Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Singapore Chili Crab (my New Years Resolution)

That is one beautiful 420 gram Chili Crab
From brick and mortar, family restaurants to hawker food plazas and chicken satay carts, my trip to Asia spoiled the hell out of me. The Singapore Chili Crab? Fucking amazing.

The whole crab is simmered in this amazing, sweet chili sauce and served alongside steaming white rice and fresh lime slices. Diving in hands-first, the shell easily breaks apart to unlock thick, juicy pieces of crab meat. Once the crab is completely dismantled (it's gonna look like you haven't eaten in days), continue your adventure by shoving spoonful upon spoonful of rice-chili sauce-crab bits goodness.

Thanks Asia…now I have a craving for Chili Crab and DC has ZERO Chili Crab places. I need my fix (like all things addicting, the crab is weighed in grams...). So now I'm determined to re-create this famous Singaporean dish.

Three days ago, I decided to make this my New Year's Resolution - to cook something completely out of my element.

Two days ago, I realized this is going to be a pain in the ass.

1) You can't buy the sauce, you have to make it.  Variations range from including eggs to corn starch to ketchup. (I have zero patience for measuring)

2) And where am I going to find mud crabs? (Chesapeake Blue rule this region)

3) A lot of the recipes say to clean the innards of the crab first…. (There's absolutely no way I'm ripping open a live crab) 

...You can negate on a resolution if you didn't make it on New Year's, right?

But I'm going to stick with it. Fueled with coffee and a full-nights sleep (wouldn't that be a perfect storm), I'm going to try and perfect the sauce. One recipe says you can boil the crab for two minutes before cleaning the insides (saving me from my conscious and PETA). 

So there's one of my New Year's Resolutions, 6 days early.

But there's no way in hell I'm going to cook a trial run on the third date. And I wouldn't recommend doing it either. Maybe the eighth - bonne chance.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Swedish Glögg Recipe

Like the U.S., the December holiday season in the Nordic region provides a warm welcoming of festivities, parities and general happiness. Without the indulgence of Thanksgiving and the availability of sunlight, November is a depressing month in Sweden (and most Swedes seem to use this time to flee south).

No idea why I bought a Swedish cookbook...
So as you can imagine, for the Ikea-loving, quiet and introverted Swedish culture goes, December is the winter month for letting loose (I'm told all hell breaks loose in the summer). Candles and Christmas lights line the snowy streets. Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) is consumed in mass quantities. And to say that glögg is their poison of choice would be an understatement.

"I was warned by some fellow Swedes at the beginning of December that, by the time January rolled around, I would be sick of Glögg. And I am. This past week, I had Glögg at work, Glögg for St. Lucia, Glögg for our Holiday Party, Glögg for our Holiday party dinner, and Glögg during a small Christmas party. I think my brain is swimming in Glögg..."
- Me, 12/16/2007, from an old blog post of when I lived in Stockholm

Glögg is essentially mulled wine. It's gløgg in Norwegian and Danish. Glögg in Swedish and Icelandic. Glögi in Estonian and Finnish. But all you need to know are these three things:
  • It contains wine.
  • It contains liquor.
  • It's served warm.
And like the whiskey-cider that we're used to here in the States, the warmth of the drink provides a false sense of sobriety security (you get drunk hella quick).

So here's my glögg recipe - graciously given to me by a Swede while I was living overseas. As she reminded me, making glögg isn't an exact science, so don't worry if you need to make a few substitutions.

  • 1 liter of a hard liquor mixture (Brandy + Whiskey + Southern Comfort, Rum + Whiskey + Southern Comfort) - the world is your oyster.
  • 3 liters of red wine (an inexpensive wine is fine and Target sells a great "vintage" box wine that seems to be the perfect size)
  • Christmasy Spices - Cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and whole cloves
  • Fruit Zest - The peel of an orange and perhaps a few lemon peels
  • Raisins and blanched almonds (you'll want a few of each in the cup when you serve it)
  • Sugar to dissolve into the pot if its too strong

Create the Glögg Extract (1 week prior)
  1. Combine the hard liquor, Christmasy spices and fruit zests into a large sealable container
    1. If you're OCD, you can wrap the spices in cheese cloth for easy removal before serving
  2. Store in a dark cool place for one week

Glögg (Day Of)
  1. Combine the red wine and glögg extract (spices included) in a large pot
  2. Heat up the mixture (but don't boil it because you'll start to kill the alcohol)
  3. Serve
    1. The lazy way - Ladle around the spices when serving, toss in a few raisins and almonds
    2. The OCD way - Wrap all of the spices in a cheese cloth, throw in all of the raisins and almonds while you're heating up the mixture. Ladle the glögg, making sure to scoop up some of the raisins and almonds
Expert tips:
  • Soak the raisins a day or two ahead of time to make them really alcohol-fueled
  • Serve with Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) or Æbleskiver (Danish dessert, like our doughnut holes, but sweeter and much better)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cooking Lessons from a Street Vendor in Thailand

On a humid afternoon in November, I found myself slowly wandering through the outdoor food markets of downtown Chiang Mai, Thailand. A cornucopia of vibrant and enticing food stalls and souvenir stands littered the pathways as vendors competed for my business.

My stomach and brain have never had such a conflict...

Stomach: "Wow that sushi looks amazing"

Brain: "It's 10 THB ($0.33 USD) a piece. How long has it been sitting there? It's a 1,000 degrees outside. Don't be an idiot."

