Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beginner Fishing: Pan-fried, Cajun-seasoned Tilapia

I'm not sure when the misconception that fish is difficult to cook came around but it's amazing how many people tell me they're truly scared of cooking fish. Cooking fish is really not that bad. It's actually quite easy - as long as you cook the fish within a few days of buying it, I will guarantee success the first go-around.

So, let's start with something easy...

Something with butter... (everyone loves food cooked in butter)

Something you can't screw up...

Pan-fried, cajun-seasoned tilapia (or other similar whitefish) anyone?

The ingredients are simple. The cook time is under 10 minutes. The prep time is under 5 minutes. The cost is under $10. Your house won't smell like fish oil. And nearly everyone is impressed when you cook seafood.

This is a beginner recipe. But everyone can embrace its simplicity.

Pan-Fried, Cajun-Seasoned Tilapia Recipe
  • 2 pieces of tilapia
  • Butter
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Skillet (a Cast-Iron skillet will put a nice crust on the fish)
  • Shallots (or onions)

  1. Finely chop shallots
  2. Coat the tilapia in salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning
  3. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a skillet on Med-High
  4. Once the butter has somewhat melted, throw in the shallots
  5. After about a minute, put in the tilapia
  6. After 3 minutes or so, flip the tilapia
  7. Remove from heat once the fish becomes flaky 
That's it. Pure and simple. Master the pan-fried white fish and we're on our way to being a true seafood champion - soon you'll be shucking oysters....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Guest Post: Baking for Beginners (From scratch...for your date)

I won't touch baking... I'm terrible at following recipes and feel the need to improvise even if it's after reading the side of the Mac N Cheese box. So here's another guest post from Kate. About baking. With easy-to-follow recipes. It's like reciprocation through...ahem...baking. After you're done reading this post, you can check out her previous guest post here, and her blog (Doing the District) as well. -Matt

While Matt discovered that cooking can really impress a girl, I've learned that baking can really impress a guy.

Whether it's baking a cake for your boyfriend's birthday, cookies to thank a guy friend who did you a favor, or bringing a loaf of homemade banana bread as a host gift when a guy cooks you dinner on a third date, I've only ever received positive feedback when I bake for a guy. They all love it.

I started baking about six years ago (Of course, it all began one night when I was just looking for something mindless to do after a long day spent in the library studying tax law...). I wandered through the baking aisle of the grocery store and bought some pre-packaged cookie mixes.

I baked four dozen cookies that night.

...and promptly gave them all away to guy friends the next day

Three years later and I'm still baking. And now I only bake from scratch. Why? Because it's rewarding to create something on your own and then watch someone you care about enjoy it. To have a stressful day at work but come home and relax in the kitchen with a glass of wine and a new recipe to try out. To wake up early, brew some coffee, mix together some ingredients, pop your creation in the oven and know that ten minutes later your entire house is going to smells cozy. And that when that sleepy guy crawls out of your bed and plops on your couch his eyes are going to light up when you hand him a warm apple and cranberry muffin.

And let me tell you--- it's really not that hard at all, especially if you follow the same mantra that Matt hammers home on this blog: Just make it fun.

One thing to keep in mind though. While I love Matt's theme of cooking without a recipe, you can't really do that with baking. The right amount of flour, sugar, and baking soda can make or break a recipe. That said, here are two (easy) recipes. Both will impress your man, or your potential man. Or even just your guy friends (Or practice baking homemade goods for your dad this weekend to celebrate Father's Day).

Banana Bread*
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup margarine/ butter (melter/ soft)
  • 1 2/3 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup banana (mashed)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • (You can also add things in like chocolate chips or walnuts)
  1. Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray loaf pan with non-stick spray. Set aside
  3. Beat sugar and butter until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, bananas, and water
  4. In separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt
  5. Mix in with the other ingredients until well blended
  6. Pour into the loaf pan
  7. Bake for 60-65 minutes until the top has a nice crispy crust
*This is a low fat recipe that I found online and altered slightly. The best part? You cannot tell that it's low fat AT ALL.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (melted and cooled until warm)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chocolate chips
  1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Line two baking sheets with either parchment/ wax paper or spray with non-stick spray. Set aside
  3. Mix the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside
  4. Mix the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until blended smooth
  5. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla
  6. Slowly add the flour mix
  7. Add the chocolate chips last
  8. Scoop pieces of the dough (about two tablespoons) with a spoon and drop on the cookie sheets about 2-3 inches apart
  9. To make sure you are making them the right size, you should make between 18-20 cookies with this recipe
  10. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the cookies are a light brown
  11. Remove the cookies and let them cool on the baking sheets (this allows the centers to cook a little more while the outer edges cool)

