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The Rockfish and Manzano pepper challenge

Updated: May 4, 2021

I overcame some challenges today and learned some lessons the hard way. In the end, I was able to marry all the ingredients successfully into a plate of spicy rockfish tostada bowl.

Basket ingredients:

  1. Rockfish

  2. Cheddar cheese wraps

  3. Manzano chillies

  4. Broccolini

  5. Horseradish

The challenge:

  1. Prepare a meal highlighting the basket ingredients

  2. Use any pantry ingredients as needed

  3. Cook within the time constraint of one hour

Judging criteria:

  1. Creativity

  2. Presentation

  3. Taste


First reactions:

Today’s basket seemed friendlier compared to the previous few weeks. The friendliest of all the ingredients were the beautiful orange bell peppers which I learned are called Manzano peppers. More on how they taste a little bit later. 😉 I was also excited to see Rockfish in the basket which is a completely new ingredient to me.

A few ideas I thought about:

  1. The first idea was to make Steamed Rockfish & Broccolini packets accompanied by a sauce made using Manzano pepper, cheese, and horseradish. I always wanted to try this French way of preparing fish.

  2. The second idea was to make a Thai coconut rockfish curry with a side of rice. I thought of using the cheddar wraps to make some fresh wraps with peppers and horseradish. This idea seemed solid also, but my mind kept going. 😀

  3. The third idea that I thought about was a rockfish taco with onion, pepper, and broccolini fajitas.

I decided to go with the “taco” idea for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a sucker for Mexican food and have been dying to make a taco or a tostada as part of kitchen sprints. I couldn’t have asked for a better basket of ingredients to try my luck at it. Second, my amazing mother-in-law, Tanya, gave me tostada stone molds a couple of years ago and this kitchen sprint seemed like the best time to test them out. Last but not least, I know my son likes burrito bowls, which would guarantee some points from him. 🙌🏼

The process:

  1. First thing first, I set the oven to 350° to preheat.

  2. Rockfish: The first thing I prepped was Rockfish. I filleted the fish as there were bones and then cut them into small strips.

  3. Kumquats (To use in place for limes): The one thing I was missing for tostadas was limes. I thought I could replace them by using kumquats from my garden. I tasted a kumquat to see if it was sour enough to mimic the taste of a lime, and I felt like they would do the job. You’ll see how this worked out soon. :)

  4. Manzano peppers: The third thing that I tackled was the peppers. I cut the peppers and smelled them to see if they are spicy. They smelled a little bit like bell peppers and I felt confident that I could use them in veggie fajitas at this point. Boy, was I wrong! These unassumingly naive looking peppers left my mouth burning when I did a taste test. By this point, I had used my bare hands to de-seed them, and that will be another thing that I'll regret for about 15 hours that follow. I later learned that Manzano peppers are rated between 12,000 and 30,000 units on the Scoville heat index whereas bell peppers on the same scale are rated at a zero. So my initial assessment was off exponentially, and I paid the price for not educating myself about them enough before handling them. Once I diced a few peppers, I also finely chopped a quarter of pepper to use in the salsa later.

  5. Rockfish: I added the fish strips to a hot pan with some olive oil and minced garlic and while it was cooking, moved on to make a sauce.

    1. Pepper sauce for the fish: Into a blender, I added a handful of diced peppers, 2 tablespoons of guacamole salsa verde, a quarter spoon of horseradish, 2 kumquats, salt, and a quarter cup of milk (I wanted to use yogurt but didn’t have any in the fridge). I blended everything into a smooth consistency. I tasted the sauce and wasn’t too happy with how one noted it felt. The dish needed some lime juice to brighten it, and Nathan came to my rescue and picked up a few limes from the store which saved the day.

    2. Marrying the sauce with the fish: I added the sauce to the fish to let everything cook together. I squeezed the juice of one lime over the fish before turning the stove off. The fish looked happy at this point.

  6. Tostada bowls: While the rockfish was cooking, I layered cheese wraps over the tortillas and placed them in the stone molds before transferring them into the oven which was now heated and ready to go. I checked on them every few minutes and sprayed them with olive oil when I realized it wasn’t crisping to my liking. It took about 20 minutes for the tostada shells to bake.

  7. Lime & cilantro rice: Midway through, I realized that I needed rice for the tostada bowl. I quickly washed some rice and set it to cook in the pressure cooker. Once done, I added lime juice, cilantro, and salt, mixed everything together and set it aside.

  8. Broccolini fajitas: To make veggie fajitas, I sautéed onions, green bell peppers, and broccolini in a pan with some olive oil, garlic, and salt. The fajitas were easy to make and would work well for my vegetarian plate.

  9. Lettuce: While the tostadas and fajitas were cooking, I went to my garden and picked some lettuce. I cut it into strips and set it aside.

  10. Pico De Gallo: The last thing on my list was pico de gallo. I chopped yellow onion, 4 tomatoes, cilantro, and added the finely chopped Manzano pepper that I had prepared earlier. I finally added some salt and lime juice (1 lime) and mixed everything. I did a quick taste test, and it was perfect!


All my components were ready, and it was now time to plate! I took the tostada shells out of the molds and placed them in the center of the plate. The orange color of the cheddar cheese against the natural color of the taco looked perfect, and the beautiful shape of the tostada elevated the entire thing. I started getting excited!

I started by adding lime & cilantro rice to the tostada bowl, then layered it with broccolini, shredded lettuce, rockfish, and finally topped the tostada with a spoonful of pico de gallo. The colors and textures looked perfect, and I couldn’t wait to see what my judges thought of it! 🤔

Final dish (Meat version):

Rockfish and Manzano Pepper Tostada Bowl with Pico De Gallo

What I could have done differently:

  1. The first thing I would do differently is handling the peppers. I handled Manzano peppers just like I would bell peppers because of the similarities in how they looked. I removed the seeds with my bare hands and ate a big chunk to test the heat, and I paid the price for not being careful. I was able to save my mouth from burning by drinking milk, however, my hands hurt for a good 15 hours. It was a lesson learned the hard way.

  2. The second thing I would do differently would be how I baked the tortillas. I didn’t grease the stone molds first and did it a few minutes in. I feel like better planning with greasing would’ve helped both with crisping and coloring of the tostada.

  3. The third thing would be to anticipate better and not hold back to ask my husband if I need a specific ingredient early on. I waited until halfway into the hour to ask Nathan to pick up limes from the store, and I could’ve easily prevented the rush request had I gone with my gut at the beginning of my cooking. 🙂


  1. Judge #1 (my husband, Nathan) gave the dish top marks. He was happy with the way the rockfish turned out, the level of spice, the textures, and the colors of the dish. He also had a ton of fun photographing today. The only corrective feedback I got from him was that the tostada could be crisper. Feedback noted!

  2. Judge #2 (my teenage son) also was happy with the dish today. He agreed with his dad that the tostada could’ve been crisper, but overall gave a nod and finished the plate. Big win! 🏆

This was a fun kitchen sprint! I had some hiccups with the handling of peppers and the taste of the rockfish but I recovered and saw the sprint through completion. Nathan surprised me with a new camera lens, and we had a lot of fun learning how to use it. I’m thankful for all the experiences Kitchen sprints are giving our family to learn, have fun, and bond over! 🙏🏼

Star sightings

Sammy was more thrilled about today's Kitchen sprint compared to Willie. Nathan got a picture of Sammy sticking his tongue out which I thought was hilarious. I'm going to frame this one. 😀

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