Stomach: "Oh! Tiny little quail eggs?!?!"

Brain: "Come on... Those look raw... RAW EGGS IN A FOOD STALL? Really, I mean REALLY?!?"

Stomach: "Mmmmmm fried shrimp...grilled squid... Oooooh Pad Thai..."

Brain: "Fine. Deal."

The shrimp and the squid were good; however, it was the Pad Thai that sealed the deal.

An inconspicuous food stand within a small market in northern Thailand ruined Pad Thai for me for a long, long time - it was some of the best Pad Thai that I've ever had.

40 THB ($1.31 USD) ruined my chances of finding comparable Pad Thai in DC.

Now to be fair, the mere allure and excitement of my surrounding environment certainly heighten my sensations and most likely, automatically enhanced the positive memories. So for "scientific purposes" (was this really the best Pad Thai ever?), I had to, you know, go back again...two days later.

But why this vendor? Why him among all of the other food stalls?

Bright vibrant colors and fresh looking ingredients

Colorful blue bowls with rich purple onions, bright orange shrimp. Fresh juicy limes. Freshly cut chives. Seeing those colorful  ingredients was the foreplay of this dance and my mind was building together the meal before it was ever even made.

Color matters. It's not a deal breaker but rich vibrant colors are only going to help you - a rich sensory display to get her mouth watering.


Prep then cook

The cook wasn't chopping then sautéing then slicing then searching for spices, it was all in front of him, ready to go. So prep first. Lay it all out. The actual cooking part requires timing and (probably some concentration), food prep doesn't. So prep first and make her your sous chef.


Interactive cooking

Three aisles down, there were bowls upon bowls of Pad Thai. Sitting there, steaming hot, waiting to be purchased and eaten. I was certainly hungry so why didn't I just choose those pre-made dishes?

The Pad-Thai-to-ruin-all-other-Pad-Thai was made right in front of me...in like 3 minutes. It's awesome to see a cook in action. Sautéing a heap of onions, wilting the rice noodles. Egg cooking separately.  A handful of chives, a scoop of dried shrimp, and a splash of sauce. It was art. 3-minute, 40-THB art.

Do the same when you have her over for dinner. In this reader poll, most dates wanted to see the person cooking the dinner. They don't want it to be 100% complete when the door is open. There's no build up. Have some appetizers ready and pour two glasses of wine. If she offers to be your sous chef, great. Otherwise, I'm sure she'll have no problem having wine and eating cheese and fresh bread as she watches a guy cook for her. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to cook lobsters and not freak out the girl

If your date is from the Northeast, chances are good that she's going to love this idea and will support your latest cooking endeavor. However, even if she can tear through a pile of Chesapeake Bay Blue crabs with the best of them, in most cases, you're going to have to tread lightly. Cooking live lobster can be a delicate issue.
"Can you bring Old Bay to a lobster fight?"

But don't fret. Because who can really turn down indulging in lobsters on a patio during a cool evening in October? And if she's not willing to get dirty cracking apart crustaceans, there's not a single girl on Earth who turns down lobster mac n' cheese.....

So keep reading to learn about how to boil and steam fresh lobsters (it’s as easy as cooking pasta) but take note of three disaster possibilities:
Disaster Possibility 1: She's an avid pescetarian who gets outdoors, hikes, has a dog, and enjoys the occasional farmers market as well as a medium-rare filet mignon from time to time. However, SHE DETESTS KILLING THINGS. So surprising her with two boxes of semi-"awake" lobsters that you intend to boil to death will drive her away faster than fantasy football talk on a Tuesday. 
  • Fix 1: Don't cook lobsters!
  • Fix 2: Put the lobsters in the pot just before she arrives. Lobsters will take 10 minutes to cook so your timing must be impeccable (you're playing with fire my friend)
  • Fix 3: Cook the lobsters earlier that day and make homemade (not Kraft!) lobster mac n' cheese that's topped with slightly-browned bread crumbs then baked and served in your favorite cast-iron skillet

The colander could save you
Disaster Possibility 2: You freak out. You like crossfit, hit the trail sporadically, and can throw a spiral better than Rex Grossman on a good day. You feel pretty manly.

But if you've ever hesitated about squashing a spider in your house with just a napkin, you may freak out. Picking up a feisty lobster while your inner yogi is screaming at you for boiling (or steaming) a crustacean alive, may end your night, ahem, prematurely.
  • Fix 1: Steam the lobsters. Take the colander out of the steaming pot, place the lobsters in the colander, cover with a lid, then put the whole thing back into the steaming pot. Migrate to the living room, pour the both of you a glass of wine, and return 4 minutes later. As a result, you won't have to deal with squirming lobsters in a boiling pot, by leaving the kitchen they'll be out of sight/out of mind, and when you come back they'll be dead and starting to look more like dinner.
  • Fix 2: Man up. Are you going to let these bottom feeders cock block you?!?

