Veracruz-Style Whitefish

>> Friday, January 30, 2015

Veracruz-Style Whitefish

While Joe and I haven't been deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, it's definitely on our life lists. In fact, we'd use any excuse to be back floating in the Gulf of Mexico. Joe has a fishing legacy to live up to: his dad caught a 75-pound mahi-mahi on a trip off the coast of Veracruz, a seaside community. The fish gave him a long battle before he pulled it into the boat.

I like to imagine the catch as a scene from Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea", his dad dragging the fish on a line through night and day, eating a bit of raw fish for his strength, until he brought it ashore. It's is much easier to imagine this when I wasn't there to see it happen. We'll see if our own deep-sea fishing lives up Hemingway's writing!

This traditional tangy and tomatoey dish sprinkled with pickled yellow güero peppers, olives, and capers is often made with red snapper. In Mexican restaurants, waiters have served us an entire (small) snapper to share: scales, eyeballs, tail and all. In the Midwest US, snapper can be a little pricey, so we use tilapia or pollock when we make this recipe. I'm sure that's traditional enough, right?


For the fish

1 1/2 pounds fish fillets, such as Tilapia, Snapper, Pollock, or Swai
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime (about 3 tbsp) plus 1 tsp lime zest
1 tbsp sea salt

For the sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz tomato sauce
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup pickled yellow güero or jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced
1/4 cup green olives with pimientos, sliced
2 tbsp green capers
2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp ground cumin
2 bay leaves

Veracruz-Style Whitefish tomato sauce


Rub the fillets with the garlic, lime juice, and salt. Allow it to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Warm the oil in a frying pan. When it is shimmering, add the onion and saute for 2-3 minutes, until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on medium-low for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spray a baking pan with oil. Spoon a little of the sauce into the bottom of the pan. Place the fish in a single layer in the pan, then cover with the sauce. Bake uncovered for 20-35 minutes, until the sauce is thick and bubbly and the fish is cooked through, white and flaky. Serve with the sauce spooned over the fillets, and a side of white rice, or yellow rice with pigeon peas.

Serves 4-6.


Stacked Crepes, Western Omelet-Style

>> Monday, January 19, 2015

Crepes, Denver Omelette-Style

My first crepe experience was at the Magic Pan restaurant in the brand-new Renaissance Center in Detroit, where my Grandpa Williams took us after its grand opening. I remember the world singing hallelujah that Detroit was being revitalized and the pain of having to choose just one crepe entree from the giant Magic Pan creperie.

Magic Pan had sugar lumps wrapped in paper, and my cousin Scott and I ate as many as we could without getting caught, and stuffed our pockets full on the way out the door. While my parents chatted, Scott and I dropped the sugar cubes down through the open courtyard, trying to tag a shopper. I can say this now, because the statute of limitations on that crime has now run out.

I also remember a lecture from my mom that has lasted to this day: I am physically unable to pronounce them "crapes" (which rhymes with grapes) but must always say creps, which rhymes with preps. This means I confuse a lot of Americans when I order them from a menu.

First Born developed a passion for crepes early. She loved them so much that her Aunt and Uncle gave her a crepe machine when she was about twelve. Now that she's on her own, her miniscule Chicago kitchen doesn't have room for many appliances, so we've had the benefit of unlimited crepe-making for years. If you don't have a crepe-maker, the instructions below use a little skillet.

Joe and I came up with this recipe one day while looking for something new to cook for Sunday brunch. Since crepes are such a classic French dish, we turned to Julia Child's cookbook for inspiration. After some reasonably simple directions (especially short for Julia), she went on to describe stacked crepes with fillings in between the layers - kind of like a crepe lasagna.

I adore those pretty little crepe rolls full of juicy berries and jam, and if you top them with a bit of mascarpone you'll be pretty close to heaven on a plate. But rolled crepes are a bit of work and if you're clutzy like me, they can also be messy. Crepes stacked up without any rolling tend to eliminate both problems.

This recipe is great for using up leftovers, which is why it is Western omelet (or Denver omelet) style. We had ham, peppers, onions, and a few other things to throw in the filling. Like always, use whatever makes you happy.


For the crepes
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter

For the filling/sauce
1 tbsp oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped mushroom
1/4 cup chopped tomato
1/3 cup chopped ham
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

For the sauce
2 eggs
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp Lousiana hot sauce
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp butter, melted and cooled


Add all of the crepe ingredients to the blender or food processor and pulse for 10 seconds. Put the batter in the refrigerator while preparing the other ingredients. This will let some of the bubbles rise out of the batter so your crepes are less likely to tear.

Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the vegetables. Add the ham, then keep warm while making the crepes.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and quickly swirl it until the pan is evenly covered. Slide a spatula around the edges to release them. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and then flip onto a plate.

Layer crepes with the vegetable mixture and cheese until it is as high as you like.Vigorously whisk together all sauce ingredients until it is frothy, and pour over the stack of crepes. Serve by cutting it into slices like a cake.

If you have leftover crepes, let them cool, then store them in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer.

Serves 4-6.


