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By Vanessa Tiongson, Contributing Editor

My boyfriend, Jamie, and I love food. We love to eat it, cook it, shop it, discuss it, read about it, photograph it, obsess over it – you name it. Food is our lives. We both grew up with food being a huge part of our families and culture. Jamie’s mom (who’s Jewish) is an award-winning chef who owned a very successful bakery called Plaza Sweets. Everything she prepares is exquisite and delicious and Jamie’s skill in the kitchen doesn’t fall far from the tree. My family actually hails from the Philippines (where pork is currency) and my father’s family started a successful restaurant franchise there called Partyland (I mean, seriously). So food has always been the center of our universe.

I’ve been a brand manager at Oxmoor House now for almost 2 years, so publishing cookbooks has amazingly been my livelihood (how did I get so lucky?!). And one of the first projects I got to manage -- from concept to completion -- was the first cookbook from MyRecipes.com, America’s Favorite Food. I was already thrilled to have had a part in pulling this innovative book together (with the extremely talented folks at Oxmoor House Books and MyRecipes) -- but when I got word that I’d be able to cook from the book and actually blog about the experience, I jumped at the chance!


Jamie and I decided to cook our dishes one Saturday night after a lazy afternoon of watching the US Open on TV. Luckily, the weather cooperated with our staying indoors since the latest summer Nor’easter was intensifying and tornados were running through New York! So, inspired by the raging monsoon outside and the delicious pictures we found inside the cookbook, we decided to go a little tropical with our dishes. To start, we prepared the Coconut Shrimp with Maui Mustard sauce (on page 18) and made the Halibut with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce (page 121) as our main dish. We complemented our dishes (and cooking) with a few ice-cold bottles of Modelo Especial to keep the island theme rich in the city.

After loading up on groceries, we quickly got to work in my apartment. Now, given Jamie’s culinary upbringing, I typically play “sous chef” to his “head chef” but this time around, I made sure our roles were reversed and I was calling the shots! But while there were a lot of “Yes, Chef”s and “No, Chef”s, you may have also heard a little “Are you sure you should be cutting the herbs that way, Chef?” and “Your oil is burning, Chef”.


Coconut Shrimp Ingredients


Halibut IngredientsSince the total time for the shrimp was 1 ½ hours (which mostly includes the marinating time), we knew we had to get busy prepping those first. I love to eat shrimp – they’re tasty, bite-sized – and they take no time at all to cook once they hit the heat. But what I don’t love is the preparation of those little crustaceans. I already knew how to peel and “devein” shrimp but the recipe called for butterflying which I’d never done before.


Since the beautiful photo alongside the recipe instructed me to scan it to see a video on how to do this, I quickly took out my iPhone (which already had the Digimarc Discover app downloaded) to scan the image. Once the camera on my phone focused on the image, my browser immediately popped open with a video on MyRecipes.com that was ready to go. I watched a short 1 ½ minute clip of Julia Rutland, food editor from Coastal Living, explain how to peel, devein and butterfly shrimp quite easily. She also mentioned a really handy shortcut – if you peel the shrimp with kitchen shears, you can peel off the shell AND expose the “vein” -- all in one move. (Side note – for years I really thought it was the shrimp’s vein I was removing and had to get over the “ickiness” factor once I discovered what it really was). Armed with my new skill, I was peeling, deveining, and butterflying all 10 large shrimp like a champ while Jamie started mixing up the coconut milk/cilantro marinade. Once I was done, into the milky bath the shrimp went followed by a trip to the fridge to marinate for 30 minutes.


While the shrimp marinated, Jamie and I quickly descended on halibut prep (rather, Jamie did most of the prep since I was pretty winded from the butterflying). Since the two of us were being a little indulgent with the Coconut Shrimp (not to mention preparing enough food for a party of 6), we opted for something a little on the lighter side but still flavorful as a main dish. The Halibut with Red Curry Coconut Sauce was perfect and so easy to make.

I’ve cooked a lot of fish in my day but I can’t say I’d ever worked with halibut so didn’t quite know what to look out for and what to expect. After scanning the photo and watching a short video of Holley Grainger prepare the recipe, all of my uncertainty was put at ease once I saw how easy it was to make. The best tip I learned was seeing how the halibut looks when it’s done since the worst thing you could do is overcook fish! Knowing the prep time was much shorter, we decided to time the cooking until after we prepared the shrimp.

So now back to the shrimp – the cooking timer went off signaling that 30 minutes was up. We took the shrimp out, dredged them in the coconut flake and breadcrumb mixture, then popped them in the freezer for another 20 minutes (best to use a small baking sheet lined with foil). And thanks to Agiola78’s comment printed on the page that “20 minutes in the freezer is essential, otherwise the coating falls off in the oil”, I pushed back any feelings of impatience and made sure to keep those puppies in the ice box – and I could tell it really was effective!

The recipe actually called for a Dutch Oven for frying which I don’t have (because let’s be real -- it’s really hard to store that in a 1 bedroom Manhattan apartment). So instead I relied on my trusty 12-inch cast iron skillet for the frying.


After heating the peanut oil for about 10 minutes, Jamie threw a couple of drops of water to make sure the oil was hot enough and into the oil the shrimp went. They fried rather quickly – with a great-sounding sizzle – and they immediately started emanating this delicious, mildly sweet scent of coconut.


After they came out, we just drained them on a couple paper towels and mixed up the Maui Mustard sauce (I actually used pineapple mango preserves instead of just pineapple because I could not find plain pineapple preserves. And it turned out really tangy and sweet.) Here’s the final product – Jamie and I did really ungodly things to this platter – which is why it was probably a good thing we didn’t invite people over.


After an ocean liner’s portion of shrimp went into our bellies, we seared the halibut and made the coconut-red curry sauce in less than 15 minutes flat. We like things a little spicy, so we kicked it up a notch with a big dash of siracha (which I always keep on hand in the fridge). Next time, I probably will use a little more red curry paste than the recipe calls for since the fish sauce was a little overpowering.

Finally, to add a little balance to the meal (and more color to the plate), we served the fish over a brown rice pilaf along with some sautéed haricots verts. Check out Jamie’s plating skills!


We loved “cooking the book” with America’s Favorite Food and it’s safe to say we will definitely be preparing these recipes again … and maybe next time, we’ll even share with our family and friends.

The MyRecipes America’s Favorite Food cookbook is now available. Order your copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (ebooks are available!) and Cook the Book with us on your blog! #CooktheBook