Kate is a co-creator and author of Doing the District. You can follow her on twitter at @appealingkate

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cook outside the lines (plus grilling a whole black sea bass)

Every so often you fall into a rut.

The monotonous chopping on the cutting board.

(Vegetable Tuesdays)

The familiar bing of the numeric keypad on the microwave.

(Frozen Dinner Wednesdays)

4 quarts. 1 tbsp. 8 minutes to boil. 10 minutes to cook.

(Pasta Thursdays)

Although, it's probably not smart to follow your visions of grandeur for that first time you cook for her (Food Network contestants can't pull together a meringue in 30 minutes, so what makes you think you can too??? You're already stressing out about everything else!).

So maybe on that third meal, you step out of your comfort zone. Cook something you've never cooked before. Try something completely new. It may not deliver the same kind of adrenaline as skydiving from a Groupon-promoted, hippie skydiving coop, but it could work for a monotonous Tuesday night.

But be honest, tell her you have no idea what you're doing. Don't be too serious. Make it fun. Have her help you out. Work together.

  • Avoid foods that could get you both sick if you two screw up (lets avoid raw steak tartare, okay?)
  • Build off of your existing knowledge 
    • Good at grilling? Grill differently
    • Have made fresh pasta? Try ravioli or flavored pasta
  • Make it a sliding scale based on your skill
    • Used to cooking Mac n Cheese? Try sautéing tilapia
    • Can sear tuna with the best of them? Try shucking oysters
    • Mastered grilled chicken? Try grilled pizza or a grilled whole fish.
    • Enjoy sushi? Make it
    • Roll fresh pasta
    • Buy a pizza stone
  • I've definitely failed on a few occasions...
    • I tried to make squid-ink pasta one time.  We bought fresh, whole squids from the fish market, cleaned them, "attempted" to harvest the ink, and then "attempted" to make pasta AND use the squid ink.  It failed brilliantly. 
    • But I can assure you, I'll always remember our attempt at squid-ink pasta, and I know she does too.  
I couldn't tell you what we ate instead or if we went hungry, but making something different, and together, was all that mattered.
    Grilled Black Sea Bass
    The other weekend I found myself wandering around the DC Fish Market. Bored with the standard jumbo shrimp and wanting to avoid another failed attempt at squid ink pasta, I settled on a 4 lb. black sea bass. Now I've cooked a whole fish once before, but it had been awhile, and I couldn't remember any of the details, so in my mind, I was starting with a clean slate.

    When I cook something for the first time, I usually look up recipes to get some general guidelines.  I focus on general cooking times and potential flavor combinations, but usually wing the rest.  Try doing the same (use your existing knowledge as the base). Here's what I tried for the sea bass: 

    My Ad Hoc Sea Bass Recipe
    • 4 lb Black Sea Bass, cleaned and scaled
    • Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil
    • Lemon
    • Fresh herbs
    • Grill
    Things I've learned
    • Preheat the grill and make sure the grate is hot
    • Try to flip only once, you'll ruin the skin and risk losing all of the herbs inside if you keep playing with it
    • Make sure you know what to do with the fish after its cooked (removing the head, bones, etc.)
    • My electric grill didn't put nearly as enough char on it as I would've liked, so I'm curious to know what a gas grill can do
    • A whole fish can look and be intense to cook. Gauge her interest. You don't want to gross her out when she sees the cooked fish with those white eyes staring up at her
    • Have someone else clean the fish (or do it before gets there). Nothing says serial killer more than a first row view at your stellar fish-gutting skills. (DC Fish market will clean  fish for $2-3 a fish)

    Simple, easy ingredients (per the usual)

    Stuff with wholesomeness, coated with olive oil
    Grilled. But not as charred as I would've liked. Cooked about 20 minutes on Med-High