Disaster Possibility 3: She's allergic to shellfish.
  • Fix 1: EpiPen
  • Fix 2: You're an idiot for not checking her allergies ahead of time

Now that you've made it through the disaster scenarios, let's learn how to cook lobsters

Sweet sweet Maine lobsters
  • 4 1-1 1/4lb Lobsters
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Lobster cracking tool
  • Optional Ingredients: Lobster Bib
  • Classic Sides: Red potatoes and corn
The two easiest ways to cook lobsters are to boil them or to steam them. People say you can grill them (parboil then grill) but this just seems to risky for a novice. There will be a slight difference in taste between boiling and steaming, but if this is you're first time, you probably won't notice a difference.
  • Lobsters should ALWAYS be alive before cooking
  • I found my large pot can hold two lobsters comfortably and I was perfectly content with a two lobster serving size. As a result, you may have to think about logistics if you're trying to cook 4 lobsters with 1 lobster pot
 Boiling Lobsters
  1. Salt a large pot of water (so it tastes like seawater) and bring to a boil 
    1. I seriously underestimated the time my watched pot took to boil; therefore, I recommend turning the pot on earlier and getting the water to a near boil. You can always turn the temperature down slightly until the right time
  2. Place two lobsters into the boiling pot of water
  3. Do not cover
  4. Stir halfway through the cooking process
  5. Happy steaming lobsters
  6. 1 1/4 lb lobsters will take 9-10 minutes
  7. Remove from the pot and serve immediately with melted butter.
Steaming Lobsters
  1. Put in about two inches of water to a large pot
  2. Salt the water and bring to a boil
  3. Put the lobsters in the colander, cover, and steam
  4. Stir halfway through the cooking process
  5. 1 1/4 lb lobsters will take 12 minutes
  6. Remove from the pot and serve immediately with melted butter.

The Maine Lobster Council website seems legit (because it says Maine and lobsters are from Maine) so go there for more information on cook times but also how to eat a lobster.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Soy-Glazed, Asian-Style Chilean Sea Bass

Remember back in high school, when your best friend let you borrow his 3-month old, midnight blue Porsche Cayman so you could impress that varsity cheerleader? As the car knifed through the darkness, it was just you and her winding down the back roads behind your high school. The temperature hovered at a cool 50 degrees; the windows down but the adrenaline keeping you both warm.

You were driving a $52,000 car. You were cocky. But really, you were scared shitless - partly because of the car, but mostly because of her.
*This is not me, my best friend drove an Oldsmobile

At $19.99/lb, Chilean Sea Bass is like that Porsche sports car - miles above the plain and common tilapia (think Ford Focus) and even a step-up from that fresh, wild-caught salmon (think Audi A4). And like that midnight ride, you're going to be nervous. You're driving a Porsche Cayman (cooking Chilean Sea Bass) and it's balls expensive.

Yes I know - this is a big step and you have no idea what you're doing (did you even know how to drive a manual?!?). But trust me - there's a reason why its expensive, Chilean Sea bass is fucking amazing.

Why the High Price?
I like to think that I'm paying that higher price because this filet is going to help me along the way (like the Cayman). The thickness and high fat content make it difficult to overcook. It absorbs flavor like a sponge. It doesn't smell fishy and won't ruin your apartment. And best of all (without having to take a single cooking lesson), it tastes like butter and melts in your mouth.

Matt's Insights into Cooking Chilean Sea Bass
Whenever I cook a thin, flaky piece of fish like catfish or tilapia, I tend to flavor the fish using a combination of dry spices (blackening seasoning, salt and pepper or Cajun seasoning). I usually pan-fry the fish to emphasize the seasoning but also to maintain the delicate flesh.

Because Chilean Sea Bass is such a thick cut of fish, dry spices may not be able to really permeate through the entire fish. With Chilean sea bass, I want the fish to absorb the flavors of the simmering broth; therefore, the infused flavors are going to come from the cooking liquids. I feel like sea bass goes great in Asian-inspired dishes, so for this recipe/experiment I tried to focus on those flavors (in this case - soy sauce, onions, and pickled ginger).

  • 2 6-8 oz pieces of Chilean Sea Bass
  • Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
  • Something to dilute the soy sauce and create a light broth. (In this case, I think I used a little bit of cooking wine and water. But you could add some butter, half of a squeezed orange, or just water)
  • Fresh scallions - partly for flavor but mostly because I thought they'd look cool for presentation
  • Pickled ginger

Recipe Guidance
I cooked this dish awhile ago and naturally didn't write down a single step in the process. However, I took a bunch of pictures (see the end of the post), so I'm hoping that I can re-create the steps.
  1. Skillet to medium-high, lightly saute the scallions in olive oil
  2. After a few minutes, throw in a few slices of pickled ginger.
  3. Place the fish into the skillet skin side up (The goal here is to lightly-sear the fish before simmering)
  4. After 30-60 seconds or so, add the soy sauce and  another liquid to help light the potency of the soy sauce
  5. Let simmer for a 3-4 minutes
  6. Flip (cover halfway to help the fish cook through) and simmer for another 3-4 minutes* (I can't remember exact times so you may have to run a Google search)
  7. Uncover, check for doneness (it will be an opaque white and it should flake away in nice slices when you cut it with a fork)
  8. And serve
Ideas for Sides
I could see Jasmine rice going well with this dish (especially if you've made a nice broth that can be sopped up by the rice). Add a vegetable (perhaps sauteed shitake mushrooms to stick with the Asian theme) and a white wine (maybe a Sauvignon Blanc).

In all honesty, I've only cooked Chilean Sea Bass a handful of times (and I'm usually winging it). But on every occasion, it has come out great - she will definitely be impressed.

Chilean Sea Bass & Sliced Onions

Olive Oil & Green Onions

Start face down. Add some soy sauce

Flip and Cook Longer

Cover to help cook through

Finished! Now add Sides

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tips for Pan-frying White Fish and a Cajun-Seasoned Haddock Recipe

I just have a slight obsession with my cast-iron skillet. Therefore as a result, whenever I buy haddock (or catfish or snapper or tilapia), I jump at the opportunity to throw my 15lb cast-iron behemoth up onto the stove. And of course, the well-season skillet does wonders for locking-in and enriching the flavors of fish (and meat).

