It was time to cook, and we needed a new, fresh idea. The exchange normally starts over email, with ideas fluttering through the virtual airwaves during the days leading up to the planned bonanza. Its starts as a number of rambling replies until we’ve narrowed it down to something that actually would make sense to another person. This is how we work. It’s what we do! It has proven successful over the near two years we have worked on this website, so why fix something that ain’t broke?
We’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look at our process, and, in essence, one of our beliefs of cooking. It’s collaborative, creative and enjoyable. We bounce ideas back and forth to see what sticks. Some of those ideas are off the wall; others are more run of the mill. The final result is something that straddles the line between the usual and unexpected. Our goal is to play around with flavors, experiment with new ingredients and nudge boundaries. That’s how we stumbled upon the idea for our original monthly series: The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration. It combines two of our favorite things–a love for investigating new cuisines and markets and sharing it with other people. That also brings us to today’s platter.
We wanted a recipe that showcased who we are, what we love and the flavors that move us. We have independently spent several years living in the South–Alabama, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. A lot of the foods that we ate everyday or even just on special occasions are the foods that we still crave and enjoy cooking for ourselves and others. Somehow, certain ingredients or methods rear their delectable heads in our current cooking styles. On the other hand, we’ve both passed five years here in Los Angeles. Farm fresh produce, Latin and Central American influences and light, healthier meals have made lasting impressions on our palates, making their way into our repertoire.
We started with our email banter and came up with something that would speak to our Southern and Californian tastes, the flavors that make our mouths water. The biggest Southern influences in this meal would be catfish coated in crusty cornmeal, a sauce reminiscent of pimento cheese thin enough to drape on top, and a twist on fried green tomatoes. The California style would appear in the form of tacos, a bright salsa and firm tomatillos. This would be our “Southern” California lunch on a sunny Southern California afternoon.
Once we get to the kitchen, the real fun begins. Most of the time, we write our own recipes, but from time to time, we will reference another source. It doesn’t matter what the recipe is, nine times out of then, we will not follow it to a “T”. We are constantly making changes, adding more of this, reducing a little of that, to get the dish to a place where it tastes great to us. We have been known to toss an unfamiliar ingredient into the pot, crossed our fingers (and toes) and hoped everything would come out right. We will take risks in the kitchen. Cooking fearlessly is what we aim to do each and every time we turn on the stove.
When the collaboration happens, it’s evident from prep to plating. One chops, the other stirs. One boils, the other fries. One peels, the other sings off key to Lady Gaga. One flips, the other one runs for cover! There’s also a lot of tasting that happens. We dip into bowls and pots and pass a spoon over for initial reviews and the final seal of approval. There may be disagreements (never violent), but we respect the other’s opinion and knowledge enough to defer to them if the situation is right. We are a good pair, and the entire process is never a chore. It’s fun from beginning to end.
We have maintained a tried and true method for ourselves that exemplifies how we feel about cooking and food. We have been lucky, fortunate and proud to have other people recognize what makes us uniquely us. Of course, we have to thank each person who reads, comments, emails, Facebooks and tweets with us about our recipes and the exciting things we have done and accomplished. Who would’ve thought we’d be dessert contest finalists, host a dinner at a major local restaurant, demo an original recipe at a food festival, win a pie contest, plan a Haiti fundraiser with the support of the food community, contribute recipes for an electronic and printed cookbook, develop recipes for an international food brand and share a feature on Los Angeles bakeries for a radio station? Definitely not us. But we are excited about everything that has happened and only want to keep moving onward and upward. It’s not just about achieving; it’s also about growing, evolving, learning and being better than we were yesterday, last month and last year. That’s why we are the Duo that continues to dish–we’ll always be passionate eaters, and we have no plan to stop.
A note to our readers: This post is our first entry to the Project Food Blog contest hosted by Foodbuzz.com for its Featured Publishers. Nearly 1,900 contestants are vying to be named the next big food blogger. Oh, the last blogger standing wins an enticing prize of $10,000. Over the course of ten challenges, people will be knocked out of the running. We hope to make it to the top, but we can only do that with your help! Those voting will include our readers, Foodbuzz Featured Publisher peers and a panel of pre-selected judges. Voting for the first round begins on Monday, September 20th and ends Thursday, September 23rd. View our profile here.
In the meantime, enjoy these recipes!
Catfish Tacos with Pimento Cheese Crema – Serves 2
1/2 pound catfish nuggets
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon sriracha
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
4-6 small corn tortillas, warmed
Cabbage, shredded (optional)
Pimento cheese crema
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup Mexican cheese blend
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pimentos, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup crema mexicana
1/2 tablespoon Tabasco
Juice of 1/2 lime
1. Starting with the catfish, whisk together the buttermilk, lemon zest, sriracha and garlic. Add the fish, coating well. Cover and pop into the fridge for an hour.
2. While the fish chills, mix together cornmeal, salt, pepper and paprika. Set aside.
3. For the sauce, beat the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, cover and chill.
4. Once the fish has finished marinating in the buttermilk, set a shallow pat of canola oil over medium high heat. As the oil heats, drop each piece of fish into the cornmeal coating, making sure to cover all sides. Fry each piece of fish for approximately 3-5 minutes (depending on size of the nuggets) or until done. Set aside to drain on a paper towel lined plate.
5. Fill the warm tortillas with a bit of cabbage, then pieces of catfish. Top with a bit of the pimento crema sauce and serve.
Watermelon Salsa – Serves 4
1 tomato, deseeded and chopped
1 cup watermelon, seedless and chopped
1 Persian cucumber, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 small avocado, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt, to taste
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Chill until ready to eat.
Baked Green Tomatillos – Serves 4
4 large tomatillos, sliced
1/4 cup masa de harina
1/4 cup panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1. Mix the masa de harina, panko crumbs, chili powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Use a pastry brush to swipe each slice of tomatillo with a little buttermilk. Press both sides of the tomatillo in the coating mixture, then lay on a baking sheet. Drizzle each slice with a bit of olive oil.
3. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until crisp and browned. Flip halfway through.
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The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration: Greek
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