This Wednesday marks the debut of television rock star Aida Mollenkamp's gorgeous new cookbook, Keys To The Kitchen. Luckily I already got my paws on a review copy a few weeks ago, when her book tour stopped in Georgia to spread the good food word. To celebrate Aida's special occasion we assembled some of Atlanta's finest lifestyle bloggers at the always amazing Star Provisions, to enjoy a fabulous family-style spread and some good ol' fashioned—i.e. live and in-person—foodie fun. Not only was the meal delicious (holy Fried Green Tomato Sliders, batman) but the company even better.
Upon reading the entire 400-plus pages cover to cover, I quickly discovered that this all-inclusive tome is filled to the brim with anything and everything one could possibly need to know about cooking, the kitchen, and beyond. Whether you are a seasoned chef or just getting your feet wet, this book's got helpful tips for every skill level. And let me just say, by the time I made my way through this edible behemoth, every single freakin' page was earmarked. Now that's the sign of a good cookbook! Well that, and well-written, triple-tested recipes, to which Aida's are always guaranteed to please.
Obviously I was thrilled when Aida asked me to participate in a Keys To The Kitchenvirtual potluck, but oh-my-gosh the pressure. How could I ever pick just one recipe? After much deliberation and a very serious consultation with my parents (I'm home in Alabama, so I generously gave mom & dad a senior privilege), we narrowed it down to three choices: roasted bratwurst with chutney-style apples, shrimp simmered in garlicky beer sauce, or panko crusted tilapia with tomatillo-avocado sauce. Yep, I told you it was tough!
The oven-roasted fish won out, because the 'rents are always searching for new seafood recipes to add to their already-healthy repertoire. Hot dang though, you know you're from the South when the entire dinner conversation revolves around their wondrous new discovery of the tomatillo (or Tōm-uh-till-owe, according to my father). I even had to bring one to the table for a show-and-tell, do a Wikipedia search of its origins, and attempt to prove that yes, they have definitely seen AND tasted salsa verde before. Seriously y'all?
Culture shock aside, the zesty green sauce was perfect for the otherwise mild yet tasty fish—the flavors were bright, bold, and balanced all at the same time. It was such a big hit actually, that we spent the remainder of cooking school dinner discussing the countless possible uses for this fabulous new-to-them Tōm-uh-till-owe sauce. I would say we are making pretty good progress down here in Dixie, all thanks to Aida! (Wink, wink.)
Source: Keys To The Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp
For the tomatillo sauce:
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and halved 1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 jalapeno chile, trimmed and seeded
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water 1 firm-ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the tilapia: 2 large eggs, beaten 2 cups panko bread crumbs 2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil 4 garlic cloves, minced 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon grated lime zest 8 tilapia filets* Lime wedges, for serving
For the tomatillo sauce: Preheat oven to 500 degrees and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the tomatillo halves, cut-side down, on the prepared pan along with the onion, garlic, and chile. Broil until browned and the tomatillos have collapsed, 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the tomatillo mixture, cilantro, sugar, and lime juice to a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the water to the prepared baking sheet, scrape up any browned bits, and add the liquid to the food processor. Process the mixture until very smooth, about 30 seconds, then remove to a bowl and fold in the avocado. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the tilapia: Decrease the oven temperature to 425 degrees and arrange a rack in the upper third. Place the eggs in a shallow bowl and set aside. In a second shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, garlic, cumin, lime zest, and kosher salt and mix to coat the bread crumbs well in oil.
Dip each piece of fish in the egg mixture, letting any excess drip off, then place in the bread crumb mixture, pressing to adhere as necessary on both sides. Place the breaded fish on a baking sheet. Bake until the bread crumbs are browned and the fish is opaque throughout and flaky, 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve with a squeeze of lime and topped with tomatillo-avocado sauce.
*If you can't find or don't like tilapia, use another lean, firm fish such as snapper or bass.