Tag: seafood (Page 2 of 2)

Becoming The Grown-Up Assistant With Knife: Fish Sticks!

Earlier this summer I reunited with my first, three cookbooks.


It took me some time and internet research to figure out their titles before I could locate them on Amazon.

I remember pouring over these books as a child. Most especially, the spiral-bound Kids Cooking: A Slightly Messy Manual that came with a plastic set of measuring spoons in primary colors. The books’ recipes aren’t anything mind-blowing for an adult who cooks a lot, but they are priceless for the memories.

Growing-up, my parents weren’t too keen on me experimenting in the kitchen, aside from baking projects. However, I do remember trying a few recipes from Kids Cooking such as the Alphabetter Soup and Frosted Chocolate Conecakes. I made mental checklists of recipes that I wanted to try someday when I had my own kitchen and, now, here I am!

One of these recipes was Home-Baked Fish Sticks from Kids Cooking.


The legend goes that my mom choked on a fish bone when she was a child which led to her lifelong disdain of all things fish. Therefore, we never ever ate fish at home because the smell would make her feel ill. I grew up thinking I hated fish, too, even though I was fascinated by seafood. It was like a little hate crush.

Someone else’s family vacation snapped me out of my aversion to fish. I traveled with my friend’s family to Livingston, Montana in grade school and tried all kinds of new foods on our epic road trip west. I can still taste my first bone-in pork chop, chicken-fried steak, jumbo prawns sizzled in fondue oil, and crispy, fried shrimp nearly twenty years later.

After tasting that first bite of fried shrimp, I remember realizing, “Well, I guess I do like seafood,” and then I never turned back.

My first childhood cookbook meal was a smash.

Fish Meal Salad

I prepared cucumber-tomato-onion salad with “Snappy Dressing” from Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! to accompany my Home-Baked Fish Sticks and tartar sauce. Of course, I fiddled with the recipes.

For example, I added a step by dredging the fish in seasoned flour before dipping it in eggwash and bread crumbs. I may have added some garlic to Encyclopedia Brown’s snappy balsamic vinaigrette and chopped onion to the tartar sauce. Afterall, I am my own grown-up with a sharp knife now.

Kids Cooking Collage

Someday when Jake and I have children, I hope we can enjoy these cookbooks together. We’ll be ready to accept our new roles as their grown-up kitchen assistants.

My Take On Oven-Baked Fish Sticks
Kids Cooking’s method of drizzling melted butter over the panko-breaded fish sticks before baking produces a crispy, satisfying coating. While this is not fried fish, it definitely scratched my itch. 

1 lb of white fish such as cod, halibut or tilapia
1/2 cup flour (or enough to lightly dredge the fish) seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten into eggwash
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (add more if you run low or they become too mushy with eggwash)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Finishing salt


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉.
  2. Set up breading station by placing the seasoned flour, eggwash and panko in their own wide, shallow dishes.
  3. Cut fish fillets into manageable strips. I cut the tilapia fillets in half.
  4. Lightly dredge the fish in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
  5. Dip the dredged fish into the eggwash. Allow the excess to drip off.
  6. Coat the fish in bread crumbs. Turn and press the fillets until they are completely breaded.
  7. Place breaded fish in a single layer on a baking sheet that is lightly greased or covered in parchment paper.
  8. Drizzle each fillet with as much melted butter as you’d like.
  9. Optional: Sprinkle each fillet with a little sweet or smoked paprika for extra color and flavor.
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked-through.
  11. Sprinkle with sea salt immediately after removing from oven.
  12. Serve with tartar sauce and fresh lemon wedges. I made my tartar sauce by mixing mayonnaise with lemon juice, minced dill pickle, minced onion, pickle juice, salt and sugar, to taste.

Baked Salmon With Creamy Mustard Sauce

I got over my fear of buying fish.

Earlier this year, I bought some fillets that tasted so horrible they put me off cooking fish at home of a while. I’m happy to say that I’m cooking fish again, even if the selection is not ideal. The fish available to us is either frozen or previously frozen, so I just do the best with what looks the most fresh. I’m also trying to remember to research what options are more sustainable before I buy.

My parents are enthusiastic Costco members and gave me the Enjoy Cooking the Costco Way book for Christmas which is also available online. The recipes tend to be brand-driven since they’re written by Costco food vendors and some recipes go overboard by listing a specific product for every ingredient. However, many others are much less markety. The book’s seafood recipes especially caught my eye.