Pan-frying white fish is just another example of simple cooking that looks wayyy too impressive for the actual effort that you've put in. 

Tips for Pan-Frying White Fish
1. Avoid "deep-frying" - There's a time when you can have too much olive oil (there, I've said it!). Be aware of how much oil you're putting into your pan.  A little bit of olive olive oil goes a long way; your cast-iron skillet should already be nicely seasoned and too much oil will make your food too oily.  A tablespoon or so should easily do the trick.

2. Use butter for that golden brown char - Olive oil... coconut oil... avocado oil... All excellent, healthy oils to use while cooking; however...sometimes (well maybe all the time) you just want the goodness of butter.  Don't sweat it, a few tablespoons of butter isn't going to hurt and she won't notice.

3. Use dry seasoning instead of liquid marinades - Salt and pepper. Cajun-spices. Ancho chili rub. Blackening powder. I'm a big fan of using spices (rather than marinades) for delicate white fish. Liquid-based marinades overpower the fish.

Cast-Iron Fried, Cajun-Seasoned Haddock Recipe
Like most of my recipes on this site, most of these ingredients can be swapped out with others. My goal is for you to be comfortable just "winging it" after a few times.
Seasoned with a pre-made, Cajun seasoning

  • Haddock (or catfish or tilapia)
  • Cajun-Seasoning (or a creole or blackening seasoning)
  • Pepper or a dash of cayenne powder (for heat)
  • A few tablespoons of butter
  • Cast-Iron Skillet

Flesh side down at first
  1. Unwrap haddock from packaging, rinse, and pat dry
  2. Heat the cast-iron skillet to medium-high
  3. Season the fish (see the picture below)
  4. Throw the butter into the skillet
  5. Place the fish (fleshy side down, skin side up) into the pan
  6. Cook for about 6 minutes. 
    1. Flip once after 3 minutes or so.  
    2. Cover the pan for a minute or two if you're nervous the fish won't cook. 
    3. Remember, if you've found your baseline cook time, the fish is going to take less time than steak
  7. Remove fish when the center is opaque
  8. Serve with fresh lemon 

Possible Sides
  • Pan-fried okra or fresh green beans
  • Sliced, roasted tomatoes
  • Quinoa or wild, long-grain rice
  • A crisp, cold white wine
That was a terrible display of spatula skills. Good thing this was just for me

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Presentation Matters (...sorta)

I can relate.

Whenever I cook for someone new, I'm nervous.  Presentation is hardly at the top of my list. Remembering her food allergies.... cleaning my bathroom... finding suitable music... not burning myself.... ALL TAKE PRIORITY OVER PRESENTATION!

I know I'm not along here. I mean, guest blogger Katie completely forgot about her smoldering bread in the oven! I doubt she gave a fuck about whether or not the asparagus was perfectly angled at 47 degrees due west of the steak. 

HOWEVER, if you're one of the lucky few that's made it past the gauntlet of things to really remember, feel free to give a little love to presentation. I've outlined how to do it below.

Keys to Presentation Love:

1.  Provide a mixture of color. A while back I wrote a Tip of the Day about avoiding a monochromatic dish. What do I mean? For example check out the two pictures below:
  • Dish 1: Chicken penne pasta with pan-fried tomatoes, fresh Parmesan cheese, and homemade pesto
  • Dish 2: Cipollini pasta with wild caught shrimp served over a homemade seafood broth
  • Dish 1 looks much better, right? Colorful. Vibrant. (Even though the cipollini pasta dish tasted better)

Wow, that is some sexy looking pasta.
What is this UPS uniform day?!? Where's the color?
2. Taking a note from Nordic design, I'm a big fan of simplicity and clean lines. A clean white plate or solid black bowl - Let the food be the star, not the plate.

I bet you forgot about the white plate.
3. Sit at the table (turn off the TV) and attempt to make a decent place setting. You don't have to borrow family heirloom china from Mrs. Robinson in Apt 732 but set the table. Napkins (NO, not paper towels...what are you, 19?), water glasses, wine glasses, silverware - you get the idea.

4. Soft lighting - There's a reason photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days rather than mid-day with a harsh, overhead sun. Soft lighting, candles, or floor lighting makes everyone and everything look better. If you haven't installed that $5 dimmer light switch yet, floor lighting is much more appealing to the eyes than overhead lights. 

    On Chopped, they'll ax you if you forget to zigzag sauce across the plate. And if you're competing on Iron Chef, presentation is worth a third of your final score. These four simple pointers will help you with presentation at Chez Vous. So if you can throw in some presentation love, go for it. Otherwise, don't sweat it. You're already cooking for her and she's already loving that.

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Memoirs of an (Electric) Grill

    You know how girls have adopted that bent-knee, 80-degree-elbow picture pose? Yeah...I seem to have adopted the right-hand-tongs, left-hand-grill-handle pose.

    You know how parents take monthly photographs of their newborn next to a stuffed animal? It's like that and while I'm neither an infant nor slowly getting larger than the propane grill next to me, I feel like the pose hasn’t changed, the smile has never waned, and my excitement to turn skewered meat into a feast has never disappeared.

    It's ridiculous.

