Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seared Scallops with Sauteed Asparagus Recipe

They're almost like adult marshmallows (albeit a lot more expensive and probably never cooked over a campfire). And like marshmallows, they're very easy to cook, but with one false move, you may only have seconds for a graceful recovery.  However, unlike your charred, fire-ridden, .99-cent cylindrical collection of sugar - overcooked scallops will not be soft and mushy inside, they'll be tough, chewy, and sad.

But let's go back to how easy they're to make for your date:

  • 3/4 - 1lb of Fresh Sea Scallops (10/20 ct)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • One more additional seasoning (I like Cajun, or cinnamon and sugar, or blackening seasoning)
  • Olive oil or canola oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter
  • Skillet (I'm a fan of the cast-iron skillet)

Instructions (~4.5 minutes cook time)
  1. Lightly coat the skillet with olive oil or canola oil with a paper towel (if not seasoned)
  2. Preheat a cast-iron skillet on medium-high
  3. Add a few tablespoons of butter
  4. Season the scallops with your salt, pepper, and seasoning du jour (The flavors and spice of pre-mixed seasonings like the "Slap ya momma" brand or Cajun seasoning will be enhanced when you cook them, so use them sparingly)
  5. Put scallops in the skillet for about 3.5 minutes
  6. Flip and cook for 1 more minute or so
  7. Remove the scallops (they should feel like a medium rare steak)

  • The scallops should be off-white. Scallops that are white are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate and while "not harmful," I'll go with the off-white version...
  • The scallops will continue to cook even off the stove. This is the trick to fast cooking seafood - remove the seafood from the pan BEFORE it is completely cooked through!
  • If you cut one of the scallops, it should be about 1/3" opaque white with a slightly translucent middle (again, you can't get her sick off of FRESH, undercooked scallops)

For the visual minded, here are the steps in pictures:
1 lb of 10/20 Sea Scallops

Salt, Pepper, and Cajun. A little over-seasoned

Scallops in the Skillet

Flipped Scallops. 3.5 minutes in

Scallops. Opaque.

Finished Plate

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tuna for Idiots & Tuna Tataki Recipe

Cooking tuna is the easiest thing to do in the world. Its easier than Mac n Cheese. Its quicker than Mac n Cheese. And makes you look like a fucking top notch chef.

Just don't over cook it.

Tuna tastes terrible overcooked. You might as well just send her home. If you overcook tuna, you've failed. And if you undercook tuna...well...quit you're day job because you're now a novice sushi chef. Undercooked seafood = sushi (every yuppie is eating sushi, unlike chicken or pork, undercooking fresh fish won't get her sick. I promise).

Tonight I cooked Tuna tataki. Tuna tataki is really just fancy wording for quickly seared, but it just sounds a little more impressive and exotic...

Here's my utterly simple recipe:

  • 8oz Sashimi Grade Tuna
  • Sesame Seeds
  • My Asian Marinade
  • Cast Iron Skillet (any skillet will do, but the cast iron is nice...)
  • Ground Pepper
I'm all for a simple dry-rub on fish and meat. Tuna especially does well with cajun seasoning, blackening season, a sesame/ginger/orange spice, or just salt and pepper; however, tonight, I decided to do a marinade. Since I was going to sear the tuna pretty quickly, I was hoping the marinade would absorb into the uncooked tuna and help enhance the flavor. I was right and it was an impressive....

Marinated tuna with sesame seeds
1) Prepare the 3rd Date Cooking Asian Marinade (Here's the link to the recipe)
2) Soak the tuna in the marinade for 20 minutes
3) Sprinkle seasme seeds (mostly for show, lets be honest) and ground pepper on both sides of the tuna
4) Heat a cast-iron skillet to high. Wait 3-5 minutes for the skillet to be really hot.
5) Place tuna in the skillet. Cook times:
  • 30 seconds covered. Flip
  • 30 seconds uncovered
  • 15 seconds each of the three edges (use tongs)
  • Done.
Cooked Tuna. Ready to be cut.
6) Take a really sharp knife and cut the tuna against the grain - that way each piece will easily break apart. (You can see the lines in the photos).
Sliced against the grain

7) Pat yourself on the back. You're establishing your seafood repertoire.

Tuna Tataki with ponzu dipping sauce

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DC Restaurant Week: Sushi Taro

2 out of 4 stars. "Pass"

Japanese 7
Simple or lacking?
I have to be honest...I wasn't a huge fan of Sushi Taro. For the price and the hype, I don't think it was worth it.

Don't get me wrong, the quality of the sashimi slices was impeccable - thick, firm cuts of fish without a trace of fishy smell. The service was strong (but I expect that everywhere). The presentation was lacking. Tempura was oily.  And the pre-added wasabi over-powered the sushi selections. For a $100+ tab for two (dinner, wine, tasting flight), I would go somewhere else.