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Chicagoland Adventure Part I: Calumet Fisheries, Mariano’s, Greektown & Revolution Brewpub

I’m having a difficult time writing about Chicagoland.

The city is a monster. It’s so massive. Mindblowingly diverse and strikingly segregated. I wanted to eat everything. The buildings are tall and there’s nowhere to park. We hit a terrible, $4 tollbooth (that’s not a toll, that’s extortion!) and Jake got his first traffic ticket, yet we love it anyway.

One and a half years ago, we got married amidst a small group of family and friends with a reception the following April. We were transferred to Mason City so quickly the next summer that we couldn’t even think about planning a honeymoon. With the reality that life will never slow down, we took off part of a week from work and hit the road towards Chicago. 

My cousin Brian, his wife Sara, and their five children invited us to stay with them in Calumet Heights. You may remember Brian wrote the guest post How to Make the Perfect Frozen Pizza. Growing-up, our family spent every holiday with Brian’s family. He and his brother always seemed much older than us, even though they are within about six years. It’s been a joy to get to know them and their wives as adults and relate more as friends.

The architecture is so different from what we’re used to. The homes are mostly built from brick and stone and adorned with sculpted shrubbery. From the outside, houses look small. Inside, they are deceptively spacious because they’re built long and in multiple stories. People seemed surprised that we were staying on the south side of Chicago, but Brian’s family likes their quiet neighborhood and we do too. I would totally live there.

One of my favorite moments occurred when Jake awoke to a new kind of alarm clock. The kind that’s two years old and sits in your face, diaper first. On Sunday morning, Matthias told us early risers he wanted to wake-up Uncle Jake. We instructed him not to, yet none of us tried very hard to stop him. Oops.

Here are some culinary highlights from the first two days we stayed with Brian and family.

Calumet Collage.jpgBrian and his daughter Grace took us to Calumet Fisheries for our first meal. Grace likes to explore new places and try every kind of food. She reminds me of myself a gazillion years ago.

  • We ordered the smoked salmon with black pepper & garlic, smoked trout, and smoked shrimp.
  • The smoked salmon had the most beautifully creamy texture.
  • Everyone’s favorite was the smoked shrimp. Lightly smoked so it didn’t overwhelm the natural shrimp flavor. Perfect snappy texture. Not cheap at $23/lb. but they are large and worth a taste.
  • Housemade hot sauces. The mild was our favorite. It tasted a little bit like BBQ and the kids liked it too.

Donut edited.jpg

Brian took us to explore Mariano’s Fresh Market in Greektown. Here’s why this grocery store is so magical:

  • Large organic produce section with affordable prices.
  • Giant cheese section.
  • $1 donuts. Brian encouraged us to try his favorite salted-cashew variety.
  • Sushi bar, oyster bar, juice bar, wine bar, gelato bar with $1 scoops. The lemon was my favorite.
  • Seafood section: Grace’s class took a field trip behind the seafood counter earlier this year. She excitedly asked us if we saw the whole fish with eyes and the little squid.
  • I tweeted that Mariano’s should come to Mason City. They said they’d, “pass my interest along.” I hope they are serious.

Gyro edited.jpg

After wandering through Mariano’s, we explored Greektown.

  • Lunch at Mr. Greek GyrosGyros the size of fetuses, lots of tzatziki, and practically a whole onion’s worth of slices (which I like). The boys ordered combos which came with a large bag full of french fry planks. I’m glad I skipped the combo. One gyro was big enough to tide me over well into the evening.
  • Brian also took us to Artopolis Bakery. We were too full to try their pastries, but Jake got a strong, Greek Coffee.

Revolution Collage.jpg

 We met some of our old Fargo friends at Revolution Brewpub in Logan Square.

  • Loud and busy. Service was friendly.
  • This may be heresy, but I prefer light, cheap beer in bottles. Even though I was in a brewery, I chose the cocktail with absinthe because, well, absinthe. Jake enjoyed trying the tap beers.
  • Calamari was fine and I appreciated that it was not greasy. However, the barley-feta salad was weirdly the most compelling thing on the plate.
  • I was surprised when the side salad was only $3. It was generously sized and full of cherry tomatoes, carrot curls and cucumber. Not a limp lettuce leaf in sight. Perfectly dressed with house vinaigrette.
  • Our favorite food was the Farm Burger topped with spinach, roasted beet, horseradish cream & a fried egg. The burger was cooked medium-rare as requested and juicy. We loved the combination of burger + beet. My friend who lived in Australia told us that burgers topped with egg and beets are more common there. I hope we see this combination more often.