    During the warm summer months and early fall, the grill beckons me like a moth to a flame.

    I will be the first to admit that up until last fall, I was skeptical of electric grills. Just hearing the words "electric grill" conjured images of George Foreman's vise-like, metal teeth of meat-death decimating a rib-eye steak to well-done. But due to my county's "concerns" (regulations) of residents torching apartment complexes with charcoal and propane, I was forced to go electric.

    And of course, I was clearly mistaken. The electric grill is awesome for that quick, home-from-work, 10 minute instant dinner as also that no-flare-from-dripping-fat, bacon cooking extravaganza you crave. You don't have to worry about flare ups. You can set a dial to get the EXACT temperature you want and as a result, you know EXACTLY how long to cook a piece of protein (or vegetable).

    Set the heat setting to 4. 5-minute preheat. 8-minute salmon & zucchini. DONE.

    So you can imagine my sadness when my electric grill died last month. At a $35 purchase price, my electric grill has been My GREATEST CRAIGSLIST PURCHASE EVER... (I definitely got my money's worth - I grilled 3x a week for 5 months straight).

    But fuck, I'm depressed it's gone. 

    And as a result, I've lost somewhat of my luster to cook. Missing the simplicity of grilling has sucked the life out of my cooking routine. It’s a fun, simple way to cook...and best of all it’s great for beginners.  Need more convincing?
    • Impromptu grilling sessions aren’t cut short when you realize you don’t have charcoal or propane
    • There are no flare-ups
    • You can get into a routine on cook times
    • You can grill salmon outside instead of smelling up your house
    • You’ll want to start grilling everything

    Hooked? Need recipe ideas? Here are my other posts about grilling:

    Friday, August 31, 2012

    Grilled Salmon... All. The. Time.

    Over this past summer (having been influenced from a recent electric grill purchase), I cured my addiction to kale and, for better or worse, switched my focus to cooking salmon. And it wasn't salmon once a month. Or even twice a month. It was All. The. Time.

    I'd buy a pound of salmon at the beginning of the week, come home, cut it into thirds (one-third seems to be the perfect serving), put it in zip-lock bags, and have it for dinner or lunch over the next few days.

    I'd always buy wild caught. It tastes completely different. It looks significantly better. And for me, there's just something about millions of salmon stuffed in a giant bathtub that just isn't very appealing. (Harris Teeter sells Wild-Caught Salmon for $10.99/lb - less than a Irish Bomb...)

    AND Salmon is incredibly easy to cook! Just remember my adage elsewhere on this site - "If you under-cook fresh salmon, you end up with sushi. If you under-cook pork or chicken, you're fucked."

    Because it's easy and simple, I can't even give you a good salmon "recipe." Instead, here are salmon grilling "guidelines" and just make it however the eff you please.

    Grilled Salmon However-the-Eff-You-Please

    The Freaking Awesome Asian Marinade
    • Wild-Caught Salmon (rule of thirds!)
    • Olive oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil, coconut oil...but really just some kind of oil
    • Seasoning
      • Salt & Pepper
      • Cajun Seasoning
      • Blackening Season
      • Or Ancho Chili, Salt, and Ginger
      • Or whatever is in you cabinet
      • Or this bad-ass Asian Soy marinade that I discovered 
    A Perfect Medium-Rare Salmon

    Grilling Guidelines
    • I have an electric grill, so I usually fall into a pattern of a 4 out of 5 heat setting for 7 minutes which usually ends up being about medium/medium-rare
    • I don't have a charcoal or a propane grill, but I would guess it would be about the same time - medium-high heat but just watch for flare ups

    Grilled Sides
    Another thing that I've learned from my salmon addiction is that grilled vegetables are amazing. Grilled zucchinis and asparagus are phenomenal. Slightly charred, grilled red peppers...excellent. Leeks, onions, chives...sure, why not?!?! And surprisingly, there are only three things you EVER have to put on grilled vegetables.  Olive Oil. Salt. Pepper. (You can thank me later).

    Anyways, Happy Labor Day. I've put up some grilled salmon photos for inspiration.

    Grilled Salmon with Leeks, Portabella Mushrooms, and Zucchini

    Grilled Salmon and Asparagus

    Grilled Salmon with Fresh Tomatoes

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

    Deconstructed Guacamole Recipe

    "Deconstructed" is such a foodie term.

    I hate it.

    It's like haricot verts (greens beans), pommes frites (French fries), or squab (pigeon).

    So it pains me to title this "Deconstructed Guacamole" but "Chunky Guac" or "Unsmashed Guac" or "Ran-out-of-time-to-smash-it Gauc" just didn’t have the same ring.

    Maybe "Al Fresco Guacamole"?


    I love eating outdoors (except in the DC humidity of July and August, and the winter months of December and January, and the rainy month of April) BUT when it is pleasant, there's nothing better than fresh appetizers and a cold crisp beer with sitting on a balcony with good company.

    And naturally "deconstructed" guacamole is a perfect outdoor-balcony dining candidate.

    1. It’s fresh.
    2. EVERYONE loves guacamole.
    3. And by leaving the ingredients whole, you avoid that "blah" look of green mush.