But before I continue, I will caveat this review. I eat sushi. Well....I'll eat most sushi (minus sea urchin). And I know I don't have the "palette" to discern $10 slices of tuna sashimi versus $7 slices of tuna sashimi. $3 happy hour Cafe Asia sashimi slices? Well, yes....

For me, its like wine. I know when I'm drinking a bladder of boxed wine but with a $25 bottle, $40 bottle, and $70 bottle of wine, it isn't always easy to determine which is best (and when did price suddenly associate with the best quality?).

However, because of this gap, I'm looking for everything else to appeal to me: atmosphere, presentation, texture, creativity, uniqueness, and complex flavors. Maybe Sushi Taro would work for a sashimi purest, but not for that remaining 98% of us.

I would choose Oya over Sushi Taro. The Oya rolls are fucking amazing - the spicy crunchy tuna one especially.

The opening consisted of a 3-box small tasting:
  • 1st box: soba noodle
  • 2nd box: fine cuts of sashimi
  • 3rd box: sunomono
The soba noodle was presented in a small bowl layered in a light miso broth with thinly sliced scallions and a small fish cake. Plain but probably a good opening. The slice of Salmon and Red Snapper showed the quality of fish that Sushi Taro serves. Both were mild. Nothing crazy. But I guess its tough to make a slice of fish exciting...

I struggled to eat the sunomono with chopsticks - the cube-like mixture of pate (I think), seaweed, vinegar, and jelly kept falling apart so I struggle with being able to have all the ingredients come together in a single thought (foodie word for "bite").  It was the most unique but not strong eough to make me order it again.

Warm Dish Choice, choose one:
  • Black cod marinated yu-an soy sauce
  • Angus Beef Sukiyaki
  • Wild prawn & Veggies Tempura
Black Cod and the "swirl"
The black cod was the highlight of the meal; The thick cut of cod felt similar to a serving of Chilean sea bass (but slightly less fatty and "buttery"), which had a slight coating of sauce that was akin to a brush of mild ponzu/miso sauce. The cod was accompanied by a unique spiral of crab and ginger wrapped in a thick cut of seaweed. Huge contrast in texture between the swirl and the cod but flavor-wise, I didn't think they went together very well.

My date had the vegetable and prawn tempura. Previous reviews had mentioned the prawns came full-bodied (yes I know I'm not talking about wine...) so I was excited to enjoy the sweetness of the head. But to my dismay, they were headless. The dish was a tad heavy on tempura batter, which consequently, overpowered the vegetables choices. I was looking for light with a focus on the vegetable but I tasted more oil than vegetable.

Sushi Choice, choice one (plus a California roll or Spice tuna roll):
  • Regular 7: tuna, salmon shrimp, eel, yellow-tail, white fish, omelet
  • Japanese 5: Octopus, Mackerel, Tuna, Raw sweet (botan) shrimp), Red snapper
  • Special 4: Fatty tuna, Wagyu, JPN fish, salmon caviar or sea urchin
The quality of the sashimi slices was very good; I was particularly impressed with the knife work for the raw shrimp and mackerel. We were, however, surprised at the amount of wasabi included on a few of the sushi pieces. On one or two pieces, it was overpowering and unfortunately, masked the potential flavor of the sushi. The added spicy tuna roll was your standard, run-of-the-mill, mixed tuna-spiciness mush that could've been made anywhere. Next please.

  • Green Tea or Mango ice cream cream is ice cream.

The presentation of each dish was very simple and I could go either way on arguing that the chef was trying to let the food speak for itself; however, it just seemed.....lacking. No color on the tempura dish. No complex flavors.

So that's my review. I'm by no means a sushi connoisseur but if you're reading this review and thinking about going to Sushi Taro for restaurant week, you're probably in that 98 percentile. And you could maybe choose somewhere else, but if you go, don't expect mind-blowing.

I have to admit, we wandered over to Urbana a little later, relaxed at the lounge, drank cocktails, then demolished an impressive salsiccia (sopressata, onions, olives, artichokes, and Italian sausage) flatbread.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Poll: How much food prep should be done ahead of time?

Music softly playing...

Table set...

Candles lit...

Guy in a meticulously-ironed-but-now-messed-up-collared-shirt (these istockphotos kill me)...

Dinner on the table... or not?

For the first or second home-cooked date, how much food prep and cooking should be done ahead of time?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Guest Post: Cook Simple. Date Simple.

Guest post by Kate

A friend told me recently "dating is like cooking--- just keep it simple. Work with a key ingredient you know you like and everything else will come together."

Man, did she hit that nail on the head.

I've been lucky to date some pretty amazing cooks over the last year and a half. Some have made me big elaborate meals. Seared tuna served with homemade fancy sauces, side dishes that I couldn't pronounce even if you paid me, and wine pairings with each course. Some have kept it simple. Sprinkled salt and pepper on a steak, grilled it, and served it with a fresh farmers salad. Some have invited me over for dinner and had music playing, the table set like we were at the Ritz, and refused to let me lift a finger to help while juggling three cookbooks and eight different pans on the stove. Some have had simple hors d'oeuvres and wine waiting. Others have shown up at my place with a bag full of groceries and suggested we cook together and eat Indian style in front of my coffee table.