Twisted Cuisine, Kenosha, Wisconsin

>> Thursday, January 15, 2015

One of our most exciting experiences is finding a restaurant that is exciting, affordable, and near. Kenosha is a blue-collar town that has been hoisting itself back on its feet since the car industry crash and the demise of the AMC motor plant on the lake. This city didn't used to be a place where you'd find innovative big-city chefs, but Twisted Cuisine is one of best we've found in the last few years. And luckily, it's close enough for us to enjoy more than once.

When you tell someone you just found a coupon for "this place called Twisted Cuisine", and people moan with delight, you know you're onto something good. The restaurant calls itself "Casual Cuisine with a Twist" - a serious twist. For example, the tilapia rolled in crumbled Apple Jacks cereal, or the Prime Flat-Iron steak with popcorn brittle and chipotle. If you feel like dessert, one offering is Oreo Donuts with Vodka Icing. Hmmm.

The surprisingly young chef brings a playful attitude to the food and squeezes in between the overflowing tables to greet her customers. The place is busy every time we go there, but we've never had a wait for a table and the servers are quick and friendly. This is Wisconsin, after all, and "Wisconsin Nice" is a special kind sweetness that treats every newcomer as a friend.

Twisted Cuisine owners, Rhonda Bell & Heid Neff
Twisted Cuisine owners, Rhonda Bell & Heid Neff

So last weekend we went with a pair of our closest friends to the Lemon Street Art Gallery where (I can hardly believe it!) I was showing some of my art photography. That night I sold three photographs and had a heart-shaking conversation with a Wisconsin Nice woman who nudged into my soul the idea that my art is a gift; I do not have the right to turn off my talent because it's not as good as the art I imagined making. Ouch! But after actually selling art (!!!), I was in a great frame of mind to hear that message.

Well, then we were off to Twisted Cuisine. One of the continual draws for us is the rotating menu of game and unusual meats. Since I haven't eaten pheasant (or seen one) since I lived in rural Michigan, I ordered the pheasant with Sweet Pepper Bacon, Panko Beer Batter, and Cranberry Glaze. The beer batter actually tasted a bit like pancake batter, and it tenderly enfolded this juicy breast of pheasant. My dinner came with a sweet potato the size of Pluto and I had the leftovers for lunch.

Joe had the Long-Bone pork chop with blueberry, molasses, and scallion, a huge hunk of meat grilled just the way he likes it. If you've never tried a pork chop with blueberry syrup, you really should. And where has molasses been all my life?

Peggy ordered Harvest Chicken with Pumpkin Butter, Bourbon and Pecans, a dish we were all considering. It was spectacular and heavy with flavor, but I thought the chicken was a little overwhelmed by the spices and bourbon. Joe and I are going to play around with that recipe concept and see what we come up with. 

John couldn't decide between the Venison Stroganoff and the Halibut stuffed with herbed cream cheese and shrimp. He told our server he was wavering between the two, so he just asked her to surprise him. She brought him Venison Stroganoff with Kale Flower and Wild Mushroom Crème, and it was heavenly. I usually have trouble with the gamy flavor of venison, but one bite of his dinner made me want to snatch the plate off his side of the table. I don't even know what a cook does to make a sauce so buttery-creamy. This was my favorite dish of the evening.

We started with a dry and fruity 2013 Gewurztraminer from Gundlach Bundschu. It was full of exotic flavors like coriander and starfruit, and opened up beautifully in the glass. I can't remember the red wine we enjoyed, but it was just the right suggestion from our server.

I almost forgot to mention that the walls of the restaurant are covered in art from local artists - and the display changes as people buy the paintings. In all, the restaurant mixes a dark and cozy interior with a funky art vibe, which always makes my food taste better!

Make reservations - Twisted Cuisine is a busy restaurant, especially during the summer tourist season. Then order the lobster mac'n'cheese, and remind me how utterly wonderful it is.

Twisted Cuisine is at 7546 Sheridan Road   |   Kenosha Wi 53143
Call for reservations: 262-564-0220


Parjoale - Moldavian Meatballs

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2015

This hearty meatball recipe is fragrant with vegetables, spices, and a tangy sauce. We first tried it at the Russian Tea Time restaurant in Chicago, though I understand it is actually a Romanian recipe called Parjoale. Though it contains a lot of ingredients, it is a great recipe to make up for a party or let simmer in a crockpot all day when you're at work. The meatballs make great party appetizers. They taste even better when made a day ahead.


For the Sauce

1 large red bell pepper
1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
4 garlic cloves
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp flour
1 cup beef stock
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup plum tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp salt and pepper
2 tablespoons low fat sour cream

For the Meatballs

1 lb. pork, finely ground
1/2 lb. beef, finely ground
1 large onion
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup fat-free milk
1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill


Chop onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper. Saute in oil in a large saucepan until slightly tender. Add minced garlic. Add tomato paste and flour and stir until mixed. Stir in stock, wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in the sour cream and reduce heat to low.

Mix together all meatball ingredients. With your hands, form into 1 or 2-inch balls (the size of a golfball, or if you don't play golf, the size of a pingpong ball). Saute in a separate skillet until well-browned on all sides, and then add to the sauce mixture. Simmer 45-60 minutes until tender if serving immediately, or place meatballs in a crock pot, and simmer on low until ready to serve.

We think it tastes best over a bed of pearled barley.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish, or 10-12 as an appetizer.

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