    So grab a bag of scoops, a sixer of Coronas, and follow this recipe below:

    (Disclaimer: it’s been a month or two since I made this so I am guessing on the measurements based on the photo I took. But remember, most cooking dishes don't need to be an exact science)

    • 2 Avocados
    • 2 Plum Tomatoes
    • 1/2 Red Onion
    • Cilantro
    • 1 Lime
    • Salt and Pepper to taste
    • Cayenne (if desired)

    1. Rough chop into similar sizes the avocados, tomatoes and onion
    2. Finely chop cilantro
    3. Add seasonings to taste
    4. Cut the lime in half and squeeze in the lime juice

    Serve with scoops.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Guest Post

    No blog post this week kids. I ended up writing a guest post for the ladies at Doing the District.  If you're interested, you can check it out here: Where to Date: A Male Perspective

    If you're feeling nostalgic, you can always revisit my first post from this site: Grow Something (and not mold)

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    What's running through her head when she invites you over for dinner...

    A guest post, retro diary by Katie @DateMeDCBlog

    So you want to know what’s going through our heads when we invite you over for a home-cooked dinner?

    The honest answer? Panic. Sheer, utter, ice-cold panic!

    I know this may seem hard to believe given our entrenched social mores for traditional gender roles, but when we’re only feeding ourselves, we eat takeout or cereal for dinner, too. And sure, we may also do some cooking for ourselves, but we’re certainly not pulling out the linens and polishing our silver for it. Cooking for one is utilitarian: We’re getting the job of nourishment done.
    "...We had at least three monumental freak-out moments prior to your arrival on our doorstep."
    But for you, however, it’s a totally different story. If we’re cooking for you, it’s way beyond mere momentary sustenance. We’re letting you into our homes, into ourselves, and we want you to be duly impressed. It may not be politically correct to say this, but if we’re cooking for you, we’re auditioning for the role of wife, and we’re hoping this performance gets us cast in the part.

    We may make it look completely effortless, but trust this: We had at least three monumental freak-out moments prior to your arrival on our doorstep.

    Allow me to recount for you the minutes of the first time I cooked for my now-boyfriend during what was our second date, and you’ll see exactly what I mean:

    5:30 p.m.: I get home from work, and FRANTIC CLEANING COMMENCES. All dirty laundry is removed from my floor and tucked safely in my laundry bin (where, admittedly, it should have been in the first place). Papers and mail are shoved into drawers. Countertops are wiped down with disinfectant.

    6 p.m.: I shower and shave my legs, cuz… yeah. Not that I INTEND to sleep with him, but, y’know, shit happens.

    6:30 p.m.: I pull out my failsafe cookbook: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. If you don’t own this, go buy it immediately. It has relatively idiot-proof recipes for most basic meals. And tonight’s menu is Chicken Marsala, which I’ve chosen for three reasons: 1. I’ve made it before so I know I can make it; 2. I have the ingredients on hand; and 3. It takes 30 minutes.

    6:33 p.m.: Turns out my chicken broth, integral to the recipe, expired two months ago. Well, FUCK! Trek to the grocery store and be late to dinner at my own house, or risk cooking with expired ingredients? It doesn’t smell funny, so I proceed as planned and silently pray that we don’t end the night via barfing.

    6:37 p.m.: And I don’t have mushrooms or green onions either. So much for the No. 2 reason to make Chicken Marsala!!! Who the hell is in charge around here?!

    6:46 p.m.: It’s decidedly vegetable-free and partially expired, but I get the Chicken Marsala mixture on the stove and start it simmering. I take the opportunity to make my tried-and-true spinach salad, which is a bag of spinach, some feta cheese crumbles, dried cranberries and raspberry-walnut vinaigrette dressing tossed together.

    6:52 p.m.: HOLYFUCKINGSHITASSTHATISHOT! Mental note: Stand outside of the range of the bubbling stove because that shit will burn you.

    6:55 p.m.: I pop a loaf of Harris Teeter’s take-and-bake French bread into the oven, which automatically makes the meal feel professional. Now, everything just has to finish cooking. My work here is done, and I can relax.

    6:56 p.m.: Should I have planned appetizers, or a dessert? Oh well, too late now.

    6:57 p.m.: If this guy is put off by the fact that I don’t have appetizers and a dessert, then he’s clearly an asshole who doesn’t deserve me anyway!

    6:58 p.m.: Please let him not be an asshole.

    6:59 p.m.: One minute until he gets here.

    7:01 p.m.: OH MY GOD HE’S NOT COMING.

    7:06 p.m.: My phone rings. He’s outside, and not sure which door is mine. I breathe a sigh of relief that my frantic cleaning, shaved legs and broth-burned forearms weren’t all for naught. I open my door, show him upstairs and give him a quick tour of my place.

    7:09 p.m.: FUCK, THE BREAD! It’s only supposed to bake for 8 minutes! It’s a dark brown and a little crisp, but not totally inedible. I decide to serve it anyway.

    7:15 p.m.: I’ve set the table and served the food, pulling out a jar of peachberry jelly from a farmer’s market to be spread upon the bread.

    7:16 p.m.: The rim of the peachberry jelly jar is moldy. Oh please let him not have noticed that. I hop out of my seat and in one swift motion wipe the offending mold off with a paper towel.
    "You can learn from this moment, men: Be helpful, even if it’s something small."
    So, for those keeping track: Expired chicken broth. Burned bread. Moldy jelly. I look like a real winner here. I imagine the wife casting director: Don’t call us – we’ll call you.

    The rest of the meal is eaten without fanfare. It tastes fine – no repercussions from the expired broth or moldy jelly yet – and he seems to be enjoying it. Thank heaven for small miracles.

