Tag Archives: potatoes

Simple Baked Tilapia, Asparagus and Potatoes

21 May

Today’s recipe is very simple, the kind of food that I crave when I crave a home-cooked meal.  There’s something about eating out at restaurants that gets tiring.  It’s fun to try new things, but constantly eating rich and fancy and indulgent meals gets old quickly for me.  Sometimes I just want something simple.  And somehow this meal satisfies my craving for a simple, square meal.

So here’s the disclaimer: this isn’t anything wild and crazy and innovative, it’s just simple and satisfying and good (and healthy).  This is the sort of thing we eat on weeknights when we’re not feeling adventurous, so feel free just to use this as inspiration, rather than a hard-and-fast recipe.

I tend to use a lot of tilapia when I cook fish, mainly because I usually buy a big bag of the individually wrapped frozen fillets and keep them in the freezer for a quick and easy weeknight meal.  But feel free to substitute any other white fish you like (or even salmon) – you will just need to adjust the baking time depending on the thickness of the fish.


Simple Baked Tilapia with Asparagus and Baby Potatoes

Yield: 2 servings; Time: 15 min. active, 15 min. inactive

  • 1 bundle asparagus, ends trimmed off
  • 3/4 lb. baby potatoes
  • 2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried (or 1 teaspoon fresh) thyme
  • Fresh basil (optional)
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a pot and fill with enough water to cover, plus a teaspoon or two of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for ~7  minutes, depending on size.  The goal is to par-boil them, not cook them all the way (and then finish the cooking in the oven).

Coat a baking dish with a layer of olive oil or cooking spray.  Place the tilapia filets in the dish and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, lemon juice, half the garlic and half the lemon zest (I seasoned one side and then flipped them over a few times to make sure they were well coated).

Remove half-cooked potatoes from the boiling water, allow to cool briefly, then cut into halves or quarters.  Toss potatoes and asparagus with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (just enough to coat), salt, pepper and remainder of minced garlic and lemon zest.  Place on a baking sheet.

Place the tilapia and potatoes/asparagus in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes (the fish will take 15-17 min depending on the thickness – it’s done when it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque all the way through; the potatoes/asparagus will take 13-15 minutes).

Serve immediately with fresh basil and/or diced tomato.  Make sure to pour any lemony liquid from the fish baking dish over top!

My First Real Dinner Party

24 Jan

Matt and I hosted our first real dinner party last week, for a group of friends we met through a fellow Notre Dame alumna.  I was a little nervous, since I felt some pressure to make an amazing meal, but it went very smoothly.   I served a simple, homey meal of roast chicken breasts, garlic green beans, honey butter carrots and salt-and-vinegar roasted baby potatoes.  Nothing fancy, just basic foods done well.  I took a few “before” pictures, but unfortunately no “after” pictures since I was so busy serving the guests!  So be forewarned, raw chicken pictures ahead!

Along the way, I feel like I learned some key tips to hosting a dinner party, so I will share those with you:

1)  Prep everything ahead.  The more you can do ahead, the better!  Either the night before or the morning of.  The morning of the dinner party, I prepped and blanched the green beans, peeled and cut the carrots and put them in the pot, par-cooked the potatoes (see below for the recipe), and made the compound butter for the chicken.  This made things so much easier later in the day.

2)  Make simple, well-practiced recipes.  Don’t try new things for a dinner party!  This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you cook something you are comfortable with and proud of, you will have less worries and no insecurities!  At most, experiment with one new recipe (just not the main one!).  Also, consider what your guests will like.  Are they going to appreciate a super spicy Thai curry?  Or are they a more traditional crowd?  For people I don’t know that well, I tend to stick with more comfort, traditional foods.

3)  Choose seasonal and/or on sale ingredients.  Go to the grocery store and see what looks good, what’s in season, and what is on sale before you decide on the menu.  That’s how I ended up cooking green beans and carrots, because they looked the best of the veggies in the store.  Dinner parties can also be expensive when cooking for a crowd, so choose your protein based on what’s on sale!   You don’t have to be cheap, just savvy.

4)  Be flexible.  Plan for the worst.  Have a back up plan.  Make enough food so there is plenty, just in case your guests are extra hungry or you have late additions.  It’s never bad to have leftovers anyway (we turned ours into soup!).

5)  Invite the right number of people for the kind of party you want.  We had 6 people total, which felt like the perfect size – not too many, not too few.  Too few people, and to me there is less motivation to put in a lot of work (is that bad?!).  But at the same time, that may be a good thing!  If you have too many people invited, it can become overwhelming and intimidating to cook so much food (especially if you want to make more labor-intensive recipes).  Plus you want everyone to be able to fit at a table together!

6) Take people up on their offers to bring something.  I think it’s generally true that if someone offers to bring something, that they would really like to.  It can be overwhelming to plan for not only dinner, but also drinks and dessert.  So if someone offers to bring drinks or a dessert, graciously accept!  That way you can focus more on the dinner, with one less thing to worry about!

7)  Put on some music.  Not too loud!  It’s awkward to feel like you are shouting over the music, but a little bit in the background really helps the atmosphere ;-)

8)  Set out snacks to buy you some time.  This is optional and depends on your timeline for the night.  If you plan to serve dinner very shortly after guests arrive, then you probably don’t need to have snacks, but inevitably, it always feels like dinner is delayed (see my next point).  If there are a few simple snacks out (store bought nuts, pretzels, hummus, olives or marinated mozzarella, etc etc) then at least it buys the cook some time to finish dinner and takes the pressure off.