Thanks Dahlen family for opening your home to us and showing us some of your favorite places!

Stay tuned for Part II. I’ll tell you about the unique bed and breakfast we stayed at in Lincoln Park and our first experience dining in a Ghanaian restaurant.

Grandma Dorothy’s Hot Crabmeat Sandwiches: Oops I Made Crabby Snacks!

This is the eighth installment in my series in which I cook all eleven recipes I found my grandmothers had submitted to their old church cookbooks. Previous recipes include Rice PilafSalad with Cashew NutsHam & Sour Cream CasseroleOld Fashioned Cauliflower SlawApricot Jello Salad, and Ship Wreck casserole (the one my mom hated). 

Oops, I made crabby snacks.

The next recipe in this series comes from Grandma Dorothy, my mom’s mom. We spent a lot of time at their Cuyahoga Falls home where I played on their tree swing and spent hours in their attic looking at antique post cards. She gave me my first taste of coffee (which I promptly spit out) and read us books. She always kept a filled candy dish and taught me how to make homemade mashed potatoes.

This weekend I asked my Facebook fans which of my grandma’s recipes they’d like to see me make next and received the most feedback about crabmeat sandwiches.

First, A Mystery
Before I could start, I had to figure out what on earth is Velacta cheese?


I could not find information online for “Velacta Cheese” or even “Velacta.” However, I found an MLM company Velata that sells kitchen products, fondue sets, and processed cheese spreads. A reader pointed out that Velata is owned by Scentsy whose website says Velata was introduced in 2012. This made me wonder if Scentsy bought an old company’s line or if Velata is a new brand. Unfortunately, the company does not list a corporate phone number and has not returned my email yet.

Readers wondered if Dorothy actually meant Velveeta, with Velacta being a typo. I went with this assumption because Velveeta came into existence long before the 60’s and 70’s and I would have only been able to purchase Velata by mail ordering it from a direct sales representative.

Canned Crab
I live in a smaller Iowan town and we don’t have a large selection of seafood. I could not find frozen crab so I chose this canned variety.


Cans ranged from $2.99-$10, with jumbo lump being the most expensive. This can cost $5. The meat smelled unappealing and didn’t taste to great out of the can, either. If I had found frozen lump crab, I’m assuming it would have cost more than $10. Would I really have wanted to mix a higher quality product with Velveeta?

Crabby Snacks
I soon realized these sandwiches were actually a variation of the appetizer known as Crabby Snacks/Crabbies/Crab Bites. Jackie Weaver pushed this retro dish back into the spotlight when she mentioned Crabby Snacks in the film Silver Linings Playbook.

I have to confess I made some adaptations:

  • I cut the recipe in half so I didn’t waste a whole stick of butter.
  • I substituted butter for Oleo because I just can’t.
  • I substituted sliced bread with the crusts cut off for buns because I totally missed that part when I went grocery shopping.

Crabby Snack

Notes On Preparation 

  • Velveeta does funny things when you try to melt it with butter. It may separate into little globules so stir hard, and it will eventually form a paste.
  • I rinsed the crab before stirring it into the cheese because that smell.

Concluding Thoughts
These crabbies tasted better than we anticipated. This is not saying the canned crab meat tasted good, but that its flavor was mostly masked by the Velveeta mixture.

While I liked the idea of broiling each sandwich with a slice of fresh tomato, this turned out to be better in theory. The tomato slice blocked the cheese from getting golden brown and the underlying texture was unappealing.

Would I make this again? No. But it was fun to finally try this iconic retro appetizer. I have a hard time moving beyond the flavor of the canned crab lumps. If you like tuna fish, you might not feel too bothered and even Jake said he didn’t mind the crab’s flavor. I’d prefer surimi’s flavor (fake crab) to this canned product, though I typically don’t like its texture when it’s cooked. It reminds me of paste.

Have you ever eaten Crabby Snacks? How does your recipe (or your family member’s recipe) vary? What do you know about Velacta?

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