    7:45 p.m.: He clears the table, which I find sweet. You can learn from this moment, men: Be helpful, even if it’s something small. The night moves to the couch, where we sit with our drinks to continue talking.

    9:15 p.m.: Aaaaand he’s unhooking my bra. My slapdash meal has not hindered his virility, nor his interest in me. SUCCESS!

    Looking back on that night, a few things to note:
    1. No one got sick from anything I made, and he didn’t notice the mold on the jar.
    2. He did, however, notice my shoes in a sloppy pile on the floor near the door. Guess I missed a spot in my cleaning. Oops.
    And honestly, the other thing he didn’t notice was how stressful the whole night really was for me! Every part of it was so precariously held together that one false move could have ruined everything. I lucked out that he was fairly punctual; had he been any later, the chicken would have been all dried out. And I’m also lucky that though the clock was ticking on the chicken broth, it apparently can last for a while after its expiration date. In cooking and in relationships, it seems, timing is everything.

    So guys, even if the meal is a little haphazard, if she’s cooking for you, it’s not happening by accident. She likes you. She wants to impress you. And she’s probably teetering on the edge of freaking out about it.

    Be nice, and clear the table afterward.
    "Katie likes her beer expensive, her wine cheap and her foot in mouth." She is the co-author of Doing the District: A Gamma Girls' guide to eating, drinking, dancing, dating and living in the capital city. In a past life, Katie has also authored the popular blog Date me, D.C.!. You can follow her on Twitter at @DateMeDCBlog.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    Cook a Classic: White Wine Mussels with Sourdough Bread

    What says "I-know-this-dish-could-possibly-get-you-sick-but-I'm-that-good-that-I-guarantee-you-won't-get-sick-and-you'll-be-extremely-impressed?"

    (When in reality, its quite easy to pull off.)

    What's classy but not over the top?

    What's ballsy but avoids the blow torch?

     "Yeah... you know... the local fish monger said that the Prince Edward Island mussels were in season. I thought we'd have a little treat and I'd cook up some fresh mussels with a white wine sauce and some freshly-baked sourdough bread."  (In a dead-panned, very casual tone)

    Boom. Mussels. The tried and true French classic of white wine mussels accompanied with crispy sourdough bread dish is simple, yet elegant.

    She'll be impressed with your ability to add wine to something other than a wine glass, your confidence in cooking shellfish, and your forethought in going to the store the day of to buy fresh seafood.

    I won't lie. You can screw this up. And the screw up scale ranges from: "Ooops I forgot to add salt" to "Here, I'll hold your hair back while you throw up the ocean..." But before you stop reading, just stick to these three DO NOT GET HER SICK rules and you'll be fine:
    1. Buy fresh mussels the day of the date! DO NOT tie off that plastic bag in the grocery store! They need oxygen to breathe. They will die!
    2. If you're hand picking the mussels at the store (or sorting through them at home), keep only the ones that are closed and unbroken. They're closed because they are scared, little mussels. Scared, closed mussels = alive mussels. Alive mussels = Success.
    3. After cooking your mussels, throw away the mussels that haven't opened. The theory is that they open up when they're exposed to the boiling liquid/steam. If they're already dead, they wouldn't have that reaction. (This has been up for debate but better to be safe than sorry)
    "Do not get her sick" RECAP
    • Before cooking: Closed, scared mussels = GOOD
    • After cooking: Open, tasty mussels = GOOD 
    I feel like we need some sort of mnemonic device...but anyways, on to the recipe:

      Soup to nuts this dish will take about 10 minutes. It's incredibly quick and simple. The hardest part is just remembering to follow the DO NOT GET HER SICK rules.
      • 1.5 lbs of fresh mussels
      • White wine (preferably dry, preferably room temperature)
      • Butter
      • Salt, Pepper
      • Onions, Garlic, Shallots (At least some combination of them)
      • Sourdough bread (Sliced)
      • 1 Large-ish pot for cooking the mussels

      DO THIS BEFORE SHE ARRIVES (perhaps 20 minutes beforehand). Girls love to see you cook but they don't enjoy watching you clean seafood. You'll need to clean and de-beard the mussels. Check out the steps here: http://allrecipes.com/howto/cleaning-mussels/. If you are having trouble de-bearding them with your hands, use pliers (but hopefully it shouldn't get to that).

      The Mussels
      1. Roughly chop the onions/garlic/shallots
      2. Saute 1/4 stick of butter with the chopped ingredients over medium-high heat.
      3. Saute for a minute or two until fragrant and translucent-ish (doesn't need to be an exact science)
      4. Pour in about a wine glass full of white wine (Lets be honest, guys don't have measuring cups. My rule of thumb is about 1/2"-2/3" of an inch of wine)
      5. Turn up the heat so the wine starts to boil and steam
      6. Throw in the closed mussels
      7. Cover, lightly shake the pot occasionally
      8. Mussels will be in done in 2-3 minutes. I usually do just under 3 minutes. The mussels are done when they open up, but try not to cook past 3-4 minutes, they'll get rubbery.
      9. Remove from heat
      10. Remove mussels from the pot with a slotted spoon (but KEEP THE BROTH) and place into a separate bowl
      11. Throw away the closed mussels
      12. Cover the bowl with foil (we need to keep these warm while we make the broth)