9) Plan to have the food ready 15-30 min before it really should be ready.  It seems inevitable that if you plan to have dinner ready at 7, it’ll really be done at 7:30.  The chicken always takes longer than you think, or you get distracted, etc etc.   So just to avoid being frantic, I think it’s ok to plan to be done cooking a little before you would really like to be.  For example, our guests were scheduled to arrive at 6:30, so I was planning to have the food ready at 7 (no snacks, just dinner).  Originally I was planning on having the food done at 6:45, which I should have stuck with (!!), since the time I actually had the food done was……7:30.  Oops.  Learn from my mistakes people!

10)  Have fun!  Had to add this last one since a list of 9 things would just look weird.

For my dinner party, I made lemon-butter-herb roasted chicken breasts, which I have made several times now.  I don’t even have a recipe for it, but I just combine the following to make a compound butter:

  • Butter, softened
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, whatever you have!), chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh garlic, minced
  • Lemon zest

I don’t measure, I just eyeball it.  I’m pretty sure you can’t really mess it up.  Spread the compound butter and lemon slices under the skin of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (these stay SO much more moist than boneless, skinless), like this (sorry it kind of looks gross):

Drizzle the tops with a little bit of olive oil (to help them brown) and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in a 400-425°F oven for about an hour, or until the meat reaches 165°F (using a meat thermometer really makes it so much easier – that way you can have full confidence when it’s done and avoid over-cooking it).   Again, sorry I  do not have an after picture!!  Guess it was just so delicious that it was immediately devoured :)

On the side of the chicken, I served two simple vegetables:

Garlic Green Beans:  First, blanch the green beans in a pot of boiling water (that means, toss the green beans in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, to start the cooking and bring out the bright green color).  Remove and immediately place in a large bowl of ice water to quickly cool and stop the cooking.  This can be done ahead – just keep the beans in the fridge until ready for the next step.  To sauté, heat some olive oil and some butter in a skillet, and add several cloves of garlic (sliced, not minced).  Allow them to cook until lightly golden brown, then add the green beans and toss to coat with the garlicky oil, a minute or two until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper.

Honey Butter Carrots:  Cut 1 lb carrots into large pieces, and throw them in a pot.  Add a few tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of water, a generous drizzle of honey, some salt, pepper and a dash of ground ginger (if you have it):

Turn heat on medium and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes.  Uncover, increase the heat and cook, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate.  Lower the heat, cooking until tender.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you have it!

The green beans turned out great – still had some crunch to them, and lots of garlic flavor.  The carrots were the best I’ve ever made.  I don’t even normally like cooked carrots, and I had seconds and thirds of these!  That must speak volumes!

I also served these Salt and Vinegar Roasted Potatoes along side:

I broke a rule of entertaining by trying these out for the first time at a party, and I paid for my mistake!  They turned out good, but not great.  I think I would have added more salt and more vinegar if I could do it over, though I already felt like I added a lot of salt and was scared to add too much vinegar!  The potatoes didn’t get as crunchy and roasty as I thought they would, so that was another thing that fell short.  I would make them again, but I didn’t think they were particularly impressive.

So there you have it – my adventures in dinner parties!  Feel free to share your advice in the comments section!

Not-from-a-box Potato Gratin Dauphinois

13 Dec

If the only potatoes au gratin you have ever had have come from a red box….that is a problem.  Making homemade potatoes au gratin (aka potato gratin, gratin Dauphinois, scalloped potatoes, etc.) has a very large payoff-to-effort ratio.  In English, that means that it’s pretty simple to make, but the results look and taste very impressive! 

Potato Gratin Dauphinois (a fancy name for thinly sliced potatoes baked with garlicky cream)

Serves: 4 to 6; Total Time: ~ 1 hour (20 min active, 40 min baking)

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large or 6 medium potatoes, washed and peeled
  • 1.5 cups half and half
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed (not minced)
  • Salt and white pepper to taste (if you don’t have white pepper, just use black – the only reason for white is if you want to keep it fancy and free of black pepper specks)
  • Fresh grated nutmeg, to taste
  • 1 cup grated Swiss cheese (Gruyère would be ideal)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Butter a baking dish (I used these – one 1.25 quart plus one 16 ounce baker, but you can do this in any size pan – one large gratin in a 9×13 pan or a 9×9 square or individual ramekins!   Just adjust the baking time accordingly with the thickness of your resulting gratin).  Drizzle a little half and half in each dish to coat the bottom.

Place the remaining half and half, 2 T. of butter, garlic cloves, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small sauce pan and heat until just beginning to simmer; reduce the heat to very low.  Keep it warm (getting all that garlic flavor out of the cloves) until ready to assemble the gratins (once you are ready, remove the garlic).

Meanwhile, slice the potatoes very thinly.  I used my food processor with slicing disk attachment, but it would have been just as good (if not better) to do this by hand – aim for about 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch thick.  If you have a mandolin, by golly use that.  I wish I had one.

Arrange a thin layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish, followed by a sprinkle of cheese, and some hot cream. 

Repeat the layering – with more potatoes, more cheese, and more cream – until you have about 3-4 total layers.  Finish with cream (it should come up just to the top layer of the potatoes), sprinkle with a little more Swiss and with Parmigiano, and dot the top with remaining 2 T. butter (this will help the tops turn golden brown).

Bake, uncovered, for 30-50 minutes – depending on the thickness of the potatoes, thickness of the whole gratin and size of the dish.  Check doneness with a fork- you want the potatoes tender (no crunch!), but also not mushy.

Drool, eat, repeat.