazing dining experience!

Our total bill rounds up about $220 US per person, that includes two omakase meals, 1 small bottle of sake, 2 bottles of beer, and 1 bottle of water. Price is about right especially dining in Ginza. 

As for my next trip to Japan, perhaps I'll try rotating sushi instead just for the fun of it and allocate the high-end dining budget to a French restaurant. French food in Japan? Yes you heard me right. You'll be surprised that Japanese can prepare a mind blowing French cuisine comparable to some of the renowned chefs in the world, or perhaps even better? 

Sushi Aoki 鮨 青木 (Ginza)
7-4, Ginza 6-Chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Takahashi Building, 2nd Floor

*Courtesy of Sushi Aoki

Lunch: 12 noon - 2 p.m.

Dinner: 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Dec 17, 2013

Wine Pairing: Lamb Ragu with Punica Barrua 2010

Punica Barrua 2010 - an Italian red wine with 85% Carignano, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot grape varieties. My friend from Wine & Taste handed me this bottle of wine and see what recipe can go with this versatile blend. 

Wine and Taste is a membership based website in Taiwan promoting wine cultures. Members receive a bottle of wine each month along with detailed information regarding its background, estate stories, pairing suggestions and more. Other services include periodic articles, recipes, event invitations, etc. Personally speaking, I think this type of service is ideal for someone who wants to know and enjoy a bottle of wine but do not have the knowledge nor time to pick one personally.

Punica Barrua comes with strong red fruits aromas and a slight hint of liquorice, which works with lamb ragu especially with the use of mint in the recipe.

Ingredients (2 to 3 portions)?

  • 0.5 lb of ground lamb
  • 1 cup of pomodoro sauce 
  • 1/2 cup of red wine 
  • 1/2 bag or 250 grams of casarecce or rigatoni pasta
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried mixed Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 big shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Few springs of fresh mint leaves
  • Some ricotta cheese
  • Some sea salt
  • Some freshly ground black pepper


Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add a few pinches of salt to flavor the water. Add in the pasta and give it a quick stir once a while, cook till al dente in texture, about 10 minutes. Once done, drain well and set aside for later use. I used casarecce pasta here but usually most recipes call for rigatoni.

Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Peel and chop the shallot into tiny cubes. Save the prettier looking mint leaves for garnish and finely chop the remaining.

Drizzle enough olive oil to evenly coat the bottom of the pan, about 2 tablespoons. Turn to medium high heat. Add in the shallot and garlic, also some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Give it a quick stir and cook just till the garlic is about to get burned.

Quickly add in the lamb. Stir a bit so the ground meat doesn't stick together. Add the Italian seasoning and mix well. Cook till the mixture dries up a little.

Pour in the wine, I simply took some from my precious Punica Barrua. Also pour in the pasta sauce, I used the one with mushroom and ripe olives. Other varieties such as roasted garlic or mushroom pomodoro sauce work pretty well too. Mix well, bring to a boil and lower the heat to keep it simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes or till the sauce has been reduced by at least 1/3.

Mix in the pasta along with about 1 tablespoon of finely chopped mint leaves. Cook for another 30 seconds or so before plating.

Top the pasta with few dollops of ricotta cheese and garnish with some mint leaves. Some prefer to mix in the ricotta cheese during the cooking process. That is fine but I like to add it in the end for presentation purpose. Don't you like the pure white and green contrast for the lamb ragu?

Generally speaking most red wine works well with red meat. In addition, the herbal note from the Punica Barrua echoes the aroma from the lamb and the mint leaves. Italian wine with Italian dish, what else can you asks for?

Maybe dessert. 

Ok I'm getting too greedy here.

Dec 12, 2013

No Water Bath New York Style Cheesecake

This New York style cheesecake requires no water bath and can be made ahead to store in the fridge. However, the texture is on the denser side unlike those fluffy Japanese style cheesecakes. You can also pre-slice the cake and put in the freezer, which will give you a more custard/pudding like texture. 

Ingredients (for a 9 inch springform pan)?

  • 12 to 15 graham crackers
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 packages/8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 3/4 cup of whole milk
  • 2 and a tiny bit more tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup of all purpose flour


Melt the butter and use some of it to grease the inside of the springform pan, including the side. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the crackers into a Ziploc bag and seal tightly. Crush the crackers into crumbs, a rolling pin can be a wonderful helper here.

Take a bowl and mix the cracker crumbs with the remaining melted butter. Press the buttered crumbs mixture onto the bottom of the pan evenly.

Transfer the pan to a baking sheet. 

Take another large bowl for mixing the filling. Blend the cream cheese first then gradually add in the sugar and milk. Blend till smooth.

Blend and add in the eggs, one at a time, make sure don't over mix it. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract, mix till incorporated. Lastly blend in the flour until smooth.

Carefully pour the mixture into the springform pan.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour. No peeking so don't even think about opening the oven door during the process. After one hour, turn off the heat and keep the cake inside the oven for another 5 hours, or till completely cool down. 

Once ready, run the edges with a knife making sure the cake is not sticking to the side. Remove the cake from the springform pan.

Run the knife with hot water and pat dry before each cut. This will help in getting cleaner and smoother edges between slices. 

You can play with this cake recipe such as adding fresh strawberries or drizzling some melted chocolate on the cake. Otherwise, simply serve it with some chocolate covered raisins also sounds like a good idea.

Serve the frozen cake with a cup of hot coffee or hot tea, enjoy how the filling just gradually melts in your mouth. For wine lovers, try a glass of Riesling with this cake, you'll be amazed.