Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mise en Place

Mise en place (pronounced [miz ɑ̃ plas], literally "putting in place") is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place," as in set up.

Hey, look, I started a food blog!  Those of you familiar with my fondness for eating will not be surprised by this.  Those of you unfamiliar with my fondness for eating will be pleased to know that I am passionate about food, that I always have been, and that one year ago, I discovered I could also be passionate about looking at pictures of food on the internet.  Ah, for a lover of food to meet food blogs.  I spent hours drooling over photographs of ambrosial dishes, poring over recipes, and reading stories about the circumstances of their creation.

I grew up in a fairly traditional Asian household.  My parents banned me from the kitchen when I was little for fear that learning to cook would "distract me from my studies."  When I started reading food blogs at the age of twenty-one, an engineering student scrounging for cheap, good food in one of the most expensive cities in the world -- New York -- I'd still never set foot in a kitchen to do anything more than microwave popcorn and badly scramble eggs.  It sounds like a corny college stereotype, and yes, it is, but it's also true.  In more desperate times, I even spent eight months living off free food given out at events on campus, but that's a story for another day.  My point here is this -- the day I started looking at food blogs, reading about the things people created in their kitchens was like reading about the invention of the freaking LHC.  I was mesmerized.

Imagine the year that followed as a movie montage of me training, fighting, whatever -- learning to cook.  You see me trying to plate simple foods like the pros, striving with immense concentration to place little sprigs of basil on top of my plain boiled pasta.  A clip of me baking my first Thanksgiving pie, which sets off several fire alarms, yet ends up being not only edible, but delicious.  You watch clips of me watching clips of Top Chef.  A shot of my first vegan dish.  Another of an awesome carrot cake.  And all of a sudden, I'm pumping my metaphorical boxer arms in the air, having swung and mumbled my way through the metaphorical heavyweight champ that is food preparation.  ...I don't know, I've never seen Rocky.

In any case, I've had an incredible time getting to know food better.  It's an amazing thing, really.  I love food that presents me with exciting flavors, that really piques my curiosity.  I love food that brings family, friends, and strangers together.  I love food that is healthy, and I love food that is not.  I love food that looks and tastes good.  I love poems for no reason.  Welcome to my blog.

Almond-Crusted Tilapia with Onion-Shallot White Wine Sauce

  • 1 lb tilapia fillets
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 2 tbsp crushed black pepper
  • 1 tbsp parsley flakes
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp soy milk (soy because I'm lactose intolerant...but you can use regular milk, too)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced


In a small bowl, combine white wine, olive oil, black pepper, parsley flakes, and salt.  Place tilapia fillets in a large ziplock bag and pour the mixture over them.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Crush the almonds in a food processor.  Whisk the egg with the soy milk.  When the fish has marinated, brush each fillet with flour, dip in the egg mixture, and cover with almonds.  By "cover," I mean "press them on with your hands until they don't fall off."  Messy and undignified, perhaps, but kind of fun.

Fill a frying pan with olive oil (not that much).  Cook fillets on medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side.  Remove from pan.

Add the diced onion and shallot to the pan.  Pour the white wine fish marinade over them.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for another few minutes.  Pour over fish.  Voilà!

I served mine with brown rice and bok choy, both easy to prepare in a hurry.  As you can see from the photo above, I also never quite let go of my affinity for little leafy garnishes.  The entire thing, minus marinating, took about half an hour.  My parents were impressed.  Success.

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