Guess what meals I've enjoyed more?

The simple ones.

Not the ones that are followed to a T with elaborate ingredients spread across the counter. Not the ones where the guy stresses because the flavors are wrong or his timing with courses is off. Not the ones that require me to ohhh and ahhhh or feel like I need to sit proper and savor every bite. Not the ones that the food is the most important aspect of the night.

But the ones that don't follow a recipe book, and instead add a little salt here, try a little taste, and add a little more? I like those. The ones that I can sit out on the deck with my legs crossed and bare feet dangling in the cool September air and just enjoy the goodness of the simple food and its natural flavors? I really like those. And the ones that the company and connection grab you and you get lost in the conversation, not lost in the complexity of the food? Those are my favorite.

Dating is the same way.

When you keep a recipe of what you expect out of who you date, the whole dating game becomes extremely complicated, and you will most likely end up disappointed and stressed out. Why? Because you have overcomplicated what could have been a very simple, enjoyable thing.

See, when I moved to DC last fall I started off with a long checklist of what I expected in the men I dated. I dated men that made the checklist, but I was continuously disappointed when they didn't live it up to what I expected. Eventually, this summer I re-evaluated what I really want in someone. And I determined that I just want a good person. A good man. While there needs to be the right amount of attraction and chemistry as well, everything else can be substituted. So, I threw the list away and started from scratch. So far, it is working pretty well.

What I have learned is that when comes to dating, don't go for the elaborate four-course meal with wine pairings. Instead, find one true "ingredient" you need to have in the person you are with (aka, your non-negotiable) and all the other "ingredients" will come together as they should. Just like a simple home cooked meal.

Kate is the former author of A Single Girl Doing Single Things and is co-creator and contributor for Doing the District. You can follow her on twitter at @AppealingKate

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Feed her before dinner. It's her popcorn to your movie.

Yes I know that sounds ridiculous.

But hear me out?

I'm sure you've heard some *coy* variation of W. C. Fields's quote: "I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food." But if you're cooking with her (remember my Tip of the Day back in June?) or even if she's watching you cook, give her something to munch on.

(Pause for the "That's what she said" jokes)

You're smart enough to have already offered her a drink, so I'm sure she has a glass of wine in hand. But go out and buy a few small appetizers. It doesn't have to be fancy. Pick a few from this list - hummus, fresh sourdough bread, fresh cheese, slices of cucumber, olives. Fresh tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

Now look at that:
  • Initiative to cook at your place - check
  • Real, non-disposable plates and utensils - check
  • Clean apartment - check
  • You're cooking - check
  • She's drinking wine and watching you - check
And now she's slightly hungry looking at the food but dinner isn't ready for another 20 minutes. Well? You had the foresight and planning to know this. It's her popcorn to your movie. Well played sir, well played.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My go-to Asian Marinade

About 15 months ago I stumbled upon a great Soy Sauce-based marinade for fish and chicken. It's my go-to. It's so easy and tastes great.

It consists of 3-4 central ingredients and then I make minor tweaks based on what herbs/spices I have left in my kitchen.  I primarily use it on chicken thighs, NFL-ready chicken wings, and grilled or smoked salmon.

The Original Recipe
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (I prefer the low-sodium soy sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/2 cup minced green onion
  • 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Most guys don't have all of these ingredients but you don't have to embarass yourself looking for a funny root called "ginger." The key components are the soy sauce and sesame oil.  I *know* you have pepper. But from there, the marinade has some options.

  • Add Heat - I like adding cayenne pepper to give some heat to the dish. (A little!) Cayenne will give heat briefly but won't burn your mouth forever
  • Add Orange Zest (read: Orange peel) - If you want to look like a professional grate a 1/4 of an orange's bright peel. Orange-flavors always go well with Asian food. (Remember that $5-Orange-chicken-rice-eggroll-soda-hangover remedy in college? Yes Yuan Ho of Charlottesville, I'm looking at you)
  • Keep the green onions (or chives, or skinny, green-topped onions thingys) if you can - Good texture, good flavor

Don't worry if you don't have:
  • Ginger
  • Minced garlic
  • Honey (Although I think this adds a lot to it)
  • Actual measurement utensils.  Start with soy-sauce. Add a lot less sesame oil. Put in some herbs. Taste frequently. 

Actually Marinating the Food
  • I've marinated wings and chicken thighs (recipe coming later) anywhere from 30 minutes - 4 hours.
  • Salmon will pick up this marinade in about 30 minutes

Marinating Tips
  • Don't use your marinade as the sauce later! That marinade has been sitting with raw chicken
  • Use a zip lock bag and put the marinade and chicken in it together
  • Marinade fish fleshy-side down