Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Applause, Applause

Occasionally I like to throw my audience a bone. The audience in this case being the husband; and the bone, a fish bone. I believe I've stated my position on the sea creatures, but I'm also certain that its good idea to keep the audience happy and leave 'em wanting more. The husband loves fish and often do I hear the plaintive wail: "you never make fish for dinner!" To which I generally respond: "When you're the chef you can make what you like. Now get to work carving that chicken."

Maybe my taste buds have changed, or maybe being on a diet has paradoxically made me more adventurous, but lately I find I'm more willing to try new things - especially new recipes. Its as if the minor restrictions of the South Beach Diet have lead to a wealth spring of culinary creativity and our menus these last four weeks have been more varied then ever. Frankly, cooking has been a complete joy lately. I've fallen in love with my kitchen all over again and the results have been spectacular.

Given my new-found sense of adventure, I decided to try some fish last night. This is truly a shocking development. I once went an entire year without eating fish, due to a somewhat playful New Year's resolution on my part. We have a long standing tradition of throwing an open house party on New Year's Day. I have the guests write out their resolutions on a slip of paper and place them in a decorative bowl. Eventually, we pass the resolution bowl around, draw out a slip of paper each, and read the resolution aloud. My theory being that no one ever keeps their own resolutions, so perhaps its a better idea to try someone else's.

Much laughter ensues as the resolutions are read out and its become my favorite part of the New Year festivities. A few years ago, one of my sister in laws resolved to "eat more fish." I was so utterly terrified that I would pull that out of the bowl, that I put in: "eat less fish." As luck would have it, I picked my own resolution out that year. Its the only one I've ever kept.

But that was then and this is now. Recently, my dear friend Debbie was talking about her Mexican Tilapia recipe and it sounded really delicious. She explained that she seasons the fish with some Cajun spice, grills or bakes it, and then tops it with her version of Pico de Gallo. She listed the ingredients, but not specific amounts, and being the kind of cook who never follows a recipe exactly - this was perfect for me. Plenty of room for interpretation.

It was also a little intimidating. I've baked, constructed and decorated four tier wedding cakes, but I know less than nothing about cooking fish, much less how to bake it. I winged it and, despite my fears, the results were scrumptious. Applause all around ... the audience was happy and I learned that maybe the sea creatures aren't so bad after all.

Mexican Tilapia

  • 2 nice Tilapia fillets
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Cajun Spice mixture or Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle blend*
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil a low-rimmed baking dish and set aside. Brush the tilapia fillets lightly with the olive oil on both sides, season them with the salt and pepper and place them in the baking dish. Mix the mayonnaise and Dijon together in a small bowl and spread a thin layer of the mixture over the top of each fillet. Season to taste with the Cajun spice or Mrs. Dash. Bake fish in the middle of the oven for @ 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets. If they're thin, they will require less time ... more if they're thicker.

While the fish is baking, prepare the sauce.

Pico de Gallo

  • one 14.5 oz. can of Petite Diced Tomatoes with Jalapeño**
  • juice of 1/2 of a lime
  • 2 tbsp. minced red onion
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 small fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend. Reserve in the fridge until the fish is cooked.

Remove the fish from the oven when its done, top with the Pico de Gallo, serve and enjoy!

* I could not find Cajun spice blend in my market, so I defaulted to the Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle Blend and it was fine.

**I also could not find the unseasoned petite diced tomatoes, so I chose the jalapeño blend. Its fairly well seasoned and spicy on its own, so taste it before you decide to add the fresh jalapeno peppers. We like spicy food, so I chose to add the fresh peppers anyway. I like the texture they give, but YMMV, of course so I'll leave the choice up to you. If you've got the unseasoned tomatoes, then by all means do add the fresh jalapeños. Either way, you'll have some of the delicious Pico de Gallo left over ... and I'll give you some ideas for using it up ... tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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