      Garlic, Onions, Shallots w/ Butter
      Mussels in the pot
      Mussels DONE

      The Broth and Bread
      Who are you kidding? Mussels are great BUT what really brings it together is that tasty, slightly buttery, white wine broth that's soaked up with crispy sourdough bread. If you've followed the recipe above, your broth should be almost there. It should be near perfect, but here is a list of steps to give it a little more love...
      Sweet Sweet Broth
      1. Turn the oven to 350 degrees and throw in some slices of sourdough bread
      2. Put the mussel pot back on the stove on High (with the remaining broth from step 10 above)
      3. Add a little bit of wine (1/4 wine glass should do it)
      4. Add another 1/4 stick of butter (don't tell her you're doing this)
      5. Add a few dashes of salt (I like pepper as well)
      6. Stir occasionally and boil down the liquid for a few minutes (tasting periodically)
      7. After a few minutes you're set
      8. Strain (or don't strain) the liquid and pour it over the mussels
      9. Remove bread from oven
      Eat and enjoy. Secretly bask in the glory that you're now an esteemed and established cook of French cuisine.

      Tuesday, July 10, 2012

      From calzones to pizza: The "art" of homemade pizza

      Don't worry - if the dough sticks, if you forget the flour, if you forget a pizza spatula, a calzone is a perfectly acceptable result...


      Six years ago, during a rare snow day in DC, my girlfriend at the time and I decided to try and make homemade pizza. Arriving around lunch time, she brought over fresh dough from Whole Foods and an eclectic mix of toppings. Armed with memories from my college summer job at an Italian restaurant and a new pizza stone. We were ready.

      Flour down. Oven at 475. Dough? Refusing to stay flat.

      Oven preheated. Flour everywhere. Dough? Finally flat, cans of soup at the corners, like turrets on a castle, keeping the dough from contracting...(can you tell we're novices?)

      Sauce. Cheese. Pepperoni. Black olives. Onions. Mushrooms. This is going to awesome.


      No one ever tells you that when you're prepping pizza on your counter top, you'll need to somehow transfer said pizza into the oven. Its all fine and good with those ultra thin, sheet metal-like pizza spatulas. But your standard, encyclopedia-level thickness, $15 dollar, wooden spatula would be better suited for kindling.

      Wedge. Pull. Knife. Flour. Wedge. Scrape. 1/3 of the pizza down.

      The thin pizza combined with the lack of flour on the counter top squished our pizza. Dough was everywhere. Our solution? Go with the flow, finish folding the dough over. CALZONE TIME.

      Second effort? Calzone time, part deux....

      Fast forward...

      But now six years later, its finally pizza time (did it take me six years to learn how to go from calzone to pizza? Yes, although I probably only make pizza about twice a year. But, um...disregard that thought while reading my tips below...)

      Making dough is great (and more power to you if you're at this level) but you can't go wrong with store bought fresh dough - I know Whole Foods sells it, other places should as well.

      I go "dough to oven" and skip the "counter top middle man" - I have yet to figure out how to get the dough to lay flat on a counter top without it contracting. My first approach was to take some dough, add flour, kind of toss it around, stretch it, maybe use a rolling pin a little bit, and finally take four cans of soup to each of the corners. Once souped up, I'd let the dough sit for a minute or two, and then finally the dough seemed to cooperate. But I'd still be left with the whole counter top-to-oven, calzone problem...

      Since then, I've found that my best strategy is to work the dough with your hands, continuing to rotate it like a disc, slowly letting gravity do the work. Once the dough is of proper oblong size, my sous chef pulls open the oven door, and I put the dough directly on the hot pizza stone. This seems to fix my contracting dough problem...

      I avoid the "calzone" problem by topping the pizza in the oven - I may lose about a minute or two of heat, but I'll sacrifice that for serving pizza not rolls of dough.

      Use a pizza stone AND keep it hot - I preheat my oven to 475 degrees. I avoid cookie sheets. I avoid the metal grates. That $20 pizza stone will give you some incredible crust.

      Still attempting deep dish pizza in my cast-iron skillet - I'm almost there. I tried it for the first time (sans internet help) last week. I feel like I'll only need about 3 more years to perfect it.

      You don't need a pizza cutter - A cleaver. A chef's knife. All perfectly acceptable slicing tools.

      The salad bar is an excellent avenue to forage for toppings that would be too expensive to buy a la carte

      The six years in the making "recipe:"
      • Store bought dough
      • Sauce
      • Cheese
      • Foraged salad bar toppings

      1. Preheat oven to 475
      2. Take a baseball-sized portion of dough and use your best technique to get it pizza-topping-worthy (see my method above)
      3. Cook dough for 2-3 minutes BY ITSELF
      4. During this time, get your sauce, cheese, and toppings prepped and close to the oven
      5. Open the oven, and use a knife to poke out any air bubbles
      6. Prep the pizza while its still in the oven. Shoot for a two minute pit crew time. (The pizza stone just seems wayyy to hot to pull out of the oven)
      7. Close. Timer to 10 minutes. (If you use fresh herbs or other high-heat sensitive toppings, try putting them on with about 3 minutes left)
      8. After 10 minutes check the state of the crust. The crust will tell you everything. (With my oven and two topping rounds, it takes about 16/17 minutes)
      9. Once the crust looks good, use your giant spatula to remove pizza
      10. Transfer to cutting board.
      11. Cut.
      12. Eat.
      Four interesting good pizza combinations:
      • Bacon + Blue Cheese + Red Onion
      • Black Olive + Pepperoni + Fresh Basil
      • Black Olive + Tomato + Cilantro + Feta 
      • Tomato + Cilantro + Jalapeno + Red Onion